LP playback is lacking - any ideas?

I looking for ideas to improve my vinyl playback. I have a vpi 19 jr. with a Linn Akito arm and Benz Glider cartridge.
The phono pre-amp is an audio research ph-3. The sound I get is congested and i don't know why. I'm to sort of 'open up' the sound more. Any ideas folks?
Where do you have the table set up? Is it near the speakers?You could be getting muddy sound because the table is to close to the speakers, don't forget that your VPI has no real isolation. The Glider is also a pretty laid back cartridge but it normally isn't congested. Is it all albums or just some? If it isn't on all, maybe it's the recording. You have nice stuff you should be getting great sound. You might want to check your overhang and tracking force again.
Has it always sounded congested? If so you could have a few set-up problems. The most common is the impedance loading on the cartridge. I almost never use the recommended load--I do use it as a starting point, but then listen. Lowering the load will bring out more bass, increasing it will bring out treble (very generalized). When doing this you need to be sure that the VTA and cartridge weight and antiskate are all set correctly. These will effect the loading, because they too can have similar effects. For example if the VTA is set too low, it generally brings out the bass. If you set the load with the VTA too low, you would probably use too high a load to compensate. The result would yield something with correct tonal balance (to some degree) but would not sound nearly as open as it could. I am not familiar with the AR PH-3--is it a tube phono stage?? If so, you might consider new tubes if they are getting on in years. I have recently retubed my Sonic Frontiers phono stage with NOS tubes, and it really made a huge difference--probably should have done it a few years ago.
The retube on a ph-3 is dirt cheap - $40-50 or so. The tubes live 2000 hours. I would go to someone other than ARC for the tubes. They are (sovtek?) standard 6922's. ARC really overcharges for their tubes these days.
On the topic of cartridge loading: The ph-3 comes from the factory with input impedance = 47K ohms, input capacitance = 90 pF. Your ph-3 should have come with a set of resistors that you have to solder into the ph-3 to change the loading characteristics. Your ph-3 manual will have a table of resistor to loading. If you don't have this table I will post it for you. An easy thing you can also try is to look at your line stage preamp and see if it has any inputs that take a lower input setting. My ref1 preamp's aux1 input was 3 db lower than the rest of the inputs. I found using this input worked better for my phono stage. Good luck.
Not familiar with that specific model, but can you put on better interconnect cables??
Want to really get the most from your turntable,install an Express Machining Heavyweight onto your tonearm. It will transform your setup to a higher standard.
Cartridge mis-alignment in the headshell can create some of the problems you mention..is the Benz properly set up? Are you the original owner of the Akito? Could be some problems there...can't hurt to check. Good Luck!
Get rid of the turntable and buy a Linn Sondek LP 12. End of problem.
Are you using power conditioning? Dirty power can muddy sound.
Standing waves(bass) can make a system sound lifeless,small, congested. The gear you have is capable of at least 80%, of state of the art performance, if properly set up. Tube traps would be the fix, for that problem. DIY traps are very easy to make.
Could be anything -- dontcha love it? If the arm is set up properly, then I'd be tempted to look first at what is supporting your TT (you don't mention that) room as a likely culprit. Of course, if your CD player produces a similar kind of congestion, I might suspect your room.
Oops, strike the word "room" in the second line, above. I just mean what your turntable is sitting on.
Have you tried any premium vintage audio tubes? The most transparent, and dynamic sounding, are the Siemans. Tubes are the most critical element, in well designed tube gear. This is only the case, if it's only your LP playback, that is lifeless.