My most recent new toy (upgrade) is the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 phono preamp, $399. The S2 features 2 ECC83 tubes, and can handle both MM& MC cartridges. It has a wide range of adjustments: 40-63 db gain on front switches plus numerous dip switches on the underside for impedance and capacitance. I flipped the third dips on the underside and set the gain to 43. Too little gain wasn’t enough and too much gave distortion. I recommend just flipping them until you get the best sound with your cartridge. It also has a subsonic switch which was so helpful I ended up leaving it on all the time. I could hear a slight rumble when cranked up and the subsonic switch pretty much eliminated it.
My Clearaudio Blue Motion turntable with Soundsmith SMMC4 cartridge always sounded reasonably detailed, but lacked in depth and warmth. The little Schiit preamp I had previously, was a step up from the on-board phono stage on my preamp, but after plugging in the S2, voila, total transformation! Previously what I thought were not perfect pressings of great records, such as my Mofi Genesis Trick of the Tail and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon suddenly were full, rich, deep and sparkling with detail! Old classic rock which I would only listen to on the garage Klipsch system now sounded excellent. Nicely recorded jazz, (ECM of course) and classical sounded transcending.
The little box was definitely one of the best upgrades I’ve ever made to my system.. Highly recommended for those on a budget!