how do you determine what to upgrade next?

i have a relatively inexpensive system that i like quite a bit, but am also always under the spell of wanting to upgrade something. I'm not the kind of person that will (or even has the ability) to throw down thousands of dollars on a complete overhaul, or one piece of gear, I'm more in the range of 200 to 400 here, 40 bucks on a used cable there. probably would not spend more than $500 on any one thing, and am always looking in the used market.

I know there are a lot of different ideas about what the most important part of your system is, and am certainly not looking for "the answer", but am throwing out a general query on where i should invest next just to get some opinions. (and I'm posting this under speakers because i think that's probably the answer). I really anjoy listening to what i have, but always see room to make it a little better. note, there is no cd player, so aside from listening to NPR through my old sansui receiver the TT is my only source. I *might* buy a cd player sometime, just for convenience sake, but won't spend a lot of money on it.

here's what i got:
Music Hall mmf2 with a clearaudio aurum classic
forte f-40
adcom gfa 535 (mk1 i think)
paradigm 5se MkI
this is all in a pretty small room, maybe 13 x 12?
The obvious question that needs to be addressed is, "what do you want to change/improve/adjust?"

Once you have a plan of action, you can move in that direction but I'd suggest optimizing what you have now in order to obtain a reference point.

By this I mean start w/speaker placement, which can change the sound considerably, along with some attention to the room & other factors outside the gear itself, such as the AC & tweaks.
It's been my experience that my pre-amp (Audioprism Mantissa) has had a greater effect on sound quality than changing between my 4 amps.

This is just my opinion but unless something is mis-matched in the system the speakers and pre-amp do seem to have the greater effect on sound quality...of course I'm leaving the room out of the picture which is also very important and in your case...not good.

Room treatments are far more important in small rooms than they are in large rooms...go there.

You like your system "quite a bit." Why not just inve$t your limited fund$ in more LP's, rather than critically focusing on small nuances of sound reproduction?

Just in-joy more music!

I'm a firm believer in investing in the music- isn't this what it's all about? It amazes me how much time & money hobbyists spend on hardware, & how little they invest in source music. It's backwards!

There is so much great music out there, and so little time...
I ould try treating the room. I have a similar size room, I treated the room with Eighth Nerve room treatments, it was like an equipment upgrade.

Their website is
"what do you want to change/improve/adjust?"

if anything, there bass can be a bit messy, it's there, plenty of response and sometimes it even seems too much, but it can be a little sloppy sounding. it sounds like i should be playing with my placement more.
In your price range, no-contest, hands-down, always upgrade your AMP! Whether it is the preamp, phono stage, or power amp, you should always upgrade there first. then look to speakers, but don't forget your source. It's a balancing act. Also remember power(AC), resonance control and acoustics. The but the amp is most pivotal (in this price range)!
Go down to Home Depot or the likes and pickup some insulation rolls (comes rolled up and in plastic not open). Stack about 3 rolls in each corner...I think your bass will take-on a new sound in your small/square room.

You can make um pretty later with not a lot of work.

Ditto to Sogood's recommendation. Until you treat your room you don't know what your system is capable of.
I did just what SoGood did with the rolls of insulation in the corners and was astounded by the difference in sound from 60 dollars of insulation. With all the plants around you can hardly even see the insulation. You can leave it up or go to higher quality sound absorbers/diffusors if you choose but this is an inexpensive way to try bettering your room. If you don't like it you can always use it to insulate the house ;-)

Wow lots of good advice here. In order of importance to me;

1. Spend time picking up some great music.
2. Do the cheapee sound treatments for bass.
3. Then try to improve your weakest link. What that is for you...I am not sure. I think the amp and the source hardware are key.