Your Analog Front End

I wanted to hear what other A-goners had as an analog front end--including how that came about at that front end and what upgrades they would / or intend to make. This would include everything from the phono stage to the cartridge and any tweaks they find essential to analog.
I wanted to state, that one of my primary purposes is the journey you've taken through analog--so that other a-goner's can learn from more experienced people's triumphs and mistakes (so include both). Anolog is a quirky thing--some combinations work--others don't--please share.
Once you get past a certain price range, it's all in how you hold your tongue!
I am using a Linn LP 12 with the Lingo power supply. It originally came with an Akito arm and I was using a Sumiko Blue Point. About 18 months ago upgraded the cartridge to a Benz Micro Glider. 3 months ago changed the arm to the Ekos. My phono stage is an Audio Research PH3 SE with NOS Amperex tubes. I am very happy with the sound now, but we all know that doesn't mean anything! Future upgrades could be a new cartridge or perhaps an Audio Research Reference phono stage. Hopefully it will be a while before I feel the need to improve. As a side, I have a Sony 777es SACD player but really still enjoy the vinyl sound vs even SACD.
I have had a Linn LP12 w/Akito arm and van den Hul MM-1 moving magnet cartridge for about 8 yrs. Over the years, i added the Trampolin, Cirkus, and finally the Lingo about 3 yrs ago. Like the fellow above, I use an Audio Research PH-3 as a phono section. This all sounds very good and I have been very satisfied w/my analog playback. Recently I bought a new van den Hul MC-1 special moving coil for this turntable but haven't yet installed it because I will have to mess around w/the phono preamp too. For a year or so, I have been looking around for a used Ekos tonearm for this turntable, because my dealer thinks that will bring a great improvement, more than any new cartridge (this is the Linn doctrine; you change/improve your cartridge last, after you have perfected every other aspect of your turntable system). For some reason, on a whim in January I started looking on Audiogon not just for an Ekos tonearm, but for a whole Linn rig w/Ekos and everything else. Found one in about a week and purchased it for $3500 plus a Rega 25 w/Benz Glider that I had bought but hadn't yet used. What I got in this trade was another LP12 w/Lingo, Trampolin, Cirkus etc., Ekos, and Archiv II. Now I have two Linns! One runs through the PH-3 in my rec room system, the other one through my Ayre K3 w/phono stage in the living room. I love both my LP12s and sometimes move them around or run a record upstairs and then downstairs to hear which particular turntable sounds the best on that recording. I am really spoiled! and I owe it all to Audiogon.
VPI TNT 3 However what's important is what is underneath
the table supporting it. originally I wanted a table to fit on top of my target rack, on the shelf that you can level.
I do not think this will dampen the resonance. I designed my
own table using a Michael Green clamp AV rack, two cinderblocks,cut 2 by 4's to lift the table, spikes, etc.
The final test is to play a record, jump up & down a couple of times next to the table, & if the record doesn't skip
you have a good turntable base.
Zarathustra S4 /Pluto 6A prestige arm (rewired) / Clearaudio Discovery "special". Have had it for 12 yrs (the cartridge is new, ofcourse). I took a long trip getting there, with a succession of TTs. Thorens 160, Rega, Linn/Ittok (Valhala - no cirkus, trampolins, at the time: had to tune it 1/week), Pink Triangle PTToo/Alphason 100/V... and cartridges: Vden Hul MC 10 - 20 - Grasshopper, Lyra (Clavis), Koetsu (Red Sig), Ortofon MC 10 (?) - 3000, B-Point Special...
Guess I settled with the S4 because it is simple to use (no platter tuning required) and offers detailed sound.
Spent a lot of time with cabling too, but that's another subject.
Oracle Delphi 5 with Turbo PS, an SME5, and Benz Ref cartridge. The 'table sits on the top of a Black Diamond Carbon shelf and cones which rest atop a DIY Corian sandbox (a la Brightstar)with about 50 pounds of play sand in it, which sits atop one of the more solid competely welded Target 2 shelf tables. Phono stage is a just aquired Aesthetix Io with both Pre and Power supply boxes parked on more BDR cones on additional sandboxes and another Target rack. Wiring is new Cardas Golden Ref Balanced in and out. Power to the Aesthetix is via a Foundation LC1 power cord/conditioner.

How does it all sound? I have no Idea! This is the culmination of a number of upgrades I've been doing to both the analog front end and the rest of my system recently. The new wires have yet to arrive so haven't heard it all lashed together yet. I have high hopes. It all sounded pretty good before. I'm secretly hoping to "see God" but we'll see.

Started out from scratch again a couple of years ago after being off the analog bandwagon for a long while. Spinning records again felt like coming home. The front end was originally the Delphi 5 with a SME 345 and a Benz Glider, an ARC PH3, and XLO Signature wires to start with. I'd been gradually tuning and tweaking (sand boxes, BDR cones, Oracle Turbo Power Supply, etc.) and as usual, when the potential for tweaks ran out, the upgrades resumed. The most recent spate of frenzied purchasing (The Aesthetix IO and Cardas Gold Ref wire throughout) was set off by the seemingly harmless trade/purchase of the most recent itteration of my favorite speakers. Who knew that the latest Merlin VSM Milleniums would be that much more revealing than the earlier VSM Gen3s... Dohhh! With a little luck the new wire, phono stage, and yet-to-be- determined linestage will provide the additional warmth and musicality that the prior ARC LS2B, PH3, and XLO Sig wire just weren't quite managing.

Say- anybody have recomendations on a true balanced in/out linestage that gets the warmth/musicality thing down along with all the rest of usual list of audiogeek virtues. Currently considering a used ARC LS5 series III that I would do some Hovland cap upgrades on.

Oh, since we're on an Analog kick here, keep your eyes peeled on the used jazz bins for Zoot Sims Samba Swings on Colgems in stereo. This album is killer!

Happy Trails!
I've got a question for Vince (but I've also listed my gear!)

I figure you must be Canadian because I've never heard of LC1's in use outside the country -- a shame really. I've got a Mk V as well which I'm using with a SME 309/Goldring Eroica H combo into an EAR 834P. I've got Neutral Ref. from the pre-amp and I'm waiting for Golden Ref. phono leads (really looking forward to these). I've got an LC1 into my EAR which I found to be indispensable (and found it to be great from my CD source as well) . I've got an idea where you may buy, but I'd appreciate it if you would let me know by e-mail where you got your rig and the especially the Aesthetix. Balanced seems to make a lot of sense for analogue, but I don't know where the Io may be available. I am currently looking for an analogue dealer with floor models in S.O. Thanks.

BTW, I'm waiting on a Mana support. I'm praying really hard that this is all that and the bag of chips everyone says. Can anyone help me sleep better at night until it arrives?