80's System Needs Upgrade

After years of being too busy with family and business, my music listening was confined to convenience like small but decent office mini-system, and decent car stereo. I just recently dusted off my main gear (literally sat unused for years), and started listening again. I just also subscribed to Stereophile and Sound & Vision, and this website, now I want to do something to upgrade but in steps. My current setup is real old, bought in the mid 80's but everything still works exactly like new, except my kid snapped the stylus on my Blue Point cartridge about 10 years ago (see what I mean, never got around to fixing it until now). My ancient system:

1. Kef 104/2 Speakers

2. Denon POA-2200/PRA-1100 Amp/Preamp Separates

3. Linn Axis Turntable/Basik Arm w/ broken Blue Point Cartridge

4. Sony 507ESD CD Player directly connected to Denon amp thru built-in CD jack w/high cut filter (always sounded better than thru preamp)

5. Denon TU-600 Tuner

6. Onkyo Integra TA-2800 Cassette Tape Deck

Current plan is to move my Denon amp and preamp downstairs to run some ceiling mount Triad speakers (or equal) which I want to get for the TV room, just decent enough for good background music quality for parties. The preamp has a/v inputs so I could support a 2 channel sound system for the video, frankly more interested in the music than the surround sound thing. I can always upgrade that room's system to surround in the future around the Triad's. I'll use the Denon amp B speaker outputs for outdoor speakers for adjacent patio also.

Wifey has confined the KEF's to my home office (she hates speakers, hence the ceiling mount downstairs). So my current plan is to get a good quality used integrated amp for my Kef 104/2's. I'll also get a used phono cartridge to listen to my old 70's thru 80's vinyl, make analog tapes from vinyl with my Onkyo for the car and parties, continue to use my Sony CD player (I download and burn CD's at 320 kbps and lossless if available).

Sorry for long post, but what would you recommend for $1K to $2K used integrated amp as best match for 104/2's (best sound bang for buck)? I've seen/considered used Krell 300 or 400, DK Design VS1 V.3, Portal Panache or based on my situation and music sources should I keep the Denon separates for my Kef 104's and upgrade elsewhere first, i.e. would I gain appreciable sound improvements with a good integrated over my old Denon separates? Also any ideas on a used phono cartridge for about $100? This is probably a mid-fi to entry level hi-fi question but appreciate any advice from you hi-fi experts.

In shopping for integrateds, keep in mind that you are going to have to look at units with onboard phono stages unless you want to go to the additional trouble of buying a new phono stage and pair of ic's which will obviously contribute to the cost and expense.

As for cartridges, you could look at either the Shure M97XE or Audio Technica AT 120E for around $60-$70, both excellent cartridges with the Shure giving you a warmer, mellower sound and the AT being quite a bit more lively-take your pick depending on your preference. Or the AT 440 MLA which is available around $90 and shares similar attributes with its cheaper brother.
Thanks for the advice and tips on the cartridge. You're definitely right that I need the onboard phono stage, so I guess that will narrow my choices, any suggestions out there on an integrated w/ phono stage that fits my speakers, I will mainly be listening to CD's right now, so I'll want more emphasis on that part rather than the phono, unless there is a win-win out there.
This thread on audio asylum might help. You might want to try to post over there in the heritage, speaker, and amp asylum (all three)!

Maybe a good, older McIntosh amp might be the way to go.

Also, another thought might be to check out tube amplification. Given the 92dB sensitivity it might work with a wide variety, starting around 8 W.

Finally, I second the above cartridge recommendations, i.e. Shure and AT. Another cartridge to consider would be the Denon DL160 (around $150) and maybe a Benz Ace (around $450 with trade in of your damaged cartridge).

Good luck!

I would consider Plinius intergrated also.Great reliable product and great sound for the $$$ Good Luck in your choice.
Your Denon gear is better than you think!

For cartridges, plenty of Ortofons to consider or even a used Goldring 1012? The other suggestions above are great too. Check out ewsaunders.com or needle doctor.com.
Your table is nice.

Replace the cd player first. They have come a long way. The ES series are still good but there are many more. Your amp/pre will sound much better with a better source.

Interconnects & speaker cable have come a long way in 20 years. You don't need to get crazy but as you upgrade components, consider new interconnects into the mix?

Finally, if you go the route of an integrated to replace the Denon gear, don't limit yourself to phono stage only units. That is too limiting. You can get a nice external phono stage for $75 to $150. Parasound, Sumiko, Creek and many more are great & simple little units.
Thanks for the responses. Now you've all got me thinking. On the CD player I compared my 20 year old Sony ES against my relatively new $200 Sony DVD player that also plays CD and my old one sounded much better, much more musical to me, but I wasn't surprised about the cheapo new one but it still made me feel good about my old unit. But if upgrading my 20 year old Sony ES is where I'm going to get the most overall improvement, I agree I should start there. Any recommendations on a CD player that has variable output so I can run it direct through my Denon amp until I move to an integrated.
How about a Rega integrated and Rega cd player (either an older planet or the new apollo). Rega makes very nice gear (with an emphasis on musicality), and you can find used integrated amps and older planets for under 400 each. Kind of cool looking to, in my opinion.
Oh, most new things are plastic consumer-luring things with fancy look, and with lot of coloration in order to able to occupy a niche in the taste-market of audiophiles. Easy to get different sound, and easy to buy all kind of auxaliry things to modify the soundprint of your system slightly to one or other direction. But to really get into a better sound: you need to spend lots of money. Just get a good cartridge, maybe a better phoho and enjoy music.
Again, thanks for all your help. Here is what I've done so far. Baby steps (as far as money) but made a huge sonic distance. Took Elevick's advice and started experimenting with cables, I still was using original out-of-the-box stuff that came with Denon and Sony gear. Went to Best Buy (only local stereo place)and picked up $25 Acoustic Research Pro II interconnects and picked up a similar priced Monster Cable interconnect and a $50 Monster Cable 600 Series interconnect for comaparison, total of $140. What a difference!!!! Some findings: the Monster stuff was brighter and more detailed and generally sounded better than AR on newer and/or more softer, acoustic stuff like Tracy Chapman, Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne. The AR cables sounded better with old rock stuff, more full sounding, more oomph on the bass, but very controlled, on stuff like AC/DC, Stones, Beatles, old Bowie, Zeppelin, but sometimes there were exceptions, some recordings sounded better vice versa, kinda wierd, but obviously nuances of the original recording or transfer to CD. Any way what I'm doing is running the higher quality Monster from my variable CD output direct to the Denon POA amp special CD jacks (Denon says these inputs have a "high cut filter"???) and I'm running the AR from the fixed output through my Denon preamp which sounds better for the rock, so now I have a choice between the listening styles. Question is have I optimized the best result I can get for cabling or if I spend more $$$ will I get even better results (where is the point of diminishing return for my quality of equipment?). BTW when I bought the KEF's way back when, the guy sold me on what seemed pretty expensive speaker cable, marking says Hitachi Original SSX-104E LC-OFC which still sound s great to me, wonder why he didn't tell me about the interconnects at the time.
Interconnects have improved much more than speaker cable over the last 20 years(yes, my opinion). Lots of people are going with home depot bulk wire. If you are still on skinny junk, moving up to 12 gauge HD will be a nice improvement. You will probably have to invest in gold plated connectors from radio shack also since the wire is probably too fat for the terminals on the amp and speakers. Personally, I would buy the connectors on-line from parts-express.com or mcmelectronics.com or similar.
Also, if you heard a noticable improvement with $40 Monsters, can you imagine getting used cables on audiogon for $120. Nordost, Audioquest, XLO and many more sell for 1/2 to 1/4 the retail. Or, check out the cablecompany.com.
Wow, next on your cable list is power cords. However, I don't think they will make anywhere as noticable of a difference. A line condition may make a huge difference though. Adcom, Rotel or even monster used on audiogon for $100 to $200 will get rid of lots of noise and protect your gear.
Thanks Elevick. I'll experiment next with the line conditioner, amazing all the untapped quality in the old system!

In terms of better interconnects, which brand is best for the low end? The Monster seems to be lacking in bass compared to AR, but AR is not as spatial or 3D sounding, is there one that has both for a reasonble price?
For under $100 retail, I like Nordost for detail or Kimber PBJ for all around quality. You can get them on audiogon for much less. If you splurge a little, my favorite is Nordost Blue Heavens for about $125/pair for 3 feet(great detail but a tad too revealing sometimes). I like XLO and JPS also. High end monsters are good, just overpriced.

There are plenty of quality cables out there.
Check out some used gear web sites for cables: