New phono preamp or tonearm?


Presently own a ClearAudio Master Solution with a Tecnoarm from Michell and a Benz Wood M2, phono pre is an ARC PH3. I am in the process of upgrading my phono pre and tonearm and I was wondering which I should do first, arm or pre! Short list for tone arm is the Graham Phantom II, phono pre I will be looking at the ARC PH7, Nagra VPS, Aesthetix Rhea, EAR 88BP and Artemis Lab PH1. I think I will be keeping the Technoarm for a second mono cartridge, so some phono pre are better suited for my purpose than others (2 inputs).

Current system consists of an ARC Ref3 pre, ARC VS110 amp, SF Cremona speakers, YTER interconnects and Shunyata Orion speaker cables. I listen mostly to jazz.

Thanks for reading
I would go for a new arm myself, first.

Thanks for the reply. I figured that would be the answer, mind you I would have liked it in reverse order..... Don't ask me why.
The preamp (line or phono) is in my opinion the heart and brain from each System. There is no other component in the whole System where you can loose so much information (or win).
The Tonearm is not that important (in this comparison). When "forced" to make a decision between a - for example - Lamm LP2 with a Rega 300 or 500$ Phono with Phantom... well, for that decision I would not need any time :).
I am in total agreement with Thomas....

You have the ARC 3 preamp, for sure try out the ARC PH7.

While your at it, get what you have precisely dialed in with a MintLp arc protractor at
A slew of testimonials on Minting your cartridge can be found here on Audiogon.
I found your thread because we share the same admiration for the Orion speaker cables!
IMHO, you already have an a very good cartridge and phono stage, but the turntable really deserves a better tonearm.
Do not be mislead by the age of the PH3 - read between the lines of the Stereophile critic of the ARC Reference line stage.
I do not have experience with the Benz Wood M2, but the Benz LP sounds very fine in the SMEIV and SMEV.
I don't know the TechnoArm, but the PH3 is a very good phono stage. I've directly compared it to the PH7 and found surprisingly little difference in performance with a Lyra Dorian (the PH3 seemed - maybe - a touch drier in treble). A better cart (or younger, more treble sensitive ears) might reveal more differences, but I'd guess that the equipment ahead of your PH3 is more limiting than the ARC phono stage.

That being said, I also agree with the sentiment that a phono stage (as well as a cartridge) usually has more "personality" than any reasonably good arm mated to a well matched cart. For that reason, I'd also expect that changing out the Benz cart in your TechnoArm will make a more pronounced difference than changing the arm itself. And, of course, "more pronounced difference" does not necessarily mean you'll prefer it.

Your choice should also anticipate any future upgrade plans you may have. Since you mention that you might add a second cart, consider that several phono stages offer more flexibility than your PH3 in optimizing the "environment" (load, gain, etc) for whichever cart you might choose in the future.

BTW, I currently own a Rhea (great flexibility - load, gain, multi in/outs, bal s/e, etc.) and, personally, prefer it to either ARC unit - in my system. It's a rounder, somewhat more classically "tubey" alternative to the more neutral sound I heard from both ARC phono stages. For context, the Rhea sounded more neutral to me than the EAR phono stage I also auditioned. I feel that Aesthetix found a nice spot on the continuum. IMHO, employing all ARC electronics ahead of Cremonas may diminish the basic character of the speakers in a way that many might prefer (more neutral) but didn't work for me (drier). YMMV.

Caveat: If you're thinking of a used Rhea, know that early production units (like mine) could be noisy. A few years ago, Aesthetix modded mine to match (then) current production and this problem was eliminated.

Since I also have used both the Rhea and the PH3 with ARC amplification (LS25 and VT130SE) and Cremonas, I can tell you that you will hear a definite change in "flavor" if you go to the Rhea from the PH3. I can't tell you if you'll prefer it, only that I did.

Wow.....I had forgotten about this thread. Anyways thanks for your responses guys but I finally went for an IO Sig that I found slightly used (6 months old) at a local dealer in early December. A new IO was out of my league, forget about the Sig, but I guess they were afraid of being stuck with this used one so they were selling it for about the same price as a new PH7. I really lucked out. I compared it with both my PH3 and PH7 over a week’s time; the IO Sig is not in the same league as the ARC's. Way more information, presence and micro dynamics, I guess it was love at first sight.... It complements my ARC/Cremona setup so well I was floored.

As recommended by Glenn at Aesthetix and Andy at Vintage Audio I since replaced the 4 12AX7LP's in the first stage with 4 NOS RCA 60's 12AX7. As well the original 6SN7 were replaced by 2 NOS 6SN7, man does it sound sweet. First time tube roller, made a believer in me. BTW the original tubes in the IO as still in new condition.

In all fairness I don't see why I should change my tonearm or anything now for that matter, that’s how amazing it now plays. Now I just listen and relax (my wife even noticed I stopped analysing the music), isn't it what it's all about.....

Again thanks for the help guys, really appreciate it
I recently upgraded my phono stage from a rotel and Vandersteen combination to a zyx artisan. The rest of my system is zyx universe lomc (Silver), Maplenoll signature ariadne with modified armwand, Marantz sr9300, Klipschorns. I was expecting a significant improvement from upgrading and was not disappointed. The depth of the sound increased dramatically. It was like the rotel compressed everything especially the midrange and highs. I did not recognize this when i had the rotel until i borrowed a friends tube phonostage. I started to go with a tube, but had the opportunity to pick up the artisan at a good price. I have a/b compared the two and it is not even close. I know a tonearm can also be a good upgrade (reason i modified the stock maplenoll arm) but i did not get nearly the boost as the higher quality phono preamp. Not sure of others experience with the zyx artisan, but i have been very impressed with its performanc compared to the price. I would imagine that there is some synergy with the universe cartridge also since the designer was the same.
Don't know too much about the ARC phonos, but from everything I've read they seem to be top-notch.

I would presume that a better tonearm will be a noticeable improvement. A few years back, I tried a Michell Gyro first with a Tecnoarm and Benz M2, before settling on a Gyro with a Graham 1.5tc (upgraded to 2.2) and Benz L2. The same setup with the Graham arm was far better than with the Tecnoarm. The top end is more open, the bottom end is tighter, and the mids are smoother. There was something I found unnatural about how the highs, mids and bass were held together by the Tecnoarm as compared with the Graham.

Now, I haven't tried the Clearaudio table or ARC phono stage, but can say for certain that even an older Graham arm seems to hold a Benz wood cartridge better than does a Tecnoarm.