Recommended phono stage to go with McIntosh


Looking into upgrading a few elements in my system and would like to hear everyone’s comments/suggestions on how to best move forward. System looks like this:

Piega C10 Ltds speakers
McIntosh Mc402 amp. Possibly adding an extra to run mono as the Piegas like their juice.
McIntosh C2200 preamp
Technics 1200 GR turntable with stock arm
Lehmannaudio Black Cube 2
Carts are MoFi Master Tracker and Vasari Gold Note
Chords are Audience and Shunyata

Upgrading the phono stage, arm and carts at some time. I only have MM carts now. McIntosh does have a recently introduced phono stage, not sure how good it is. Budget for the phono stage is $3000?

Your thoughts suggestions on how to move forward. Thanks!
It’s hard to sway anyone away from ’same manufacturer’ components since they are designed to work well together. Your best bet may be to stay with Mac?

Forgive me if I’m too forward. You provided a link to your system on another thread and since you’ve made so many inquiries on system changes recently, I noticed one thing mention of acoustical treatments on your VS or in any of your posts. ???

From personal experience, I'd suggest looking into this aspect before spending bucks on components. After all, a great sounding room will benefit whatever components you have now or may acquire later.

Happy Listening!
Parasound JC3+. Made by a legend. Close thread.
Designed by a legend. Made in China. B-i-g difference.
In my opinion....

JC3+ is OK. Decent phono stage. Herron Audio VTPH-2a better, better than anything else I’ve heard (and that’s a pretty long list) It is a bit of a stretch of budget, but it would be the LAST phono stage one should EVER need. In either case, it would be important to listen to ANY candidate phono stage in your own system using your own components. That’s the only way to determine what you want to listen to in the long road.

Both John Curl and Keith Herron are legends. Herron Audio components are ALL manufactured in the US under VERY strict quality control.  Keith Herron personally tests EVERY VTPH-2a produced.  

@invictus005 - Close the thread? Are you worried about others presenting facts or opinions that contradict your opinion? Again?  
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slow down a bit.       I get that your all excited on how the system sounds, but take a break for a bit and just enjoy what you have .      unless the system doesnt sound good at all, its a good idea to wait a little bit before you start changing components again.

why do you think you need to change the phono preamp ?    whats wrong with the one you have ?     if you were to change it to a McIntosh one, what do you think it will do different than the one you currently have ?

@riley804 I truly understand your point and agree. I love the system as is, BUT the Lehmann is the weakest link. I do enjoy the ride. I've clocked A LOT of hours of this system. I love the vinyl end so much. It's spinning every second I'm home. (Besides of course when sleeping)

Thanks for the rest of the suggestions. The Herron looks very easy to use which is important for me. 

Listening to the "Man in Black" right now...


I enjoy vinyl also and that is all I listen to. I missed the boat on the whole streaming thing, so I just stick to records.

is the Lehmann the weak link because you think it is compared to everything else in the system ?   being new to vinyl, how would you know its the weak link unless you have had something to compare it to ?

are you buying new vinyl or shopping for used as well ?

only issue with most of the system being tubes is when a tube goes out, so would make sure that you have spares on hand for each piece.
After trying out a budget phono stage that wasn't up to the rest of my system, I traded it in to upgrade to a Luxman E-250. The Luxman retails for $2300, so it is within your budget. The Luxman took a couple weeks of intense break-in to really open up.  In fact its sound developed so demonstrably that I had to change footers once it's high end and soundstage opened up.  Been buying vinyl again.  Great detail but with a smoothness of texture.  Enjoying Supertramp as I write this.

One interesting feature for MC cartridge users is the "Articulator" which after switching on for about 30 seconds, demagnetizes the coils in the cartridge.  It does open up the high end and yield more dynamic jump to the sound.  Cool.
@knollbrent IMO, the Herron VTPH-2a does not sound like tubes nor does it sound like solid state.  To my ears, it does not have a signature of its own.  To draw a parallel, Those that go with a system of all ARC components end up with all tubes.  
Excellent @hifiman5  I'm sure Supertramp sounds fantastic! Which album? I'm listening to Willie Nelson's " To all the Girls" and it sounds glorious from the dining room table. I'll look into the Luxman. Thanks 
You could check with Audio Classics to see what they have in McIntosh phono stages.  Synergy is everything.
Your C2200 has a Sidney Corderman designed phono preamp. You may want to try a little Tube rolling for the internal phono preamp in combination with a step up transformer for use with your moving coil cartridges. I have the MA2275 integrated which has a similar phono preamp circuit and have had excellent luck using Sovetek 12ax7lps’s in conjunction with British Mullard CV4024’s (in the 12at7 positions ) in the phono positions and Russian long plate  Mullard 12ax7’s for the tone amp. For moving coils ( primarily Denon Dl103 and GAS Sleeping Beauty/Coral , hows that for an oldie ?) I have the Denon AU320 trans former. Cost will be significantly lower than anything else recommended so far and it really sounds quite good ( to my ear anyway).
@knollbrent   "Famous Last Words"  Now listening to "Breakfast in America".  Earlier "Crime of the Century".   A Supertramp kind of day!
I bought the Luxman from Josh at Musicdirect.  Ordered the 180 gram 2 LP Parlophone version of Pink Floyd's "The Division Bell" yesterday after trying to be satisfied with the remastered CD.  They just mastered it too hot.  Too forward soundstage-wise with overemphasis in upper midrange.  Ugh.
When I had my MA8000 McIntosh integrated I paired it with their MP100 phono stage. It was a nice improvement over the built in phono stage in my integrated. I ended up swapping out to a Lehmann Decade and it’s honeslt a vast improvement over the MP100. When I eventually upgrade from the Decade, it will be to the Herron. Having heard it in my system it sounds wonderful.
Thanks @chachi112  for chiming in. I had heard the MP100 just wasnt going to great for the long run. I'll probably grab the Herron next month. I'm going to contact Herron first with my equipt list so they can advise. whether it's a good fit. 
@jerrym121 that seems like a lot of work for me to tackle? Great idea though thanks!
Another alternative that no one has mentioned: You could consider swapping your C2200 for a C2300. That gets you one of the very best MM and MC phono stages ever made. Good enough that it made Harry Pearson’s reference system for a year or so shortly after it was introduced. I thought it was simply excellent if not an ideal match for my lifestyle (moved to a C50 instead). It allows for on-th-fly load changes and is otherwise identical to the C2200. Well within your budget, too. You just might have to be a little patient for one to show up either here or through Audio Classics. Another +1 for A-C here, BTW.

If you want to combine a DAC into the box, you could also look at a C2500. That has the C50 DAC, which works just fine for my purposes although some don’t like the lack of DSD or all-in-one configuration. My 2 cents, anyway.

Good luck and happy listening!

@knollbrent Before jumping into the higher cost of the Herron (wonderful unit), consider your needs. Your opening post said you were only MM carts at this time. Most of us started out this way, including me. I had a MM only phono stage as part of a couple of preamps, one was a McIntosh. Both of the built in phono stages were ok but not as good as stand-alone units.

When I decided to get into MC carts I bought a Bobs Devices SUT which I still use today. This allows you to get the best MM only phono stage.

I researched and asked Don Sachs to built me his custom MM phono stage. I opted for upgraded parts and a nice cherry wood case. The unit is amazing and Don helped me fine tune the loading settings to match what the SUT was doing for the couple of MC carts I use.

Don is better known for his amazing preamp line stage and amplifier, but his phono stage is great and totally silent. Pricing is between $995 and about $1,200 (like mine). Sadly, the SUT put me back as much as the phono stage, but the two together are very good. You could start with just the phono stage as long as stay with MM carts.

As to the idea of having too many tubes, all my electronics are tube driven. Everything is clean and clear. It just depends on what you pick, including tube choices.

match the phono preamp to your target cartridge in terms of gain and loading options.  match your target cartridge to your turntable tonearm in terms of system effective mass, cartridge compliance and calculated resonance frequency.  getting these things right will do more for your sound quality than trying to pick brand x to match brand y.
try to find a good Pass Labs XONO with large power supply.  great value and great sound.  I doubt you would be disappointed
I think you're out of your mind.  The Mac phono stage in the C22 preamp is one of the best I've ever heard.  The C2200 is their new tube unit, right?  Should be essentially the same circuit.

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Great advice @avanti1960  and @jsm71 

I tried the phono pre section on the C2200 @russbutton  but even with adjusting the trim I don't get enough gain out of it. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Manual says phono section for MM carts, that's what's playing. 
@knollbrent   If you're not getting enough gain through your Mac phono preamp, then I suggest you try through at least a couple of other standard phono preamps.  What that will tell you is if your cartridge just has an unusually low output or if your Mac phono preamp is defective in some way.  Questions:

Have you tried to play a different phono cartridge through your Mac phono preamp?

Have you written to the cartridge manufacturer and explained your situation to them?  

Is it possible that you have a defective or otherwise not properly operating cartridge?

Is it possible that the Mac phono stage is not operating properly?  Could there be a bad tube in there?

I'd do more research on this before you conclude that you need a new phono preamp.  I've never heard of a MM cartridge that had such a low output.  Something somewhere is most likely just not operating properly.
Fixed the gain situation @russbutton   Read thru manual again and the Aux input setting needed to be set to phono   It's up and rolling. I'm going to give it a listen and report back! Thanks for chiming in!
One more thing @knollbrent   You can make big changes to how any piece of tube gear sounds by changing out the tubes.  They call it "tube rolling", and that would cost you a LOT less than buying other phono preamps.

The phone section I heard on a vintage Mac C22 is one of the best I've ever heard.  That's a GREAT piece of gear and I'd expect your C2200 to essentially the same circuit, but with modern, and hopefully more quiet and better sounding caps, resistors, etc.

What you already have is the envy of many.  Enjoy!
Bass needs to tighten up, that's about it. I really like the C2200 and think adjusting the tubes a little is going to be the best and least expensive move of them all. 

Treat the room a little we've got a triple bam!

@knollbrent   I assume your phono preamp uses 12AX7 tubes.  The big names I've heard are:

RCA Clear Tops

A good place to begin looking for tubes is:

I'd also recommend that you login to the discussion forum that the crowd uses:

Those guys will have a lot to say about different kinds of tubes.  There's also the DIY audio site:

What I find to be immensely rewarding is getting my hands inside the gear in some fashion.  I've built loudspeakers off and on since the late 70's.  There's little more satisfying than really being hands on with your gear.  And you'd be shocked at how good the right DIY designs can be.
Excellent @russbutton   I'll do some further research. I agree, it is nice to hands on.