How do I know what my system's

Ok, let's say I have some fun money to upgrade something or other in my system. This may sound like a dumb question, does one know where to begin??? I have a collection of pretty decent stuff, and it all sounds pretty good. But since I bought it all at about the same time, my problem is, how am I supposed to know which component to upgrade first to get a meaningful payoff? It's not that I'm unhappy with my system, it's that I have a couple thousand bucks burning a hole.

So I thought I'd post my stuff and see if anything ensued.

CD player: Arcam CD23 FMJ
Preamp: Classe Audio Six (discontinued, expensive model from the mid 90s)
Power amp: Bryston 3B-ST
Loudspeakers: Revel Performa F30s

All cables are by Transparent Audio:
PowerBank Ultra line conditioner
MusicLink Ultra interconnects
MusicWave Super speaker cables

Anyone? Anyone? Does any of this stuff suck enough to suggest an obvious improvement, or is it a total toss-up?
From my own experience, every system has its weak and strong points. You must know what your weaknesses are then you could upgrade from there. Without listeing to your system there is no way anybody could tell you what to do. On the other hand, if you got to buy something I would go with new speakers. They usually make the most immediate impact.
A good approach to this is to ask yourself some questions:

What does my system sound like?
What do I like about the sound?
What bothers me about the sound?

You need to know what your goals are with your stereo system. It takes time, trial and error, and experience with different systems to figure this out, but it's the only way to upgrade sensibly.

Recordings recommended by people on the web, audio reviewers, and friends can also help get an objective handle on what your system sounds like. These especially help if you have others' descriptions of these recordings sonic qualities to calibrate both your own experience & descriptions and your system's ability to replicate these qualities. I don't know enough about CDs to recommend anything here, but I assume there are such lists available online.

Another useful tool is other people's descriptions of components in reviews and discussions. Certain products and product lines have consistent qualities and reputations. Use these to figure out how to change your system's 'negative' qualities--the answer to the third question above.

These are generic suggestions, so please forgive if I'm being too basic, but I think finding a clear and coherent set of audio goals--and figuring out how to achieve them--is a huge hurdle in this hobby. After that, reading reviews and making upgrade decisions gets much easier.

Good luck!
You could buy a pretty nice iPod for a couple thousand! Just kidding. However, I did notice a lack of analog. You could add a nice TT and phono stage. Otherwise, I'd keep it like it is and buy music or go see some live. A couple, drink and be merry.
Your system looks pretty good to me. Nothing jumps out as being obviously inferior or mismatched.

Since you asked for advice, mine would be to identify what you don't like and then use that as a starting point to focus in on where an improvement might be made.

If you're not unhappy with anything invest your money rather than spend it. When you've identified a system deficiency you will then have even more "fun money" available. Spending money with no purpose or goal is more "waste" than "fun".
Sometimes it is not about a particular thing you want to improve, you just need to spend some money and get a new shiny toy, I understand that one. I would suggest the amp and preamp as your first targets. Lots of really nice amps out there right now, I really like the Bel Canto Ref1000's I am running.
Wow, impressed by all the responses.

If the advice is to identify what's "wrong" with my system, well hm. One thing is, once I got it it became really clear which CDs in my collection were sh*t recordings and which were great. So a lot of CDs sorta got relegated. Great recordings (like HDCD) sound great, bad recordings sound lifeless and muddled by comparison. (You know how a CD can sound awesome in your car or on headphones, and then you play it on a revealing system and poof, it's all muddy and congested and harsh. Or is that just me.)

Other than that, I guess I would say I might find it all a tad bright. It does depend on the recording; some are more edgy than others. It might just be a digital sound thing. I play with room acoustics, speaker placement. I'm wondering if a new amp would relax & deepen and such. I dunno. The Bryston seems really neutral, but I know there's more power to be had. I just don't know what more power brings, in terms of the overall tone, exactly. But thanks much for all the replies, and any future ones.
To add one thing (if anybody is still paying attention) I do think my speakers are NOT the weak link, i.e. they have responded a lot to every tweak thus far (cables), and just seem frightfully accurate and responsive, if even a little unforgivingly so in the midrange. I feel I can recommend the Revels for their price range; they exude capability. So there's probably untapped potential there.
Shippack, if I can ask a question of your sub-conscience?
The fact that you ran this thread might suggest that you are just looking for a new sound. To tweak it it somehow.
You sound satisfied with your system and it is a Good system. You own some very respectable equipment. But speaking for myself I am always looking for a tweak here or there to gain or enhance what is already there. Why not look at it as, "where would I gain the most inprovement".
Source, amplification, cableing. I really don't think you can answer that without doing some in home demos of different equipment. That's where I would start. Of course just my own MO.
My compliments on your selection of gear. There is not an obvious weak link in those components and you have not overlooked any items that are essential to getting the best sound per dollar spent. That being said, if there is any item that may seem suspect, it is the amplifier. I would be careful though, about thinking that "more power" would help. If the first watt isn't any good, how many more of them would you want? There are powerful amplifiers that have nothing musical about them so power alone is a poor guide. However, to make an amplifier musical, it must have enormous amounts of power along with sosphisticated design architecture so that it may control the speakers with more precision. If you have not auditioned any tube based equipment, your are limiting your exposure to what is available. (there is alot of bad tube equipment also) Having been a dealer in the Hi-fi industry for 22 years, I have concluded that for myself, the sound quality derived from good, modern tube equipment is unmatched. But, the point is to compare. What sounds best to you is what matters. There may also be faster cabling available. (However, I do like the sound of the Transparent Audio and actually own a pair of Music Wave Super cables). I think very highly of your CD (with the Ring DAC). Your pre-amp and speakers also seem like great choices. You should be able to sell the amp and cables with ease and then be able to invest in a different type of design that refines the rest of your system. As far as a turntable goes, 2k is probably minimal for a phono stage and turntable system, but that too would be very enjoyable. Just another opinion that I hope helps.
I would demo a Conrad Johnson preamp or at least try a good tube preamp.
Your experience mirrors mine with the cd playback as I have the same player, the Arcam FMJ CD23. My old Audio Alchemy rig did not differentiate cd playback nearly as much. Good CDs sound good with the Arcam and bad ones sound real bad. Also from a/b comparison with my Denon 2910 (which sounds dark in comparison) the Arcam I think is a tad forward and maybe even to the bright side. Is any of this a bad thing or just the way it is? I still very much enjoy listening to music through the Arcam and to my ears HDCDs sound excellent, I just wish there were more around. BTW, I also have transparent speaker cables. The Classe 6 is a fine preamp, but you may want to consider experimenting by adding a tubed pre. This may mellow out your sound a bit by adding some ear pleasing distortion. If you buy a tubed pre (or get one loaned to you) listen for a couple of weeks and then reinsert your Classe. I think you will find yourself noting the differences. Then decide if you like what the tubed pre did for your system. I went to a tubed pre and gained mellowness but also a widened soundstage. Buy one used and if you don't like it sell it here and get at or close to what you paid. There are several good ones out there in your price range.
Your system appears to be nicely balanced. If you improve the source or the speakers you will probably start a major "rig upgrade infection" that will spread to everything. Can be very costly, but manoman it may lead you to a better sonic place. It's the nature of this $$ hobby. I am, finally, at a stage where I not only love ( meaning accepted my limitations) my rig, but haven't thought of the simplest(least expensive) tweak for my rig in 6 months. A record for me. This sonic nirvana, however, has taken many an upgrade, all starting with wanting to upgrade just one thing. I'm a speaker guy first, for an upgrade, with the source just micrometers behind. Maybe a dead heat.... keep us posted...Happy listening....warren :)

FWIW I agree with you on the Revels, great speakers, all of them. I would suggest the one thing I would want out of that system is the amp. Yes, I know many people adore Bryston amps, and their customer service is exceptional, but to me their amps are bright and get thin in complicated muical passages loosing seperation.

I have always like the Revels with Levinson or Proceed amps. You could easily pick up a Proceed HPA 2 for ~$1,500 and have money to spare for software. Or depending on the cash a ML 336 or 432 which would clear out the hash from the Bryston and sweeten up the speakers some, likely helping you with those bad recordings, while adding detail and sepeation.....

Just my 0.02.
In agree that you should sayt "what do I think are the weaknesses and address it that way.I always think speakers are the ultimate transducer next amp,then pre and sources equally.The extras or froting on the cake can make a big difference.Though I think the most rediculous type of equipment for what you get is wirring I am also form Missourri in this respect-Show me.But you have a well regarded wrie.What about a decent rack and some leements for vibration cotrol.And I know folks think I am crazy to suggest for florstanders the Sound Anchor short stands Z(beter put "platfroms") can make a huge difference giving decoupling and deadening that can make huge difference especilly if you have wood floor.But you have the basics covered so if LP's don't do it for you try to find weaknesses you precieve and bring list into dealer who has your gear and see if he can do demo of upgrades from same manufaturer or a worthy competitor.Also do a funky 2A3 tube with high effciency speakers from a company like Caijn and cain or Omega.A cheap SET rig to have a diferent sound????Anyway I am jealouys of your problem of the burning in the pocket problem since my cash is being burned every where else.
A gentle way to enhance your listening pleasure is by means of tweaking, small adjustments developed by clever inventors to yield a meaningful improvement.
A wonderful, almost free, way to tame what you describe as a "tad bright" CD playback system is to try Herbie's Audio Lab "Grungebuster2" CD mat. It is only $12.50, yet the benefits can be startling.
At first, the taming of brightness seemed to be a shelving effect over the high treble range, but after listening to hundreds of CD's there is no loss of treble exension or relative level, rather a loss of the CD brightness which my ribbon tweeters can expose in certain CD's. For the moment, the single most cost effective "tweak" in any of my CD or vinyl playback systems.
The Dakiom Feedback Stabilizer can bring overall naturalness, even refinement, to certain CD players, which can be quite surprising.
A further subtle relaxation in CD tension can follow placing one Machina Dynamica Brilliant Pebbles Mini bottle on top of your CD player, just over the center of the spinning CD.
This does not yet address the issue of whether to try one of the multitude of vibration modifying footers, which is a whole other universe of choices to try (for example, Cardas Myrtlewood Golden Cuboids, or Herbie's Tenderfoot option).
When your source is optimized (and, your spare cash exhausted) you may well settle back into contentment, at least for a little while, not an easy thing to accomplish in this hobby.

I agree with Chazzbo - rather than "weak" link look for a variation on your approach to reproducing music. Think sonic change rather that weakness.

I see your all SS rig and think tube pre-amp or as someone has suggested a turntable. Or perhaps a passive preamp. Maybe a CD player that has been noted for its smoothness and edge free reproduction. Look for changes to make your system a bit more forgiving of bad recordings and warm up the midrange.
Ok, If you have some extra money....Spend it on treating the room...This is you best investment...
Double wow for the additional advice.

I knew somebody was going to start talking about tubes. Well, I'm totally ignorant on that subject, just know there's a cult following. By all means, recommend a tube preamp and I'll check my local dealers for a loaner or something. But no doubt it's only a short step from there to a tube power amp, and eventually I'll have tubes coming out of the light sockets.

I forgot to mention that I sorta doubt my CD player is much of a weak link, either. I kinda think the Arcam CD23 kicks ass. Maybe it's bright, but the gain in clarity and immediacy (I heard it directly compared to several other models in the price range) was more than worth it.

I'm still leaning toward playing with a used amp; just looking around Audiogon there seem to be tons of options for 2 grand or under. The brands I tend to notice, for whatever reason (I guess because they get talked about more) are these: Bryston, Krell, Classe, Sim, Levinson, and PS. Well, Levinson is too pricey. But if anybody is bonkers for, say, Krells, or Sims or Classe, feel free to let me know. (I understand more power isn't necessarily good if it's sucky power, but these brands don't really suck, do they?) Some used items I'm eyeing right now are:

Krell KAV 2250
Krell KAV 250a (what would be the difference?)
Krell KSA 150 (originally $5000, now $1600, why?)
Classe CA-200, 201 or 301
Sim Audio Moon W-5
Bryston 4B-ST or SST

Thanks again!
Yeah Etbaby has a good point.....either room treatment or a DEQ2496 might do much more than a new amp
Room there like an 800 number for that?

It's not a bad room. Carpet, wood panels, windows with blinds, and I'm using a couple tube traps for the first reflection. And I have my equipment fairly isolated in a recessed space behind the speakers.

But maybe a snappier paint color would do the trick. Egg shell or satin???
i owned a classe dr 6 pre amp a number of years ago. i was impressed with the soundstage, resolution and depth. however, i found it dry sounding. i sold it within 3 months after i bought it.

i admit to preferring tube electronics, but it is possible you might want to upgrade your preamp, if you have any issues with the performance of your stereo system.

if you are satisfied with the "tonality" of your stereo system, so be it. otherwise, you might consider trying a tube preamp.
I suggested a tubed pre but I do not advocate your going all tubes. Adding a tubed pre would be to mellow out your system and maybe improve your soundstage a bit. As I said I have the same CD player that I am happy with also. I don't think it is a weak link at all. If you listen to rock and or jazz you probably don't want to give up the control, bass, dynamics of your SS amp. Tubed pres are generally not alot of fuss. You should get a few years out of a set of tubes and not have to become a "tube roller". Of course, that particular illness is open to you if you so desire. Different tubes will make your system sound different. Amps can be a different story on the fussy issue. There are alot of people in the tubed pre, SS amp camp as I am. IMHO the tubed pre and SS amp give you the best of both worlds. A word of caution, there can be some trickiness in matching up a tubed pre and SS amp, all will not partner well but those that do make music. Another option would be to add a tube buffer between your pre and CD player. You can buy the Musical Fidelity setup with power supply for about $800 new.
Thanks for all the replies.

For the time being, and speaking of tubes, I will be auditioning the Van Alstine 350EXR Ultra, a tube-MOSFET hybrid power amp. Frank Van Alstine agreed that my Bryston amp was the best candidate for "weak link" status, and assured me I would hear a world of difference. We'll see. For anyone not familiar, the front-end tubes are isolated for voltage manipulation, and not at all involved in feeding current to the speakers. Or something like that; I'm not an engineer. Also for anyone not familiar, Van Alstine products are not sold through dealers; you buy them directly from his shop in MN. Anyway lots of people seem to rave about them, and they are certainly affordable (the 350EXR goes for $1849).

If I like it enough I may consider one of his preamps, which I believe are available either pure tubed or hybrid.

All comments on tube components vs. hybrid components, and combinations thereof, welcomed.