New Cartridge or New Preamp

Hi All,

I have upgradeitis. 

Here's my system:

Rogue Rp1 Preamplifier

Rogue M-120 Magnum Monoblocks

VPI Prime Scout w Ortofon Black (and Bronze)

Ohm Walsh 5 LE


So here's the thing, I just replaced the tubes in my preamp, same tubes, gold lion with gold lion, and the improvement was astounding. Everything sparkles. Happy listener.

So now I want even more and the next logical thing is that the lifespan of my cartridge is nearing the end so I need to start thinking about replacing.

My top choice is the soundsmith zephyr. I've heard it on my table, have really enjoyed it and know it would make me very happy. BUT the RP1 pre-amp is nearly the same price as the cartridge, What's the rule of thumb there, if any?

My belief is a nicer cartridge with a very well made pre-amp will still make a noticeable difference and price doesn't matter, your ears do...but I'm interested in hearing other's opinions.

Another thought would be getting a new external phono pre-amp. I do have a musical surroundings phonomena ii+ but I didn't find it to be all that much better than the onboard phono of the rogue. But open to ideas.

I'm looking for more detail in my playback at this point. I'm very satisfied with the openness and power I get from the tube monos and ohms currently.

Thanks in advance!





 "I didn't find it to be all that much better than the onboard phono of the rogue."

You're missing another level of performance. Your existing table setup isn't maximized until you're using an outboard phonostage. Max the budget, whatever it is. Rogue Ares Magnum version would be a nice addition. 

After that, consider next level cartridge.

Built in phonostages are a design solution for convenience. Only a SOTA unit will have one that may compare with a circuit of an outboard.

Unless you're comparing a SOTA piece, it's safe to say a built in will not pack as much engineering and components needed for a proper  built in phonostage.

You don't think a circuit comparable to this is inside the box of your preamp?

One of these can be had for under $2K used. Manley Chinook

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Rogue Ares under $1500 used

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Your ears will be pleasantly surprised. Every proper table setup is driven by a separate phonostage.

You likely heard the difference between going integrated amp to stereo, then to monoblocks?

Really, everything is important. For my system the greatest improvement was obtained when I cleaned up my power. Second, a used phono preamplifier. I say this because in my system I went from an integrated with built in preamplifier to a $2400 new preamplifier and ended with a fairly high end preamplifier purchased used that made a major improvement in my system. My turntable is much like yours and I also greatly upgraded my cartridge and this did make a difference, but I don’t think it would have heard as much difference with a lesser phono stage.

The other advantage of going with a separate phonostage is that it opens up the world of LOMC cartridges. Unless you got a separate SUT you likely don’t have the gain to run these with your current setup. If the sonic goal is greater detail then this would be a reason to move in that direction.

Thank you all for your responses so far.

@tablejockey thanks for your detailed response.

I’ll definitely consider adding a better phono stage to my setup. 

Being just a little obsessed with moving iron pickups, I have acquired a Soundsmith Sussurro MkII along the way. It's a couple of steps higher up their food chain than the Zephyr, but even so it has been a disappointment. It seems bland and unexciting, a complaint I can also level against the Grado Statement 3. Playing with resistive loading (using an MC input) helps, but doesn't save the situation. Frankly, the Nagaoka MP-500 walks all over the pair of them.

I'm in the process of adding two extra tonearms to my two turntables. So far, the London Reference, Ortofon Kontrapunkt C, and Nagaoka MP-500 have earned their seats. Rather than use the Sussurro or Statement, I'm thinking the last spot should go to a mono cartridge (or, Gawd 'elp me, one of those two with Y-connectors to make a bridged mono cart!)

I doubt the RP-1’s onboard phono will tap the capabilities of your existing Bronze and Black, much less a more expensive MC. Lots of good choices in the 2K - 3K range, including the Rogue Ares. Lots of decent choices in the 1K - 2K range too. For a budget option I’m extremely partial to the Hagerman Trumpet MC, which at ~ $1200 new or < $900 used is just ridiculously good for the money. It’s still the best I’ve heard my Benz LPS (which is a bad match for my much more expensive SUT-based MC stages), it did a shockingly good job with Koetsu Coralstone Diamond, and it DEFINITELY got the most out of a humble Ortofon 2M Blue! I’m about to hook mine up again for a new setup at my girlfriend’s home, but it’s tempting to snag it back for an occasional spin in my (very expensive) main 2ch rig too - when I do this it is by far the least expensive component in that rig (including cables), and it’s not even close.

If you like a warm sweet sound, you may even prefer it to $3K options. Great tube rolling opportunities, too. Jim Hagerman really cut costs way down on his current line (wall wart switching PSU here) but he somehow kept sound quality extremely high.

Check the Manley if you like tubes. I’m still running the same tubes in mine since new almost 5 years ago. Biggest thing I noticed is the background gets really dark and the clarity. 

I went from an Ortofon 2m Bronze and a cheap Pro-Ject external tube phono-stage with upgraded tubes, to a Hana ML ($1200) and a GoldNote PS 10 with the PSU 10 external linear power supply ($3200 for both) and it really was a massive (and necessary) leap forward.

I’ve since moved from the Hana ML (it’s for s a l e on that other used gear site - shameless plug), to an Aidas Cart (same Phono stage) and wow, everything opened up.

Based on my experience, I think I did well by investing in a good quality, really flexible PS (the GS can handle almost any MC/MM cart, dont know about MI) that was future proofing cart upgrades down the line, which to me is way more fun to play with than changing stages every time you get that itch for a better cart.

It seems you’ve asked multiple questions. I don’t have a broad enough experience to really get to a great answer but here’s what I use.

Aric Audio Transcend MM Phono Stage @$2525-dead quiet

I run the Moving Iron Soundsmith Voice. @ $300

+ @mulveling 

their answers were dead, and I thought


Thanks all!

Ok so it seems my path forward should be a new phono stage.

Just for fun I hooked back up my Musical surroundings and maybe because I read all about the improvement of an outboard PS I heard an improvement, albeit slight. 

I'll look into the Rogue as I obviously love their products. The hagerman trumpet looks very interesting to me and has a trial period! Very interesting.

I'll report back!


I would go for the Aurora  Vista prima mk1 (about 2200€) or the -mk2 ( about 4200€ ) 1€=1$ at the moment) :sounds great ! Open , very musical , detailfull: I love that préamp ! I use him ,with the Thorens 124 MKII: just beautiful !!

@lukaske that is beautiful. Have not heard of that company. Very interested in finding out more. Thanks

 Sammysharps  :It’s a Japanese company :they work together with Texas Instruments. They make only phono préamps.  Worldclass!!! Best i ever heard !

Yes, I'm with most of the above: look to improve the phono stage.

If you have the budget, listen to van den Hul The Grail SB.  You will certainly hear detail as well as truth.

Phono stage first all the way.

I cannot emphasize this enough!

I recently upgraded to a Manley Steelhead RC and what I had before I thought was as good as I could do, but this upgrade has blown my mind.  I have no doubt that you will experience something similar by upgrading to the best one you can afford right now.  And don't worry because you will probably upgrade it again in a few years, so no need to go too crazy right away.  If you can spend 2K you will find something very nice.  The Manley Chinook used as someone else mentioned would be a great choice.  

I would agree that the phono stage built into a mid price, integrated amplifier, is unlikely to be competitive with a good outboard phono stage. But there are many shades of gray in that statement. In addition, many of the very best phono stages can be found built into a phono line preamp, which we define as a phono stage and line stage on one chassis. That configuration has several advantages over a separate, standalone, phono stage, driving a separate line stage. These include the elimination of a pair of interconnects in the signal pathway, and also a possibility for having a simpler lower distortion output section in the phono stage.  so it depends on what you’re talking about, when you assert that a separate phono stage is always the best way to go. 


what are you planning to spend?   personally I can see going either way.  the 2M black is good but can easily be improved on.