Fun Analog Upgrade Challenge


Here is what I hope to be a more concrete way of sorting out what YOU think is the most important component in an lp playback system. Jack is an audiophile and he's really into vinyl. He has a $20,000 stereo system: Rega RP10 ($5,500) Lyra Delos ($2000) Rega Aria phono preamp ($1500) Vinyl system = $9,000, Speakers and amp = $9000, cables = $1000 for a total of $20K.Here's the challenge, Jack is really happy with his speakers and amp, and has listened to much more costlier cables in his system and has decided that he's happy with his cables. He loves vinyl and has $10,000 for an upgrade to any ONE of the three analog components: cartridge, phono preamp, turntable. The $10,000 would be added to the existing amount. So he could choose a $15,500 table, a $12,000 cartridge or a $11,500 phono preamp give or take a few thousand. So you could choose a component that cost a few thousand more or less than these guides but you can NOT divide up the 10K among components - you have to choose ONE to put all the money one.Which one of the three would you choose to upgrade: table, cart or preamp? Which specific component would you recommend and tell us the price and most important -why?I wanted to design this a fun exercise to tease out what would make the most significant upgrade when ALL the components are already GOOD. So often the arguments about relative importance are founded on the assumption that one of the components is bad. "Well if you have a crappy TT..." What if all three are very good. Which major upgrade - pushing that individual component to the $12-15,000 price range, would make the BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT?That's the challenge, what would you do?
tsloan
Interesting challenge but I won't play because don't accept the rules of your game —
"But you can NOT divide up the 10K among components - you have to choose ONE to put all the money on."
It may be of academic interest, but if we were talking about a real approach to upgrading, the 10K would be distributed wisely, not focused glibly on (all-caps) ONE.
Sutherland Phono Block Refined. I'm a real big fan of Keith's sound. I'm not saying that there aren't other phono stages that are as good or better but it cost $10,000. So, I spent every penny. Further, I'm familiar with his sound, which is superb, and I believe the phono section in the above equation is the weakest link in this front end. 


nice, but I agree there are to many things to upgrade I'd rather spread it across a new table/ arm and phono stage.

but I would probably if limited to your criteria upgrade the table and buy one with a good arm already packaged. then later upgrade the phono stage

My answer is none of the above instead take the $10k and buy a Herzan active isolation stand to put your turntable on. It will immediately improve the performance of everything in your current setup and will grow with you as you improve things further.

I would also not be surprised if a $2k cartridge on a Herzan equipped table actually outperforms a $12k cart without it ...
I understand that putting ALL the money on one component does not necessarily make the most sense. What I'm getting at is this:which aspect of an already high quality, balanced analog set-up would would yield the biggest sonic gain if one were to make a substantial upgrade. Which one area would make the most improvement to you?


@folkfreak +1

After that I would upgrade the TT, then the phono stage.

Without the rules I would upgrade both the phono stage and TT.
Total is $19k.
Buy more used records from the 50s, 60s and 70s and a SpinClean.
Ortofon 2M Black
Parasound Halo JC3+
SME Model 10A

Do it! 


What's your long-term goal(s) for the system? Also: Will you have additional audio funds in future or probably not?
Obviously, phono stage would make the most impact in this scenario.
Thanks for everyon’s response & interest. The scenario I described above is part hypothetical as my intent was to stimulate discussion on what area might make the greatest improvement in a vinyl playback system. I do have a Rega RP10 with a Lyra Kleos cartridge. I decided to upgrade the phono stage. There were several reasons for this approach. My personal experience has taught me that spending a fortune on a turntable does not make as big improve in sonically as it did visually. I loved the looks of the SME 20 I used to own (come on it’s built like a two-tier suspension bridge) but it really did NOT make better music than a much less expensive Rega P25 it had replaced. In fact, rock music like the Rolling Stones, sounded worse. The music lacked excitement and drive. Some of this may have had to do with the cartridge I was using on the SME 20- Lyra Helikon which is now considered lean by Lyra standards. Nothing against SME but I sold that table after several years of listening demonstrated that it was not improving my listening experience, I moved on.CARTRIDGE: I think that the cartridge makes the MOST difference in the vinyl playback chain. I have owned many cartridges- enough to know that the better the cartridge, the better the sound. It makes sense to me that a cartridge would make a GREATER difference than the turntable because the turntable does not carry an audio signal but a cartridge is a transducer - it changes mechanical energy into electrical energy. The Lyra Kleos is the best MC I’ve ever owned. Improving it will cost more than double (at least in the Lyra line).
PHONOSTAGE: I have owned many phono stages - EAR 834, Art Audio Vinyl One, Sutherland PhD, and ARC PH2Se, PH5, PH7, PH8 and currently REF 2 SE and folks, I’m hear to tell you that Ref 2SE has made all the difference. It’s in a completely different league than any of the others I’ve owned including the PH8 (where I used the Rega RP10 and Lyra Kleos). Now when read forums posts about cartridges, I wonder are they really hearing what the cartridge can do? The Kleos sounded way better with the Ref 2 SE compared to the PH8.TABLE? I do not plan on upgrading the Rega RP10 until I can afford an AMG or TECH DAS Airforce 3. But these tables cost more than my Ref 2 SE and Kleos combined.My take of order of importance in the vinyl chain:Cartridge, phono stage, turntable1) Get the best cartridge you can depending on your tastes, level of passion and budget 2) buy the best phono stage for amplifying that cartridge (do you really need a tube-based, high-gain phono preamp for a MM cart?)3) Finally the turntable. The best turntables (that I like) cost around $30K. They are awesome looking and I am sure will be some improvement over the RP10 but how HOW MUCH better given the SAME cartridge, SAME phone stage, SAME same amplifier, SAME speakers, SAME cables?



The item other than a phono stage that really makes a cartridge perform is a great tonearm. Right there with phono stage in terms of getting the best from your cartridge.
I would upgrade the phono stage, absolutely. Luxman, Pass, Moon, or Whest.