Well, generally speaking, the most important component to upgrade first would be your weakest one.
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I take a very different tack, that of a music lover, not an audiophile, and that is to upgrade your collection of software before anything else.
That said, the cartridge/tonearm interface is really an area of black magic and it is worth doing whatever is possible to find a sympathetic combination. If the best arm and the best cartridge won't play nicely together the result will be utter crap. Throw as much money as you want at the problem and it will not help.
All things being equal, and although the distortions that they generate are a magnatude less than the distortions in transducers, I find that electronic distortions are the most jarring to the ear and most destructive to the fabric of the music. So, if the system was competely balanced, the tonearm/cartridge interface maximized, I would look to the phono preamp.
IMO the comment by TPReaves pretty much says it all, although Viridian also makes an excellent point in emphasizing the importance of a synergistic match between cartridge and tonearm.
I would add that more than a few very experienced audiophiles here, whose opinions IMO command a good deal of respect, have expressed the belief that a relatively inexpensive but suitably matched cartridge mounted on a high quality turntable/tonearm combination will generally outperform an expensive cartridge mounted on a relatively inexpensive turntable/tonearm combination. I see no reason to doubt that, as a general guideline.
02-02-13: SyntaxSurely you didn't mean to suggest that the choice of cable is more important than the choice of turntable, tonearm, and cartridge, at least in situations where the length of the cable is not unusually long. Or did you?
good point. I thought about it when I read the list. From my experience the majority of Arms (inside) is far away from its possibilities based on their cheap, average cable inside. For example, a cheap Rega Arm can show very good results when it will be rewired, you can simply get the most out of it with such a modification. When all is done to get the best out of any Arm, then it makes sense to go ahead (not everyone can afford everything but when you have something which can really deliver what is possible from its design, it can be absolutely fine). Various SME Arms are another example for internal wiring.
Some Arms have good wire inside (Graham for example), here it makes sense to link a top cable from its connector to the Phono input.
Or another example, when you work with Headshells, most are delivered with very cheap leads. When you replace those with top leads, silver or copper, you hear immediately the difference, for a small investment about 35-60$. The cartridge signal is so fragile, you can't improve it, but a lot can be done to degrade it.
Dear Noslepums: I don't know if you still own the Clearaudio Accurate, SP-10, SME V, Linto phonostage, Bryston amps and DYS speakers.
I know very well all those items but the Linto phono stage.
The SP-10 is IMHO a very respectable TT especialy in nude/naked version ( with out plinth. ) but needs a good TT mat. The Accurate is a good cartridge but not the best match with the V tonearm and not because resonance frequency in between but because other kind of interactions/distortions generated in between. Bryston amps are very good units.
According with Linto owners and Atkinson measurements the Linto is very good performer with the drawback that can't accept the MM/MI alternative that despite what Syntax posted ( IMHO in that topic he really talk with no facts that could serve as foundation on his remarks. IMHO any kind of cartridge deserve the best at phono stage to can shows at its best. ) is always a welcomed alternative.
So what I do it if I was you is to go for a different tonearm to achieve better Accurate performance and from there you could move a head on the other analog links to fulfil your overall music sound reproduction targets.
IMHO what defines where to start a system up grade is the system it self and for any one of us not be sure which your system set up has no real sense to give advise. There is no rules on up grade in any audio system.
If you share your system items you could have more precise answers that could help you in betetr ways.
Regards and enjoy the music,
If the table doesn't spin at the correct speed and induces rumble in the playback, do you really want to hear that reproduced precisely while you wait to upgrade the other pieces?
On the other hand, if you build a solid foundation on a good turntable, it will produce music and will only be diluted by the weak links in the chain.
Purchase the best you can afford at the beginning (research carefully, first). It will save you the cost of trading up later (involving time and money).
It's a system, guys, and everything interacts to some degree with everything else. So recommending the best upgrade is difficult without knowing the context. On top of that, many people have never examined specific changes scientifically. I had a direct drive turntable that sounded dynamic and one belt drive that sounded slow, so that becomes a way of characterizing all such units in the future?
The best upgrade might be moving from a rubber belt to a tape drive, to fix the microdynamics and leading notes of instruments.
The best upgrade is the one that makes every other part of the system work better! I would not throw a world-class unipivot on a suspended chassis design without doing my homework regarding interactions and spring rates. But if you get it right, you could make the whole thing MUCH better.
Most of us hobbyists never listen all that critically to all various combinations to find that optimum upgrade. I'm in the process now of trying to do that with plinth design. I have an unsuspended table with a 1" thick top plate, and I'm experimenting with plinth layers and materials (aluminum, steel, Panzerholz, MDF, EAR Isodamp, etc.). Make a change, then do comparative listening & take copious notes. Then change back and make more notes. Then change one other thing and make notes. Change back and make more notes. Eventually, I hope to learn what will be the best upgrade for my system.
But in a generic sense, the answer is too dependent on the context to be useful. Just my $.02.
Hi Everyone, and thanks for your responses!
My 1-5 list was in no particular order.
I admit to being indecisive and neurotic about which
gear I want to end my Search with, I want to make final
choices on the combo and be done (even happy), I don't
want to experiment with gear the rest of my life if for
no other reason than it costs so much. This is why I
truly value everyone's advice here.
Almarg, it's beginning to register in my head,
the point about first having a stable platter upon which
to experiment with a good cart. I'll keep the SP-10.
Syntax, your point on the preamp makes sense. Eventually
I'll have to decide where to stop on this. Currently I
have a Linn Linto and an Acoustech PH-1P. I guess I won't
rule out looking further, but at the moment, this will
have to do.
Viridian, I believe I agree with you, in fact your point
makes me the most nervous. Where to stop in pursuing
arm/cart Magic ?
Raul, you are correct in listing my current gear, plus
my second phono pre above. I suppose I will reveal the
crux of my dilemma here. I have the SP-10 with the factory
obsidian plinth, and the SME-V arm. The arm is new and
not yet set up in the plinth. I will probably take one of
three directions here:
1. Stop buying anything and just be happy.
2. Only seek additional magic by trying different carts
on the V arm. The Clearaudio Accurate needs to go ?
3. Sell the obsidian plinth and the V arm, get a V-12 arm
and then figure out what to do plinth-wise. (V-12 won't
fit on the obsidian plinth.) I think this would be
the end of the line for me (with the possible exception
of a better pre, maybe......)
Again, I humbly thank you for guiding this old HiFi nut....
I vote for #1, not that you put the darn thing up for a vote. You haven't even tried the, most excellent, SMEV yet. Get it set up and just make a bargain with yourself that you will work to optimize the setup and not buy any more audio for some period of time, 6 months, a year, whatever. In that time commit to listening less critically, enjoying your music collection and challenging yourself by going out and buying some LPs that are out of your preferred genres. Have a glass of wine. You have an awesome rig. Enjoy it, you earned it!