Table,cartridge,phono...where to put most of my money?

  Let me start by saying im a digital guy,to be specific a CD/SACD guy.Years ago I ventured back into vinyl only to be totally disappointed in my efforts.I wanted to hear the records I had been hauling around the country every time i relocated.I  bought a Linn LP12 and had  all the upgrades done.I never could get it sounding good,even paid to have it setup by a so called expert...Fast forward ,I tried again maybe 6 years ago.Bought a VPI super scout with a couple different phono stages(dont recall what they were)..About the same outcome,was ok but for all the fuss,time,cost I felt another unsuccessful attempt..A few weeks ago i bought at an auction a direct drive Pioneer table from the 70s for a couple hundred.It was paired with a decent cartridge.I bought a used phone amp off ebay and off and rolling i went.Its no where near my digital side across the board and i didnt expect it to be but its got me wanting more....Long story short,I have a budget of 5k/6k for everything..table,cartridge and phone amp..Yes i understand everything is important but where would you put the bulk of the budget...and what would you buy with the limited info given,,Thanks


You've tried it twice and were unhappy so why would the third time be different?

If you just can't help yourself then get a record cleaner and buy more records before putting money into equipment.  Others may disagree.

I always thought 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 was a good starting point.

That way, there should be no bottlenecks or weak links and hopefully each component should be bringing out the best of the other.

A $1500 TT, cart, and phono stage, I think is a great start!  Of course it helps to do your homework and spend wisely.

I would try the little things first:

record cleaning, if you can go to a local shop where they let you do it

isolation/vibration management, make sure no resonance from e.g. a sub

stylus tracking force pressure gauge - $30 on amazon

for me the biggest improvement was the phono stage.

I think you have to have really great speakers and amplification to make spending 5K worthwhile. 

Just setup a very lovely sounding combo of MoFi Ultradeck, Lyra Delos and Musical Surroundings Nova III phono…. but there are thousands of extraordinary combo possibilities in your general budget range….

Have fun…enjoy the music ;-) 

A great $5-6K front end will be immediately apparent with a $1K set of Maggie LRS…. 

Spend the majority of money on the turntable. The Technics SL-1200G is a no brainer for a true entry level HI/End deck. At $4500 for 1200G this leaves $1500 leftover. Allocate the least possible amount for a solid cartridge(Ortofon 2M Blue) then add a Bel Canto phono preamp(e. One) $1500 new $1k used. This set up will give you several future cartridge MM/MC upgrade options.

I have 100s of LPS so going out and buying more is not necessary. I still have a vacuum record cleaner from the last attempt that I've already busted out of the closet along with a lot of lp tools...this system consist  of Pass labs int60 as its power into Dynaudio confidence 20s w Rel S510 stereo pair

where do u live?

near me, 07062? I'll be there tomorrow!

I would not spend any more money yet. 

What Pioneer model?

Removable Headshell?

What cartridge?

OK, from your story, there is one thing that is certain. The problem was unlikely to be with the turntables you bought. Both are outstanding. So, I would look at your phonostage.

My rule of thumb is that each component should be carefully chosen and generally of equal investment… so Turntable = Phono stage = preamp = amp. Then what @theflattire said sounds reasonable… 1/3 each. But given your previous experience, I definitely do not think you should be considering choosing pieces. You should get a pre configured table like a Linn LP12 Majik, or VPI. VPI offers cartridges, you talk to them about the sound characteristics you seek and they will recommend the cartridge. I am not a big Rega fan… but also a good choice.


So, do you want to put out $10K? Or invest the $10K in getting better sound from your digital end?

I have equivalent sound quality from both my analog end and digital end. But, I am an old fart who has been collecting records since the late 1960’s. If you are drawn to it.. go for it.



Pass labs int60 as its power into Dynaudio confidence 20s w Rel S510 stereo pair

that's an awesome combination. I heard the same combo with a Rega P3 and I was blown away. It's not a lot to drive the Dynas but might just be right

The only advice you received that made any sense to your post was the Technics 1200G.  $3k for a used one is the right money, find a Herron MC phono stage (early model)1500ish and that leaves you $1500 for a cartridge and with that find a Audio Technica Art 9 and your done.  So around $5500 and you can enjoy your LP’s. I have owned the above items so can speak on it, my current vinyl setup up is a Maxxed out STS Thorens 124 with Jelco 850L, Ortofon TA110 tonearms, Herron VTPH-2A phono preamp.  

Koetsu Urishi Black, Haniwa HTCR-01 cartridges. 

Good Luck and max out your budget and there is a noticeable difference as you move up the food chain in vinyl.

What kind of distortion drives you buggy?

For some, it's frequency wow caused by off-centre records. For me, it's high frequency tizz - so I am vinyl only. Just something to consider.

I think learning more about the sonics of the OP current setup vs the two prior fails ( LP-12 / VPI ) might be more helpful…. just what is driving enjoyment currently ?

I’m not seeing there is a immediate need for a Vinyl Front End to be purchased, with what looks to be a history of experiences that were not wanting to be maintained. It seems there is a further amount of experiences that can be gathered to help with homing in on the sonic that becomes attractive and wanting to be experienced in the home system.

Time spent seeking out opportunities to experience Vinyl Replays, either from a commercial entity, forum request or HiFi Club can put in ones path a range of opportunities.

I have been introduced to Vinyl Set Up’s on home systems costing between £1000 - £20000 that have been able to create a very good impression, through to extremely attractive. It is not necessarily the most expensive that delivers, it is the experiences obtained by the user and how they have built a system to suit their unique tastes that is the Cornerstone of experience being encountered.

@OP - what is the digital front end in the system that the analogue setup will be compared to?

For what it is worth, I asked the owner/CEO of a prominent German turntable manufacturer which item in a turntable setup  has the biggest impact on sound quality:  "The Cartridge".  So with this, I would spend at least half on the cartridge and the rest spread amongst the other gear.  I would think second most important would be the phono pre-amp as its analog output produces what we eventually hear.

There are so many options for a great sounding vinyl setup under $5k. By example my secondary vinyl setup consists of a Pioneer DX1000 TT at about $800, Sumiko Starling $2k MC cart and $500 Puffin phono preamp. It can sound pretty close to my primary system of VPI Classic 1 TT with Lyra Kleos cart and PS Audio Stellar phono preamp at 3 times the cost. It's all about the combo, not necessarily the money in my experience. 

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@baylinor +1 I too have a Pioneer PLX1000/Denon 103R ($1040 total) and it does sound excellent! Of course one can spend multiples of that but diminishing returns set in quickly!


i had your exact budget and split it into 3 more or less. 

table, technics sl200gr

herbies 4mm mat

cartridge lyra delos

phono pre sutherland 20 20 with linear power supply. 

the sound does everything my best digital sources do- fast, detailed, deep thunderous bass, sweet midrange, big big soundstage and dynamics with burst. 

all with a more smoothing burnish of a vinyl system.  


It would be nice to know your digital setup, since that is the competition. I think you need to spend more money on a vinyl setup to beat a good digital setup. And I'm a vinyl lover. 

While reading up on your speakers and amp, the words "understated", "smooth", and "balanced" show up. Maybe what you need to is make sure more of the same is not coming from your vinyl set up. You don't mention what cartridge and phono stage you currently have but perhaps adding a cartridge that not known to be warm sounding (like an AT 540 or 740ML which won't break the bank either).

Stick with your digital set-up. Obviously there is something about the sound of an analog front end that you don't like. Have you ever heard one that you DID enjoy? If so, there must be something amiss in your set-up - maybe your phono stage? I would really like to know the specific areas that you found disappointing. 

If you’re not properly cleaning your records you’re just throwing good money after bad. Spend the 3K or so on a Degritter and you’ll see a bigger improvement than 3K could make anywhere else in your vinyl system. If you’re happy with the results, you have 3K left to allocate to updating the cartridge, amp and or TT. If not, you can probably recoup 75-80% of what you spent on the Degritter by selling it. Oh, and buy some good sleeves, MoFi or Diskeeper.

I would keep the VPI.  Great Table.  Record clamp seems to deaden the sound.  Try a better Phono preamp.  Keep a clean stylus. Do not expect the same dynamics as digital.  Analog is a smoother sound.

@missioncoonery If you want to get the best fidelity vinyl can offer, you'll need to put more effort into it than digital.  With digital it's:  insert a CD, press a button and enjoy.  With streaming it's:  surf for whatever selection you want, press a button and enjoy.  Digital is unquestionably less work and the more convenient format.  However, with respect to comparative fidelity, my personal preference is for vinyl, provided it's done right.  The "is digital fidelity better than vinyl" debate is fast becoming the new or next "are expensive speaker cables really worth the money" trolling meme.  Some prefer and/or swear by digital and some by vinyl and that's perfectly alright.  To each, his own.  However, when comparing apples to apples, oranges to oranges (i.e.  quality components & source(s) of the digital to the vinyl sources), my ears prefer vinyl.  That being said, there are a host of factors that come into play in order to make a fair comparison, not the least of which is the condition of the records (e.g.  quality of recordings & pressings; cleanliness of records; dust mitigation rituals like keeping the stylus clean, brushing or blowing dust off records before play, etc.).

I have no idea what kind of shape your records are in.  However, judging from your reported experiences with your Linn and VPI turntables, assuming these were purchased new (i.e.  not used or otherwise defective in some way, including the cartridges) and set-up properly and also assuming there were no issues with the phono stage(s) employed, my initial suspicion points to the condition of your records.  This is why I tend to agree with those who've suggested by starting with clean records.  There are a host of ways to approach this, depending upon how much work, time or money you want to put into it (e.g.  manual cleaning; vacuum machines; ultrasonic machines; combinations thereof; etc.).  If you're not into sweat equity, stick to digital.  On the other hand, if you are really serious about wanting to get the best out of a vinyl format, I think a bit of reading & research would be in order.  Here's a little something that I guarantee will not be an easy read but, if you truly are serious about this, will be worth your time:

PACVR-3rd-Edition (

Another vote for proper cleaning regardless of your table/pre/cart, and a strong recommendation for ultrasonic. I've had a vacuum-based cleaner for years and was using a manual cleaning/vacuum cleaning regimen that I thought was getting the job done. Adding an ultrasonic cleaner is the single best SQ improvement I've made to my vinyl rig. 

That is a great question and a dilemma often faced by my friends that are not vested in a large vinyl collection. I have often recommended to change their preamplifier with a capable preamp with excellent phono built-in. Two come to mind: The CAT SL1 and the Octave 500SE. Both under $5000 used. Personally, I prefer the Octave. The Octave can be bought in Europe with 220V. It is a very easy conversion to 120V, which you will do on your own. I will keep the Linn and with the  the rest of the money, I will buy the best Lyra or Shelter cartridge I can. 

For separates, again, I will keep the Linn and look for a used FM Acoustics FM122 phono. Again, I will use the Lyra or Shelter cartridges. The base VDH Frog is also very good cartridge and I will consider it without hesitation.

Furthermore, I will invest in a good set of cartridge calibration / set-up tools and a good scale to ensure proper alignment and tracking force. Wally Analog is a good source and very helpful. Recommended scales are from Clearaudio and Ortofon.

In both cases, the achieved sound would be at serious high-end levels, provided the rest of your chain is capable for delivering the goods.

Good luck, Basile

I’ve got a state of the art digital rig (transport & DAC) and a late 90’s vintage turntable (Denon DP 47F) plus a Hana SL cartridge. I’m following this thread carefully because I am seriously considering getting a new turntable and arm.

I’m curious what it is about your vinyl sound you don’t like as well as a CD. Is it frequency response, imaging, surface noise, compressed dynamics, or other issues?

My vinyl rig actually sounds very similar to my digital rig on the best pressings. I collect audiophile pressings and the best vinyl records can have a little more "bloom" than the correseponding CD or SACD. I also have over a thousand older records dating back to the 70’s and many of those records are clearly inferior to the CD. Most of the time it’s not even close. The CD is clearer, has better dynamics, doesn’t have surface noise, and is just easier to listen to. I really doubt that buying a six figure analog setup would make these records sound better than the CD.

BTW, these records are in good condition and I have always used a discwasher to clean before with every play. I doubt that ultrasonic cleaning would make a leap in their sound quality but I haven’t heard that comparison. There are people who offer the service of cleaning your records with an ultrasonic cleaner and I would try that before spending several grand on a unit of your own.

I think the issue gets down to having an emotional attachment to your old records. If you are not buying new vinyl then I think that it’s going to be a matter of living with the SQ problems of your records. If your VPI or Linn tables didn’t cut it I doubt you are going to do significantly better with new equipment.

Regarding specific equipment, my budget is similar to yours and I am considering an EAT C-Sharp turntable or the new Mo-Fi Masterdeck table. I’m going to keep my Hana cartridge because the reviews I’ve read indicate that it is hard to do better without spending mega bucks.

On my prior post, I would like to add that my assumption was that your Linn and its tonearm are not damaged, are lubricated properly and located in a good solid rack. In addition, I would pick 4-6 records that are good recordings with little or no compression to use as my reference. For example, reproductions from Three Blind Mice recordings from IMPEX is a good start (i.e. Isao Suzuki's Blow Up or the TBM 6-LP collection), Keth Jarrett's Koln Concert and Standards Vol 1 and 2, Willie Nelson's Stardust, Talking Heads Live 1980-1981, Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue will be my test foundation to evaluate articulation, harmonics, soundstage and dynamics.

Again, all the best in this journey, Basile

I guess my post wasn't clear enough or I didn't present it clearly...the Linn  and VPI table are long gone,sold along with the phono i had.What I have right now doesn't matter its just something I bought on the cheap,no intentoons on using it..I have no intentions on getting new power with a built in phono at this time.I have a pretty decent record vacuum cleaning system..I have 100s of LPS in various conditions most better than the norm......Again all I was asking was where to put my funds and suggestions on what to purchase...thanks

Roger that OP !
IF i had your budget and needed to leap soon it would be Hagerman Trumpet or Sutherland phono, Hana ML or Ortofon Black , and the best refurbished SOTA Sapphire w arm you can wrangle out of SOTA.  

Best to you on your journey….

This is not a suggestion to purchase, but only a list of items that can be a very attractive Set Up for Vinyl Replay.

It is a result of your making it known a Cheap DD TT has generated a Revisit to pondering an Analogue Source.

Denon DP80 @ $400 + Import Shipping + Tax - Approx $650.               Panzerholz/Permali Plinth @ $350.                                                          Tonearm @ $800-$2000                                                                        Cartridge @ $900 - $2000 (Bought with usage and Refurbished can get a substantial performing Cart)                                                              Phonostage @ $1000

Mount this on a decent support structure and a @ $4K Spend can have one with a TT that much much more monies spent will struggle to surpass. 

Will the Set Up satisfy to the condition that is being sought after, nobody know's, only experiencing the Set Up in the listening environment will be enough to make this known.                                

I like the Hana ML for you. It’s semi warm and somewhat forgiving. If you want a little more detail take the VTF/ weight below 2 g. Maybe 1.9 g. 
Music Direct has it for less than $1k. I would skip the Ortofon carts with the Shibata stylus unless you are going to pay a few hundred to have it setup properly. Shibata styli can be difficult to setup by eye. 
I like Sota a lot but it might pull too much from your budget. So maybe a used technics 1200 variant for $1k- $2k. I like the idea for you that you can switch cartridges/ headshells as needed. Last but not least is demo phono stages if you can. The Herron is really nice if you can find it. Get new tubes if you can. I like the Idea of the MOFI deck because it usually goes on sale and you can pick it up at Music Direct with the cart. The most important thing is setup. I would tell you J.R. From Wally tools but it will blow your budget. Brian Walsh travels to several states and lives in the Chicagoland area. If those two do not work and you buy the cart and tt from MD then have Bess from MD set it up using Analog Magic. Two more phono stages to look at are the a used Pass labs 17 dice you have pass or the Hegel V10. They are both very good. Don’t be fooled by the Hegels size and wall plug in. It is a transformer not a switch mode. It is balanced too. I believe 72db of gain. I have one on my system along with a Hana cart. I hope this helps. 

If I had to start over:

Rega P3 (upgradeable) $1300

Audio Technica OC9 or ART9 $700-1500

Darlington Labs MP-7/SU-7 (or favorite SUT) $1000+

This is actually pretty close to what I used to have.

I'm in the stick with digital camp. I am of that generation that came up with vinyl and tape. Digital sounds a little harsh to me, yet I have CD's out the ying yang. I do stream a little; mostly to audition music I would like to own. I wonder sometimes if the order of enjoyment ascends or descends from historian to collector to archivist to aficionado to preservationist to ........perfectionist.

My only advise to you is to please YOURSELF. Analog playback just may not be your bowl of grits. Both digital and analogue have limitations, strengths and weaknesses that appeal to different appetites, nothing will satisfy every desire, so satisfy yours. I won't judge..... promise.      :)

We are all guessing for at least two reasons. You said you couldn’t get your turntables to sound good. What exactly was missing? Detail and clarity I’m guessing compared to your digital sources? Something else? If my guess is right, a couple of thoughts. 

Old vinyl can involve poor pressings or accumulated grit that only an ultrasonic cleaner can remove. To test this go out and buy a really good recent pressing of an album, preferably not rock with its amplified instruments which often add their own distortion and noise. I bought a recent Columbia Legacy pressing of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. The difference between it and my old pressing was revelatory. Clearer, more detailed than the old vinyl yet more full bodied and realistic than my streamed high res or my cd versions. 

My second thought concerns equipment matching. Again I’m guessing since I have not listened to your Pass/Dynaudio amp/speakers together, much less in your room. To my knowledge your gear tends toward the slightly warmer side as others have noted. Digital sources tend to be on the “cooler”, detailed, less full bodied side. So my guess would be to go with a cartridge that is highly detailed, a moving coil like a Sumiko starling or a Lyra Delos, both just under $2k.  Find a knowledgeable dealer that sells both and others if at all possible. Listen on his setup, even if different from yours and bring a new, high quality pressing of a record you like and know well. If you like what you hear ask to bring home whatever TT/cartridge, phono stage combo you auditioned and have the dealer suggest what he views as the best for your budget, music tastes and preferred sound characteristics. If you find a cartridge you like, it may or may not be a good fit for your current turntable and arm. You can stay within or close to your budgets with tt’s from Mofi, Clearaudio and Rega, each of which have somewhat different house sounds, with the Rega being the most detailed to my ears in the $1500-$2000k price range of these three widely available brands. One of the tt manufacturer’s own cartridges might be a good fit and when purchased together could save you a few hundred dollars, but I went with a cartridge not of the same brand as the tt and found it a better fit for my tastes.

Finally, if my guess about detail being lacking in your past experience, within your budget I’d recommend a solid state phono stage. Others have made some good suggestions, including the Musical Surroundings Nova and Sutherland units, to name two I’ve heard.

We’re all guessing here on Audiogon. There is simply no true substitute for auditioning gear, especially if you can do it in your listening room with your gear. 

good luck!

For what it’s worth, I have the following, with guesstimated retail purchase price as new when in today’s dollars:

- table: VPI HW MK IV with SAM : $ 4,200

- arm: Sumiko MMT : $1,100

- cartridge: Koetsu Onyx : $10,000

To make $s go much further, I would buy second hand of each.

@jasonbourne71 Too each their own, but on my system I can hear the difference between an AAA vinyl, and a DDA/ADA vinyl, the former being superior in depth, richness and detail, so I am not with you on digital being the superior format.

@sameyers1 My experience is different. I find that well cared for, original pressings from the 1950s-1980s (I have thousands) almost always sound better than reissues or remastered reissues, which may be one reason why NM original presses get higher $s at auction.

Pindac, where on earth can one find a functioning DP80 for $400? If such a bargain exists, I’ll buy them all, and so too should anyone else. In a proper plinth, I’d put the DP80 up against any TT under $5000.

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Lots of great conversation and advice. Vibration isolation was one of the biggest transformations for my vinyl to match digital in my system. I’m currently using herbies speaker isolation under TT feet, thick bamboo cutting board under that, and another set of Herbies under that. 

@lewm I sent you a link before for a DP-80 TT with a Phosphor Bronze Platter.

Another one is on offer as well, I now own Three DP-80’s from this service and have no upsets with the supply.

Just make sure the Platter is transported as a separate item, as a sheared Platter spindle is a risk of occurring.

I successfully got a 80% refund as insurance payout on a sheared Platter Spindle occurrence on another well sought after Brands TT.

Link sent once more via PM


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Jasonbourne must have the worst ears on this website.  His advice/opinions are absolutely horrible sorry.  I've heard TechDas and it was nothing short of incredible.  

Pindac, I got no PM from you, today or previously. I did find a DP80 for sale on eBay for $800 plus shipping from Japan. Still quite a bargain, IMO, if it’s in good working order as claimed by the seller. For $400 and even less, you can buy one or two off Yahoo Japan, described as "junk".

I've had my disagreements with Jasonbourne, too, but in fairness, he did not criticize the TechDas.  He put it up as a high performng TT that the OP might still find fault with.

Vinyl is a rabbit hole. Acceptance and budget constraints. Don't think otherwise. Just go with the few pressings that satisfy, and depend on the digital that beats the analog. I love my evolving vinyl setup but it is limited due my specific situation.  Hoping for surprise and revelation. Can I hear an amen?

A few years back I bought a Project Carbon10 TT with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge and a Lehmann Audio phono stage feeding directly into my amps. Digital was my old and trusted Oppo. I found that my LPs sounded at least as good as my CDs, often the exact same recording. I then switched the Lehmann for the SunValley SV-Pre1616D, after reading Herb Reicherts review. Wow! That was an eye-opener: LPs sounded far more "real' and "there" than CDs. So I upgraded my digital front end to an MSB Platinum Signature CD-player/DAC combo (got a great deal on USAudioMart), which got the digital representation on a similar albeit somewhat different footing: the DAC produced an over-all "rounder" sound, whereas the LPs sounded more "chiseled", especially in the treble. Depending on the style of the source, both were legitimate renderings. But then lightning stroke: I bought a custom-made Lenco-revival TT from PTP Audio, paired with a (custom-made) Woody tonearm by Pete Riggle, and an Audio Technica ART-1000 with a Von Neumann configuration, where the coils sit directly on top of the stylus. This turned out to be a breathtaking combination, adding to the life-like presentation of tone unreal rhythmic dynamics and "drive" which left my digital music in the dust, or better: the latter was pleasant and easy to enjoy, while the analog sound commanded attention and delivered true excitement and foot-tapping. So, in short: a good phono stage should come first, the SunValley SV-Pre1616D being a true bargain considering the musicality and versatility of this tube stage. Second: try to move away from belt-driven TTs and look for an idler drive or even a direct drive unit: the difference is truly audible and for the better. Finally: a great cartridge will make you whole: I would probably start with a Denon-103 modified with a better cantilever, stylus and body, as they are being offered for very reasonable outlay by several after-market artisans on ebay. I am quite sure that you will hear the difference between an analog recording and a digital version, and that it will be an enjoyable one.