The best phono stage out there?

I have recently purchased a basis turntable and was wondering what analog lovers think is the very best phono stage they have heard . I currently use the Sutherland PhD and like it very much but have not really had an opportunity to audition other great phono stages. The cartridge I intend to use is the Dynavector XV-1S .
Thanking you for your opinions
You are going to get 6 thousand different phono amps to read about from those who chime in.

If everyone writes in and says the Sutherland PhD is the best they have heard would you keep it?

I have had the Audio Note, EAR 324, PhD, Herron, & the ASR Exclusive and they all were/are excellent sounding. Each one had a different flavor of sound that was not necessarily better than the other. I kept the ASR because of it's battery powered abilities.

My vote is for the PhD. Keep and and enjoy it to the hilt.
How much do you want to spend? The "best" doesn't really exist.

I love my Doshi Audio Alaap with my XV-1s. The last phono stage/preamp I'll every own. Well, unless all the tubes in the world suddenly disappear. ;-)
I guess, there is no "best" out there. One prefers Transistor, the other one a Tube amplification. For each Design there are good and average Designs available. I guess endless average ones in general.
There is no other stage in the whole System where you can win or loose so much.
Anyway, I have a highly modified Lamm LP2 with very special Transformers and lots of selected better parts than stock and this one is by far the best unit I every heard.
Pretty useless for you I'm afraid, but a 2.Hand LP2 is easy to get and hard to beat, but depends on the rest of your System to bring the best out of it.
The Aesthetix Io Signature or the Io Eclipse are two additional candidates for consideration among the top competitive phono stages.
You really should list what your budget is. By saying the best, you are getting into some really expensive phono preamplifiers. (The ones I've listed below retail from about $5K up to about about $10K.) Also, do you want or require the phono preamp to run your cartridge in balance mode, hence do you want or need the tonearm cables to be terminated with XLRs? Also, you should state whether you can put up with tube rushing noise, (and the benefits of tubes), or if you wish to have solid state, (and lose the benefits of tubes). (I bring that up because the output of the Dynavector XV-1S is 0.3 mv, which is pretty low, and most tube phono stages will be stretched to their limits to provide the gain necessary for such a low output cartridge. Luckily you are not using a highend Allaerts with its 0.1 mv output - Ouch!!! FYI, I am not trying to frighten you out of using the Dynavector XV-1S, as I use it, (with my Basis 2001 and Vector M3 tonearm), and think it is an incredible cartridge, and possibly the last cartridge I'll ever own.)

Based on my experience and research, the choices I would recommend are:

ASR Basis Exclusive - A great phono preamp, that is actually two phono preamps, and has the capability of running even the lowest output cartridge. It is solid state by the way, and is set up to handle XLRs. (My favorite, btw.)

The Manley Steelhead - A hybrid phono preamp, that can handle most any cartridge, that still has the sound of tubes. Single ended only though.

The Einstein (The turntables choice) - Another great solid state phono preamp with lots of gain. (A friend uses the XLR version of this preamp with his Basis 2500 and the Dynavector XV-1S, btw.)

Lamm LP2 - A great tube preamp, but somewhat limited in its fleibility. Very musical. Single ended only.

Aesthetics IO Signature - A great tube phono preamp.

ARC PH-7 - A very nice tube preamp, but may not have quite enough gain, (it depends on your preamp's gain, as to whether it would work). Has the advantage of having a remote to adjust loading (and other features) on the fly.

Good Luck in your search.

At best, you will be able to compile a list of candidates. Unfortunately, there is no realistic way to audition the various candidates in your own system.

I've only heard the Sutherland at shows, so at best, I can say that the systems I heard it in sounded refined and pleasantly listenable. Is this what you are hearing? Is there any sense that it is lacking in some area?

In the solid state camp, the Lyra Connoisseure that I've heard at shows sounded VERY good -- dramatic, dynamic and exciting without being mechanical and artificially edgy as some solid state phonostages sound to me. A friend has a Boulder, and though it is hard to isolate the contribution of that particular phonostage (he also has a Boulder linestage), I have NOT particularly liked the sound.

In dealer systems, I have heard great sound from Audionote (uk)phonostages and from custom-designed phonostages built around an Audionote step-up transformer. These would certainly are capable of delivering top-flight sound.

A friend has the Tron phonostage. I thought it is sounded pretty good in two different systems a bunch of us heard it playing through (Transfiguration Orpheus cartridge and Ortofon Per Winfield). This tube-based phonostage, like all tube phonostages, sounded dramatically different depending on the selection of tubes so it requires some experimentation to sound its best. The Tron also lacked any convenient way to change loading (one would have to open the unit and solder in different resistors). The good news is that it is not ridiculously expensive.

I have a Viva Fono phonostage. It is tube-based, and like the Tron, it lacks any kind of convenient way to change loading. It too required some fiddling with tube choice for me to find what works best in my system. To me, this is a terrific sounding phonostage -- well worth the trouble. It is dramatically different from the Sutherland, in terms of size. It has a power supply bigger than many power amps, and the separate amplifier box is bigger than most linestages. The only phonostage I've seen and heard that is more massive is the Audionote phonostage. The other bad news is that it currently costs something like 14,000 Euros (sadly, this is MUCH cheaper than the Boulder, Audionote and Connoisseure stages mentioned above).

Another pretty good stage that I've heard in a dealer's system is the Manley Steelhead. It is extremely versatile and easy to adjust for gain, loading, etc. I thought it sounded nice and punchy, and it represents good value, compared to the units I've mentioned above. Perhaps not a candidate on most people's "best" list, but a realistic and practical choice.
I'm no expert, but the Sutherland PhD is probably quieter than any other (batteries) and as good as any provided you pair it with synergistic cartridges such as Lyras
There is no "very best" commercial preamp as others have already stated. The various offerings mentioned earlier all have their merits no doubt, but they will span a wide spectrum of sound character. If you really want the "very best" you will need to work with a custom builder who can design and build for you a phono stage that has the exact sound you want and the gain you need. This is an area where an experienced DIYer has the advantage over the average consumer who must choose between commercial offerings. In my case, I ended up with a variation of Stephen Robinson's Izzy Wizzy phono circuit (see website below) where I have chosen each part to give just the sound I want. This is a 2-stage tube design with a stepup transformer on the input. Although you can't buy it from your local dealer, a custom builder could build it without any great difficulty and it then can be tweaked to adjust its sound in whatever direction you like.

BTW, I have no connection to Stephen.

In my 40 plus years of listening I have heard many that I could live with long term.The very best that I heard is the Viva Fono.If I could afford it this would be my choice without hesitation
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Well the best might be the Whest Reference it just conveys music.
Its strange the Tron being mentioned I heard it a few times and to my ears it was slightly coloured having a dark presentation. But there is a chance this was the system. It has tremendous resolution but so has the Whest Reference
I think what makes the Whest reference special is manufactures like Amazon and Raven who use it there system
But as it been said earlier there is no real best just about preferences
The Boulder 2008 is probaly the best I've heard, but at $33,000 it is pricey. I own an Aesthetix Rhea that is very close to the Boulder, and an ASR Basis Exclusive that might equal the Boulder, but I have not been able to directly compare. For the price, the Rhea would be very hard to beat.
The best is the one YOU like the best, the question is how to find it; popularity polls are of little use. Set down the elements of sound reproduction that are the most important to YOU and try to decide which one you can afford matches it best. The beginning of wisdom in audio is the recognition that THE BEST does not exist and what you are seeking is the one that best conforms to YOUR ideal of sound reproduction. Being able to recognize what that ideal is is the end of wisdom in audio. On second thought, forget everything I have said. The constant search for the HOLY GRAIL provides old timers like me with a never-ending stream of great equipment at good prices.
The word 'best' exists for a reason. In the audio world though, defining what that even means is troublesome.

So what is the best? Is it something that everyone agrees on? no.

The best specs? Maybe, but likely not. Its now well-proven that what is important to our ears does not show up on paper very well, if at all.

I think it would be a bad idea to focus on any one characteristic and most audiophiles have different ideas about what is important.

So best, unfortunately IMO is only defined personally, and is inherently limited to the experience of the individual. IOW there can be something out there that is a whole lot better, but since its unknown to the individual, it does not exist.

So we ask. The problem here is that we have a vernacular that describes audio artifact or lack thereof, but the vernacular lacks the ability to transmit knowledge of intensity. The result is that one person can be describing a cheap transistor amp that might be the best they have ever heard, and the person he is talking to is used to much better equipment, maybe a $20,000 tube amp, yet they are using exactly the same descriptions to describe very different experiences.

So, IMO, while there is a best, there is no way that we can talk about it intelligently. So it might be wise to ask a different question!
The best I have listen to is the Boulder 2008.
I could not afford it, I purchased a Nagra VPS.
I have a Basis Debut with a Graham Phantum.
Cartridges I have are Lyra & Koetsu.
It sounds great
IMHO the best of anything is not necessarily the most expensive or even the best-sounding; it's the best you can get a deal on. Sort of like shopping the specials.

The best special I know of at the moment is an Audiomat 1.5 from UHF Magazine. I believe the one they are selling also has the new beefier power supply. This is a selloff because Audiomat will have a 1.6 model out soon.

There is something special about Audiomat gear, it really seems to bring out the life in the music. Other phono stages I've heard are also good, with different flavours, but this is the best sonic deal I know of right now.
Don't know about the best but the Allnic H-3000 phono stage is hard to beat and I really mean it...that's if you like transformers. Check 'em out here on audiogon. The H-1500 is also a fine piece for the $$. I used to own the H1500 and just received the H-3000. I run the XV1s and a few other cartridges with it. I also have a friend who swears by the Tron/XV1s combo and that itself is a great piece too.

There's lots of fine product out there if you're willing to break the $5000 barrier. Also depends what you value most in the sound will help determine what works best for you.
I really do appreciate all the replies. For the replies that question the value of the question, let me explain that living in Australia, there are no places where one can get presented with a range of high end phono stages to decide from,therefore, another person's experience with similair equipment to what I have and who have moved on from it ,is particularly helpful as it would direct me to seek out such equipment for audition.
In relation to budget, I was looking at the 5000 to 10000 range. BTW I also use a Audionote step up transformer.
I look forward to other opinions
Thanks again
Hello Ecka,
I've noted, and if others as well read carefully, you make mention of the "Cartridge you intend to use, is the Dyna XV-1S".

Does that mean that you not currently using that Cartridge with your Sutherland PhD? If not, what Cartridge are/were you using, that you make mention of requiring a Audionote SUT with the Sutherland?

Forgive me for asking, or for any confusion, but the Sutherland should be fine all by itself, with the Dyna XV-1, at .3mv without the need of another SUT in the path which might be possibly be further degrading the signal.

The Sutherland PhD has up to 60db Gain with the Stock Gain Boards, and the optional High Gain Boards (About $75 for the Pair) can be gotten I believe from Elusive Disc (That was where I bought mine from). The High Gain Boards are 62-64-66-68 db. Custom Blank Loading Boards can be gotten as well, and custom value Resistors can be soldered in by those handy with a soldering Iron.

The Sutherland PhD is perhaps not the best Phono Stage in the world, but it's forte, which almost no other Phono Stage can rival, is its dead silence, and immunity to EMI, and RFI.
Hope this helps, Mark
Markd51, Thanks for your comments. I currently use the audionote Io cartridge with the Japanese Audionote SUT. I have not yet used the Dynavector. I will look into the high gain boards . BTW what cartridge do you use?
Perhaps everyone should be required to read Atmosphere's post above,prior to joining this club
The best phono preamp I've heard:

Solid state: FM Acoustics FM 222
Tube: audio research ph3
Salectric has it right. The "best" phono stage can only be the one built to match the system and listening environment.
Ecka , i have a Audion note /Kondo step-up & i use it with my AIR TIGHT ATE-2 Phono stage. it has 2 phono inputs as well as a line level input , you could use it as a pre amp with its volume control ,but it sounds alot better as a phono stage.
Well, I owned the PHD, the Manley steelhead w/ a Mcintosh C2200 preamp. I sold the the PHD and loved (thought I loved) the Manley....... I changed all the tubes and thought ...this is it! ( Oh, forgot to mention....table Basis DebutSignature Vaccuum table, Graham Phantom Dynavector XV1S) Bought a Mcintosh C2300......MUCH better than the Manley....Sold the Manley and ended up w/ Tron7 signature w/ NOS Telefunkens......ABSOLUTE MAGIC!! The C2300has an incredible phono stage and is a VERY CLOSE second place to the tron. My .02cents........
I have owned various phono stages SS and Tubes.

The best i have heard so far is dedicate Kondo KSL-M7 phono, stand alone phono.
Hi, My other cartridge on the second arm is the Audio Note IO2v stright into a Kondo AN-s9s tranny then into the Allnic H-3000. Works great.

My other cartridge is a XV1s fed into an Expressive Tech SU1 which also works well with the Allnic.

The Allnic is in your price range a tad over $10K and has the ability to accept 4 tonearm/cartridge combos.

I am sure like as some mentioned, the Kondo M7 is another killer piece but might be outta your price range.
Ecka, I am currently using the low output (.24mv) ZYX Airy 3X SB Cartridge. Settings on my Sutherland PhD are 62db Gain (lowest setting on the High gain Boards). I could've used 60db Gain as well, and possibly 64db without detriment. Loading is set at the suggested 100 Ohms, with fine results.

I'm sure all units mentioned here are all of the very best, of this I have no doubt. There will always be just too many variables with any given piece of equipment. What might shine in your system, might sound lackluster, or quite different in another's. I think we can all agree on that much.

And the other is of course, extracting the very best from the equipment you have, and I would bet in quite a few cases, incorrect set-up of Cartridge, and Phono Stage can account for much.

If you do not have such a tool, or a tool of comparable quality, definitely consider a high quality Protractor, such as the Mintlp, sold by Yip in Hong Kong. He's dependable, will ship anywhere in the world, and I'd bet the majority of responders here will all tell you the exact same thing, that the Mintlp Protractor has made very pleasing, notable improvements in all of thier system's sound. I, without any reservation, highly recommend this tool. It is worth its cost. Mark

A great product in your price range, maybe one of best in the world (IMHO), is the Wavestream Phono Unit. It's a Scott Franklin tube design. It's neutral, quiet while being very musical. You can buy it with one, two or up to three phono inputs. FYI, Wavestream produces a great tube Line Unit.

BTW: Audio Note pre-amp with a phono section might be a good choice with your step up tranny. There are two listed now.
G'day all. As an avid DIYer, at least for MM's I never tire of my Elliott Sound Products P06 phono stage.

It is designed for MM's, but is quite suitable for MC's via an SUT. I love the P06 for it's quietness, sonic 'definition', effortless high frequency clarity and realistic bass end. A top phono preamp, in my humble opinion. Regards, Fap.
I heard the Allnic H1500 twice in two seperate systems both times it did a wonderful job with acoustic music but when it came to electric disorted guitars it sounded very muddy to me. I have not heard the 3000
So if you going down that route please hear before you buy the 1500 is not for everyone
Dunno, my Allnic phonos shred, rip, grind, sting and bump with the best I have heard. I have been listening to ZZ Top, Cream, Blind Faith and Santana, never sounded better . Of course, it is always advisable to listen to a particular phono staqe if possible for a particular taste in music.
For me it seemed to happen with music that had real drive like the Electric pieces from Casino by Al DiMeola remember being told that it must be production on record from dealer
Loads to choose from. How about TRON, EAR, ARC Ref, Sutherland PhD to start with.

Which cartridge are you using?

I found the Aqvox to be an exceptional phono stage. It is solid state and provides a variety of options that will accomondate any cartridge. I recently switched from a Benz Ruby to Koetsu Urushi with out any problems. The Aqvox when connected through the balanced connectors automatically adjusts the load for the particular cartridge in use at the time. This is an excellent feature. But for those who like to play around with different load settings you can simply connect through the rca ports and have a blast. The Aqvox sells for less than 2,000 and well worth the investment. Have fun with your search. Herman
"For me it seemed to happen with music that had real drive like the Electric pieces from Casino by Al DiMeola remember being told that it must be production on record from dealer"

"Casino" is one of my faves, played it many times on the Allnic 1500, wonderful rendition. All I can say is that my impressions in my own system do not agree that the Allnic doesn't rock or muddles amplified electric guitars, just the opposite, they thrash loud and clear.
I am happy that you have not encountered the same issue, it was so frustrating as a really nice phono stage but very happy with what I got now

I am sure you heard what you heard when you heard it, it just seems an unfair generalization about the component given my own experience in owning and using the unit for over a year.
Synergies can make or break particular components, even the best, so building systems with components that work in conjunction with each other is tough, as I have learned. It isn't always easy to figure out where the synergy, or lack thereof, comes from. Been listening to Sonny Sharrock on the H 3000, what a blast.

Happy listening!
I heard the Audio Valve Sunilda this weekend and it's quite impressive. Eye candy as well.

There's been other posts regarding their linestage called Eklipse (sp) but that was not available for audition.

Disclaimer: no financial interest
In regards to battery powered phono stages, I would be grateful if anyone who has had a Sutherland Phd and has moved on to another phono stage could outline their reasons for doing so. Whenever the Phd gets discussed, it's quietness appears to be it's main strength. Would this not be the case for all other battery powered phonostages?

Thank you for the many responses. There are a few recurring names that I will try to get a hold of for audition in my system.
Noise floor is not the final word in phono stages by any means. Some phono stages are quiet, until you put on a record and realize that there are an awful lot of ticks and pops. Other phono stages (usually ones with passive EQ) may have a slightly higher noise spec but will not play the ticks and pops so bad, even though they have the same bandwidth (IOW its not a function of high frequency response).

Since these are subjective issues not easily measured on the bench, there is no specification that will let you know how badly a phono section will exacerbate surface noise- you just have to compare them.

IMO/IME this is an important quality of the 'best' phono stage...
Atmasphere, that is a very good point. To be honest, I was not aware that different phono stages could affect loudness of ticks and pops separate to their noise floor. In such a situation is the audio signal also negatively affected?? How can a amplification device distinguish between a surface noise pop and a "music" pop (please pardon my ignorance if this question reveals a basic lack of understanding on my part).
Which phono stage are really good at reducing surface noises Which phono stage do you use.

Ecka, I have owned my Sutherland PhD for a good two years now. The Sutherland PhD IMO does many things well.

Atmasphere of course brings up good points, and I'll agree wholeheartedly, a world class phono stage cannot just be judged by that it does one thing right.

In the course of the past two years, there have been three different Cartridges in my system, a 9-10 year old Benz Micro Glider, which had new life, when the Sutherland was inserted into the system. Then I moved onto the Benz Ruby 3. Of course a better Cartridge, which IMO possessed many similar traits of the Glider, retaining much of that "Benz House Sound", but with some better refinement, and purity of sound.

Then, on a whim, I moved to a new ZYX Airy 3X SB low output Cartridge. Here, was where I finally seen just how well the Sutherland could play, as my pristine LPs took on a CD like quality of dead silence, both from groove silence, and as well, whenever there was the slight tick, or pop on an LP, these were then placed much further in the background versus the other two Benz Cartridges.

There's no doubt about it, that Cartridges as well have a major influence on how a record will sound, and how they handle surface noise, and defects in the groove.

I do believe in general, just like Cartridges, that you usually do get what you pay for, meaning that a $5,000 Phono Stage should outperform a $3,000 one, and usually has a better host of features as well.

Of course, it does too boil down to personal preference Some may try a Manley Steelhead, and come away saying that they didn't like it for whatever personal reasons, and particular likes. Synergy with other quipment is as well very important.

There is one man I know, who is a member here, Sunnyboy1956, who recently sold his Sutherland PhD, and moved onto the Nagra VPS Phono Stage. He uses a Michell Deck, a TriPlanar Arm, and Lyra Skala Cartridge.
Yes, he says the Nagra is an improvement over the Sutherland. Mark
To a degree the stylus profile will affect the level of audible surface noise, as well as how well the cartridge is aligned, especially azimuth.
Hi Ecka, active phono EQ works inside a feedback network in the phono stage (the feedback takes a bit of the output signal and feeds it back to the input). Because the signal propagates through the phono section at a very finite speed, the feedback is always running a little behind the actual signal itself- in effect it never arrives back at the input in time. This problem is not so bad in the bass region, but in the highs it contributes to ringing in the phono stage. Pops and ticks are the sort of thing that will thus become more noticeable if your phono section employs loop negative feedback.

Loop feedback is known to reduce distortion overall, but at a price- at actually enhances (although in trace amounts) certain odd-ordered harmonics. The trouble is that our ears use these harmonics as loudness cues, so quite often loop feedback contributes to brightness or hardness in the phono section, while on paper the specs appear to be quite good.

Balanced differential operation offers several advantages- of course the cartridge itself is balanced, so you can accept the signal in the balanced domain and get less noise and artifact from the interconnect. But balanced differential operation is also lower distortion because distortion is canceled at every stage throughout the preamp. It also can be lower noise. I like to use tubes as well since tubes can operate without loop feedback, and what I found is that if you really want tubes to be quiet, balanced differential is an excellent way to go.

Of course I use our preamps (either MP-1 MkIII or MP-3) in my system- I use both the ZYX Universe and the Transfiguration Orpheus, both exceptional low output cartridges.
The Best Phono Stage Out There?

Is the one that has you listening to the neglected and almost forgotten Lps in your collection and everything in between.
Ralph's assertions are not entirely correct. While there may be a propagation delay associated with feedback, if the designer knows what he is doing, global feedback can remain useful in circuits that operate in the hundreds of MHz, which is far, far, far higher than anything we can hear.

It is also true that global feedback can enhance certain harmonics, but it should also be pointed out that this is related to the amount of feedback applied. Ergo, altering the amount of feedback will in many cases solve the problem, and that may sometimes entail less feedback, sometimes more.

I have designed multiple phono stages, some with feedback, some without. My experience has been that different circuits benefit from different amounts of global feedback, and that the designer should use his ears as well as as measuring tools to determine the correct amount of feedback. Sometimes the proper amount is 0dB, and sometimes the proper amount may be 60dB. It depends on the circuit topology and how it is built (and in some cases what the operating environment is like).

For the non-engineer audiophile, I would recommend forgetting the preconceptions and using your ears to decide whether a given phono stage is a good one or not.

I would say that the technical capabilities and aesthetic sensibilities (including hearing abilities) of the designer play a much bigger role in successful phono stage design than what kinds of technology that it uses.

hth, jonathan carr
Jcarr, while I agree with most of what you have said, and I also feel that its a bad idea to make generalizations, especially in **this** sport, I can safely say that I have yet to see a decent circuit where feedback was also a good idea. Certainly I have seen and worked on many circuits that I consider less than ideal; many of them would not work at all without feedback. Nor would they sound right.

My comments are really aimed at the state of the art, which IMO is going to have to do when we talk about the 'best' :) In that context we may have a difference of opinion, but I'm stick'n to my story: feedback violates the most important rule of human hearing, our perception of loudness. Thus a designer uses it at his/her own peril, as it will be an influence that steers the electronics away from sounding real, and towards sounding like a hifi.
Ralph, of course I was including state-of-the-art, award-winning designs. Of course.

I invariably dial in the amount of feedback that I use by ear as well as meter, and sometimes the result is more GNFB, sometimes less (or zero).

FWIW, when a circuit sounds like it has too much GNFB, to my ears the sonic problems tend to manifest themselves as dynamic compression and timbral shifts in a decidedly unnatural direction, as well as spatial flattening.

My general experience has been that using GNFB to try to turn a poor-sounding circuit into something decent rarely gives acceptable results. A design that sounds good with lots of GNFB (global feedback) tends to sound pretty good without it, too.

So while I think there are similar aspects to our respective standpoints, Ralph, we'll just have to agree to disagree as to the usefulness of GNFB for SOTA audio.

As an aside, I've auditioned some highly-regarded commercial zero NFB designs that I liked and admired a lot (yours among them), while others (some also highly regarded) have left a different impression.

For example, perhaps two months ago, I had a chance to listen at length to a high-feedback preamp design of mine from the late 1990's, Charles Hansen's zero NFB KX-R preamp, and a contemporary highly-regarded European-made zero NFB preamp. It was my opinion as well as others who heard these same pieces that Charles' zero-NFB KX-R and my high-GNFB design sounded a lot closer to each other than either did to the European-made zero-NFB preamp (which FWIW sounded much more "contrived").

I stand by my opinion that the individual designing the product has a far greater effect on the sound than whatever technology that he happens to choose.

best, jonathan carr