Confused along the journey--opinions please


I'm confused, or maybe I know some things from what I've learned.  What do you think?

I replaced Totem Arro loudspeakers with PSB Imagine T2s.  I needed a WAF floorstander to replace the Totems and the PSBs did the trick.  After experiencing some neutral and accurate sound, I felt that I was missing some passion.  So, I moved my Creek Evolution 100A to the second system and bought a Primaluna Dialogue Premium HP.  

I had a bad switch in the Primaluna and had to send it back.  They are sending out a new unit asap.  Superb customer service from Mr. Kevin Deal.  

The Primaluna was so interesting and I enjoyed it.  But, to make matters confusing, I introduced a Manley Chinook tube phono preamplifier into the mix tonight and had to bring the Creek Evolution back to the PSBs (because the Primaluna is on a truck tomorrow while I wait replacement). 

So now my point.  While there were real audible differences between the Creek and Primaluna, the Manley Chinook may be more of a game changer.  

It's so hard to audition equipment these days so I'm a bit confused.  I know that I need to get a new Primaluna back into the spot to hear it with the Manley.  But I'm wondering what folks with more experience than me think.  

The Manley Chinook has bested the Creek's drop in phono board for sure.  I don't want to be chasing stuff, yet I want to feel just a bit more passion for the music, which the Chinook delivered in spades.

But where is my next level?    
Are my PSBs the weak spot now?  The Creek v. Primaluna is certainly not as wide a margin as I thought--whereas the Manley Chinook v. the Creek internal phono is no contest.  

All opinions welcome, especially from those who have more experience than I do! :)
jbhiller
It seems like you have a very nice system and are making some good choices along the way. What analog setup do you have? Making some changes to my front end significantly improved my system.
Source > phono > preamp > power amp in that order. Your error is changing too many things at the same time. You have to make changes one at a time. But now you know that.
I was wondering the same thing as jperry.  You mentioned all your gear and the evolution of your upgrades except for the TT and cartridge. 

And even though the phono stage is extremely important, its generally chosen based on the cartridge you are running.

 
" So now my point.  While there were real audible differences between the Creek and Primaluna, the Manley Chinook may be more of a game changer."

Assuming everything else is equal, the weaker the signal, the larger the effect outside forces have on it. A low output phono cart is more sensitive than a high output one. A phono preamp is more sensitive than a line stage. A line stage is more sensitive than a power amp. This is the main reason why many people don't see the value in preamps and phono stages. To them, a preamp is just a box with knobs, and can't figure out why they cost so much. To make a preamp perform at the same overall level of sound quality as an amp, more has to go in it. Same thing for a phono stage and a line stage. 

Its not that the Clinhook is a game changer. It just has more of an effect on the signal than an amp or line stage. There are plenty of other phono preamps in the same league as the Manley, and would yeild the same type of results. 

Jbhiller-

you now have a great foundation for AMAZING record listening sessions.

Step up your table and a LOMC.Not knowing what you have now, if you have a 1-2 K  Project/Rega & MM  type setup, time to consider a 4-5K rig. That figure can be HALF with used. Unless you REALLY trust the seller, I would go new on the cart.

Once in place, THEN drive yourself mad determining what cable needs upgrading.
Dont forget clean wall power feeding everything AND proper setup/room treatment.

I auditioned the Chinook  head to head with my tubed unit. The Manly is very quiet and 
dynamic. Not enough to justify a lateral swap in my case though.
I am running the following:

Turntable--Roksan Radius 5
Cartridge: Ortofon 2M Black (MM)
Loudspeakers:  PSB Imagine T2
Phono Preamplfier:  Manley Chinook
DAC:  NAD M51
Integrated Amplifiers:  Creek Evolution 100A and Primaluna Dialogue Premium HP


It makes sense that the preamplifier is so important and how it is so overlooked.  Damn this hobby!  It sucks you in further and further.  

I'm going to circle back and try the Primaluna with the Manley when I get the new one on shipment.  

I wanted to note something that may deserve its own review--the NAD M51 DAC v. the Creek Ruby DAC.  The NAD is a fantastic DAC, but I was surprised to hear how the Creek Ruby was on footing with it. And, there's one area the Creek Ruby bests the NAD M51--the Creek has more defined bass.  The Creek Ruby set me back $600 so by price alone it's really  not that far from the NAD in that the NAD is $2k and is its own self contained box, whereas the Creek is a drop in board for its integrated. I'm not suggesting cost is indicative of quality, but if it is a possible component of quality potential.  
I think an upgrade to your cartridge would be the next step. Roksan makes a MC cartridge (Shiraz) or maybe an Ortofon MC cartridge if you like the Ortofon sound. 

If you are buying local maybe your dealer will have a recommendation and let you demo a cartridge.

If you have the extra cash to spend a turntable/tonearm upgrade is also a consideration. A used SME 10 would be a significant upgrade.
If it fits in your budget, this is a very good deal. No relationship with seller, but I do own one.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/turntables-sme-model-10-turntable-tonearm-2016-12-01-analog-14620-...
Jbhiller-

With the Manely into the PL HP AND a LOMC, your search should be over. Of course, subjective. IMO, the Orto Black is a great cart, but it's a great MM cart. It may just have some traits of a MC.

Many times I've  suggested the Audio Technica ART 9 as the cart to get in the 1K range

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/pani-new-art-9-up-and-running?highlight=Art%2B9

Once again, speaker setup and room are almost no cost(except wifey factor) 

Your turntable is fine.
Your cartridge is excellent.  You won't find an MC in that price range that can compete with it.
You observed that you like the Manley Chinook better than the other choices before you, so it seems self-evident that you might keep the Chinook. (You did not say whether you actually bought the Chinook or borrowed it.)
When you receive the new Primaluna, compare it to the Creek, using the Chinook for phono (if it is indeed your favorite phono stage still).  Pick between the Primaluna and the Creek on that basis.
Then take a deep breath.  
I recommend cognac, and stay away from politics.
Thanks all. 

@Lewm--good advice on the table.  It is decent. I don't think upgrading there is going to get me as much as maybe going MC. And you're right--I need to have a battle between the Creek and PL.