In my opinion, I would upgrade the preamp, then amp, first.
Hi Jbuhl -
I have some experience with some of your setup and here are some thoughts. First of all let's talk about your speakers. I randomly picked up a pair of DM604s several years ago for only $250 on Craigslist and was really blown away by their performance especially considering what I paid for them. When I owned them, they were powered with a Class D 500 WPC amp and they sounded great. The reason that I bring them up is that I actually preferred them over the 684s that you have.
I've since moved up the B&W range and have tried most of them.
In my opinion, the biggest bang for the buck in the entire product range and within your budget is the seldom discussed Nautilus 703. Probably not their prettiest speaker but man they absolutely sound fantastic for what they cost. I seem to recall having picked up the pair that I had for around $800 (which was a good deal) about 6 years ago. They are a definite upgrade from where you are now.
As far as amplification goes, I would stick with what you have for the time being and swap out the speakers first and then decide if you need to go a different direction with your amp - it's usually better to swap out components one at a time, assess the change, and then move forward rather than trying to change too much at the same time.
Given your choice of B&W speakers and Class D, I would not recommend the Sumiko cartridge on your list. On paper it looks like a good deal (HOMC that will pair with your existing MM preamp input) but doubt that you'd be happy with it.
I've had a couple of Blue Point #2s and find them to be fairly detailed, but also a bit thin, dry and not very involving. For just about more and with the Sumiko range, the Blue Point Special Evo III is in a completely different league - sounds much better. For your phono preamp input, anything around 2.5-4mv will work fine. In a similar price range as the Sumiko you mentioned, the Ortofon 2M Blue is actually a much better sounding cartridge than the BP2 in my opinion. I'm sure that there are plenty of MM and HOMC options that you'd find preferable to the BP2.
Put Vandersteen on your list for speakers! A FET solid state amp would go nice with the Rogue tube preamp!
I did originally mean the Sumiko MC series of cartridges.
Looks like the Ortofon blue is still a MM cartridge but I did look at the Turbo MC-3 and my dealer can get those.
I am confident in the preamp's phono stage but worry about the RPM 1 being a bottle neck. Any worries there you think?
The RPM is a good place to start - lots of bang for the buck I suppose.
I had one when they first came out (RPM 9 actually but similar)- stylish, easy to set up and sounds good.
As far as high output MC or MM cartridges, you'll find that they can be pretty comparable to one another in many ways- I would suggest that getting into a "real" low output MC is a different animal altogether, but as we all know requires so much more gain that any noise, hum, cables, preamp, etc. become a real consideration and next thing you know you're down that rabbit hole looking for a good pairing of MC Preamp and cartridge and (no offense honestly) the RPM1 simply doesn't warrant a high end MC cartridge or MC preamp.
In other words, by the time you get a nice MC cartridge and preamp to suit it, it would be hundreds more than what you probably have invested in the turntable. The step up from a Sumiko Pearl or a BP#2 HOMC on that table probably isn't really justified.
Looking at your system and mix of musical tastes and a combination of analog and digital sources I would focus my budget on speakers first, then move upstream with the amp/ preamp next (if even necessary) and then think about your analog setup.
Well- Not exactly but I think it would be odd. No reason not to invest in a great cartridge that you like, but to unlock its full potential, well... It's a bit like lenses and camera bodies. You probably wouldn't put a 400mm/ f/2.8 on a $400 consumer camera.
Again - Speakers should always be the first upgrade and once you find a pair that "sing" to you, then pursue other upgrades if warranted. You're off to a good start already so I'm sure you'll do well.
I think that you should pick your speakers first and foremost. The speaker has a very big impact on the voice of your system . I am not going to tell you which manufacturer to go with because the sound you prefer is extremely subjective. Which means going around and auditioning what you can at shows or with fellow philes etc.
But mark my words speakers first or at least the house sound of the manufacturer that impresses you, now with your budget. Get he entry level used etc. to get something that has the signature sound you want.
Fit the rest of your gear around that. It may take some time. Ask for specific advice regarding issues that seem to be in the way of the sound.
Sounds like your dealer has several quality speaker brands to demo. I would certainly start there. Then consider upgrading the amp if you feel you need and find one that better fits your new speakers. There are several cartridges in the $300-$500 range (MM,HOMC) that would make for a reasonable upgrade to the Pearl, which is a good one at it's price point.
Sounds like you should give JohnnyR a call at audio connection... I'm sure that a dealer on this forum wouldn't tell someone to get an attitude adjustment when you clearly posted a $2000 budget... That is a steal on Vandy 3A sigs.... Jump on those!
If for some crazy reason that he had no intensions of selling you the attitude adjustment for your posted budget???
Your line up is all quality speakers, but they are lines that don't concentrate at that $2000 budget. Since you are against used,
I would take a look at 2 different ends of the spectrum..
A Salk Song Tower or possibly a Tekton Enzo XL...
I also post a pair of DIY speakers on hear on occasion that I love for $1000, if you have any interest there, just post it and I'll add the link.
jbuhl - I've gone through a few component changes over the years but the one thing I have come to respect lately is the effect great cables can have on a system containing components such the those you currently own.
So I ask - what IC, power and speaker cables do you currently have?
Perhaps there is some significant gain that can be achieved by upgrading those, before you start on the components.
Some really excellent cables I would start with are the gZero3 IC, the gZero2 Speaker cable and perhaps the Gpower2 power cable from KLE Innovations.
if you search the forum for gZero you will see that i promote these cables a lot, but that is with good reason - I have tried most of their IC's and speaker cables for extended periods (over a month) and am yet to find a commercial cable that can outperform them.
One thing to be aware of - all of the cables above require extensive burn in - >400 hours in some cases - so patience is a virtue - but the rewards are many.
Great cables will
- extend your image and make it moire holographic
- extend the depth and control of the bass
- improve clarity
- improve dynamic response
You might also want to investigate power outlets, dedicated lines and distribution boxes.
And finally - take a look at acoustic room treatments
Components are just one element in a very complex audio equation.
Just a thought - Steve :-)