Dedicated Vinyl system next upgrade?


Hi. I love my system. I really do. I love vinyl and listen to vinyl nearly exclusively via “appointment listening”. I do Sometimes stream and listen while I walk or while working but I love just sitting and listening to my stereo. I believe I’ve arrived regarding finally achieving a great set up and have experienced that vinyl “magic” that audiophiles obsess over. I understand that limitations exist and a great stereo will reveal the quality of a recording - good or bad. The law a diminishing returns regarding  upgrading is something I’m mindful of. I don’t have endless funds to spend on upgrades. My question is - what should I consider upgrading next? Should I ditch the integrated amp considering I’m using an external phono stage? Or should I go with a better integrated amp? Or should I look at a better cartridge? Do I upgrade my turntable or just the tonearm? Do I upgrade the power cable on my amp? 
Here’s what I’m currently working with - and thanks for your thoughts/suggestions! 

Clear Audio Concept Turntable
W/ Hana SL cartridge 

Herron Audio VTPH-2a Phono Stage

Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II integrated power amplifier 

Kimber Kable speaker wire and interconnects (I forget which model - an entry lever set - nothing crazy) 

Bowers and Wilkins 805 D3 stand mount loud speakers

Set of two stereo REL S/510 subs

paulgardner
Decent system. Buy records from the 50s - 60s(70s) and a good cleaning solution to really hear vinyl.
If you have the factory power cable on your amp, try a BLE rhodium 10 gauge on eBay for $40 to get an idea of the improvement. Look into tweaking what you have.
Hi Paul, Great system! If you are getting cleanly to the volume you like then there is no need to upgrade the electronics. Your Herron has loads of gain so you are virtually unlimited in terms of cartridges there. Your tonearm is excellent but given the magnetic bearing I would avoid the lowest compliance cartridges like the Koetsu's and Air Tights. This would be a perfect job for the Lyra Delos or the Ortofon Cadenza Blue. I think that either of these cartridges will make an audible improvement in your sound quality and improve the tracking ability of your rig. Here is a comparison of the Hana to the Ortofon Quintet Black. https://www.analogplanet.com/content/hana-sl-mc-750-versus-ortofon-quintet-black-s-mc-999
Hey noromance,
I am working on pictures of the system. I am having some trouble getting decent pictures of the computer screen. Next I will try a dark room and play around with the brightness.
@noromance Thanks I’ll look into upgrading my power cable. What’s the difference between a $40 power cable and a $300 dollar one?
Paul, IMHO absolutely nothing other than the $300 cable will look really nice which will trick many brains into thinking it sounds better. 
It looks like you've put together a really nice system.  Your source is probably the weak link, although the Concept is a really nice table and the Hana SL is a great cart for the money.  An upgrade of the table and/or cart would probably have the most impact.  Another upgrade to consider would be to add two more subs if you have room.
@mijostyn good to know. Thanks.

@big_greg thanks. Yeah I’ve thought about adding two more subs but I don’t really have the room. Maybe when I move out of my condo. Good call tho!
That’s nice gear. I would recommend two upgrades:

1. If you have the magnetic-bearing Concept tonearm, change that out to a rigid bearing arm: e.g. in the Clearaudio amp, a Satisfy (good) or Tracer (better). You may not have severe issues with the magnetic arm now, but it’s always there lurking - maybe if you change cartridges, or change your table’s location, or play music louder lol. And don’t worry about linear tracking arms, or 12" arms for now (or ever). A good 9" - 10" rigid bearing arm is fantastic.

2. Upgrade the cartridge to a next level one. I too started out with an ~$800 MC "high value" cartridge (Benz Glider L2), and it was a GREAT start but the move to an $1800 one (Ortofon Kontrapunkt "c" - older version of the Cadenza Bronze) was quite significant. BUT you must have a tonearm and phono stage that can support the move, and matches extremely well to your chosen cartridge. Your Herron phono stage (I owned one) is WAY beyond the $800 cartridge level, and can be configured to match almost any cartridge in existence - so you’re in great shape there. Some will question whether a table upgrade may be more appropriate than a cartridge, and that’s fair, but I think the Concept is a pretty nice and can handle a better cartridge if you address the tonearm.

Your amp is nice; I had an original Rogue Atlas (non-Magnum) when I did that $1800 cartridge upgrade, so I know you amp section (Cronus is just Atlas plus a simple preamp stage) is good enough to let your source upgrades shine though. In theory you’d be better off with an Atlas Magnum (don’t think the Cronus preamp stage is bypass-able) and a high quality separate tube preamp, but that’s going to probably be much more money than it’s worth for now (i.e. wait until you can do at least a Stereo 100 or M180 level amp with separate preamp).
mulveling, I agree with you about the tonearm but it is no where near as bad as a uni pivot as long as you stay away from the stiffest cartridges. Schroder uses the same design in his Reference arm which has quite a following but, I am with you. I would by his CB arm. 
@mulveling Awesome! Yeah I’ve been thinking about upgrading the tonearm to support a higher end cartridge down the line. I also have been getting some subsonic woofer pumping at louder volumes and I suspect the floating magnet tonearm is part of, or even possibly the entire problem. Thanks for your thoughts, much appreciated. 
When you are trying to upgrade, I think you need to have a clear picture of what you are trying to improve.  Your system looks pretty damn good and, considering everyone here is stabbing in the dark, I would not overlook better speaker cables.  I recently upgraded my speaker cables and they made a profound change for the better to my Harbeth P3.  Bigger, fuller and just plain better-sounding to my ears.  In some systems, cables make little difference, but they can make a huge difference in others.  I have experienced both situations..  Good luck in any case. 
A different tack but more focused on extracting the max out of what you already have:

HRS isolators under the Herron ( Nimbus ) and the Rogue. And very importantly and first HRS or similar isolation for your turntable. The $40 power cable a great idea paired w hospital grade outlets. $20

i like the EL-34 VTL integrated a whisker better than the Rogue , sometimes you can find them around $2,500 but in a longer range plan I would do cartridge first. 
Finally you can get great sound in a condo :-) have fun and enjoy the music

jim
And when I say HRS I mean that brand or equivalent....
I would be quite satisfied with your system and personally would not chase ’improvements’.

IF you are tempted, especially if you play both mono and stereo lps, and go back and forth in the same listening session as I often do (or would like to), a huge improvement/addition:

Add a Separate Mono Cartridge

as I learned here, it makes an obvious improvement. It does not add imaging, actually by ignoring any vertical movement avoids false erratic imaging.

however it makes a large improvement in the distinct sounds of individual instruments, turns a lump of sound into individual players (hear the greats when they made their marks in the world), and has often turned some older Mono LP’s from a history lesson to an involving musical experience.

Previously I used my stereo cartridge and changed my McIntosh Preamp’s Mode to Mono, thought that was it, I am very glad I went to separate mono cartridge.

Options:
Arm with removable headshell, (I don’t think you have that now, correct?)
change arm on existing table?
new TT with removable headshell type arm?
new TT with Two Tonearms, 1 stereo, 1 mono, I did that this year.

single arm, change to mono headshell (overhang, azimuth, null points already done)

If you get a mono cartridge that can track at the same +/- 2gm weight of your Hana, then you can leave tracking/anti-skate where it is set for your Hana. Mono Stylus is Elliptical (or spherical), thus more forgiving of slight differences from perfection.
If different tracking weights, then you personally need to get quick at accurately changing them,

much easier:

Two arms, 1 stereo, 1 mono, each set as perfectly as you or someone else can, different tracking weights already individually set.

And, you can use the mono arm to change headshells to use/compare a different stereo cartridge. i.e. I use my cartridge with replaceable and affordable elliptical stylus for old lp’s, nothing sonically remarkable or those I intend to sell, rather than wear out my expensive MM and especially not needlessly wear my expensive non-replaceable MC stylus on them. Your Hana more expensive than mine, and you may move up in price in the future.

Luckily my preamp has 2 phono inputs, and, the SUT I added has 3 inputs, so it is simple to pick which arm/cartridge.

Oh yeah, if you go for a table with 2 arms, then it is usually large enough to allow a long arm, that is actually what sent me down the long arm/two arm/mono/stereo path.

I am out lots of cash, but happier than many a wallowing pig.


If I had not already changed mine earlier this year, this would have been a very in-expensive jump into multi-arm and long arm world.

The Denon 3000 is a darn good spinner, direct drive, but not quartz locked. It could easily be swapped for a Denon quartz locked spinner in the future if you wanted.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Transcription-turntable-Denon-DP-3000-tonearms-Grace-960-Grace-565-Denon-DA...

seller might ship without the stand if you are not near enough to meet him somewhere (ask him to drive an hour or two toward you)

Only one of those 3 arms has anti-skate adjustment, a requirement for me, not everyone. Future arm changes: the rotating base plates are a terrific idea, BUT, there are clearance restrictions to be considered when the dust cover is closed. Seller answered my clearance questions very accurately. Dust cover lifts off, some people simply cover theirs with a cloth, then no height restrictions.
I had a Cronus Magnum II in a similar quality system, with the same turntable. Btw, I had Hana EL, and now have Hana ML. The most noticeable improvement that I made was to replace the 4 topside fuses with Synergistic Research. I believe that the reason these had such a good effect is that the fuses are directly in the signal path. So any degradation due to the stock fuses would directly affect the music. Nothing to lose. Can be returned if they don’t work for you.
Please - no fuse discussion. I’m just relating my experience with a single amp, and a particular installation.
Post removed 
Another suggestion. Which output tubes are you using? I’ve found that KT-90s sound best. But that might not be the case with your speakers.
If you are completely happy with your amp-speaker combo then I would look to your vinyl playback system as the next move, given your dedication to and enjoyment of the format. Your Herron will make the best of anything you put in front of it so money is your only constraint. I recently moved from a top flight VPI to an idler-type (inner rim drive) table with a top notch arm and cartridge and experienced an enormous leap in performance. Like you, I spin records almost exclusively for long, serious listening sessions. I can’t tell you what an unexpected surprise it has been to change my vinyl playback system and reap such huge sonic dividends. 
Great ideas here, Thank you! $40 power cable ordered!
@tomic601 I’ll look into isolation for the Herron and Rogue. That’s a good idea. I have build a makeshift iso platform with butcher block and cork, etc. I do wonder if a proper isolation platform would kill more vibration tho... hmmm. 
@cakids when you say 4 topside fuses, do you mean tubes? If so, I have already rolled the small tubes to a Brimer (preamp position) and Gold Lions for the remaining 4 positions. 
There are 4 fuses under a removeable cover. This is the cover that is removed to bias the tubes. The cover is on the top right, between 2 output tubes and the output transformers.
Another free thing to try is light loading your output transformers on the Rogue, drop down a tap. I am running my Treo that way with a RM-9 ( light loading suggestion via the genius Roger Modjeski- RIP )

try it
Look at my Casa Pacifica system photos,! You need not throw out the cork/ butcher block - supplant those w nimbus ( see amp ), there are also Nimbus under  my Herron with some carbon fiber....
I can relate to your predicament. But I think @chayro asked the pertinent question: what exactly is the problem? What's the first thing that pops into your head when you try to imagine what isn't right with your sound? MAybe you already have an intuition. 

That said I would consider the Kimber cables a bottleneck - IMHO etc. I'd go for something more transparent and balanced in both speaker cables and ICs.

Also you haven't mentioned your listening space. That may be adding distortion that your system tweaks won't fix.
@mulveling is a connoisseur of high end cartridges. I suggest that you consider his opinions carefully.

I agree with others about the tonearm, and suggest another possibility, the Trans-Fi Terminator air bearing tonearm. IMO it's better than anything that costs less than the price of a car, and costs under $1500 direct from the manufacturer. I have two of them, one on a $10K conventional turntable, and another on a DIY air bearing special.

The only real function of a tonearm is to hold the cartridge in precise relation to the record. It follows that the tonearm must be highly adjustable and hold its settings. The Trans-Fi does that better than most. And of course, it's an air bearing (actually, air bearing horizontal and knife-edge vertical).

Good luck!
Also what’s a reference disc that brings you great joy but also let’s sonic doubt creep in ? And how loud do you listen to that ? Trying to help by listening 
@tomic601 reference disk Neil Young - After The Gold Rush. I have a few pressings. They all sound great and I don’t know if there’s one singular thing that I doubt. If I had to choose I’d say that I sometimes question the top end. I sometimes feel/hear a brightness that can be off putting or a bit harsh. I’m not sure if this is speaker thing, or a matter of recording or something else? I do know my speakers have a reputation of being of sounding bright. I dunno. Again, there are times when I’m listening and I can’t imagine a better sounding stereo. Then there are other times when I’m slightly annoyed with the top end. The nature of the beast I guess. 
My pressing of that is the reissue Winchester in NM-, I will give that a spin. Thanks for the super detailed reply.
jim
Your system seems top notch. Top end brightness can be somewhat resolved with speaker placement and room treatments in my opinion. It’s the “ghost” in my system as well. I’m in a similar place with my system. Totally satisfied 90% of the time. The only upgrade I have done recently was to send some of my reference Lps out for a proper cleaning. I used www.thevinylarchivist.com as he is local to me. I can’t tell you what an improvement a proper ultrasonic cleaning has done for the LP’s I had done. It’s insane what a difference it has made. Even on seemingly “perfect” pressings I own. Good luck on your journey!
Side 2 I believe in You is obnoxiously bright and forward. I hate to say this as there are lots of super songs on this disc.... but this might not be a touchstone reference disc ( certainly in its entirety) I hate saying that. Harvest is so much more balanced imo.

What to upgrade is the question.

The upgrade Itch.. 
I am thinking like this.. You have a stereo setup in a room. Changing/upgrading a component here or there gives you maybe a better sound or different. Give or take some % in improved sound quality. 

Your room is a component that is not coincided that much and now we are talking about much bigger improvements to gain. Some say 30% to 50% of the system sound quality is from the component "room"..

So if you  are seriously searching for better sound quality start with the bigest component the room.

Every dedicated listening room that I have measured has issues. Period. And nobody can as a measuring system say "Oh I hear a peek at 73 hz of 27 dB" yes nobody knows that before but with measuring we know. (Measuring is knowing)

So do not go into that rabbit hole that is a lifelong swapping out component X and Y and repeat. Into the same and lousy sounding room. (Remember you do not know how bad it is when you haven't measured it)

When you measure and fix your room THEN it is the first time you truly hear your gear and get full return of your investment!

So what to buy? Then I suggest a calibrated measurement microphone less than 100$ and install free software REW. Invest time to learn how to measure and how and what room treatment does and so on. Learn where your listening space issues are. And deal with them.

This is the hard way to go, to force you to learn new things. It is SO much easier to swap a cord or place some vibration damper here or there. And most of us do that our whole life because we are lacy. But we will also never fully be able to hear our components full capability.

(As a side note when we have done what we think is a appropriate level of room treatment then it is time to look at DSP/Dirac and those type of "room corrections". 
I love my vinyl system but analog purists do not know what they talk about. They have a obsession that it should be 100% analog all the way. I have done exactly that journey.
We have so much more to gain in % of sound quality than the small loss of sound quality we get from converting to digital and do sound processing and then convert back to analog! 
Just that type of thinking is holding many audiophiles back from hearing better sound quality from their all analog setups! Again we are lacy and have come up with a false logical conclusion "all analog regime" and then we do not need to learn new stuff like room acoustics..)
You can get to a great RT 60 without DSP, go there first :-)

Post removed 
Room?
Yes exactly what I mean.
The biggest "component" in your system. ;)
Post removed 
My question is - what should I consider upgrading next? Should I ditch the integrated amp considering I’m using an external phono stage? Or should I go with a better integrated amp? Or should I look at a better cartridge? Do I upgrade my turntable or just the tonearm? Do I upgrade the power cable on my amp?
Here’s what I’m currently working with - and thanks for your thoughts/suggestions!
He asked for thoughts/suggestions..

Yes you are right. He only rambling on about components and gear.. And I felt that he is missing the greatest one of them all as I wrote. Just trying to help regarding what is the lowest hanging fruit to achieve better sound quality. 
Post removed 
Great we are at the same page. :)

My journey in my dedicated symmetrical 2ch listening room. I got some treatment but far from enough. Even then I had that peek in that room at 73 dB still after many, many different listening positions and speaker placements. 

What I could do is to sound treat and target that 73 hz with Helmholtz or membrane absorbers that need to be tuned to 73 hz..

As we know a DSP will easily take down a peek. 

So best bang (sound quality) for the buck.
The Helmholtz or membrane vs DSP:
DSP will "treat" all frequencies not just one.
DSP will be cheaper
DSP will hit that target issue with greater precision.
DSP can give me 6/12/24/48 dB x-over between my sub and bookshelf speakers.
DSP can compensate for our physical hearing capability (Equal-loudness contour) + "house curves"
And so on..

So it were a no brainier for me to go with the DSP.

And I can now enjoy my HiFi even more with better sound quality despite that I have "degraded" the analog signal with a AD and DA conversion. :)
Many things can be done for upgraded sound . You haven't mentioned acoustics . If you have not fooled around and invested into a better sounding room then thats where you should start . Carpets , drapes , tube traps , whatever needed . It could make a much bigger differences then any piece of equipment or tweek . 

You have an integrated . Many sound very good but a Good pre power combination will in my estimation sound better . Unless you have something like a Plinius , Mark Levinson or Pass integrated separate units will sound better , although not all , you still have to be careful buying . Your Rogue Audio for the price is very good but even Rogue have their separates . 

You can upgrade your cartridge but in order to be able to extract best performance a better tonearm might be necessary . You have a very good turntable . Experiment with mats .

Your phono stage seems to be excellent . To finish , cables . I use and will always recommend JPS Labs superconductors . They are excellent and sound great with tubes or Solid State , be it speaker cables , intercomnects or power cable . Their Aluminata series are superlative.
 Hope this helps 
 God Bless and stay safe .
@optimize@dannad
The room is 18’ x 30’ with a high vaulted 18’ ceiling. I do not have any room treatment. This is a tricky area for me. Interior aesthetics are important to me. This is both a living area as well as a listening room. I truly hate the idea of hanging RT panels on the wall. I might be able to live with some corner bass traps but my original goal was to build a system that sounds great without making my home look like a recording studio. I understand this poses huge limitations but that’s the deal. I do have my speakers out and away from the back wall. I have played around with speaker/subs placement as well. Thank you all for the great thoughts/ideas, keep them coming if you want but again, I’m not hanging RT panels from my ceiling.
+1 Lyra cartridge upgrade.

I couldn't be happier with my new
Lyra Kleos. 
As in a previous response, buy records from 50' & 60's and some from early 70's... also grab the record Dr record cleaner machine...it works great if u don't mind spinning the record manually. Buy a good cleaning fluid to go with it, non alcohol. The audio intelligent #6 is a good product. I would not change out either the turntable or the hana cartridge, I think you have done great there. The hana are terrific cartridges for the money, I run the hana el and I love it. I'd go with maybe a nice power conditioner along with at least a high current power cable for the amplifier, maybe try the audioquest thunder and the audioquest Niagars conditioner. Also maybe try a few different interconnects from chord, Atlas, Qed, ecosse....yes I'm partial to UK interconnects lol. 
@paulgardner
NP thanks for the clarification. Then we know that you have reached your maximum of treatment as I said before. ;)

Then it is time to measure and identify issues and solve them with a little DSP in the signal path between preamplifier and power amp/s. With that solution you do not need to put any sound treatment anywhere.
Benefits:
  • Better integration between sub/s and speakers by:
  • > by be able to compensate distance/time difference between sub/s speakers.
  • > by be able to use Lindquist steeper x-over filter that he also advocate for.
  • Adjust the unlinear frequency response of your speakers (all speakers has that more or less) or maybe there is a dip that you like.
  • Adjust for unlinear frequency response how your room interact with your speakers.
  • Being able to adjust for "Equal-loudness contour" (Fletcher-Munson curves or international standard ISO 226:2003)
  • Being able to adjust for your own preferred sound preference.
Probably something that i have forgot..

Regarding the integration between sub and speakers.. I am able to turn off my bookshelf speakers. And only listening to the subwoofer. I got very surprised when I could hear faint in the background when the subwoofer were playing the sound of the singer and other instruments that is higher in the frequency range..
And the cut of frequency were at the lowest setting at 40 hz!
I should not be able to hear a singer at all. I suppose the implementation of the knob on my subwoofer were using a shallow x-over slope perhaps max 6 dB/octave.
But with the DSP doing its job and I use 48 dB/octave at 53 Hz. Now the problem is solved with that the subwoofer will only amplifie and play those frequencies it should and nothing else.

I guess I am on optimize's side in this with a few caveats. Room control will correct frequency and time issues better than any other method by a long shot. But, it will not change the way a room sounds. It is not eliminating reflections or preventing echo. It's time correction is purely between drivers and subs. If you have a reasonable room and sub woofers set up correctly room control is all you need. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. In the bass if the nodes in the room vary widely the power required to correct them will clip amps and bottom out woofers. With two subs if you put them right up against the wall or in corners symmetrically placed around the satellites you can minimize this. With one sub you can forget it. 
Most people do not understand that room control is done at very high resolution with high bit density. In my unit it is 48/192. Resolution this high is invisible, vinyl sounds just as vinyl always sounds except better.
I am working on pictures of my system including shots of the computer screen with measurements and corrections for the virtual systems page. I am having a hard time capturing the screen without haze so, if anyone more skilled in photography has any ideas they would be greatly appreciated.

Paul, if you go for a new tonearm I might suggest in order of expense the Origin Live Zephyr, Kuzma's 4 point 9 and finally Schroder's CB. Before you buy any tonearm please check the spindle to pivot distance and make sure the pivot will land squarely on your tonearm board which is not very large. Again, in terms of bang for the buck just changing the cartridge to one that is more compliant than the Hana will make the largest improvement in sound quality and eliminate some of your woofer pumping. I always assume people are using a full 2 way crossover for the subs. If not, getting a proper 2 way crossover will stop woofer pumping dead and drop distortion in your satellites by an order of magnitude. It will also allow you to raise the crossover point and make seamless integration easier. 

Back to room control, if you think the frequency response of your system is reasonably flat you are sorely mistaken. Unless you have room control This is a generalization I am more than happy to stick to. If you get a calibrated mic and impulse testing program,  https://www.parts-express.com/dayton-audio-omnimic-v2-acoustic-measurement-system--390-792 ,you will see aberrations over +- 10 dB. Your fequency response curve will look like the rocky mountains. I have ESLs and I will show you all their response curve once I get the photography down.  
Regarding tonearm.
If/when try to get one there you can get added functionality. Otherwise you get just the same and probably only little better in some regards.

One added functionality that will generate better sound quality is if you can get one with the ability to adjust the VTA (SRA) on the fly  during playback. Yes we can always do it manually back and forth with a less of a success. So do a tone arm swap that counts.

Another alternate is to get a tone arm that you could in the future could add maybe a "Easy VTA" to it at a later time.

 Anyway good luck with your upgrades. :)
Compare the sound of your system to head phones. Good headphones are pretty flat. Except for the presentation your system should have the same tonal balance as the headphones. I think (not sure) that this may be the reason many love their headphones. They sound more right than their systems even though the band is in the middle of their head. I suppose then the mark of a good system is that it sounds like the headphones except the band is in front of you where it belongs.
If you are in the mood for an experiment, then try to replace your Clearaudio TT with a vintage direct drive like Kenwood KD990 (or similar) or Technics SP 10 or 12 with a tonearm that matches the wonderful Hana SL. 
optimize, the vast majority of us set the SRA to the requisite 92 degrees and forget about it. Many of the very best tonearms do not have adjustable VTA on the fly and IMHO are better for it. Why do I want to spend money on something I would never use. The only arms I would make an exception for, because they are so good are the 4 points and the Triplanar. My personal favorites do not have it. Regardless of the arm I buy I'm going to get out my trust USB microscope, special protractor and set the SRA to exactly 92 degrees. If the groove is off 30 minutes one way or the other it is not going to matter. 
paul, as others have said, you have great gear already

your room is probably what is holding back the sound the most, but you have stated your reticence to treat/alter

given this, you would need to speak precisely and specifically about what you would like to improve about the sound as it stands now, to get any useful ideas on what to change in terms of the hardware

you mentioned occasional brightness, but how occasional, and how troublesome?  b&w's will give you that sometimes, no doubt