Turntable cartridges or Phono Preamp - Which makes a bigger impact $ for $

If one were to spend money on a turntable upgrade, would a sonic improvement be more realized from an upgraded stylus cartridge or a phono preamp (assuming the same money spent on either, and that the current parts are equally matched in fidelity)?

Both, partnering the two, as well as tonearm considerations, they are equivalent. Mating the cartridge to preamp is important in my experience. Should your long term plan be to upgrade to a premium cartridge, what ever that may be, then selecting a premium phono stage may be a better move in the short term as the phono cartridge is a wear device needing retipping or replacement every so often.


Your record playing equipment is a complete system and should not IMHO be evaluated like that. While it can be argued that the cartridge is the weakest link being a transducer, its cost is not linear with respect to its contribution. In fact all audio components have a diminishing return cost curve.

I would suggest you first let us know what your cartridge, turntable and phono preamp are as well as what sonic characteristic(s) you’re looking to improve. Then members here can provide informed guidance and suggestiins.


So, obviously, upgrading every part is preferred. But if I wanted to drop $$k now, I’d rather not split it and then have to double down later. It makes more financial sense to buy the first expensive part and then, later, when I can afford more, buy the second expensive part.

In my situation, I have a Rega Planar 8 with Apheta 2 cartridge through a Rega Aria phono preamp.

So, If I could afford to upgrade one part now, which one first? Biggest bang for the buck? Cartridge or phono preamp?

Oh man, that is a tough choice. My first thought is you have a fine setup as is. If you stay with Rega Cartridges swapping them is a piece of cake with their three screw setup. I would be tempted to go upline with the cartridge.

Maybe spend money on a DeGritter instead. I worship mine.

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Upgrade the Aria and keep the Apheta 2, a no brainer IME. I have the Planar 8 with the Apheta 3, so I am familiar with the sound. The Aria is your weak link, maybe a Rega Aura MC Ref is in your future. Possibly hold off until the new Rega Naiad turntable is released here in the states, most likely with an improved MC. I’m assuming you are still all in on the Rega sound.
I agree with Al’s thoughts as well, as he had/has a Rega RP10, out on a loan. You have a fine set-up!


So, that being said, comparing the Aura to the Aria, what is your opinion on the level of impact on sonic fidelity?

“I can hear an improvement.”
“It’s noticeably better!”
“Wow! What an incredible difference!”

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Can you get a dealer to let you demo the Aura?

I’d have to find one, but then the room, and every component would be drastically different. I will, but it’s good to hear other people’s impressions that are intimately familiar with both.

A dealer should be able to demo the two preamps side by side. To hear the differences in that case, would make things clearer.

A dealer demo is the way to go, as at that price point one should hear it in their own system, That said, I auditioned both a few years back and enjoyed each, the Aura offered greater nuance, detail, and sense of space in comparison. A logical move if the price isn’t holding you back. It seems as though it could be an ideal partner with the Naia turntable and an Aphelion 2 MC.

Rega Naia

My comments are based on an audition, owning neither. Best to check in with Dirk, who had an Aria and moved up to an Aura. I know he is extremely pleased with the Aura, and looking forward to a Naia.
Going with an Aphelion 2 MC, you’d be best served with the Planar 10, considering its RB 3000 tone arm.

Just a thought, there is a Aura available on Audiogon. No skin in the game, just trying to be helpful.

Rega Aura

I also own an Aura and find this a perfect mate to my RP10 and Aphelion2 cart. No need to ever upgrade my phono preamp again. I’ve owned the following and the Aura just does everything right in my setup.

Pass Labs Pearl2 built from a kit, Parasound JC3 Jr., PS Audio Stellar and then the Aura. Also as Al states above Rega carts are so simple to mount I’d stick with them as well. The Aphelion2 never ceases to amaze with its balanced sound. So choose the “best” phono pre or cartridge first and follow up with the other pieces in your analog rig.


When I ordered my RP10 I went rogue and had them install a SoundSmith cartridge I fancied. This required putting spacers under the Tonearm mount to make up for the differences between Rega Cartridges and the SoundSmith. And the SoundSmith doesn’t have the third hole. At some point I want to try a proper Rega Cartridge so I am happy the modification is easy to undo. Just loosen the three screws at the base of the Tonearm mount, slide out the spacers, and tighten everything up.

Rega doesn’t believe in azimuth or VTA adjustments, and doesn’t offer any. This seems very bold to me. But nobody seems to mind.

With the SoundSmith and RP10, I was certain I had purchased my last turntable. It was so quiet and yet so lively. It seemed perfect to me. Then I saw a TechDAS turntable. Buying the TechDAS saved me from upgrading to the P10 which I certainly would have done otherwise. I’m a believer in Rega. I have a Rega Integrated Amp as well. Stunning it is.


After installing my Linn cartridge with it’s three bolt mounting arrangement on my LP-12, I had my dear friend Poindexter bring over his tonearm tuning kit which includes a scope and a good investment in Wally Tools tools. I was skeptical about the Linn claim that the tonearm is so precision engineered, that azimuth and overhang adjustments are unnecessary. The scope and tone generator showed only one trace. Wow.
And the VTF dial also exactly matches a calibrated gauge.

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So to complicate things, I idiotically went to move my turntable because it was crooked, and swiped my cantilever with the back of my hand and totally bent it! I was able to gently straighten it out with needle-nose pliers, but it looks crappy. However, it sounds/plays fine.

So what can I expect from this? Will I damage my records? Will it degrade faster? Did I get lucky in fixing it? Or does the cantilever not matter as much as the actual needle tip and cartridge components inside?

How has no one invented a cartridge that protects itself when not on the record?!?!? :frowning:

What phono stage were you using with the RP10 at the time, was it a Rega? Just think the Naia is due by years end, no TechDas, but should be a killer turntable. As you say the Rega turntables offer a most lively presentation.

All good questions. Looks like you did a pretty decent job straightening it out. How does it sound? If OK the main question is will it potentially do any harm to your records. I feel for you. I know I would be sick to my stomach in your position.

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Ouch! Just a suggestion, but I’d contact VAS and see if they can offer an opinion. They may be able to replace the stylus. Others here, RonP, have reported positive results with VAS.

Here is a link:


I’m not surprised that it sounds ok. But since the connection to the suspension and generator has been tweaked, for how long?
Also, in addition to the horizontal position of the cantilever (picture the cantilever moving left or right along a horizontal axis). the stylus needs to be perfectly aligned vertically (picture the cantilever rotating in it’s mount). If the stylus is sitting in the groove at an angle other than perfectly vertical, then yes, you’ll damage your records. The contact points of the stylus imparts a shocking amount of psi and heat to the groove.