SEEKING ADVICE: Which component would you upgrade first?

This is my first post, so take it easy on me!

I have a modest analog system and would like to get recommendations on which component you would upgrade first for the biggest impact. Please use the existing components as a gauge for my budget (+/- a few hundo).

About me: I'm music lover. I'm a musician and recording engineer. I have a decent collection of old and new records, CDs, and tapes, which I listen to regularly. I appreciate good sounding recordings and have the experience to identify good and bad, but I'm not interested in mortgaging my home to upgrade my system.



Receiver: Pioneer SX-680

Turntable: Pioneer PL-112D

Speakers: Yamaha NS-1 and Pioneer HPM-100


Welcome to Audiogon!

Sounds to me like you have a nice (albeit) Vintage system. If it still sounds good I would change a thing. 

One suggestion is maybe adding an inexpensive Steamer / Dac and trying out Tidal or Qobuz to stream a plethora of New Music!

Wiim Pro Plus is currently $219 and is getting good reviews. 


sideways upgrades are good to avoid and from a few 100 bucks, that's what you would get. I would put the receiver and speakers up for sale and see what gets any offers. You can get a lot of incredible speakers that are better than what you have for under $1000 as in:

If the cartridge is original, maybe something like the Audio Technica AT95e at $60.

I assume you are not running 2 pairs of speakers at the same time. Ensure the one pair you are using (NS-1) are on stands and out from the wall.

Ultimately, the receiver is best changed out for an integrated amp. Receivers generally sound crap.


"lot of incredible speakers that are better than what you have for under $1000"

So just wondering are you familiar with either of the speakers the OP mentioned.

Seems like they are both highly regarded just doing a quick google search for curiosity. Apparently in your opinion that is that is not the case?

What under $1,000 speakers are you referring to?  Again just curious.


some prefer vintage gear, but my experience is that most do not. An alternative is to have your gear refurbished, old caps replaced budget conscious friends have been very happy with current Cambridge electronics and Elac (Andrew Jones) speakers, at various prices...vintage gear is selling at very high prices these days...

@dougsat My brother has those Pioneers. Good speakers, heard them a lot but I would prefer a.... I included a link, did you not see that?

Okay I saw the link missed it the first time. I had a few of those speakers on that list.

The OP's Yamaha N-1 speakers are especially highly regarded.

Personally if these (OP) speakers aren't having any issues to speak of I would keep them. I am not sure the speakers available for under a Grand would be a slam dunk. YMMV.

I did pick up a pair of Polk Reserve 200 Anniversary edition recently and so far my findings - these are an excellent speaker for the $$.

Unless @lukasread only wants to playback vinyl I still like the addition of adding a streamer. So much music that I wouldn't even been aware of I am now enjoying. It used to be the radio that was the source for new music, now (for me) it is streaming. Plus it sounds really good!

Other than that a suggestion of a new cartridge is also a great idea. 


new amp the vintage pioneer will not have the clarity of a modern amplifier

@dougsat I agree it's a tough question from a small budget. But not impossible. I have been spending $3-500 a year and have made improvements.

1st Post, Welcome Aboard!

I would keep

Pioneer Receiver

Pioneer Speakers (level controls, yeah!)

sell Yamaha Speakers or use elsewhere or give away

New Cartridge with Headshell, Your tonearm has a removable Headshell, plan on moving the new cartridge to a better Turntable later so the improvement/investment is transferrable

My favorite not very expensive Moving Magnet Cartridge (works with your receiver’s phono input) is:

Audio Technica Headshell/Cartridge Combo Kit


includes a headshell (keep your old cartridge/headshell/factory aligned) for when you get a better turntable you can put the current one back on, sell old TT or use elsewhere or give away).

It has a MICROLINE Stylus shape, much better sound and lasts longer than others.

Adjust the level controls of those speakers for your listening space.

How old are your ears?

I cannot post links, but you can find and read this article

sound-smith dot com /articles/stylus-shape-information



Speakers often have the most impact on the system. Find something you love that works well in your room, and that can be driven by your amp.  Lots of great deals on used speakers in most markets. 

A cart upgrade is a never a bad idea! 😎

GIven the enjoyment you receive from your old and new LP’s, protect them and upgrade your cartridge and turntable. With budget considerations in mind, I would then look for a newer used integrated amplifier. Finally, you can upgrade your speakers. Not the order I normally do things but in your case it might make good sense.

You do not have to spend big bucks to put together a very musically satisfying system. Sort ought your priorities sound wise, do your research. When you ask for advice on this forum, you must be very specific as to exactly what you want a given piece of gear to do for you and at what price point. Otherwise, you will get a lot of random advice from members. Distinctly unproductive. (We all like to promote our favorite gear.) Good luck!

I am familiar with that vintage gear having sold many back in the day.

Currently the music room has a modern well reviewed but vintage looking NAD c3050 integrated amp available. That and chose your speakers there for a nice modern upgrade for less than $2k.  The vintage gear is neat but most good quality modern gear will slay it.  

@mapman +1! Plenty of used NAD integrated amps available on different sites: Audiogon, EBay, Reverb, USAudiomart ...

@knotscott ”Speakers often have the most impact on the system”

I agree with that.  Followed by (in this order): first stage of music (so turntable), then final stage of amplification, then preamp.


Older CD transports (1990s) are actually much better built than most current models.  (There are some exceptions.). The only things that have really improved are the DACs and that is very much an incremental change.  So that would be a last stage change, especially if you have digital out where you could use the good transport you (probably) have with a more modern DAC.

basically, start on the outside of the chain (except CD) and work in.

OP:  before giving advice, tell us about your room and listening preferences.  Those speakers, for example, might be just fine in your circumstances.  Or, for example, let’s say you have a giant space, so making full range speakers with big subs and lots of amplification might prioritize over the sources.

Man what a cool trip back to the day!  

I wouldn't sell any of that stuff. Keep it because it's your first love. 

Now, If you want to pursue HiFi get in the mindset that you'll spend about 5K to get something you'll really love and be proud of.  

Speakers come first. Spend your bucks on a good set of quality used speakers. Magnepan LRS direct from Magnepan is a fantastic honest to goodness audiophile speaker at 1,000.  Get an REL 7i sub for a grand and your have a fantastic speaker set. 

The next thing you will need to spend money on is a DAC. "Put your money in a DAC" as they say (who is they anyway?). PS Audio had  Direct Stream Perfect Wave Mark 1 that they offered $3500 for as a trade in on their Mark II.  Guess what happened? The used Mark 1s dropped to $1800 because everybody got the Mark !!.  I have both- the Mark 1 is 90% as good as the Mark2 and they are fantastic DACs  PS Audio makes sweet little streamer called the AirLens that is a steal. You will pay major dollars (up to 20K)for a fantastic Aurender but it will only be 20% better than the AirLens. 

Next stop is an amp.  I'd be all over a used Audio Research I-50 tube integrated amp. For 1K they will throw in a DAC card and a Phono stage.  Actually you could skip the external DAC above described and cruise out with the loaded I-50.  Used they are +/-4K.  

$ Value Conclusion:  ARC I-50 integrated amp with DAC and Phono card plus a set of LRS maggies and a REL 7 you have about $5500 in a kick-donkey legit HiFi system you will love for many years.  You haven't lived until you spin your favorite records while looking at the tubes glow and feeling the radiant heat from them. It's magic. 



long term advice is great, however OP's budget is being ignored.

"for my budget (+/- a few hundo)."

@lukasread you seem to enjoy your vintage system, so (esp. given your budget) i'd stick with vintagey gear. I don't think i've heard the sx-680, but i owned the sx-780 and it was a really good sounding piece. also consider a kyocera receiver, which are excellent and inexplicably cheap in the secondary market i've also owned the hpm100s, which were fun but inessential--i'd look at trading them for something like polk monitor 10b or ads--the hpm100s seem to selling for a grand on ebay, so you can finance some new toys.

A few options from someone who has been down your road recently. Not sure I would say any of these is the "right" way to go, but any of them will make an audible difference.

One, I don't have any experience with your receiver, but if you're thinking about upgrading your amp the NAD C316BEE is a great option. It brings that classic NAD class AB sound, and has a really good MM phono stage.

Two, I'll echo the previous post about upgrading your phono cart. A big improvement can be had by upgrading/updating to one of the Sumiko oyster carts, the Nagaoka MP series, or the AT VM that was previously named.

And third, if vinyl is your primary media, think about a record cleaner. I use the Record Doctor, which made a big difference in audible quality of my vinyl for not a huge investment. And if you play a lot of used vinyl, an inexpensive ultrasonic cleaner makes a remarkable difference. 

Good luck and enjoy the music!

Corelli +1, If you know an audiophile near your place try to listen to his system , to see if you like it. Then if you like it. Hopefully he can mentor you to put a low cost system if you don’t have the budget.

cheap yet HIGHLY effective: Mad Scientist Graphene Contact Enhancer

First clean all contacts (including power cords) with 99% isopropel alcohol then apply the contact enhancer



If you want more modern electronics, look at Rotel. Modestly priced, good quality, and nice features in their integrated amps. 

@lukasread I’ll suggest a different route to consider, if not now then at some point, given you said you have a background in music engineering and an interest in vinyl. This route would have you listening to your music in other ways, rather than swapping kit-for-kit in hopes of sonic revelations for a few hundred bucks.


There’s a USD $250-300 device (down from $500 nearly a decade ago) that functions as a phono preamp, a DAC, and an ADC (Analogue-to-Digital Converter). RCA cables from your TT to the device, and the device via USB cable to your computer; and you can digitize all your records to enjoy on the go via earbuds, in the car, on your phone, etc.

The DAC feature of the KORG will also allow you to connect a USB streamer that can be had for ~$100, or easily DIY’ed for slightly less. There are multiple free software options for this that will also play your personal digital/digitized music library, too (though as a music engineer I suspect you may already have these features via computer / additional unlisted kit).

If you want a way to clean your records and haven’t one already, there are cheap, solid solutions from AliExpress and the like:

Record Spindle Spinner (I would strongly recommend a stronger jet of water than pictured in the article!).

As some folks have mentioned, beware making lateral moves in the kit you already have - yours is solid stuff. For your budget, look for new inroads to using your music if you really are a musician, engineer, and listener more than a new-kit-chaser, being my bottom-line.


the spindle spinner site is down. For $175 I found it a very costly deal compared to actual "standalone" mess and sink-free and vacuuming record cleaner

Hello, You are good. I would build up the money. I like the idea of a steamer but would buy an older BlueSound node 2i for $250. Here is the problem. The services will be more money unless you have an Amazon Prime account or a Spotify account already. My fear about you going to the NAD c3050 is I don’t think you will like the phono stage as much as your Pioneer. The cartridge and headshell idea is great but I would save up for at least a Hans SL. They do go on sale but does not include a headshell. I really doubt you will listen to your old cartridge once you go to the Hana. Save your money for now so you do not go down the rabbit hole. I think the cartridge will be first as long as your Pioneer can play moving coil cartridges. If not it does come as. Hana SH which will play in a moving magnet input. I hope this helped. What you should be asking a couple of these posters is what cheap tweaks can I do. Magester is a genius at this. There are guys here who have systems that don’t cost a lot but sound amazing according to them. I will take their word since I’m pretty sure they have heard expensive systems. 


2,064 posts



the spindle spinner site is down. For $175 I found it a very costly deal compared to actual "standalone" mess and sink-free and vacuuming record cleaner


@grislybutter and @lukasread note the clarification: I was not suggesting that particular model as it’s absurdly (IMO) expensive. Please note note the suggestion I led with:

”…there are cheap, solid solutions from AliExpress and the like:

They work excellent for less than $15-20 shipped, maybe more now as I haven’t checked in a while.

The link I provided was just for illustrative purposes as it was first up on a google image search. I didn’t look at the price of that particular model. I’m glad you brought up the link’s price @grislybutter , as I’d certainly not suggest paying more than a couple dozen bucks, at most, for such a simple and cheaply made device.


9,275 posts


Isn't tap water anathema?

Record Spindle Spinner

@noromance that’s a fair query. Could be viewed that way, at least in hard water districts. If properly dried after a blast of water, I for one expect residual stuff should be insignificant. If it still feels unacceptable, but hundreds or thousands of dollars are not available for an automated approach, a tub and medium duty water pump could be devised on the cheap for use with recirculated distilled water.

I suggested [a cheap version of] that spindle disc + strong faucet as a solution that didn’t allocate OP’s whole upgrade budget to cleaning records, given the condition of the collection wasn’t disclosed. To me, learning people have LP’s and then suggesting a high cost cleaning solution is like telling people to add condiments to food they haven’t tasted: the advisor might feel need to do that him/herself and get enjoyment from it, but it probably won’t work best for everyone.
For most album collections I’ve seen, the pricey automated cleaners don’t seem like great investments (to me) based on a few factors.

Are jets of distilled water being used at LP pressing plants? Or is hard water being used from municipal taps, and that’s (part of) the reason some folks remark about poor QC in new pressings?

I doubt answers to those questions will be forthcoming. To me it’s just overthinking a useful-within-limits improvement process that shouldn’t cost much, if anything.

But I’ll reiterate that KORG device I mentioned (also available for cheaper in a more vintage-looking non-“R” version: KORG DS-DAC-10), or a self-rigged version with other gear + freeware described here and there online (if KORG’s software is not preferable) to digitize vinyl collections, could be a fun way to walk OP’s vintage kit into future playback opportunities.

@benanders understood. I personally find a record cleaner a luxury investment. I can go to a local stereo shop and use their VPN for 50 cents per record which I do 10 records at a time, every other month. It would take 500 records to recoup that investment, at this rate: 9 years for me :) - when compared with the record doctor.

So I'd spend that money elsewhere. I would always go speakers/source/preamp/amp

@benanders I get fine results using a SpinClean with distilled water and supplied detergent. (I also use an ultrasonic unit for first cleaning, with the SpinClean for final rinse.)

@noromance good call. I bought one of those SpinClean units back when they released the clear version. Maybe a dozen or more years ago? It was nuts to watch it turn water + old record into chocolate milk… I still wonder if it was a pre-programmed chemical reaction from the included solution 😜 (it wasn’t - distilled water alone achieved similar result).

SpinClean works a bit differently than a strong jet of water. I got my SpinClean to deal with nasty surfaces of a big old pile of second-hand records acquired years earlier. Wasn’t a fast or particularly easy process compared to a cheap spindle x faucet (which I wasn’t using then), but I agree both ways sure can help.

Checked for curiosity - SpinCleans are a bit more expensive nowadays. Still a better price-to-performance ratio than buying an automated cleaner for many (most?) collections IMO. If automation is required, I suspect a car-to-cleaner-ready hifi shop would indeed be the better bet for many (most?) folks!

What I love about the SpinClean is that I can give a record a quick clean if it has picked up a little dust. I do not use dry brushes. The SC detergent apparently grass the dirt out of the distilled water, thereby keeping it cleaner and necessitating less frequent changes. Note, all my records have either been SpinCleaned or been thru the US already. I bought additional (better, more absorbent) lint-free cloths which really speeds things up.

Asking for advice, also first time posting.

if you had my system (see below) what would you do to improve the system? Add more watts per channel?  Purchase power cords? And so forth. The audio system is in the living room with vaulted ceilings 26 feet high at the peak.  Listen to classical music and soft rock and country and some jazz.  Use both CD’s and vinyl.

System includes McIntosh: amp MC 202, 200 watts per channel 

C42 preamp, includes DAC and 8 band equalizer 

CD player MCD301

Tuner MR 85

streaming MB20

turntable Pro-next Classic SB

Equalizer Sound Shaper 3 paragraphic

RtoR Jcorder Technics RS 1520

speakers Spendor A5

cables audio quest 

panamax power protection and treatment

thank you for

any ideas from the group


Speakers speakers speakers x100! You have unlimited room for improvement with better speakers but you could buy $25000 worth of Mac or Krell and it’d sound a little better ,maybe. Second would be a dedicated phono stage followed by a good cartridge unless you have a good cartridge already 

@markley what are you missing? Obviously you can start with the speakers, but what are you expectations?

people are not paying attention

either to OP's budget (+/- a few hundo)

or his existing speakers, I looked them up

go to hifishark, check the prices asked for his Pioneer HPM-100 Speakers 

what the hell do you think would be better for a few hundro????

these speakers have Level Controls, giving the ability to adjust for both the space and OP's preference.

The receiver/tt/speakers certainly would reveal the improvement of a new cartridge, AND, the investment of a new cartridge can be moved to a new TT when ready.

Save money for quite a while before looking for better speakers



My suggestion is to start with cleaning up your power. Once you do that everything down stream will take on a life! However you will need more than a few hundred to do it right.

The HPM-100's were designed by an engineer Pioneer hired from JBL and were their answer to the 1970.s JBL L-100. Nice speaker in its day but IMNSHO, the absurd prices those speakers are bringing today is tied to the vintage-gear rage. Speaker design technology and philosophy have progressed greatly since the HPM-100's were built. A wise hi-fi mentor once told me, "if you want to make the biggest change in the sound of your system, get different speakers." I agree witih him. And if it were my decision, I'd sell the HPM-100's and take the money from them and look into some Vandersteens, Monitor Audio or Sonus Faber.

Within your budget ...

If you're keeping those speakers, you should check for dry rot on the surrounds of the drivers. Fixing those could be the best money you spend. I would also look at how you have your speakers installed: location/posittion, on stands, how they are coupled to the stands or floor - these improvements can make a big difference without costing much aside from your time and patience to dial them in.

After that, new cartridge for turntable (and good installation!) and outboard phono stage. Good options for both from Rega, Denon, and others. 

After that, cleaning all your connections and replacing cheap patch cables and lamp cord wire with decent wire from Belden, Blue Jeans or others. Easy to spend a fortune on wire, but I do find basic sold brands can make a really nice improvement over old "free" stuff that came with the gear.

A streamer could open up your system to the world of digital, and so could a blutetooth receiver or cheap cable that connects your phone to an open input.

My rule is work your way in from the outside. Sources first. My priorities are:

1. speakers - source for your ears. The single largest improvement you can make to a system is to choose the best speakers for your ears, your room, your music and to match the rest of your gear.

2. Front end sources: Analog: cartridge, tonearm, phono stage, turntable (in that order, IMO). Digital: DAC, source (streamer, computer, device)

3. Preamp.

4. Amp

5. Everything else: cables and tweaks

Welcome, lucasread!

Gird up your loins!  :) 

As a recording engineer, can we assume that the room interaction with your loudspeakers, positioning and a modicum of room treatments has been addressed.  If not, it's biggest bang for the buck towards your goals. Overreaching on a good loudspeaker choice can then benefit from growing the system as your budget allows.  A power efficient loudspeaker can take you down the highway.  Finding a hi-fi mentor has great value on many levels.  Go slow, friend.  I've enjoyed the ride for over 60+ years.  Onwards!

More Peace     Pin         (bold print for old eyes)

It wasn't mentioned but I would start with speaker wires and upgraded RCA interconnects. Simple and cheap and your not tearing your system apart. Then if not satisfied, I would start with new speakers. Once you go down this road It's like changing a window in your home It turns out all new windows and siding. Each piece you change requires a new piece to fit your new system. So consider carefully and get your check book out. Good luck it can be great fun.

OP here; thanks for all the input and hearty debate.

I've decided that I'll start with the cartridge. I'm happy with the speakers and amp, and believe they're each doing everything they can with what they've been provided. Therefore, I must upgrade the quality of the signal the speakers and amp are getting.


No, @ditusa, not a Bot. But I appreciate the motivation to get me to respond back and close the loop.


Upgrade the signal, but what does the signal have to go through?

The phono stage.

IMO, the TT/cart is only as good as the phono stage.

@lukasread Wrote:

I’ve decided that I’ll start with the cartridge.

Good move, and welcome to Audiogon! See Schiit phono preamp Skoll$399




@theflattire right, but like i said, i believe the cartridge is trailing the phono stage and speakers. After I upgrade the cheap, entry-level cartridge, I can consider additional upgrades.