Where to improve phono chain?

My current system consists of Nola Baby Grands, A. Research Ref. 150 amp and A. Research Ref. 5 preamp, Tom Evans Micro Groove phono preamp, SME V arm, SOTA Cosmos table and recently re-tipped Jeff Rowland cartridge.

My musical preferences range from opera to jazz to rock.

I'd like to improve the phono section of this chain, but I'm not sure where to begin. My initial suspects are the Tom Evans phono-pre, or the Rowland stylus.

Any thought/opinions on this will be appreciated.

Thanks, Shaq
Gotta know what you mean by "improve"?

What is lacking at present or what is it you want to achieve better?
I agree that your cartridge and phono amp would be the places to start. What is your price range?
Maybe a ZYX UNIverse II cartridge would be a good place to start, then add a Allnic H-3000 phono stage and you should be set.

Spending other folks money is fun!! ;^)
I agree, we need to know some things first.

- what seems to be lacking?
- what are you looking to improve?
- what kind of budget?

IMO, the phono preamp is usually the weakest link in a turntable setup. That needs to be up to the task of handling all the nuances and micro dynamics that a good cartridge will give you. But you are not starting with crap here, either, so it's best to know what you are looking to "improve" first.
there are several upgrade options available to TE preamp. you should research them and ask specifically what will change technologically from current and what is money spent for.
other than that, i'd totally agree with ptm... you need to specify your improvement demands to what you think/hear lacking.
i bet you should open conversation with TE first as he'll be able to customize to your total needs as close as possible.
You never know with phono rigs.

They are like cars. They need periodic maintenance and regular alignments in order to keep functioning at a high level.

ALways best to make sure what you have is working as best it can before changing anything. A good start is usually to break out the cartridge alignment protractor and make sure that is set up right.
You may want to consider getting a speed control. They usually make a big difference.
or find a local dealer and take your rig in and see what else is out there and really understand what's good and what you don't like.
What about a really good IC between the phono preamp and your preamp? That will help bring out the most of what you have. Problem is - a good cable can cost as much as a good phono preamp, so it could be a difficult choice of which to get first.
Honestly, you must look at your cables like a component. If you want the best sound, you have to keep it in your mind. LIke a component, there are price points you need to be at in order to get the best sound for the money. I'd try to borrow some AQ cables to see if that does the trick. Cardas would mellow things a bit. Personally I like to get neutral cables and then buy the correct components for my ear. I have never heard a system sound great when using cables to try and 'tune' it in. JMHO
You don't mention if your TT sits on a decent foundation. An HRS, SRA, or Symposium platform will make a world of difference to you analog. Far more than anything mentioned here. You don't know what you already own until good mechanical isolation is achieved and this would include all your other components.
Have you ever heard the Gingko platforms? WOW..> I have heard Clearaudio, VPI, Rega's, Linn, Ayre, Basis and Audio Note tables on them recently and have been blown away. I liked the Gingko better than the Mapleshade on the Audio Note, however when the Gingko was used ON the Mapleshade it made the world of difference.
Great system there!
If I'm not mistaken, the cart you are referring to was made in the late 80's, early 90's for Jeff Rowland by Ikeda and they were unique in being cantirlever-less MC designs, correct?

I agree with you that you may want to start with your phono pre and cart.

Your AR amp/preamp combo, speakers, and TT are superb and most likely craving for a better cart and phono pre combo.

Not sure how much you're willing to spend but I'm a big fan of Lyra carts and they match extremely well with the likes of Manley Chinook, Graham Slee, and Parasound JC 3 amongst others.

Obviously it will be a matter of taste so do your own research and trust your ears!

Good luck.
There are so many possibilities.
1) I used the TE Microgroove and jolly good it was. I would'nt dismiss going up to the groove as well, it is a step up and there is an upgrade path with that, better power supplies I think. You need to fix on a cartridge first, if you are going to change it, as the groove is tailored to your cartridge.

Consider the K&K phono pre too, I use that myself now and I don't plan changing it.

2) cables from the turntable to the phono pre and to the pre are worth looking at, ? borrow some from the cable company, to save money.

3) Isolation is very important, my turntable, already on a good wall stand, perked up with Stillpoint Ultras

4) Bybee phono bullets, as a left field suggestion. They are supposed to be very good on the cable into the phono stage. Don't use them myself, but do use the speaker bullets, with very good results.

5) getting the set up confirmed, ensuring the table is quite level etc, the first thing to do.
6) Cartridge is always worth considering, but it depends on what sound you like and your budget. I am a fan of Benz Micro and Koetsu, after much experimenting, but that is just me
Have you tried a Herron VTPH-2 phono pre?
Since the Ikeda/Rowland cartridge works wonderfully in the damped SME arm, I would look else where. However:

How was your Complement before it was re-tipped - I mean, when it was performing correctly? Who did the work since Mr. Ikeda is the late Ikeda-san? Someone trained by him? The last version of Ikeda cartridges are not a Decca-type design but a conventional cantilever.

Try mounting your turntable in another room on structural studs. Put the phono preamp in that room and run lines from it into the preamp. If you can run balanced all the better.

I don't know anything about your Tom Evans or your speakers but I would contact ARC and see what they recommend. I personally would use a Pass Labs phono pre-amp since they have the least noise compared to tubes. You might find using the Pass into the ARC a quiet revelation. Oh, and get a VPI or other record cleaning machine!
I looked into the Tom Evans design. I appreciate his insistence on proper low noise mains regulation. I'm glad it is solid state.

His design has too many stages for me. The Pass uses a patented balanced very simple topology to cancel out noise, as well as discrete devices, great regulation, balanced/SE outputs and loading flexibility. I'd audition some other options before dumping the cartridge.
How much are you spending Shaq? What is it that you want from your front end - more musical sound - or is it higher resolution.
If it's being more 'musical' then consider an EAR 834P for instance (good value and very musical)
I am told the Rowland is a good cartridge - so a retip/cantilever is a good idea - Soundmith in the US and Northern Analogue (I think) UK are good at tipping etc.
I tried a microgroove and found it enthusiastic and energetic - if that is what you like go for 'the groove' or try the Naim phono stage
Shaq ...

Don't overlook your turntable belt. Get a custom belt from Originlive in the UK. Huge improvement with my Well Tempered table. Here's the link:


Happy listening ...
In 10 months the OP has never acknowledged a single suggestion. I doubt he even remembers the question.
What a shame.. after 10 months since Shaq's initial post, all of the people willing and able to help, and not ONE remark from the original poster!