Please evaluate my system...

Interested in what you guys think of the following and if there are any obvious weaknesses:

- VPI Super Scoutmaster (standard)
- Denon DL103 with Paratrace retip
- Linn Linto phono stage
- Audio Research Ref 3 preamp
- Cyrus APA7.5 Monoblocks
- Focal Scala Utopia III Version 1

Not sure where to take the system next! Thanks, Tim

Hey guys, 
I could add power conditioning I suppose. Room sounds fine to me with no obvious bloated bass or harsh treble. 

Bpoletti, do you have direct experience of that replacement? or just a Herron fan.

Cheers, Tim
I not only have direct experience, I have owned a VTPH-1mc and upgraded to the VTPH-2 and then had that unit upgraded to a VTPH-2a.  I also own a VTSP-3a R03 preamp.  I am a Herron Audio fan because of their products' performance.  I have also owned Mark Levinson and Audio Research electronics, but ditched them for Herron electronics.  I have heard nothing better.  

Vibration mitigation!  Doesn't have to be big ticket.  Contact the Herbelins at Herbie's Audio Lab.  Tell them about your system, the type of sonics you prefer and they will do their best to get you there with their high value products.  Please note:  I have had the pleasure of corresponding with them on occasions throughout my audio journey and they have never steered me wrong or to the most costly solution.  

Consider upgrading your interconnects and speaker cables unless you are already in good shape there.  

Treat your room but don't overdo it there.  I found that the better my system the more I was removing from the room as I originally overdid it.

Good luck.  It's a journey worth taking!
Tim; You have a fine system. It is always easy to recommend changes to every component of every system. After all there is something better just around the corner. The real question is how to make changes and then be sure that what you hear is indeed an improvement. This is only possible if you change one item at a time so A/B comparison is possible. Whilst the DL103 is a fine cartridge and its performing way over its price/performance expectation I believe you may get get a lot more out of your records by switching to something like Lyra Delos. Your VPI is perfectly capable of handling the Delos and so is the Linn Phono stage. Good luck in your quest. 
A few OPINIONS on three of the suggested changes....  These are opinions based on my experience.  Others have probably had different experiences.  YMMV.

A nice and effective room treatment is just the addition of a lot of artificial plants.  Doesn't have to look like a tropical rainforest, just break up the reflected sound.  Will make a big difference and help reinforce the WAF.  

Vibration / isolation can be easy and inexpensive.  Vibrapod cones are very effective.  Maple butcher block works and looks nice.  A combination of Vibrapod cones and maple butcher block boards can make a difference.  

In my opinion, power conditioning won't make as much difference as an improved phono stage (1), room treatment (2) and vibration control (3).
What a horrible system! I’d be embarrassed. Come on man. Your stuff is better than at least 3/4 of the people on this forum. If it sounds good to you it’s good. Enjoy it. 
Thanks for the advice. Few bits more info in case it's of value. 

Speaker cable is Chord Odyssey. I have some pure silver interconnects. 

I get the cart recommendation, I'm interested in looking at a high range for that. What sort of price / which cart, would be sensible to upgrade to? Thanks for the advice on the Lyra, will look into this.

With regards to isolation I have some in place, decent enough rack and some Sorbethene feet on most of the kit. I'm not convinced with the value of expensive isolation pieces I've tried quite a few and can't tell much difference. I'm on a concrete floor with the speakers so may have something to do with it. 

Never heard the difference between mains cables, I'm still not a believer having heard £3000 worth of them and couldn't tell the difference. I've had Ben Duncan mains conditioners which seemed to work well. 

 Interesting on the phono stage, I see the Linn is very well reviewed across the board, surprised it's coming up as a weak component. Not sure how easy Herron is to get in the UK, I wouldn't buy new there are simply too many bargains second hand floating around. I find the balance of the system to be fine so wouldn't want any more valves (not that the Herron has them), which could bloat the sound. 

Ultimately I like a big soundstage and although good I think it could be improved. 

Thanks, Tim 
Speakers. Plenty of good UK speakers to try. Plenty of good amps too! Try EAR Yoshino!

At your level, it is more about taste and preference.
Speakers? The Focal's I have are the best I've heard! Take it you don't like Focal.
Your components look very good.
Are you using dedicated circuits for your system?
I start with the AC power and power filtration system including outlets before I move up to the component line.
Don't think it's a dedicated circuit however given the state of mains power wouldn't it be more sensible to get mains regenerators if going this route?

Keith Herron is the best person to contact directly to determine the ease of getting his equipment into the UK.  It's not rocket surgery, but there is a process.

You have a very nice system and more importantly you like it.

You asked for suggestions so, if I were going to make any changes, I would first upgrade the cartridge. The Denon is a great performer for the price, but there are better, including some made by Denon (DL-S1). If you have a local dealer they might help you with this if they have any demo stock on hand. I like EMT and Ortofon generally, but I don’t know your system or preferences, so you have to let your ears guide you.

I don’t know much about VPI, but among the fans they think the 3D arm is great, so you could consider changing to that if you don’t already have one.

If you like the Linn phono preamp keep it. You could try some others to see if you can find something you like better. Sounds like you are in the UK, so I would buy something that could be serviced in the UK. There are many good phono preamps out there, you just need to try some to see if you like them better than your Linn.

I would make any changes one at a time and take some time to evaluate each change so you have a baseline for any future changes.

Best Regards,

Jim Perry
All good stuff. What aspects of the sound do you find lacking?

Off the cuff, have not heard that amp but on paper its input impedance is on the low side for use with a tube pre-amp. 60Kohm input impedance or higher ( a common rating for amps designed to work well with tube pre-amps) would likely yield better dynamics and less distortion. Also I would probably think twice about using a zero feedback amp (higher output impedance) with speakers that dip below 4 ohm impedance at some frequencies despite 8ohm nominal rating.

So teh overall integration of amp/pre-amp/speakers is worth considerations and some discussion and might be improved if you find there are issues with dynamics, detail and/or tonality.

Also of course worthwhile making sure speakers are set up well? Enough distance from walls to avoid early reflections that obscure detail? Isolated from floors perhaps if fllors are not a solid foundation rather suspended plywood? Fat or too much mid bass that obscures mid-range detail would be an indicator of that.


I find cartridges are more of a suit to taste component: once you get above the low entry level, one isn't necessarily "better" then another. If you like the Denon DL-103. I say, stick with it - they make fantastic music. Maybe buy another different cart and swap every so often for a different presentation...

But, there are ways to get the most out of DL-103. I would recommend a Cinemag based Step Up Transformer (you can build your own quite easy). I would also recommend an aluminum body cap for the cartridge.
+1 srbedard! The venerable DL103 certainly punches well above its weight - and remains a long-time favorite of mine! And can be modded (change to a wood or metal body) for even higher SQ!


I’ll toss a couple of minor suggestions. I really liked my room as well and didn’t think I needed anything more. I attended the Capital Audio Fest in the Washington DC area last fall and heard a room with Vicoustic Multifuser DC2 panels between the speakers on the listening wall. I was taken at how focused the center sound was. I got 6 of the 2’x 2’ panels for my room and it didn’t change the sound, but really improved the focus and imaging.  Vicoustic is European based I believe and huge there.

As to cart choices, I saw a recommendation for the Lyra Delos. I have had that cart for a few years and really liked it’s precision, but I have since added the Audio Technica ART9 to my stable, and and Delos is now sitting on the bench. The ART9 is half the cost of the Delos. It sounds pretty similar in tone, but it has a much bigger image, better separation, and is less hi-fi sounding. I suspect the ART9 would sit well with DL-103 owners.

The Cyrus amps would be far down on my list of amps. I'd go for a First Watt F5. Class A from the esteemed Mr. Pass!
Thanks all. I have a wood body on the cart and as mentioned it's been re-tipped. I do have some room treatment over at my parents house that I can try out however I'm not really experiencing any room issues so not sure it'll help. 

I'm looking for a larger soundstage if I had to be fussy about it. It's ok at the moment but I'm not blown away. 

I get the amps, if they're not handling sub 4ohm then that won't work well with the Focal's. 

Will take a look at the ART 9 cartridge as well. 

@tim_field, Regardless of any type of power conditioner used dedicated 20 amp circuits runs with 12 or 10 gauge wire depending upon the distance and ones personal preferences is a must in my mind if its a possibility within your home. That one change will improve the sound of your music. Good AC quality outlets are also important.
I totally understand that the origional question you asked was centered upon compoient upgrades however the foundation of any construction site is extreamly important.
I have stock DL103R cart in my system. My soundstage is wall to wall with excellent imaging and detail.

Just for comparison, my system is DL103R on Linn Axis table with Linn Basik tonearm, to Electrcompaniet step up transformer to Audio Research sp16 pre-amp (tube) to BEl Canto Ref1000m amps to OHM Walsh 5 series 3 speakers which has similar lowest impedance specs.

Take a look at the ref1000m amp specs online. You will see where this mates well to the ARC tube pre-amp (100kohm input impedance) and is also well suited to control and  drive the speakers well in that the damping factor is fairly high, which is a big + for the OHMs in particular.  

It’s impossible to know exactly what something will sound like without actually hearing it, but from what you indicate, were it I,  I would very much want to hear what a different amp perhaps better mated to pre-amp and speakers might sound like in your setup. I would expect better detail, more balanced tonality, lower distortion and larger soundstage going in.

Another cartridge, not that the one you are using is bad but a different prospective is always entertaining.

If I was to improve that setup, it would definitely be the front end. 

Michell Gyro SE
Lyra Delos
Parasound JC3+

Denon cartridge and Linn Linto are the weak links by far. 
I agree re AC mains. The biggest improvement I ever had was adding a dedicated Hi-Fi ring main from the mains fuse board (I am in the UK). The old house power outlets which connect to the other house sockets remain and sit next to the new dedicated Hi-Fi ones. This means I can easily A/B demonstrate the difference and everyone I do this to is amazed at the difference.

Some say say you need thick cable but I just used standard internal wiring. I found no need for expensive sockets: I put 3 double sockets in the Hi-Fi mains and I tried one soctet with gold plated contacts, and two standard sockets - no difference between the two.

Total cost = £600 ($800). Amazing upgrade.

The thread is really useful. Will look up about the mains side of things. Confused about the Michell Gyro SE recommendation this is a fair bit cheaper than my current VPI. What makes you think this needs replacing?
I’m on my way over to your place now. The only way I can tell is to hear it. ;^)
And I'll be glad to remove any component that detracts from the others. ;^)  ;^)

Tim, It sounds like soundstage is your main concern.  While many things can affect that, I'd focus on power conditioning, speaker placement and room-tuning.

Power conditioning will lower the noise floor.  That allows you to hear more detail, including ambience, and tends to make the soundstage more expansive & realistic. (IMPORTANT -You probably want to exclude your power amp from conditioning.  Most amps sound best 'straight into the wall'.)

Speaker placement can have a profound affect on soundstage & imaging.Quick Tip:  I find that many people use too much toe-in, and that will shrink the soundstage.  When asked, they say they like the 'focus'.  But what I often hear is a compressed soundstage - and depending on the speakers - a bit too much treble.

It's best to start with a pretty good room... if you can.  I recommend restraint in room-tuning.  Too much can make the sound 'dead'. You mostly want to deal with early reflections and bass bumps.

I hope that helps! 

Greenacres my personal experience in expanding this down stage is that there was no better upgrade then when I went from the Herron phono preamp to an Audio Research Ref 2A.  As I have posted before, I looked and auditioned Pass Labs XP25 as well. Given that you have a tube preamp, I would look at a better solid state unit.  A Pass or at a lower price point Parasiund JC3 would in my view be the place I would start.  Even an Esoteric E03 would be a contender. 
Tim, one question to ask yourself is how much you are willing to spend to expand your soundstage? If you want a dramatic improvement in SQ for a good value, I suggest addressing acoustics in the room. Eliminating vibration and reflection can do that for reasonable money, and the value is that you won’t need to continually upgrade room treatments. It helps every new piece of gear you buy sound its best and will help you evaluate what new equipment really brings to your party. My ASC bass traps did that for me, and since they are “tunable” I can adjust damping to exactly what suits my ears. My thoughts FWIW
Tim, it sounds like , in all, you are quite happy with your system and in all, are quite satisfied with what you hear. While upgrades, or supposed upgrades will always be a part of the audiophile bug, there will always be fan boys (who mean well) that want to sell you on what they like. I’m sure you have what you have, at least for now, for a good reason and it is all good stuff. Take most to heart, those who have suggested using what you have and making little tweaks that may or may not help - speaker placement, minor adjustments to room treatment, experiment with cost effective dampening, coupling or isolation products or methods and better electrical connections, etc. Sometimes, very little changes in any, or all of these things can make for a real "WOW, I’d never have thought" experience...JMO...Jim
Hey Papa, I don't have any booming bass in the room, I can try my bass traps as I've mentioned but I'm not seeing any major issues at the moment. What should I be listening for to show I need this?
I will take a look at the mains filtering and possibly a dedicated circuit.

Any cheap isolation devices that work well? I've run quite a few expensive ones over my time and few do much to the sound. I have some original stillpoints and can't hear the difference with them on. 

Cheers, Tim
Tim, I know the 103 has been all the rage for the last decade. But can it REALLY compete with better & more expensive cartridges? Some....maybe. But I doubt it will compete with the better Benz or Zyx or Lyra, etc. I had the Scoutmaster and found it to be a very good TT. I did upgrade the arm to the one with silver wiring and heard a good amount of difference. I have slowly climbed the cartridge ladder and am amazed at the difference which cartridges can make. I'm also a big believer in the importance of a Good phono preamp. I'm not familiar with the linn. But I've been down the upgrade path with phono preamps too and cannot stress the importance of them in the chain. I've played atround with isolation devices too. I use roller blocks (Google Diyumas) They make a difference but mainly under source equipment, ie CD player. I use sand box under my TT. I was also surprised at the difference a dedicated circuit made...and more surprised at how much better an Oyaide R1 AC outlet made.  IMO, you have a very good start on a very good system. Your ears confirm that. Yet I don't see a subwoofer or a digital player listed. But maybe you don't need those. Like many others, I question your phono preamp and cartridge and your arm. 

all the best
Second the Lyra Delos recommendation. I'm running a VPI with a Delos through a Manley Chinook phono stage. The improvement with the Delos was NOT subtle. I've also read the Soundsmith cartridge is a great match but don't have direct experience.