Should I upgrade my phono linestage first or the tonearm for better results?

Hello all,

I am wondering if I would get more out of an upgrade to my current tonearm, the Graham 2.0, or should I switch out the phono stage AcousTech Ph1P? I am guessing about the same money either way, budget around $2500 for the upgrade. I would be looking to purchase used equipment on this.

Related components:

Clearaudio Virtuoso 2 cartridge

BAT VK 31SE preamp

Krell KSA 250 amplifier

Aerial 10T speakers

Graham IC70 tonearm cable

Transparent reference interconnects

Transparent Ultra MM bi-wire speaker cables

Thank you in advance!!

8eaec29b f50c 408b b113 c138723f8a56arrowav8r
And on what turntable is this arm mounted? Thanks
A point you may want to factor into your decision is that the Virtuoso v2 cartridge appears to have a recommended load capacitance of 100 pf, and the input capacitance of your phono stage is specified as 220 pf. The capacitances of the wiring between the cartridge and the phono stage will add to that 220 pf, and under typical circumstances would probably bring the total load capacitance seen by the cartridge to something like 350 pf or even more.

The result of that mismatch would be a frequency response peak probably occurring somewhere in the vicinity of 10 to 15 kHz, followed by a sharp rolloff above that frequency.

Configuring a vinyl front end such that the total load capacitance seen by a cartridge is as low as 100 pf can often be unachievable, and a modestly higher number than that probably won’t make much if any difference. But applying 350 pf or more when 100 pf is recommended strikes me as an issue that should be taken into account in your decision.

I'll mention also that the majority of moving magnet cartridges have load capacitance recommendations significantly higher than 100 pf, and much higher in many cases.

Good luck, however you decide to proceed. Regards,
-- Al

I have a Teres turntable, sorry i forgot to put it on the list above.

Also, i have the Stradavari Cartridge V2 cartridge now, i forgot that i upgraded that a few years ago. I shouldn’t start these threads from memory only lol.

OK. Thanks. My opinion is that you should save your $ and wait until you can commit more money to a substantially major upgrade. The Teres can take whatever arm/cartridge combo you throw at it and $2.5K would not (in my opinion) get you a real upgrade from where you are now (assuming this is $2.5K net of the resale value of whatever you get rid of). If you could go to $4K for example there is a Durand Kairos available at present, in other words I’d be looking at $6-8K arms, and commensurate cartridges and phono stages. Anything short of that you are going sideways, assuming that is you like the kit you have at present.

If you really feed the need to upgrade at present then I’d invest in super setup tools like the SMARTractor, you save the difference and you have something that will serve you going forward

I was thinking of trading up to the Graham Phantom Supreme arm, probably cost me 2,500 extra after I sell the 2.0 arm.... 

The Ph1p phono stage is worth about 700, if I sell it and go to a 3,500 dollar price range for that would it make more sense than the arm swap?

I have been told that the arm going from the 2.0 to the Phantom is a huge improvement, but maybe not as much as the phono stage upgrade?


I have just ordered a Mint LP protractor kit, it is arriving next week.  I am looking forward to more precise alignment than the DB protractor I currently use.

Ok so seems you like the Graham line in which case going to the Phantom is probably the way to go. I'd think that $3.5K on the phono side does not get you to the ARC PH8 or Tom Evans Audio Groove + (to quote two great choices on the 'Gon both in the $4.5K range) that would be where I'd like to be -- the choices at $3.5K seems rather "meh" to me and I suspect you'd feel the upgrade bug soon again (of course that's just my opinion, I use the two above as they're both stages I have heard and like, I have not heard all the rest)

In other words I'd optimize from the front end forward, you have the table, you have a pretty nice cartridge now optimize the arm and keep moving forward from that (I've always been a source first guy). I've always believed in pushing as far as you can afford on any one piece and then working on having the rest of the system catch up. It may be that at this point in time upgrading your phono to $3.5K would yield a better improvement than the same on the arm but it could be a dead end whereas the arm upgrade could carry you forward to $10K+ cartridges.
I understand that logic.  would you think it makes sense to go to $10k on the cartridge, or is it a diminishing return at some point??
Sure there are diminishing returns but in the context of a six figure system and if you can afford a $10K cart then the Phantom could take it! I’m surely not recommending it as a next step and I’d assume you have upgraded the phono stage commensurately before then. 

My own experience was that only once I upgraded my arm (TriPlanar VII replaced by a Kairos) was it that I really found out what my cartridge (AirTight PC1) could do
Upgrade both very soon for best sound.
Off your main question but if you really have money burning a hole in your pocket you should invest in some proper power cords ( you didn't list any power products)

personally I like Synergistic Research but there are lots of good options out there all easily available used and if you haven't done so you really should invest
" I have just ordered a Mint LP protractor kit, it is arriving next week. I am looking forward to more precise alignment than the DB protractor I currently use."

I think you'll be more than pleased with this purchase, and this may end your desire to throw cash at a problem that may or may not exist.  Going from the DB to the Mint is a major leap in setup precision - orders of magnitude, not degree.   Frankly, I'm always stunned when I hear folks with nice systems not using an arc protractor to do their setup.  
I can’t offer any knowledgeable comments about your tonearm, but I don’t doubt that Folkfreak has provided you with some good thoughts. Regarding the phono stage, though, my strong suspicion is that it is not doing justice to your fine cartridge.

A major reason I say that is what I would consider to be the AcousTech’s absurdly high 10,000 pf input capacitance in moving coil mode, together with its fixed 100 ohm load resistance (which I suspect is necessitated by the very high input capacitance). For further explanation see the post by Lyra cartridge designer Jonathan Carr (JCarr at Audiogon) dated 8-14-2010 in this thread. And keep in mind that he is referring to capacitances as low as tens of pf, not ten thousand.

My suspicion, btw, is that the reason such a high input capacitance value was used is that it is serving as an inexpensive way of avoiding what would otherwise be issues in the design.

You may want to consider the Herron VTPH-2, at $3650 new. If you research past threads here and elsewhere, you’ll find nearly unanimous glowing praise from all who own it or have heard it (including me), as well as for Keith Herron as a wonderful person to deal with. Some other owners have reported finding it to be competitive with $10K phono stages. It has only unbalanced inputs and outputs, but I don’t see that as being an issue with your BAT preamp.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al

The main advantage from the Graham Arm is its own cartridge adjuster. The user can align a cartridge spot on and I think, that is one reason why Graham Arms sound better than others.
A new, expensive  Arm with wrong calibration is useless.
+1 on the Graham arms, they are exceedingly easy to set up with the "in arm" included protractor and the "underside up" cartridge installation jig.

Good Listening


I had the Acoustech PH1-P with the Virtuoso 2 cartridge. The PH1-P is a nice sounding phono stage, better than others that I tried in the sub $1k price range, but it can be improved upon. 

In changing from the PH1-P to a better phono stage in the $2k-$3.5k range (I tried several in this price range), I experienced more of a holographic, natural sounding soundstage. Vocals were much improved. Clicks and pops were reduced. Dynamics were better.

Going from the Virtuoso 2 to a Benz Silver Reference MC cartidge brought a very noticeable improvement in background noise, and a more natural, relaxed, 3D, feeling presentation.

I now own an Allnic H-3000 phono stage, which is more than you want to spend. I bring this up because I can use an inexpensive Technics SL-5300 turntable with its built in arm, with an inexpensive Denon MC cartridge, and get great sound out of this combination. This demonstrates to me that a very good phono stage is worth the investment, and has had the most impact in my analog set up. 

Your tonearm by most accounts is very good. I would upgrade the phono stage and cartridge first.


thank you for the input.  I made an error on the initial post, I have the Clearaudio Stradavari 2 cartridge instead of the Virtuoso 2.   I think I will address the phono stage next and keep the Graham 2.0 arm at this point after reading the input from folks on this.

It is helpful to get the input from someone who has had the same pieces of equipment and their experiences when considering an upgrade.

My opinion is very biased (admittedly) but there it goes anyway - I always think that improvements to phono stages are more worthwhile than tonearm changes. I'm a die-hard Graham fan, though I intensely dislike Clearaudio cartridges. They are one of the current fads regarding cartridge brands, but I feel sorry to disappoint you, I don't enjoy the "German" school when it comes to cartridges and IMHO they are amusical devices. 
Though "colored" (in a very good way however), I'd stick to a Koetsu, I've never seen anything as musical. The loading can be very strange and very few phono stages will do it, i.e., 10 ohms (yes!) and quite odd pF values, but then I think it is worth every effort. The Koetsu gets out of the way and leaves you with pure music, extracting the best out of even old recordings! The Clearaudio is, to me, an analytic tool, albeit a lifeless one which will not stir my emotions, 

So, I ended up buying a Manley Steelhead phono amp and it arrived today.  I can't wait to install it in my system tonight and find out how much improvement that will give me. 

I will post in a few days with my comparison.


I think you made a good decision with your phono stage upgrade. I will be interested to hear your thoughts on the comparison.
I have had a couple hours listening....I can definitively say much wider sound stage, bass articulation and treble response...
And this is all after I thought I had a pretty good setup to start with!

I know it is five times the money, but I won’t go back lol.

The analogy would be as if opening up the Soundstage curtains and letting the music straight through. Versus hearing with the curtains closed. If that makes sense....