What's A Good Upgrade From A Manley Steelhead?

I'm on a mission to improve my vinyl front-end. Starting point is to replace the Graham 2.2 on my Basis Audio Debut Gold Vacuum, followed by a new compatible cartridge, next will be a different phonostage.

I like the Steelhead but I'm sure there's something better out there. I've around $8K  to play with and prefer to buy used. Has anyone stepped up from the Steelhead successfully, if so, what did you buy and how much of an improvement was it?

Appreciate any thoughts/ideas? 


Find a used Herron VTPH-2A.  Still at least as good or better than anything else available.  Within your budget and worth much more.

Dear @rooze  : As you already knew Moon is a low profile manufacturer with a very high quality and knowledge engeenering and build quality second to none. Here you can read about the 610Lp:


Simaudio MOON Evolution 610LP phonostage (tonepublications.com)

201506_simaudio_guts.jpg (765×510) (soundstagehifi.com)


Tube units can't really compete with this level of SS unit. Just splendid.



Dear @drbond  : "  I think an upgrade should be 50-100% more in price, otherwise you’re just looking at different. "


Upgrade an audio system link has its real foundation not in the price that at the end could be tell you almost nothing other that it's more expensive. The foundation of that upgrade belongs to the engeenering level and build quality of the unit manufacturer and you can besure that the 610 does not envy your CH about.



Wish I’d heard a Steelhead - almost bought a used one last year. What do you want to hear from its replacement? More detail & transparency? More warmth and body? More dynamic sound? All of that? (that’s hard to pull off lol).

  • Herron VTPH-2A - This one doesn’t add warmth. It’s very clean & cool / neutral-ish in character. Not very tubey. I honestly don’t dig it on my Tannoys, where I desire more meat on the bones. BUT it’s proving a great partner for my Stax 009 / T2 rig - the T2 amp already provides all the necessary lushness on its own, and the Herron’s clean sound slots in well here.
  • Hagerman Trumpet MC - Ridiculously cheap for how enjoyable it is to me. Gobs of warmth and body, lush midrange - honestly feels like it has a mild bass boost. Very tubey sound with an large & open soundstage. Responds well to NOS tube rolling. Works well with anything. This is literally the best I’ve heard my Benz LPS.
  • VAC Renaissance SE - Classic upper-echelon VAC sound: very good resolution and dynamics, absolutely gorgeous midrange (natural, organic). VAC makes one hell of a phono stage, especially this 6-tube version. Neutral-ish when using the onboard Lundahl SUT. Not a huge fan of the Lundahls, honestly. You can get a more meaty sound bypassing them and using an outboard SUT (Koetsu, EAR, Bob’s Devices). Which I do!
  • ARC Reference 3SE - OMG this stage is so good. It was my best overall phono stage, and I sold it (lol). Only because I went with huge VAC 300 Watt monos, and then the Master preamp matched best with those, and the Ref 3SE didn’t gel so well with the Master pre, for some unknown reason. I’m a particularly huge fan of its MM (low gain) mode. I still preferred my own outboard SUTs over its MC / JFET stage, but it was also very good! It is the cleanest, most linear phono stage with top marks in dynamics, detail, transparency, good body, and a touch of sweetness. Why did I sell this (oh yeah - I also needed the funds to afford the monoblocks). Perhaps surprisingly, the monoblocks made a much bigger difference in the overall system performance.