How to identify my weakest link?

I really love my Hi-Fi system. It makes me real happy. It sounds so good but lately I’ve been feeling like I’d like to try something new. But what would I upgrade? How do I identify the weakest link? My gut tells me I should be looking at upgrading my amp but maybe not? If I do upgrade the amp I’d like to stay with an integrated amp due to space constraints. Any recommendations? Here’s where I’m currently at. I’m only interested in playing records on this system so no digital. 

Hana SL Moving Coil cartridge

Clearaudio Ovation w/ Magnify tonearm

Herron Audio VTPH-2A Phono Preamp

Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II integrated - tubes rolled from stock JJs to Gold Lion 12AX7 and 12AU7s with a Brimer 12AU7 in the center position. 

Speakers are B&W 805d3 stand mounts with a pair of REL S/510 subs.

Kimber Kable speaker, power cables and interconnects. 


I should also mention that I’ve been seriously considering pulling the trigger on a Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge, although $3500 is a lot for a cartridge. Would definitely take the leap if I could find one for a little less. Any ideas where I might find a “deal”? LOL

Thanks in advance for any ideas provided here. Love reading AG threads!



Weakest link? Would be easy to say "Kimber". 

But, not so fast! My view on the weakest link is you examine every aspect of the system. Not just the major components. Then you study your options. Then you look at what can be done to get the most improvement for the least cost. 

If everything is not on something at least as good a Nobsound springs then that is your weakest link. If you want to do better, which at your level you should, then Townshend Podiums under the speakers, Pods everywhere else. Huge improvement. Bigger than any component upgrade. 

I would also look at Synergistic PHT on the cart, HFT on the speakers. Purple fuse in the Herron. 

I've done all this stuff, even have the same Herron, and know whereof I speak. Some of this stuff like the fuse you will get so much benefit from so little cost you will not believe. Podiums cost a lot but the improvement is totally in line with what you get. Search around you will see.

Post removed 

Loudspeakers are your weak link. Go big or go home....

Integrated amp would also be my choice, many good ones out there. Keep in mind possible future speakers when purchasing integrated. I always think of amp and speakers as package deal.

First my compliments, sounds well thought out system w some astute tweaks and choices. I get that you have an itch to scratch. Where are you trying to go ? Rather than recommending a blizzard of tweaks, how is your room ( treatments ) How is your record cleaning machine ? Enjoy the music and the journey !


I am a robot running a humble inquiry subroutine 

you will get more out of your table and system via vibration management putting a set of critical mass centerstage footers under the table and integrated will give you a stunning improvement.

you should maximize the core components first.


then you can decide if you want to upgrade the amp

replacing the cart is the last step.

Dave and troyAudio intellect nj

critical mass dealers


Great system!

This is one of those rare threads where most posters agree!

First check out speaker positioning and similar inepxensive tweaks as per Millercarbon, audiotroy etc, above. I also agree that changing the Kimber for something more transparent would help.

Then, of course, you need to look into upgrading the amp, as many have suggested.

Thanks for the responses.


I forgot to mention that I do have Nobsound springs under my speakers and have built a pretty nice isolation platform for the TT with recessed Nobsound springs sandwiched between some butcher block. Wrapped the butcher with wood veneer then stained and finished to match the TT. Looks pretty legit 🙂. You mention a purple fuse for the Herron and I assume some sort of vibration tape? Where can I get both of those? Thanks! 

I should also add that I would absolutely benefit from some room treatment but to be honest, aesthetics matter more to me. I’m just not interested in hanging clouds or placing random panels on the walls. My goal is to make the stereo sound as good as it can without making my living space look like an audio room. 

I like the idea of thinking of the amp and speakers as a package deal. The B&Ws are nice but can absolutely sound a bit bright depending on the recording. I feel like I’ve tamed them a bit with the tube power. Maybe different speaker cables would help even more? Copper vs. silver? The Kimbers are silver. Any more “liquid” sounding cable suggestions? 

You don't really have any weak links.  You can change a few things here and there, but to really "upgrade" you would have to make wholesale changes (sources, loudspeakers and amps).  Your thought of changing to a different cartridge is a nice idea as is the suggestion to look at acoustical room treatments.  I'd keep the Kimbers until you reach the point where you want to make major system changes.  Finally, you could always spend the money on more music purchases!

For many (including me) the weakest link is the room you are in.

You don't describe your listening room?



Speakers/system a bit bright?

Do you have a SPL meter? It’s my latest kick, wish I bought my own a long time ago. The question mark will disappear.

I learned a lot and made improvements with an inexpensive meter. I realized, they don’t need to be perfectly calibrated, they just need to measure relative differences, test band to test band. then see if too bright relative to mids, how the subs crossover effects things ..., see if slight changes of speaker location, toe-in, cables, anything are beneficial, detrimental, inconsequential (do one thing at a time).


Meter on tripod, seated ear height, listening position.

test CD with individual bands, this one has 1/3 octave, each 1 minute long (not annoyingly short).


CD’s you can change tracks, pause, resume, much more convenient. No player? you could buy a cheap player just to do this.

or test LP for you, but then it is telling you what the cartridge, as aligned, is outputting, maybe that’s best for you anyhow.

I prefer using a CD, then comparing favorite music: LP version to CD version when refining cartridge alignment.

last thought: maybe they don't measure too bright, but you prefer less bright. meter will help you achieve that by confirming changes.

Synergistic cables will help a lot. They won't fix the B&W top end nothing will but they will help a lot by balancing it out with a bigger fuller deeper all around sound. Also Green Dream PHT on the cartridge will help with a more liquid sound. Black Beauty are good too, very neutral across the board clarity, and both can be used together. Their new stuff is best but they have been making so consistently good for so long there's a huge supply used so that you can pretty much shop by price and whatever level you are at there will be something good. 

Nobsound are very good, I used them extensively for a while, but Townshend Podiums will be a huge step up. Huge. Even compared to Nobsound. 

Room treatment, I know what you mean. Synergistic HFT are very unobtrusive room treatment, especially if you get them for the speakers as I recommended. That is why I recommend them first even though everyone says do the room do the room. Well the speakers are in the room. So do them. Same product, same results, just stuff stuck on speakers is a whole lot more acceptable than stuck on the walls. Either way they greatly improve clarity, help make speakers and room disappear, deepen and broaden the stage, etc. Really impressive for how small they are. They also make it seem like you have to get one kit per speaker. That is best, but you can also split one kit between two. That's what I did in the beginning when I wasn't sure. Works fine. Study their info, the same HFT are used on the walls, so once you have a speaker kit you can experiment with more than just the speakers.

The vibration tape is TA-102 fO.q tape sold on eBay or maybe Amazon. Also Cable Co has it but higher price. The price keeps going up! I don't even want to look any more! 😂 But it works so well you will not believe. Very small strip run along the under side of the tone arm, and then just keep looking around it works on everything even chassis of phono stage, caps, etc.  I've never been able to use too much but one guy wrapped his whole arm and said that was too much, so go step by step a little at a time you will see.

Purple fuse is Synergistic. Sold all over the place. I like Betty at high end electronics, she has always been good to me, even helped me get an extra Green Dream. They come in pairs, Green and Black, but she figured out some way to help me out, I forget, couple years ago. Friendly and with a little friendly talk you might be able to learn about any upcoming deals. I got a lot of mine buy 2 get one, or buy one thing get another free. Might be running something like that this time of year. I wouldn't know, all tapped out! 😂🤣


Thanks for all the info and ideas! I’ll dig in for sure! You hooked me up with the Nobsound springs idea awhile back and as skeptical as I was, I was proven very wrong. Huge improvement. I’ll will look at upgrading to pods at some point. Sounds like they’re the way to go! Appreciate the detailed response. 

@noromance yeah the Umami is an option too. I definitely like the Hana SL and have thought about going the MLroute but then I came across the Purple Heart reviews. I get it, they’re reviews but it seems to get a thumbs up everywhere I turn. 3x the price though. I doubt it’s 3x the cartridge but maybe? Only one way to find out. Try it. People talk about finding deals on this cart, but where? I feel like buying a used cartridge is a bad idea. 

1+ for the Umami!

If you are going to look for speaker platforms, take a look at this before. I wish I could post pictures.....I could show the decay difference between the Credo Audio and Townshend Podiums... Both are very good, but the Credo has an edge IF they have the platform that fits your speakers.


Here is a video that compare different setups. tedious but good. I did my own comparison using REW and I can confirm that at least on my room with my setup i can repro what he claims.

Either way as mentioned before isolate everything, worth 10 times the room treatment because you are addressing the sources and not the symptoms.

Take a look at the decay difference!

No Isolation
with Isolation


You can achieve near perfect match with control room RT60 targets with right room furnishings and hidden treatments. This room is almost textbook perfect with a difficult bit of asymetry… Don’t sell investing in the room short.


Roger Skoff wrote and article on this in October.

For your enjoyment: 


you might also widen your perspective on isolation. May excellent made in USA isolation. I like HRS but there are others…many others…..nice to see others are giving you more diverse advice…

The high end Hana is worlds away from purple heart lush romantic, you seem focused on a deal vs defining where you want the system sound to go…

IF you don’t know where you are going, any positive review will get you there.

You can somewhat tame the tweeter you have w felt sheets, use a star pattern around the dome.

@tomic601 is that a Herron with a custom wood faceplate?! Looks pretty great! I really dig those wood isolation platform with the live edge too. Nice!

I wish it was easier to post pics here 😐

I don't know about your weakest link, but it looks like you've already received some good feedback.

I have the Kiseki Blue N.S. and The Hana SL.  The Hana is a great cartridge.  It's biggest strength and weakness (IMHO) is that it's incredibly neutral.  Strength, because it doesn't add or take anything away from the music, weakness, because other cartridges may be a little more lively, colorful, etc.  I definitely find the Kiseki Blue to have a bit more in the way of detail and dynamics and enjoy the sound signature.  I haven't heard the Purple Heart, but would expect it to be more of what the Blue offers.

I bought mine from seller kron here on Audiogon.  The price was very attractive.  It looks like he only has the Blackheart listed at the moment.  You might try dropping him a note and see if he can get the Purpleheart if you're looking for a good deal.  Keep in mind that it would be a grey market cartridge, with no US warranty support.  There have been reports of quality issues with some of the Kiseki cartridges. 

kron has a 100% seller rating and my experience with him was excellent and I've had no issue with my Blue.

You have a nice table and phono stage (I have a VTPH-2A also) that should respond well to a cartridge upgade.  

Some other things to consider are different speakers, room treatment, or a couple more subwoofers.  I've only heard the B&W's briefly (not sure if they were the same model), but you're not the first or only person to characterize their sound as bright.  

If you want to get rid of the brightness, different speakers and room treatment are the places to start.  Room treatments don't have to be ugly, there are some where you can have photos or art printed on them.

@paulgardner Yes a Herron on Stillpoints with a custom ambrosia maple faceplate. I auditioned 12 phono pre, the Herron was the best sounding that also could fit in < 17”. Keith is a real gentleman. The live edge California Walnut amp stand contains HRS Nimbus couplers between amp and wood and also between floor and wood. The Bardo table is on an HRS base. Greg gives excellent seasoned advice on the +/- of a grey market cartridge. Frankly your system, IF you are stuck on the B&W screams wood body Grado…. I have a Lyra but they hue to very fast and neutral.

Enjoy the journey and the music ;-) on your Nobo springs, pay attention to @oldhvymec modification advice, he has more experience than ego…and a rabbit.

you might also talk w Keith about some custom loading R for your Hana, take a whisker off the top end….

I am a purely resistive load robot

Start with your source.  I would upgrade my phono stage before the cartridge.  Cables make a difference sure but nothing like a reference source like the phono or DAC first.

Paul having silver cables with bright speakers is a bad idea I would recommend switching to copper. One of the best copper cables I've heard and great with tubes is Auditorium23 both interconnect and speaker cables. Great sound and they won't break the bank either.

The phono stage you have would be the last thing I would think about upgrading. 

Thanks for all the great feedback everyone.

@big_greg thanks for the cart breakdowns. Yeah it does make me a bit nervous purchasing a $3k cart on the grey market and I have heard about some of the Kiseki quality issues. Hmmm. I’ll check out the Grado wood bodies too. I’m a big fan of the Herron. Not changing that anytime soon.

@tomic601 I have spoken with Kieth a couple times, great guy! I haven’t really played around with the loading plugs that came with the Herron. To be honest I forgot about those. Time to experiment! Thanks.

@jond Thanks. I’ll look into copper speaker cables. Good call

definitely cartridge and small signal tubes on the rogue.  

cartridge upgrades would include an audio technica AT ART9XI and better still a Lyra Delos.  Both are amazing and excellent values at their price.  

as for tubes i had a cm ii and loved it.  tried dozens of NOS tubes and the best ones really make a difference.   tried them all including brimar, mullard, rca, ge, mazda, philipps, amperex, gold lions, tung sol, jj, sovtek, telefunken, sylvania and others.

i could not improve on the exquisite sound of amperex holland or made by amperex 12AX7s and 12AU7 preamp tube. amazing.  For the pair of 12AU7 you can take your pick from the stock JJ, RCA 5693 or 5814.  an investment yes but also solid upgrades. 

If you love your speakers, then cartridge is looking like your easiest upgrade here. A sub-$1,000 MC should be significantly beaten by most $2K+ MCs or MIs. You already have way more than enough phono stage and table to handle a large upgrade. I just wouldn't put say a Koetsu (heavy and low compliance) on that light Magnify arm, though. 

Also agree with @avanti1960 - NOS small tube rolling in the Rogue will reap solid benefits. At some point you'd also want to look at either separates, or a more upscale integrated (like VAC). But the Cronus should be fine for now. 

Trying another cable brand could reap dividends too (current Synergistic Research and Audioquest lines are nice), but that's possibly more hit or miss than the others. 

@avanti1960 yeah I looked at the Lyra carts. From what I’ve read, I might be better off with something a little less analytical given the speakers I’m running. 

@mulveling Thanks for the ideas. I think I’ll start with cables until I can decide on a cart direction. I’ve also thought about going the Clearaudio Concerto MC given I’m already running the Ovation. So many options. 

The Benz cartridges are very musical, with a touch of sweetness and warmth - not at all analytical. They’re excellent for the money especially if you peruse the FS ads here. Any of their "L" (low output) models in a Zebrawood or Ebony body are pretty stellar. And a piece of cake for your Herron to amplify (well except for the Ebony TR but that thing’s crazy). Could be a great sonic match with your table, amp, and phono stage (and possibly speakers) all falling on the clean-neutral side of things. Rogue tube amps are certainly not warm nor "tubey" sounding. I don't expect any difficulties for the Benz in your Magnify arm, either (which is an arm I kind of like - what I hated was the all-magnetic Clarify). 

Nice system Paul! I think your inclination to look at different speakers and, if necessary, a complimentary amp is spot on. It sounds like you have some issues with the speakers that are beyond the ability of tweaks to address. Personally, I’m not a fan of B&Ws—you can do better without spending a ton of money and probably find something that works well with your integrated. Generate a shortlist and take your amp to a few dealers to see whether something else tickles your fancy. Good luck!

I would treat your system with High Fidelity NPS 1260

I should also add that I would absolutely benefit from some room treatment but to be honest, aesthetics matter more to me. I’m just not interested in hanging clouds or placing random panels on the walls. My goal is to make the stereo sound as good as it can without making my living space look like an audio room. 

I have to agree with @elliottbnewcombjr , and with the concept @tomic601 presents, and love that room @tomic601 , but would consider a panel behind your listening chair. I think you will be astonished at the difference. You don't need random panels, but some well placed ones, custom matched to your environment, is going to do more good than anything else. I get it though, aesthetics are part of the enjoyment as well. The problem is change will just be that. Change. Not better, not worse, just different.

Speaker placement if not ideal is going to be a big improvement. Take @elliottbnewcombjr , get an SPL meter, or a microphone. Its hard to guess at proper bass.

I assume you are just using the subs panel for bass management? With the SPL meter or microphone and a way to generate tones, you will be able to dial in more accurately.

If I am understanding your system correctly, the weak link is bass management. I assume your mains are running full range. How loud do you listen? If you like volume, that is going to push the B&W into much higher distortion in the bass. Limiting their low frequency extension and letting the RELs handle all the <80 may be preferable depending on listening volume. DSP for bass management at least for the subs will be a step up too.


I have heard that it’s actually ur fuses… why not try me that’s not silly priced

@mulveling thanks for the Benz cart idea. Very interested. Oven been hoping to find a good wood option to consider. After doing some surface research the Benz Zebr L looks like a damn fine cart based on reviews. Thanks again. Appreciate the suggestion the risk of being the Pretty Hate Machine for commenting that the weakest link can be seen in a mirror.

We Are the weak link, lo-fi through SOTA.

Age robs you of your hearing, whether one admits and accepts the finality of it.

Have yours tested.

I can almost guarantee you’ll hate the results, and hate me for pointing it out.

Happy mid-Holidaze. ;)

Your Basic Beast ’Bot

@asvjerry Humorous to me that you assume I’m an old guy. Keep it up!  

@paulgardner  *L*  That is one of the drawbacks of forums in general, age of posters is a variable unknown. ;)
Unless we post 'name, rank, serial #, etc.' we're kinda left to our own well as our audio gear....

That being 'said', it still can't hurt to know ones' 'baseline hearing response'.
We all have our limitations, as Harry once suggested. *G*  And knowing them is a Good channel 'The Martha'. 

If you start Now, you'll have an insight over your decades as to what's 'going South onboard' and have that in mind.  Once every 5 yrs. ought to allow you to have an insight as to the impact of 'UAR' (Unavoidable Age Rot') on you. *L*

Loud machinery and concerts ground my mid-range 'response' to 'meh' levels; the application of aids selected for their ability to correct the issue helped immensely.
That in itself helped to make sense of what the apps and programs that I employ to measure and monitor what 'I ought to be able to hear' make sense....

Anyway....Thanks for responding to my comment in a 'light-hearted' fashion as opposed to 'well, cross-thread You, snotty chit!' *L*
Just acting up as the canary in the coal mine....or mind... ;)

Yrs, Jerry


'Bots don't dis...yet....

Ears are attached to a brain. It’s been shown many times that hearing acuity is only part of the way in which we perceive live music or an audio system SQ. Prior experience and self training count for a lot. Albeit deaf is deaf. Just ask. Beethoven.

@lewm , very true...but I purposely steer clear of  noting the ear/brain interface.

One you can measure ('in canal' is now possible), but the 'in-betwixt'?

Waaaay too many variables....🙄

But, we all ought to be used to that by now...esp. here.... ;)


"'Bot, wt...?!" *L*