I'm happy but I want more, more, more

My system is a Clearaudio Performance SE table, Clearaudio Stradivari cartridge, ARC PH5, Conrad Johnson et3 se pre, and a Classe CA-2200 amp running a pair of Thiel 3.6. Speaker cables are Cardas Golden Cross and interconnects are Cardas Clear Refection. Now, to upgrade the pre to a Conrad Johnson ACT 2 series 2 or an ARC Ref 3 will cost me about $3500-4000 CAD, as will an upgrade to a ARC PH-8 phonostage. Any opinions regarding which upgrade, pre or phonostage, will yield the greatest jump in performance are appreciated. BTW, no talk about upgrading speakers and leaving Thiel as that costs real money and countless therapy sessions.
If you are just running a turntable as your source, I see no mention of a digital front end, then I would upgrade the phono stage but if you have a digital front end or plan on adding one then the preamp would be my upgrade option. I have always felt that the preamp is the most important piece of the audio chain other than maybe the speakers and you seem to be happy there.
If you have not yet put a reasonable effort into room treatment
this is the place to start.
Considering it's cost to benefit ratio, its a no brainier.

Tooblue. It's an analogue system only. Every time I've upgrade I am astounded by the amount of music on the record that I didn't get before I upgraded. In my mind, there is always a little bit more music than you previously thought. I agree, phonostage should be the direction. For some strange reason, it wasn't that clear to me until I read your post, but when I compare the prices of my existing preamp and phonosage, the choice is obvious. And yes, price is generally a good reflection of performance.Thanks.
Totem395. I'm just getting into room treatment. It's generally one of the last thing we audiophiles do, albeit for a number of good reasons, but the improvement from just 4 DIY sound absorbers makes me think I should have done it when I first started out 10 years ago. It is absolutely a no brainer!
Do you already have AC power conditioner? My experience after adding Torus Power products (AVR30 WM for main system, RM8 and RM16 for another 2 systems) resulted in less background noise and the sound becomes higher resolution.
I replace a Bybee Holographic by Torus AVR16  (europe) without regret much better in many ways.


I'd say the cart is too good for the table & tonearm. I would really consider upgrading the Performance to another table (not necessarily Clearaudio). Which one depends on how much cash you are willing to throw at it.

There are many choices : SME, Avid, TWAcustic Raven (which I use), Notts Analogue, Verdier etc, even VPI ;^)

The choice of partnering tonearm is also vitally important. I cut out the intermediate choices and went for the Graham Phantom. SME V is also a popular choice if you prefer gimballed.

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With electronics it seems to pay best if you start the upgrades upstream and work your way downstream to the amp and speakers.

No matter how good your amps and speakers are, they can't recover information lost by the front end. So you get that right first- and that has this way of really making up for a lot of flaws further downstream!

I would not limit myself to ARC phono sections either. If I had to choose only between the ARC or CJ preamp, I'd go with the CJ, but no-one is holding a gun to my head and I'm of the opinion that I don't have to be limited like that.

Now the thing is, if the arm and cartridge aren't up to snuff, the electronics won't do you a lot of good. I would therefore be considering upgrading the arm and cartridge first- but you do have to deal with the issue of how much output the cartridge has and how this might affect the preamp issue. FWIW, I've found that the ability of the arm to track the cartridge properly, combined with the ability of the arm to allow for absolutely correct setup of the cartridge, will trump the actual choice of cartridge almost every time.

To put that another way, you don't have to spend a lot on the cartridge if your arm has its ducks in a row. I know this will be met with some scorn, but I'm not kidding here. I run a Triplanar, which is one of the most adjustable arms made; one day I found that my cartridge had inexplicably lost a channel, so it went back to get fixed/replaced. In the meantime I was needing my fix of tunes and the only cartridge I had laying around was a $35.00 cartridge new in the box. I figured, 'why not', set it up with the same care I would a $8000.00 cartridge and see what happens. Well it tracked perfectly with no hint of stress on real torture tracks, but sounded a little up front (well, more than just a little...). But then I realized that it was a moving magnet and loading is a big deal with them, much more so than moving coils, so I experimented with loading and the up front quality went away: the cartridge was smooth, fast, detailed, extended- in fact the only real difference I could hear is that it obviously had more output so the noise floor was lower.

So you might take this into account with your update scenario.
I posted earlier, but my post was deleted. It was deemed to be too harsh. Believe me, I did not mean it that way, if you by chance did read it.  In fact, my thoughts are and were very parallel to those of Atma-sphere.  I can only add one more idea: Instead of trying to follow all of the sometimes confusing and contradictory advice above Atma-sphere's, you might consider taking a step back.  Before you spend any money, travel around a little and listen to a wide variety of systems that are very different from yours. You might visit dealers and private homes as well. Determine for yourself whether any of these other versions of an audio system seem to get closer to ringing your bell.  It might take you a whole year to do this well, but in the long run you might also save a lot of money and avoid many blind alleys.  In my opinion, satisfaction in this hobby is more about honest introspection and epiphany than it is about fancy doodads.
More? I'd say your system is already there except for the bottom.

Get a subwoofer with detailed room EQ and remote control to adjust phase, volume, and EQ, on the fly from your listening position. Used JL Audio F series or Velodyne DD Plus prices should be right in your wheelhouse.

bill10907:  I was on the merry-go-round myself for about 40 years.  I tried at least 10 power amps, both tubed and solid-state, 5 preamps, who knows how many speakers, some up to $42K with ion tweeters and spherical horn midrange, 3 turntables, 2 arms, 3 cartridges, 2 subwoofers, and a plethora of cables, some up to $20K for a pair of speaker cables.  A few years back I discovered do-it-yourself products and now have single-driver speakers in homemade cabinets and High Fidelity Cables.  Nothing I had before even touched what I have now and I am off the merry-go-round.  Just something to think about.  Good luck with your endeavour.
rlawry, Great post. That's exactly what I was trying to get across to the OP.  Not that his audio Nirvana will necessarily be the same as yours or mine.

Dear @bill10907 ::   You posted:   """  I'm happy but I want more, more, more.... """

I'm sure that almost all of us want " more,more,more " but these " more " could be totally diferent for each one of us.

In my case and before I post my advice/opinion as the other gentlemans that posted here I would like to know:

- More, where? where do you think your system is not " complete/perfect "? what do you want to have " more "?  which are the system areas that you " discovery " some system's weaks?  and please which are your music/sound priorities?

Maybe to many questions but with that information could be more easy that you can recieve  better advises. Remember that every single audio system can be up dated, the subject is as you posted: where? and for that answer we need to know what you are listening or what you are not listening in your today set up.

Regards and enjoy the music,

Yes, it's the old computer adage, "garbage in, garbage out".

What is lost at the beginning cannot be recreated at the end. Not that $2.5K is an unreasonable spend on a tonearm and turntable but these days that seems to get you an MDF chassis that has more in common with a kitchen worktop than a serious piece of audio equipment.

Granted some of them have constrained layer alum outer sheets but even these have been shown to warp under duress or humidity. Contrast this with a continuous path CNC machined billet of aluminium several inches thick. Unfortunately in analogue you get what you pay for and it's usually easy to see where the money goes. (Not that I would normally advocate spending money for the sake of it). Sadly we are not all millionaires and the best analogue is rapidly becoming a rich man's hobby  - which vindicates the ethos of RLawry. Kudos to him for being bold enough to take that course.

Bill, I too have an all analogue system. Upgrading my monoblocks just cost a bunch, but that good result was no more impressive than a $10 tweak.

That tweak was resonance control on the tonearm. I used some sticky gel, the stuff used to tune drum kits. Moongel it's called. Lots of fun, lots of results, and lots of money left over!

Moonglum, I disagree that this is or is becoming a rich man's hobby. The thoughtful and introspective man who is a clever shopper and a little bit handy in a workshop (not necessarily a craftsman) can achieve as much or more satisfaction as anyone with purely money to blow away.  True, you have to have SOME money to spend.  But six figures, nah.

Sadly we are not all millionaires and the best analogue is rapidly becoming a rich man's hobby
I see people putting together very successful systems using modest equipment like the Technics SL1200 with a Grado Gold cartridge, amps like a Dynaco SCA-35 and a perhaps set of Lowthers. But I guess a lot depends on your definition of rich...
Dear @bill10907 : Maybe you are not sure to give an answer to my questions that were not " rocket science " knowledge level needs to do it.

Anyway here I go:

to build any audio system we must to start with the best audio components/items we can afford at both system chain link extremes: front end and speaker/room.

In between those system chain link extremes yours looks pretty decent/good.

Where can I start to up date your system?. Very simple: where the sound comes at your listening position ears: speakers.

NO. I’m not talking to change those Thiels, as a fact I loved Thiel speakers and had great opportunities to liste it for long periods of time even at my place with diferent models: 7, 5, 3.5, 1.2 and the 3.6 you own.

Well the 3.6 ( as any other speaker ) is far away to be " perfect " but the 3.6 has a severe problem and is a true limitation for that " more, more " you are asking for.
Problem is that so high crossover frequency between the woofer and midrange drivers: 500 hz that grows up in frequency due the JT preference for first order ( 6 db. ) crossover filters that permit that those woofers handle frequencies as high ( we can hear because those first order filters. ) as 700hz-800hz and this means really high THD levels on what you are listening.

Here you can read what I’m talking about ( read it carefully. ):


when you liberate the 3.6 woofers of those long excursions from 100hz and down the improvement ( sure, true and real. ) in quality level of the sound you will be listening has no paragon: just fabolous, just a new improved audio system that you can’t even imagine you " have it ". Your system could be ( then. ) outperforms systems in the 300K dollars!. Believe it or not.

@m-db sugested that and ( independent of his reasons to posted it. ) he is spot on.

There are other areas where you system can be upgraded but those are latter and when you already integrated a pair of active/self powered in true stereo fashion in your today system.

Many alternatives for subwoofers but the true home system experts comes from Velodyne and for very good reasons: DD-15 or HGS-15 models can do it over any other " glamorous " subs in the market.

Btw, why do you think that the today bets quality level performance spekaers comes with dedicated active subwoofers?. Here you can see a " dream audiophile system " where those speakers comes with active subs:


but not only those speakers but for example the top Vandersteen and many more.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Agree with Raul, give us more info in what specifically you're looking to improve upon.  "More" is not enough to go on to get targeted and more helpful recommendations. 

LewM said : " I disagree that this is or is becoming a rich man's hobby. The thoughtful and introspective man who is a clever shopper and a little bit handy in a workshop (not necessarily a craftsman) can achieve as much or more satisfaction as anyone with purely money to blow away.  True, you have to have SOME money to spend.  But six figures, nah."

I'm confused. Who said anything about “6 figures”, or suggested that shrewd second-hand buying wasn’t an option? The OP merely asked what could benefit from improvement in his system and he got a few answers. ;^)

Is the HiFi biz rapidly becoming the province of those with higher levels of disposable income….?

Well, that depends on who one talks to.

Some say all we must do to get good HiFi on the cheap is to purchase a second-hand SL1200 and refurbish it.

While I’m not opposed to this idea and have applied this principle a lot with cars, perhaps before we all rush off and start scanning E-Bay a simple lesson in economics might be in order. For every person who currently owns a second-hand SL1200 there is someone out there who bought one brand new then got rid of it  i.e. an undeniably larger number of original owners (because not all units made it back to market). In other words, the second-hand market doesn't exist unless the new market exists strongly.

Last time I looked the new SL-1200G (the non-Limited Edition model) was planned for 2016 release AT NEARLY TWICE THE PRICE OF THE OP’S CURRENT TURNTABLE.

So it would be truer to say that for more than half of us it is *becoming* an expensive hobby and for the remainder it isn’t. I will however put the money towards the items where I feel it will do the most good. ;^)

Dear @bill10907 : It's weird that fater all those answers you are just:  "" dead silence ".

What's up because when you posted your thread seems to me that was mposted for a serious gentleman who really wants a system improvement advise. Maybe you changed your mind about.

Weird for say the least.

Regards and enjoy the music,
THe penny just dropped. High FIdelity Cables. Is he not the magnetic conduction guy? (Cables so expensive you have to mortgage your house) It's the only product you actually cared to mention I might add. It must have left some impression. Is it true that on visit to the SF Audio Society HFC said that the benefits of their cables were such that if removed and replaced with a competitor's, the sound would continue to be good for up to 4hours afterwards - making comparisons difficult?
If you wish to read more HFC publish the SFAS link on their website under "Reviews". 

BTW Bill, another reason I’m less than enamoured with the Clearaudio is their main bearings. They tend to be either the "air-ceramic" type or the magnetic one (which I think you have??). If I’m not mistaken both of these offer a compliance which enables the platter to behave differently from the tonearm i.e. the platter can "bounce" whilst the tonearm does not. I’ve heard quite a few Clearaudio tables so my views are also based on listening experience.

For more discussion on this there was(!) a useful discussion about separate arm pods in the "hot topics" header. ;^)

Thanks for all your time spent offering your ideas. I purposely didn't state what I was looking for for three reasons: I wanted opinions regarding my system's shortcomings; I don't like to limit responses when I'm not sure what question I should be asking (I am a former journalist and I know if you ask a well-defined question, you'll get a well-defined answer, but you may miss the story altogether); and I love the sound of my system and I really just want better, even though I am always in sound heaven.
1. I now have some room treatments up. A great improvement.
2. Is audiophilia a rich person's game? Yes and no. If you buy used and purchase components from the big brands, the resale value stays pretty static and you MAY only incur the cost of lost "interest" if you had otherwise invested the money. Buying new or obscure brands is very likely a different scenario, but I haven't done that so I'm not sure.
3. As stated in my second post, I am focusing on upgrading the phonostage first. Having a table and cartridge worth over $6,000 and stage worth $2,000 (new prices) does not make much sense.
4. As I play my music at blaring levels and my thiels reach down to 20Hz, I'm less sure that a sub trumps the gain from a better phonostage. That said, I will get a sub in the near future, just not a used sub worth $300. In my experience, bass is cheap, but tight bass is far more expensive than top-end clarity. I'll be looking for a Thiel sub or the like.
 5. Rauliruegas: Your questions were not "rocket science," but if they were I'd understand them as I am 55-year-old tech editor who always reads carefully.
6. Moonglum. I like my cartridge and my tomearm is a Satisfy, which holds its own on far more expensive Clearaudio tables. I'm not sure how to pose this question, but do you think I would gain more from just a tonearm upgrade or just a table upgrade?
7. Atmasphere, along with my stereo-as-equity position, I started out with a Grado gold, Rega P3, and a NAD PP2, and I was in heaven. It's just that heaven gets better and better as I upgrade. But before I upgrade I've never believed that I was not already in heaven :-)
Thanks again guys, I really appreciate these responses.

Dear @bill10907 :  """   I'm less sure that a sub trumps the gain from a better phonostage... """

it's normal that you think that way because you can't understand all the information I send through that subwoofer link because you never heard exactly what is explained in the link.

You are speaking of 4K for a change in your system, well a pair of subs designed by the subs experts as Velodyne can make the job better than almost any other and for that money.

Anyway, every " move " in your system is up tp you and is you whom must be satisfied with not us.

regards and enjoy the music,

Hi Bill,

I have a friend who uses the Satisfy arm on an LP12 and is delighted with it. (They say suspended tables and unipivots do not make the best stablemates but try telling that to all the Naim ARO users ;^)

It bears repeating that IMV there is an imbalance in the distribution of cost within the T/T in favour of the cartridge. The item which defines the sound of your analogue system most is the most fundamental one i.e. the chassis/motor unit. As has been suggested already in many threads on the forum, even a modest MM cartridge mounted on a superior platform will sound disproportionately good. The old-established concept is that a good turntable even with modest ancillaries and bookshelf speakers will sound coherently musical. This “source first” approach has been the matra of a certain hi-fi company for several decades and it is a view I still consider true even though I no longer use their turntables.

To a degree, even more fundamental is the platform that the T/T sits on and its location and relationship to the room & speakers. (e.g. although the natural choice of location for a T/T is the corner where it might be safer, the best place is half-way along a side wall. Just for the record I’ve broken this “rule” myself on more than one occasion and am currently doing so :). The moral is that even the best T/T won’t work properly if you site it on the wrong support structure (although some are more tolerant than others).

It isn’t my intention to disregard the influence of the tonearm. The Satisfy is a fine tonearm. I’m not sure I’d be in too much of a hurry to change that except to get something that could be more easily and accurately fine-tuned (e.g. azimuth – not that you can’t adjust it on the Satisfy just that it may be slightly inconvenient) but it must be said investing sensibly here can also reap audible benefits. In the final analysis it is your own opinion that counts and demo-ing alternatives is a first step.

The reason I haven’t suggested any particular alternatives is because I’m not selling anything.

Just to illustrate the scale of what you are dealing with, I was hooking up a printer to my laptop the other day. As the printer was powering itself up I was holding the other end of the interconnect cable between thumb and forefinger, ready to plug it in to the laptop. Every single bit of vibration, gantry movement and hum from the printer could be clearly felt, via the connector on the other end of a 4ft long (skinny) connector cable.

I would have thought such a cable would filter it. If it did, the effect was minimal… :(

(Sound transmits most efficiently through solid objects, even cables )

All the best,