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?