The phono stage is usually better (I guess there are always exceptions) if it is a dedicated box outside of an integrated amp, even within the same brand. I would recommend getting a good one. I have a Plinius integrated amp with a phono stage that can be set for MM or MC that I used for years with my van den Hul One Special cartridge (fairly high output MC - .75) and when I took the plunge with a Sutherland Insight PS, it blew me away. I was never aware of how much of a difference a phono stage makes. I thought you either had a phono input that worked or not. In combo with the cartridge it is second in importance only to the arm. I like gimbal arms - easier to set up and use.
Matt doesn't answer the phone at VPI, but they do answer the phone - you can ask for him and if he is busy, leave him a message and he'll call you back. He helped me out with my cartridge (they are now the US distributor for van den Hul cartridges) and was a pleasure to deal with. I am lucky though - I live only an hour from their shop so I got to meet him and I couldn't believe how nice and down to earth he is. Also, Harry comes in 2 days per week, so he is not retired. Didn't get to meet him.
That being said, if you are tired of tinkering, I am a Rega fan, mainly because of their value for the dollar for their arms (and overall cost effective philosophy). Their top of the line table, the P10, is $6700 and they'll throw in a great cartridge for $1000 (1/2 price). It's all preset and locked in and you can be done with it. I have their 2nd best, the P8, that I am extremely happy with - a guy at VPI even told me he thought it was cool when they were setting up my cartridge. Of course, you can go higher than Rega's best, there is no limit, but they are a substantial company that has perfected their products over decades and when you ever want to switch tables, their resale values are excellent.
Try the phono stage first - I think you'll be very surprised at the improvement for not a lot of cash.