Wait till you get your new speakers,then reevaluate the sound.If you took a significant step up,the sound will change a lot.
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You can probably compare specs. on-line between the phono stages. "Very close" leads me to believe, no.
I didn't want to buy one, but it was worth it. It did make a difference in my modest rig. Shop here for a used one. Generally, they go for 60% of retail.
Like the other poster mentioned, your cartridge will be a factor as well. If the stylus can be upgraded, that is another option as well.
Great, practical questions. I wouldn't change out your equipment, especially if you are on a tight budget. I would mostly work on the positioning of your new speakers. Some people use equations, software programs, etc - I say use your ears to position your speakers! You will know where they sound best. I would make sure you have your table/arm/cartrige properly set-up. A slight change in tracking force, for example, can have a big effect on the sound. I would clean all the contacts in your system with contact cleaner. Finally, I would just let your system play for 20-30 hours or more with your new speakers and don't mess with it. I can't explain why this final suggestion improves the sound but it always does (maybe its the listener getting used to the "new" sound). After doing all that maybe consider an equipment upgrade.