which would you replace first?

My father is looking to improove his Vinyl set-up which consists of Soutmaster (STOCK) a Benz MC cart (the $600 model...red "ACE"?) and a Musical Surroundings Phonomena stage with Kimber Hero cables. Between the stage and cart what would give most bang for the buck in the $1500 price range if we only want to replce 1 of the 2 at this time. Thanks as always...............HAPPY NEW YEAR
PHONOMENA, GET AN ear 845/324
figure on both in the long run; then the temporary mismatch in quality won't sting as much. In the mean time I would consider the Transfiguration Axia at a little over your budget. Is that the original Phonomena?

Dealer disclosure.
thanks so far, 2 replies 2 differnt ideas.......still confused :)
Hi Chadnliz,

I started with the exact same set-up less the Kimber cables. Based on your price range you can't go wrong upgrading the Cartridge to the Benz Micro - Wood Body. With a Benz trade in it will put you in the ballpark of around $800.00 a much better bang for your buck. IMHO Benz Micro wood body Cartridge is more detailed and muisical than the "ACE".

The Ortofon Jubilee cartridge retails for around $2k in the U.S., but if you can swing a deal through one of your dealer friends...then I don't see how a $1,500 phono stage can match this level of improvement.
I would say cartridge, and second Tafka_steve's reco of the Ortofon Jubilee, great cartridge. If he wants a bit more warmth you could try a Sumiko Celebration.

I believe the pre-phono is way more important then the cart.
Who's to account for tast... I'm not fond of the Jubilee. I heard it in 2 different systems..MBL, and I dont remember what the other one was,however, it was a megabuck system... butI got a HI FI, nut a musical sound both times.
Doesn't you dad have the ARC REF 3?? I would think you'd try to find a cartridge to work with it & one you like, and drop the phono pre from the signal path. Sometimes, though, I realize that's not possible.
Phono pre EAR 834P is one of the best values around, tube based and befitting of systems that cost much more.
Well just like every other thread on AudiogoN asking for advice, it appears as if you will get no definitive answers here, and you'll just have to experiment on your own. Since as Stringreen noted, tastes and system synergy will come into play here.

Bob (Ontjesr), the ARC Ref 3 is a line stage only preamp, not a full function preamp. Meaning a seperate phono preamp is still a requirement to have enough gain for vinyl.

ooops, I stand corrected, Thanks John. Now, where did I put my coffee??
I'd replace the entire Scoutmaster/JMW-9 combination.

It is an incredibly underachieving component.
Once again Bill you cloud the waters but it aint gonna happen.....focus man!! :) (you know I love ya Bill)
Thanks guys, Steve my dad's dealer doesnt stock that line and I know he will want to do business with John R. any ideas of carts he carries....I will call you when back in Ohio.
Right back at you Chaz but no mid-fi and above cartridge will ever perform well in that arm.

Happy new year.
I am floored when you say the VPI scout/jmw9 is an underachiever...I'd rewire the arm with Nordost, but anytime I heard it, it was an overachiever
You need to hear more turntable/tonearm combinations or hear it with highly resolving components.

The arm is at best, pedestrian, but all VPI arms are mediocre in the context of other high end tonearms.

Audition some of the better stuff and you'll understand.

well put, but would you care to be more specific? Perhaps you could elaborate on where you think the VPI arms fall down relatively, without getting specific about what arms that you might carry.
I highly recommend a new phono stage. I had a Phonomena mated to a Denon DL-103R for about 6 months. The Phonomena was decent, but lacking in many important ways. I didn't realize this until I picked up a Wright WPP100c. That's when I discovered how magical a phono preamp could be. The comparison was like night and day. The Phonomena was politely quiet, but painfully two dimensional and lacked an ability to place music in space. The Wright was spacious and deep. Every time I swapped it back in, I was blown away by the sound stage. It was so much more three dimensional and realistic. The Phonomena was holding back my cartridge, and hence my whole analog system. If I were in your shoes, I'd look for an EAR 834P or any model of George Wright's phono stages.

There are some excellent recommendations in these forums:
Phono amp recommendations
best sub 1k phono stage?
Audiofeil.. Why is it that you think I haven't? Is your temperment always to strike out? Answer Piedpiper
thanks for all helpful replies.
Today,unlike years ago,it is very hard to actually audition multiple arm/cartridge combos.Especially in a meaningful way(where the listener can become familiar with the sonic traits).Shows cannot really help,but a good friends group is invaluable.Perhaps the only real alternative!
Also,I have to back up Audiofeil's claims about the mediocrity of the VPI arms...."IT IS SO"!!...A close friend of mine had gone from a TOP linear tracker,to the 12.6 VPI arm,using the Titan-i cartridge.He is the owner of a top tier sound system,but could no longer meet the demands(though no big deal)of his linear arm's maintenance schedule!
Based on my observations(re: the "why" of going to a different arm)he fell for the persuasive pitches of some fellow VPI arm lovers,who are very close friends of his.
The 12.6(from my "opinion" and a second hobbyist always present)is a drastic downgrade from the Air Tangent previously used.Not that "it" is no good,but as Audiofeil has stated(hey,the guy pulls no punches,even in my own history of posts)it is NOT up to the standards of the top tier arms,from the way it performs on the many LP's I am familiar with, in his system.SADLY!!
Just my opinion....well maybe a little more,actually,in this case,as I REALLY miss the Air Tangent!iT IS MOSTLY THE GREATNESS OF "THAT" arm which exposes the mediocrity of the 12.6!Yet,the 12.7 will soon replace his 12.6,so who knows?
Chadnliz : Before your father spents mo'bucks on his existing analog playback, may I suggest he re-clean his vinyl collection .

The Steam Cleaning Process outlined in a thread below can make a greater change for pennies on the $. When he knows the exact extent of change created by absolutely clean vinyl , perhaps he may forgo any changes or make a greater jump into the unknown.

I am of the opinion that far too much money exchanges hands on "hardware" prior to a complete evaluation of the "software". What I suggest is just another option before the Big Spend.

Cheers, Charlie
Although cleaner records will undoubtedly make a significant difference, it won't preclude the difference the hardware will make. Why not do both?
I just had my dad finally start cleaning records with a VPI 16.5 so the steam isnt gonna fly, I am really thinking hard of selling him on the Ortofon, his dealer actually stocks it so maybe he will like that idea.
Piedpiper : I agree that of course one can do both. I do suggest that once you know the condition of the software , its easier to make recomendations on spending one's money ... That will become evident later.

As for what to replace first , to me its a tie between the table and the arm. I am of the opinion the scoutmaster is about as revealing and flawed as 85-90% of the tables available and the same applies to all pivot/bearing tone-arms. My bias is air bearing tables and tone-arms but that may not fly .

Other than AB's , for my money , make the leap to a Raven TT (either one) and a Frank Schroder's magnetic repelling Reference Arm with a Soundsmith's strain gauge cart w/its own PA included. That's about 28K to get to the point where you hear just about all that LPs have to offer-warts an all. That's why pristine records come into play.

Of course you can spend more much more but the Law of Deminishing Returns overtakes you. Other than that, I would carefully clean all my connections , maybe apply a tweak or two to the scout, re-adjust the TA to spec's, demag the cart and system-at-large and enjoy , simply because what the father owns is pretty good sounding gear.

Then again, you can be crazed as I and buy a Maplenoll , a marriage made in heaven or ---- depending on one's commitment to the equipment. One of the most revealing and beautiful sounding rigs , when you get it spot on. Piedpiper would recommend air bearing ?
Last Line : Piedpiper would you recommend air bearing equipment ?