I've never heard your ARC, but have fairly recently had in two systems of my own a Vendetta ???, an Aragon 47K, a Welborne Labs Reveille, an AHT DM-P, and, last but not least, a Pentagon PS-3. I can't fairly compare the Pentagon with the AHT, since I built stepped attenuators into the AHT (literally built both into a new chassis), but compared to all the rest, the Pentagon wins hands down. There were two for sale on Audiogon the last time I looked. It's one to consider, IMHO.
i have the herron, and had considered the groove. while i have not heard the groove, it's rep is very respectable. i have enjoyed the herron tremendously. it is in a tubed system, and seems to have great synergy with the rest of the stuff. the groove and herron are both totaly lacking of contols (you must order specific boxes for different loads), which i appreciate, minimum interference with the signal. good luck and enjoy it.
It looks to me your system is well matched. What aspect of the sound do you want to improve? If you really want to "upgrade" and if you like the ARC sound, you might want to consider their Reference Phono and Reference II preamp. But they are very costly and I don't know how well they match the rest of your system. You might end up upgrading everything.
What's the rest of your system? Are you sure the ph3se is the weak link? Only a handful will best that one. Some to consider (in addition to yours & your choices) is the BAT VKp10 and VKP10SE, the ARC Ref Phono, Aesthetix, Manley Steelhead, and I'm sure a few others...
An Aesthetix IO would be a very nice phono preamp to have.
What interconnect and speaker cables are you using? An upgrade in cables may improve the sound considerably.
Thanks all! My ARC PH3SE is running well and I am happy with it..however, just wondering what is the next level "up". My speakers are Infinity RS 1-B's and amps are ARC VT 100mkll and Perreaux 2150 for base.
I just upgraded my active servo crossover (big impovement) and changed all my cables (IC) to Acoustic Zen...Silver, Matrix and WOW....This was a major improvement.
Speaker cables are Alpha Gore and I am considering Zen there also. I have not heard the Aesthetix IO (heard good reports on it however.....or The Groove or Herron.....just interested in what the next level up would be?
I recently upgraded from a PH-3se to an Aesthetix Io. There was a huge improvement with the Io and that was with a Benz Glider. I am waiting for my Helikon SL to arrive- can't wait to hear that cartridge!
The following are excellent:
Aesthetix IO Signature
LAMM LP2 Deluxe
I have tried many others and these are my favorites. If you hit the lottery, the word is that the Boulder is unreal.
herron vtph... in particular is one of the best matches to lyra as anyone would say that aestethix io is a great match for the benz. i'd say it can uncover an "artifacts" of that cartridge as no other phono-stage. in-fact if you've got a possibility you can verify that fact...
There are some very good phono stages out there without doubt.
Sooner or later you have to choose it based on your own priorities.
Counting brands only is useless, you have to know what they can and what not.
- excellent sound ( + enough gain )
- flexible in settings
- insensitive to microphonics or hum
maybe there are a few more, but these 4 are the most important ones and when all 4 are on the priority list, then there are not so much out there.....
( some like to play around with tubes or whatever, some are less interested it that, their priority is that is has to work the way it should when activated, and everyone has his own dream of course....)
One of the definetly best phono stages is the Stan Klyne 7 PX 3.5, it beats the ARC PH 3 easily.
Personally I am very careful about all the hype, most is written in magazines and is pushed by dealers to make some new money, and most is too optimistic, by far.
The next step above a Klyne is the CTC Blowtorch.
I second Marakanetz's recommendion on the Herron VTPH MC version. The PH3 SE is a little analytical sounding unit for my tast and you must have MC cartridge with minimum 0.4mv (or 0.5mv if you want to stay on the safe side) or more in order to work well with the PH3 SE. If you happen to like the sound of the PH3 SE then the ARC Reference phono stage is a logical upgrade path. The IO is nice but tube maintenance is a big concern down the road.
I had the Herron, a very nice unit, but I switched to the new Vendetta board in my CTC Blowtorch. In my system, it was much more resolving, more dynamic and still very musical. Plus I got rid of a set of IC's and an expensive power cord.
You may want to check the thread on "Preamp Deal of the Century". On the strength of discussion in that thread, I put my name down for a Supratek Syrah which is a preamp with seperate phono stage and the phono stage is supposed to be unbelievable. I haven't received my preamp yet - it's still being made (these things are hand-made by one person), but my expectations are high. It looks like over 10 other audiogon members have jumped on the Supratek bandwagon and noone is disappointed (yet, anyway). Good luck.