Tips for gradual upgrade

Home configuration and finances (two daughters in private colleges, egad!) dictate one system for music and HT. Right now, my system is probably a little out of balance, with speakers (Dunlavy SCII mains, SCIAV's for center and surrounds, Vandy sub) probably a notch above the Rotel electronics (RSP985Pre/Pro and RB985 100w x 5 power amp). Sources are a Music Hall MMF7 tt through Grado phono stage, Rotel RCD991, and a Pioneer Elite DV47 DVD/SACD player. Cabling is Cardas (CD interconnects, speaker wires), Kimber (DVD interconnect), and Audioquest (basically everything else) Racks are Billy Bags. One other challenge is that we have a big honkin' Mitsubishi TV stuck between the main speakers.

Listen to jazz, female vocals, classic rock, alternative, some classical -- about everything but rap and country. Sound is pretty solid (fast, tuneful) now, but will soon be able to think seriously about upgrade as kids are getting through w/ college. May not be able to go to full separate system, but was wondering where money would best be spent to upgrade in this footprint. Leaning toward tube preamp like a VTL to improve imaging and soundstage for more serious two-channel listening. It has advantage of theater-throughput circuit to maintain HT flexibility (admittedly less of an issue with kids moving on). Would also like to look at something like Ayre to upgrade main channel amplification. Have also thought about BAT, but not sure their pre's have theater bypass feature.

Also thought about going to flat-screen display to not only upgrade picture, but also get that big, black reflective box out from break-up-the-soundstage position. See what the current rig can do w/o that challenge?

Eventually, something to replace the RCD991 CD would probably be on the list as well, but that seems lower priority than the amps, etc. Final idea would be to replace the one Vandersteen HT-style (line level input) sub with two Vandersteen subs (I believe there are ones that take signal from power amp and are more tuned to two-channel music apps.)

Wonder what you more experienced 'Goners think about this upgrade path, and WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE any other suggestions. Thanks, and happy listening!
Just my opinion, but your system is at the level where true upgrades are really expensive. That's not to say that good equipment can't be found at a decent price that sounds DIFFERENT (only you can determine if different is an improvement), but true upgrades get really expensive from where you are. Given the inability to separate HT from 2-channel right now, if it were up to me, I'd leave your very nice system alone and focus on the room. Get that &@*%!$ TV out from between your speakers or at least a few feet behind them. Spend some serious time with a test disc and sound meter if you haven't already, and make sure you have optimal speaker and listening position placement. Then take a look into what room treatments might benefit your room. You might be amazed at the improvements you can make for very little money.

As far as system changes go, I agree with the second sub addition, but I stay away from subs that don't take line level inputs (that's just me, others disagree). No subs or stereo subs when it comes to two-channel listening...I've never liked a single sub for two-channel. That's why I use three subs in my right channel, one left channel (for use in 2-channel and HT/surround) and the third connected to LFE (for HT/surround only). The right and left channel subs are set to blend with my main speakers while the LFE sub is set to shake the floor and rattle the walls when appropriate during movies.

Hope that helps--->E
Here's a simple, elegant and significant upgrade. Apply Walker SST ($75.) or Extreme SST ($150) to ALL electrical connections, including speaker driver connections and power cords, and don't forget the video components. SST delivers significnat auditory and visual improvements. Period. Check out the reviews - they do not lie or exaggerate.
Dawgfish. I can't recommend specific components, but I would offer my opinions on upgrades generally.

First, I like the first paragraph of Goinbroke's post. I think you are well into diminishing returns. Therefore, while you consider what you will spend a lot of money on, and while you save up to do so, you might get noticeable improvements by doing some of the small things Goinbroke suggests. Your daughters may be almost through school, but the next thing you know they'll bring some guy home wanting to get married. then you're out another ten grand paying for a wedding.

Second, I'm a believer in the "garbage in, garbage out" school of thought. In other words, I think that you're upgrading backwards. I think your speakers are wonderful. But they can only reproduce what you feed them. Give them better quality sources and you may be surprised at how much better your speakers sound. I would upgrade any of your sources first before the amps, particularly the turntable. I would also put a new widescreen HDTV high on the list, probably first.

The ultimate upgrade question is this. "What would give me the greatest enjoyment for my money?" If I had your system, I think my answer would be "A new TV".

Finally, your post is titled "Tips for Gradual Upgrade". To me, this is a problem. "Gradual" upgrades are very expensive. It's cheaper in the long run to save up and make a "big" upgrade in a component, rather than a series of "little" upgrades.

So my opinion is: TV, turntable/cartridge, universal disc player, then amps. And while you're saving the money, do some of the things Goinbroke suggests.

My two cents worth.
I readily subscribe to Goinbroke's suggestions: optimise what you have, PARTICULARLY placement of spkrs in the room.
A contact enhancer is useful in helping "ohmic" contact BUT keep in mind that precious metals migrate so eventually the silver contained in the enhancer will migrate into your contacts. This may or may not introduce noise into the system. But it's cheap, even if you go for the branded stuff Jgiacalo recommends.

The ONLY thing that MAY make a marked difference in MUSIC playback with minimal outlay is the use of a good atteuator instead of yr pro. A transformer volume control for example could help and is not very expensive...

IMO, upgrading yr sources, yr speakers, etc will be very expensive; keep in mind that the spkrs-room combo usually introduces a lot more distortion than upstream electronics.
My thoughts are that if you have the flexibility, before you did anything, threat your room with bass management devices (RPG, Real Traps, etc) and deal with the difussion at the first and secondary reflection points.
The sonic improvment is so significant that in my opinion, you wil lnever know your system's full potential until you really hear the system and not the room.
Great advice above. One thing you can do on the cheap is pickup a SPL meter and a test cd.

I like this test cd a's free download that you can burn to cd.

The great thing about this cd is that it's freq's are in 1hz...10 sec. intervals. Each track contains ten...ten sec. freq's.<> for instance:

Track one...10-19hz
Track two...20-29hz
Track three..30-39hz<> ect.

The counter on your cd player will tell you at what freq you are at and the last track contains a test-tone to set play back level before you begin the tests.

If you graph out all the freq's on some paper you will get a very cheap ($$$) and pretty accurate idea of whats going on in regards to your systems bass response with-in your room.

The are some other nice tools also for download (free).

Thanks to everyone for the advice. Just to clarify, by "gradual," I meant one component at a time, rather than replacing several at once. But I appreciate the good recommendations for things that I can do to improve the sound before looking at new components! Thanks again, and happy listening.