Hi guys! I'm a noob here, hoping y'all might find my situation interesting enough to weigh in on a possible solution. I recently bought a new turntable to replace an old Technics linear tracker with an A-T P-mount cartridge, and fully expected a nice upgrade to the sound of my mid-fi system. Now I have: Rega Planar 3 with VM540ML, Sony STR-D515 AV receiver, DCM QED speakers. I chose the Rega after hearing a P1, P2, and a P3, although I didn't care for the Carbon or Elys on classical LPs. So, I chose the VM540ML to get the clarity and transparency for orchestral and chamber music, thinking the jazz and acoustic rock would be fine. Well, now that I've played maybe 50 albums on it, the cartridge seems to have settled in and sounds pretty good on rock, jazz and some classical recordings, albeit a little brighter than I like. But, on most of my classical LPs (over half of my collection), strings and choral music (especially louder passes) sound hard, steely, harsh and somewhat smeared. I'm dissappointed. Apparently, the upgrade exposed another weakness in my system, but I'm not sure how to address it. Likely culprits: 1) The phono stage in my mid-90s Sony AV receiver may not be very good at all. 2) There may be a mismatch between the cartridge and that phono stage. The VM540ML wants to see 47k resistance and 100-200pF capacitance. The Sony has 50k resistance, but I can't find the capacitance on the Rega wiring or the Sony anywhere. I've seen several comments explaining that if the total capacitance is higher than 200pF, the output can get very peaky in the treble. I think that's what I'm hearing. 3) My receiver claims 70wpc, but at 0.8% THD - higher than most quality amps...maybe that plays a role here, too. 4) I really don't think it's the speakers. They sound very good with recordings on CD, and used to sound good with the old Technics table and the AT152 cartridge - pretty linear, a little warmth and very listenable. But now, not so much. Seems like a new phono stage is the place to start, but many of y'all know more about this than I do. What I'm considering/wondering: 1) If the main problem is the capacitance, will a budget, out-board preamp 47k/100pF improve the SQ noticeably? Candidates: - Rega Fono Mini A2D: lots of favorable reviews, but presumably designed for synergy with very high output Rega carts - too little gain for a 4mV output A-T? - Cambridge Solo: quiet (90dB), very low distortion, and high overload (+30dB) but only two (albeit very favorable) reviews and almost no mentions on this or other sites. - Schiit Mani: very popular, but lots of complaints about RFI, hum, and noise levels. Also, apparently synergistic with Nagaokas, which have a VERY different character than A-T's. 2) Do I have to spend more to get better SQ than the Sony built-in phono stage? Candidates: - Rega Fono MM: see question about gain above. - Bellari VP130: Conventional wisdom seems to be this will warm the highs, but I can't find capacitance specs on it. Could that be an issue? - Vincent PHO-8: - ProJect Tube Box S: - etc I guess the central question, now that I've rambled on, is what preamps will play nice with my new cart and table? I really didn't want to spend more than the $300 range. So, what do y'all think?