I’d start with a cartridge upgrade, if you decide to upgrade your turntable down the road you can always transfer the cartridge to the new table. Good luck.
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Having a look at your equipment I definitely recommend upgrading your Phonostage. You are using the Mani, right. The turntable and cartridge are pretty capable.
I would say overall your system is fairly well balanced. Looks like you have done well so far at choosing compatible components at a specific level of performance. I think the weakest link is likely to be the Phonostage... it is amplifies the smallest signal and as such is really important. You would get a big improvement by getting a much better Phonostage. A better cartridge is not a bad idea, but then when you upgrade the turntable you may be limited buy turntables that go well with your cartridge. Besides, when you upgrade your turntable you can sell or trade yours as a working turntable and upgrade to a new table with a cartridge... this can be easier and cost effective. Also, I find fiddling with cartridges best done by a dealer. But that is me.
Some thoughts on upgrading. I always shoot for upgrading to another plateau. To do this you need to upgrade each component very significantly... then slowly bring other components up. So, i wouldn’t do a shotgun approach (which you were not planning). Given where you are, invest the $1,000 in the Phonostage. I Rembrandt when I went from a $200 Phonostage to a $1,000+, it went from tinny flat to dynamic and punchy a whole new experience.
Do a lot of research. Read Stereophile and The Absolute sound and other professional high end audio magazines. A used Audio Research or other high end audiophile quality unit will be one you can keep for a long time. Then if you upgrade your turntable... you will be ready for it.
I would say start over. Imo at this price point the best turntable path is to buy high quality vintage. Vintage has gotten expensive but there are still good buys. Read some threads on lenco and idler drive turntables as well as vintage direct drive. Learn what models are just below the radar.
Oh and after a quick look at some audio sites, it will open up your options quite a bit if you were able to raise the budget to $1600 but with patience I think it can be done for $1k.
You can upgrade your cartridge first if you want to hear immediate improvement without spending much (if you don’t want to upgrade your turntable). When you drop numbers here it’s really nothing. Even if you will spend over $1000 on a phono stage you will hear only your cartridge limitations. Not every cartridge for $300 is good or better.
This is the very reason why I find vinyl so frustrating, it takes considerable money to make a noticeable impact. I've read in many phono stage reviews that it's nearly impossible to find a fully capable phono amp for less than $2,700.00. I'm not so certain whether or not this is true but will say that in relative terms, investing $3,00.00 in a phono amp. cartridge and turntable would be considered 'budget entry level'.
I agree with those others who believe that your focus should be on a better phono amp. I believe the chain towards improvements goes; phono amp, cartridge, tone arm, turntable but this could be an over simplification. The question is whether or not you'll really notice a difference between your current phono amp and the one you'll be able purchase for a $1,000.00?
So if you go the phono amp route, then I'd say try buying one that's used with a rating of 8/10 or above. My phono amp is an ASR Mini Basis Exclusive and is a really good phono amp for its price range. I've seen older used models of the ASR sell for about $1,500.00.
Yes, I think it is most difficult getting into high end audio and vinyl... this is where it is most hazardous... of making some investments that do not get you what you are hoping for. I have to admit that once you get above $3K for a Phono-stage the going gets easier. But you can also put a better sounding analog end together for $3K total 10mm than digital (assuming you choose wisely... the hard part). But then a digital end is a streamer, DAC, preamp, and amp... that’s quite a string.
I think all of us who have stuck with this have had a seminal moment when we made a choice that completely blew us away... exceeded out 10mm wildest dream. Mine was I bought my first piece of true high end electronics... A Nakamichi Dragon tape deck.... it was so much better than anything I had ever heard... not by a little, by more than I though remotely possible.
ghdprentice, I just believe vinyl to be the least cost friendly. A great phono stage is a minimum $2,500.00. An excellent cartridge is a minimum $1,500.00. A solid tonearm would start about $1,300.00. A dependable turntable like a Rega would start at around $800.00. Now were already at around $6,000.00. Think about what could be done with $6,000.00 where it pertains to digital.
Agree with your example, reasoning and math. I’ve heard many examples of both very good sounding analogue and digital based systems (I'm not into the tiresome analogue versus digital battles). Analogue IMO has a higher cost point of entry. Buying used certainly helps (When feasible) but same would apply for finding higher end used digital as well.
6K dollars could definitely buy a genuinely excellent sound quality digital front end as you note. No doubt the OP can improve his current analogue performance. It will require patience, additional research and prudent purchases.
'A great phono stage is a minimum $2,500.00. An excellent cartridge is a minimum $1,500.00. A solid tonearm would start about $1,300.00"
I think you need to do more research! You can find great cartridges, phono preamps, etc for a lot less than the above listed prices. How about the Hana el?? How about the tavish design the classic, vintage, or even the Adagio? How about the pro-ject tube box ds2?? How about the musical fidelity mx- vinyl? How about the pro-ject 9cc tonearm?? All of these are excellent...just to mention a few...
After some research, I was considering the following upgrades:
Phono stage: Lounge LCR MKIII, Pro-Ject Tube Box S2, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+
Cartridge/stylus: Ortofon OM30, OM40, 2M Blue, 2M Bronze, Hana EL or SH
My current setup is Schiit Mani phono stage and Ortofon OM10 cartridge.
Do you think this is enough of an upgrade to notice a significant improvement, or do I need to spend way more as some of you have suggested?
Once again, all your advice is appreciated!
Both Stereophile and The Absolute Sound have an issue each year where they dedicate the issue to recommended products. I recommend you buy both of these on line and read up on the choices in their recommended products and choose from those. It is not that there are not great products outside their sampling but there are so many and marketing is a major selling tool... many are not that great a product. Also, I recommend getting a subscription.
Making audio decisions only gets easier with great knownledge. All the folks on this forum, including me, has very limited exposure to the whole range of product choices and are not necessarily unbiased. The reviewers make an effort to be fair and transparent and generally have much greater experience with different products. Also, they use generally accepted audio terms... this will help you learn them... as well as having what you read be less ambiguous.
I would agree, start with the phono stage and reach as far as you can... adding 20 or 50% cost above what you have may be too little to get you a big sonic gain. Work at the 3x or more at your level if you can.