I want to once again thank all of you for the good advice about what phono preamp might fit my budget and needs. I'm still considering all the options.
In the back and forth on the subject, Goran Finnberg had some very strong criticisms (below) regarding Esoteric Sound's two units, so I forwarded the comments to the company, since I thought they should have a chance to respond.  Below is that response. I thought it might generate more insight on the subject of specs vs. user comments.

--- On Sat, 2/25/12, [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

From: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Fw: [ARSCLIST] Phono Preamps
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Saturday, February 25, 2012, 2:49 PM


It took me some time to devote to all of these somewhat excited remarks, 
but I finally got the time.
Mike Stosich
Having been requested, I will offer a few comments on the recent 
uncomplimentary paper analysis of our PMMP BY GF. First, I would like to mention 
that we provide more specification details than most manufacturers, who often 
give up after stating the weight and power consumption.  We give minimum 
performance details, not marketing specs.  In fact, several of the 
complaints referred to info we provided that is often not published by 
others.  Had we not published them, we might have received a slightly 
different review.
It was suggested that the overload margin of the preamp was inadequate and 
that heavily modulated records will severely overload this preamp.  I hate 
to do things twice, especially when prompted by people who jump to conclusions 
based theoretical articles they read.  So, I revisited old design 
considerations and tested a unit pulled from stock with various LP records and 
78 rpm records.  I used a relatively high output Stanton 500.V3 cartridge 
and observed the output on an oscilloscope.  Guess what?  No peaks, no 
clicks, no pops, nothing approached clipping the output.  Too bad, nobody 
will have to listen to clipped pops!   Just for fun, I scratched the 
stylus from side to side of a record and then only that managed to clip once or 
twice.  My advice is not to purchase our preamp if you like to listen to 
dragging your phono arm from side to side.
Our subsonic filter was a last minute addition after it was noticed that 
the house shook when records were played on our system consisting of B&W 801 
Matrix III speakers and a subwoofer.  We had too flat of 
response.   The low end drops 3 dB at 7Hz and continues down at about 
a 9 dB/oct. rate.  It is not an exotic filter, but sonic earthquakes are 
gone and the bass is still solid.  Again, it is an oft-not specified 
The signal to noise ratio of the preamp (better than most audiophile 
turntables) was described as completely useless as it is not stated whether this 
is with shorted input or with an actual cartridge connected.  Please 
understand that “completely useless” was used, not vague, or confusing, but 
“useless.”  Useless to whom?  Someone who cannot make a simple mind 
extrapolation, or cannot hear?  How often have you ever seen the test 
conditions stated in a simple spec sheet?  You get the result.  It 
doesn’t really make that much of a difference.  So, the S/N might we equal 
to the rumble of your audiophile turntable, or 10 dB better.   Who 
cares?  You won’t hear it.  As it is, we use the 600 Ohm position of 
our Audio Precision.  So, do not fear, the input is not shorted.  

Oh that reminds me, we were criticized for listing our output 
impedance.  The input impedance and the output impedance of most audio 
device is usually given.  They are basic information.  Suddenly, 600 
ohms is a sign of unprofessional design.  This is more a joke than a 
criticism..  We could have made it 50 Ohms but what for?  To feed some 
ancient equipment with too low an input impedance?   In actuality, we 
use 560 Ohm resistor in the output as form of short circuit protection.  
Simple, low cost, and it works.  It is amazing how many of our professional 
customers have problems with our preamp driving the 10 Ohm inputs of their 
professional gear.
I cannot comment on the claim that a +/-0.25 dB variation in audio response 
is excessive.   That is better or equal to just about any 
preamp.  Oops, I just did.
I should point out that as large percentage of the purchasers of both the 
PMMP and the Re-Equalizer are professionals, and that is a good reason for us to 
use the term in our product’s description. 
Our Re-Equalizer (first-ever product like it) has but one competitor, 
Manuel Huber’s FM Acoustics device.  The FM Acoustics device is very nice, 
more than nice; it is a gem.  However, consider that  we may not need 
1% accuracy to replicate records that were made with 20% tolerance 
components.  For over 25 years, every review of the Re-Equalizer has been 
glowing.  Amongst those unprofessionals are Len Feldman at Audio 
Magazine,  John Borwick at The Gramophone Magazine, and Art Dudley at 
Stereophile Magazine.  We all know that Stereophile Magazine focuses only 
on mediocre, Big-Box Store equipment.  It is difficult to understand why 
they would put it in their list of Recommended Components.  We provide a 
manual with equalization settings that have taken 30 years of research.  
Amongst those with whom we worked with was Peter Copeland, ex-BBC and the 
British National Sound Archive, and we found many mistakes in what had 
previously been published of the subject.
We design our equipment to be cost effective, not spec. impressive.  
They meet 90% or better of the needs of professionals and collectors   
Our PMMP will provide most of the performance of a $200.00 or more preamp, and 
our Re-Equalizer’s only competitor costs about  l0 times more (actually, it 
seems impossible to find the selling price).  My best guess is that you can 
purchase our products at a total cost of $438.00 or the complainee’s for 
$3,900.00, and end up with very similar results.
Best Regards,
Mike Stosich, Esoteric Sound

In a message dated 2/17/2012 12:02:05 P.M. Central Standard Time, 
[log in to unmask] writes:

      Ladies and Gentlemen of Esoteric, 

        This email is from the ARSCLIST archival group in response to my 
        search for a reasonable cost phono preamp.  I thought you should 
        have the right to refute these accusations.  Please respond, and I 
        will forward any comments to the group if you wish.


        Rod Stephens

--- On Thu, 2/16/12, Goran Finnberg 
        <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

          Goran Finnberg <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: [ARSCLIST] 
          Phono Preamps
To: [log in to unmask]
Date: Thursday, 
          February 16, 2012, 7:55 AM

          Roderic G Stephens :

          an overload point of just 35 mV heavily modulated records will 
overload this preamp.

And if the music is not loud 
          enough on a given record then the ticks and
crackles will do this 
          constantly since such disturbances will provide for
          forces on the stylus tip well in advance what can be cut so 
actual voltage output is much higher on the ticks and crackles 
          than any
music can provide.

The Sub Sonic filter is 
          completely useless having a very low cut off at 6 Hz
with no 
          information what the roll off rate is.

To really be effective 
          the absolute minimum requirement is 18 dB/octave at
15 Hz to even 
          start making some inroad in the copious amounts of low
          disturbances coming off vinyl disks.

Using +-15V dc powering, 
          standard for anything op amp based I would excpect
to see an output 
          clipping level of minimum 8.9 V RMS but this device clips
at 2.9 V 

The S/N figure specification is completely useless as 
          it is not stated
whether this is with shorted input or with an 
          actual cartridge connected.

Shorted input always gives a much 
          better S/N figure compared to with an
actual cartridge 

The Re-Equalizer is the same with very low values of 
          clipping level at 3.5 V

With such mediocre 
          specifications I would not even bother to listen to 

The very low overload level of the RIAA preamp 
          is a real killer and makes it
unusable in a professional setting. I 
          prefer minimu 100 mV and most
"Professional" ones will easily give 
          you 200 mV.

In no way can I agree to the claim of 
          "Professional" in its name, Rek-O-Kut
Professional blah blah. This 
          is just sales babble.

Looks like a cheap two transistor 
          implementation of an RIAA preamp for home
use with its attendant 
          problems......600 ohms output impedance means nothing
at all since 
          no indication is given to its actual current delivery,
          but true professional equipment usually is below 50 ohms and
can be 
          loaded down to 200 ohms with little change in its 

Also when I look at the printed RIAA response 
          curve on top of the box I note
that the response is elevated below 
          1 kHz and depressed above 1 kHz.

Such an inbuilt chosen EQ 
          inaccuracy will always sound nicer than a really
accurate RIAA 
          preamp having basically flat response from 20 to 20 kHz.

          Rek-O-Kut RIAA curve inaccuracy will tend to lessen perceived mid 
harshness and increase the LF warmth since the errors are over 
          at least 5
octave either way.

Sorry, no 


Best regards,

The Mastering Room AB


          [log in to unmask]

          from the mistakes of others, you can never live long enough to
          them all yourself.    -   John