Where is the significant point of diminishing returns on hi-end turntable?

For those that don’t know me I am newish to this game. Yes, I believe this chase for perfection in sound reproduction is a game. There are endless variables affecting the sound of every system and 100x that in opinions on each of these variables. I love cool $hit as much as the next guy but I am looking for an analog rig and I keep getting drawn into the seemingly endless "what about this option that costs tons more?". I started with a $6 to $10K budget and now I am considering a $25K setup (Table, cart and phono stage) after talking to a local retailer. I will be blunt, I want to be that guy in the Memorex ad from the 80’s that is getting blown away by his system (my impression is he is overwhelmed by the amazing sound coming from that speaker not the volume). Now that I have acquired some pretty descent stuff I am spending 15 plus hours each week listening and really enjoying this hobby. I don’t want to have any regrets and just be marginally satisfied with my setup but where do I draw the line? Back to my initial question; what is a reasonable amount to spend on an analog setup to achieve the best bang for the buck? I may be somewhat unique in that I don’t want to constantly be upgrading my equipment, I just want to buy great products the first time that are very satisfying and spend hours listening to great music. I don’t want to be the guy always chasing the next great thing.
With a member name of porsche and a $25K analog budget, you’re way out of my league. However, to answer your question, "Where is the significant point of diminishing returns on a hi-end turntable?," I would say that $10K is about all I want to spend on an analog rig (VPI table+Parasound phono stage+quality cartridge). Buying used would allow me the most value. You will probably get as many opinions as there are members on this forum. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor!
your post brings back memories from my earlier days in this obsession. I remember buying the Dual 701 when it first came out and my Sansui receiver and a pair of Bose 601(yeah, didn't know the jingle bout BOSE back then) and thought, hey this is pretty damn good. The Dual was well respected in its day and Sansui was considered a good brand. 400 dollars for the Dual back then was a pretty high price for a turntable but i thought i had arrived. OVer the years i have had that feeling several times after discovering a new toy. From Dual, to Denon, Mitchell, and finally working my way up the Maplenoll line to the Apollo. I guess i am saying, enjoy what you have but keep looking, trying and getting surprised. Its not always how much money you can spend (and you can spend as much as you have on this hobby), its more how you match and fit components together with your listening tastes. I really never knew how good High Fidelity could sound until i put the needle down on my first Maplenoll. I now run a ZYX Universe II on a Maplenoll Apollo feeding a RCM Sensor II Phono through a Pass xp10/xa30.8 powering my AudioPhysics Caldera II speakers. I think this is the final configuration, but----. 
All this being said, with 10-25K, you should be able to put together a reference vinyl system that will please for a long time. But there will always be something better. 
Oilmanjojo has this in good perspective, imo. The question I would pose to you is: Do you hear the difference and is it meaningful to you? Then, does making that step from the $10k rig to the $25k rig still allow you to have a superb phono stage? Amp? Speakers? Cables? Or would you have build a BETTER sounding system overall by stepping back a bit on the investment in just this one part of your system?

Over the years that I've invested in this hobby, I've always found the investment to be a stair step process. I HEAR more of what's going on in the rest of my system as I upgrade in an area and then assess what will make the next biggest improvement. But I have always planned on DOUBLING the investment in each step up that staircase. Small incremental steps just keep shunting money down a tube that never stops draining cash but without providing material improvements in sound.

All this said, as Oilmanjojo suggests, "with 10-25K, you should be able to put together a reference vinyl system that will please for a long time. But there will always be something better."

But if you're making that next big investment, and if you are seriously committed to vinyl, then the best place to make that investment is in the turntable/arm/cartridge front end. What doesn't get extracted from the vinyl to begin with is never heard in the rest of your system.

I'll close with one final observation: The magic is in the details. Scrupulous attention to setup, to fine tuning, makes all the difference between superb playback and indifferent sound. You can often get far better sound than you ever expected if you really understand what is needed to finely tune the setup of a vinyl front end and take the time to do it. 
Good feedback gents. 

I see what you mean rushtton about identifying holes in my system. I need to improve my power cables next. Using all stock power cables except for one Ps audio 12 something or othe. Getting closer with each new component. Unfortunately I'm on 10x path versus a doubling but damn this is fun. 

Listening to the entire wall album now and drinking some fine red wine. Life is good. 
And I'm assured of a true reference setup from  the dealer. Clearaudio innovation wood, Benz cart and aestetix rhea Sig phono. It should match well with my new voxativ gear. Fingers crossed. 
Yes,i hear a difference between the $10 and $25 setup. Not 2.5x but that is diminishing returns at its finest.  Definitely better, just wondering where to stop. Almost sounds like there is no end game. 
Exciting move .. good luck i will kick back and listen . There are some serious tt in that price point . And alot of opinions ,quite a few guys here are in that tt range .. 
mmporsche, take it from another Porsche guy (currently '86 944 turbo) get simple solid rig like mine;). Vpi Prime, Parasound JC3+, Dynavector 20x2L cart.  Solid rig that will last many years. Best bang for the buck. There will be a ton of opinions on this and even more suggestions. In the end you will eventually have to pick one. My suggestion is a solid one and would work for 90% of the people just getting into this hobby but only want to buy once - cry once. It's a neutral sounding rig as far as I can tell so the rest of your system will need to be up to par as well if you want the Memorex experience. Good luck Porschephile!
Hello Last Lemming.  I actually have a JC3+ and was looking at the VPI Prime.  That is where the slippery slope began.  I had Constellation amp/preamp that I bought last year and everyone told me my "sources were weak".  I then attended RMAF last month and found Voxativ so I bought the speakers and integrated amp.  They are awesome and very revealing and now I am looking to pair them with a suitable analog setup.  I currently am running a Pro-ject Xpression table and was satisfied until I heard the hi-end tables.....  "stop the madness". 

BTW, love the turbo.  My first P car was an 89 Turbo "S". 
mmporsche: Yes,i hear a difference between the $10 and $25 setup. Not 2.5x but that is diminishing returns at its finest.  Definitely better, just wondering where to stop. Almost sounds like there is no end game.
No, there is no end game. As oilmanjojo said, there is always something better. For me it was the Walker Audio Proscenium Turntable and Aesthetix Io Signature phono stage. Now the next step would be the Io Eclipse upgrade, full Walker Audio Diamond V update, and Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge. Will I do that? Probably not. But would it be better? Oh, yes.
Rushtton, you are in the deep end of the pool. Dealer is recommending aestetix Rhea signature.  Not an IO but are you very satisfied with the phono stage?

Clearaudio innovation wood is a fine table. you don't mention the arm. I have the universal arm on mine with a Benz Zebra Wood cartridge. But there are a lot of nice tables at that price point.

I agree setup is very important. A well setup rig can out perform a much more expensive rig that is not setup properly. 

The estetix rhea Sig phono

The reality is that at the price point you are playing in right now almost everything is going to sound great to one extent or another, it's now a matter of taste and which one tastes the best to you.  The madness never ends, but the going crazy part is half the fun!!  To answer your question, you stop upgrading at that point just before divorce. 
The dealer is apex audio in denver.   He is recommending the universal.9 arm and Benz LP-S cart. He says he is one of two people in the region that knows How to setup an analog rig correctly.  Who knows, not me. 

Last lemming, love you comment about upgrading and divorce.  I just sold my racecar to relax and spend time with them family. Needless to say, my wife is very understanding and supportive of my stupid hobbies. 
Dealer is recommending aestetix Rhea signature.  Not an IO but are you very satisfied with the phono stage?
This is that never ending cycle, mmporshe. :-)  The Rhea Signature is very good. The Io Signature is in the next league, and the Eclipse moves a further step up from there. With all three, use a medium output (~0.4mv) cartridge and you're in a great place.

Yes, I've had the Io Signature (with dual power supplies and volume control) for 15 years and I'd not change it for anything else I've heard except the Eclipse version. And, like everything in this crazy hobby, the dual power supplies make a difference.

DAMNIT rushton, now I want to listen to an IO.  I guess my kid can go to public school, right?
I started a thread awhile back in jest .." should you need to take a sanity test before starting this hobby?" .. lol 
If you want a great sound, two components are the most important - turntable itself and phono stage. Followed by tonearm, cartridge and cable. Talking new pieces, I would say that $10k/$12k for table/arm, $5k/$7k for a phono stage, $3.5k or so for the cartridge and $1.5k for the cable will get you far enough. Plus perhaps $1k for each power cord. The very first priority is the table itself, don't save much on it. There are so many combinations, it really depends on taste and availability for audition, unless you are ready to take a risk and buy unheard. I myself would only consider British turntables but not necessarily only British tonearms within this price range, not German, American, French, Canadian etc. They know how to make dynamic musical value tables. This means Nottingham, Pear Audio, SME, Avid, Origin Live. If not that I would probably go with better VPI . And I would definitely get tube phono stage, my choice would probably be LAMM but there are others. Choice of cartridge would depend on many things, including in some way on your speakers. As an example, if your speakers are very warm you don't want a very warm sounding cartridge but nor do you want a cold sounding cartridge. You can also fine tune the sound with phono stage tube rolling.
So, I think you are right about the figure of $20k-$25k for the entire analog set-up.
Good luck to you.
:-)  But now you're going to have to take the insane plunge into: 
  1. Seriously cleaning your vinyl to get the best sound you can out of the grooves ( My DIY Approach to the Ultrasonic Cleaning of LPs). 
  2. Find the best pressings (Steve Hoffman Music Forum) and purchasing multiple copies to compare.
  3. Adding a magnetic optimizer to your record playing ritual.
  4. Getting the cleanest power to your equipment without adding noise and distortion artifacts.
The fun doesn't stop with purchasing the turntable. Now you have to work on the details to get the best sound from it.
Right. Best pressings and real good cleaning are so important. And of course the wall current. You will want a motor controller too.
Oleschool, I think real madness starts above $100k for the entire system new. Below that it's alright. Or maybe it's $150k these days?
And $75-$100 or more for each Japanese original pressing let alone pro Japanese original is not madness? I confess, I got a few of them. But if you need 1000 records...
mmporsche, you could just jump right into the deep end of the pool along with me. Slipknot1 is selling his Walker Audio turntable because he's downsizing due to a recent illness. He's asking just $25k for the turntable, integrated linear tracking arm and Magic Diamond cartridge. I'd be happy to put you in touch with him. Unfortunately, he's on the opposite side of the country from you near Philadelphia, but he'll split the cost of shipping.
I agree inna , i was just responding to op comments. I would say that 150k mark sure would be sweet. Best of luck 
Did you see the psn vpi groovemaster dd for sale here ? 
"One mans floor is anothers ceiling" 

I don't think it is stupid, if you can afford it, it's your money and there are people of us who will help you spend it. But what I would like to know is how much you have invested in albums. Being new, do you already have a catalogue of albums to play on your new turntable or do you need to buy those also? I think Rushton was hitting all the right issues. Unless you are ready to go down that road, the 25K might be better spent elsewhere and taking a smaller plunge to see if it's for you might be a food idea also, as what don_c55 might have been getting at.
No, don_c55, he is just rich or at least very well off not stupid.
In a few years I plan to enter reel to reel realm, and I am going to be new to it. This doesn't mean that I am going to get something for $500 and enjoy it, it is going to be at least $1k plus service and calibration and plus tapes. It is stupid to spend less than needed, more so when you can easily afford good stuff.

I am assuming from your OP that you are not someone getting back into vinyl after many years; and that you are new to it and have never had a vinyl setup ?

If this is the case it is really important to determine if you will even enjoy the experience. Listening at the dealer is one thing. Listening at home is another. How good the experience will be is based on how good the setup is, and if you are a certain personality type. It is not plug and play like digital, valuable records and your cartridge are easily trashed if you are not careful.

This is no different than learning how to drive stick and the clutch is your cartridge ....so ......are you prepared to destroy a $100 cartridge or a $2000 cartridge.

For this reason I would recommend (consider it a loaner setup) to get your feet wet. If that proves enjoyable ...go from there. Have your dealer set up a decent rig in your room and use it for a few weeks. Then you can decide if it is really for you.

With Vinyl Setup

A $3000 (table, tonearm, cart - phono stage ) set up well, will out perform a much more expensive set up that is not set up well.

Is your listening room on a suspended floor ?

Is your existing audio setup full range. Goes to 20 hz.

These two factors introduce more complications with vinyl since how the signal starts is with vibrations, resonances, .....stylus in the groove.

My 2 cents. Just some thoughts over coffee this morning. Good Luck with whatever you decide. .

I will be blunt, I want to be that guy in the Memorex ad from the 80’s that is
getting blown away by his system (my impression is he is overwhelmed by the amazing sound coming from that speaker not the volume).

that guy is listening to tape :^)

my impression is that guy is in a very hot room because there is a fan blowing to the left of the speaker (out of view)

hah hah

Does your existing digital not give you this experience now ?

(race prepped 993 here)
I think the point of diminishing returns moves along a spectrum, depending on the rest of your system, how "dialed in" it is (which is something that takes time after living with various components and getting the most out of them) and the nature of your record collection.
In the '80s, I had a Well-Tempered Turntable which, at the time, gave a huge amount of performance for the money and it was fine with a first class cartridge over a system with limited bandwidth and dynamics (Quad electrostats). When I moved to a bigger, wider bandwidth system, I changed to a more conventional, substantial table- a Kuzma Reference with Triplanar arm and a selection of good cartridges. But the revelation, for me, was upgrading that Kuzma for the XL (a high mass table) and the same manufacturer's air bearing arm (using the same cartridges), which made the following differences:
less sense of a turntable playing- no 'halo' around the sound or other artifacts that tell you a reproducing mechanism is in play;
deeper, more natural bass- sounded more like instruments than just low frequencies.
This is most obvious on good sounding records- not the "audio porn" which can sound spectacular for "demo" purposes. Once you start playing music you like rather than stuff that shows off your system, you'll hear a big difference between different records and different pressings of the same record- some will sound far flatter and lifeless in presentation than others.  When you listen to a wide variety of different records, you get a different baseline than just "demo" testing gear on a few impressive sounding records. I think this is where the differences in front end start to be revealed: not differences in overt colorations, but the ability to extract more information from the record without having an analytical sound (the reason, I think, why most vinyl lovers cling to the medium). But, the big variable, all other things being equal (which they never are)* is often the records at that point. 

*The turntable/arm/cartridge/phono stage combination is probably the hardest to audition in the process of buying, since there are so many variables and so few opportunities to make direct comparisons. 
You'll never be satisfied.  The guy in the Memorex ad is an illusion.  There are better turntables, cartridges and phono stages then what is being recommended for you by the dealer.  If you know they exist, then you'll want to experience them.  That's the real game.

At a practical level you'll also need a very good equipment rack.  Then there's RCMs and after that the endless chase for the best sounding pressings.  It's my observation from reading the forum's that the difference between experienced audiophiles and neophytes is that the old hands know when enough is enough.  You'll probably have to learn that lesson for yourself.
whart, excellent discussion of the journey! What you describe very closely matches my experience, also.
mmporsche--That is a great value that Rushton mentioned for the Walker table. IMO, not sure there would be a better value out there for that type of price, but that is just another opinion. I do also agree with many others who commented on the weak link approach to your system. I have found many vendors over the years who let you "use" equipment  to test or try in your own system. Nothing like doing and A vs B in your own setup. I wont mention names as some people on the site dont like others getting free publicity, but i really enjoyed comparing in my own setup and room. Also, as Rushton highlighted, the selection, care and cleaning of your vinyl becomes a necessity once you get to the reference level. Nothing like losing the benefits because your records are dirty, worn, etc. 
The main advice is enjoy the ride cause the trip never ends!
I hope you are relatively young, and I hope you have the wisdom to pretty much ignore all this advice.  Except mine, of course.  Start low and slow and listen carefully at each step in your system development.  Add and then take away in order to get a bead on what does what.  It takes several years to gain a command of the hobby and of how to get where you want to go, and only you can do the work. It doesn't hurt to learn something about electronics and acoustics along the way.  Read books.

Basic questions: Do you think you prefer tube devices or solid state? Turntables typically employ one of 3 types of drive systems: Belt, Idler, and Direct.  Each of these types of drive system imparts a certain characteristic sound; decide which you prefer.  Etc.  I would definitely NOT start out by investing in expensive power cords, as you mentioned above.  Just make sure your power cords are better than lamp cord and are of relatively thick gauge (For example, Loew's sells 12-gauge power cord that many say sounds great for very little money), and then worry about the rest.
Wow, where do I begin? Lots of responses overnight. 

Don, I am not stupid, ugly, yes. I have even mastered a manual transmission and my daily driver is a 993 C2S. I grew up around a professional recording studio my father owned. I can choose from over 5k albums in his collection. I prefer quality over quantity. I have owned a number of TTs in my life, I am seeking my first hi end table. I currently have a $5k analog setup. 

I have invested more than $70K in my base setup with Voxativ 211 tube amp, Voxativ 9.87 loudspeakers, PS Audio Direct stream DAC with Bridge II, PS Audio P5 power, upgraded ICs and power cords, however, that is my next focus after the analog rig. That and some room treatments. 

For cleaning records I just bought a KLaudio unit. This will help me properly clean any records from my father's collection as well as new ones. 
All I can say is its much higher if you have an interest in turntables themselves as much as listening to music. Many factors go into the sound and the options are endless. You can take it as far as you want for as long as you want. It takes time and knowledge as much as money.

Whereas if teh goal is to just enjoy the music, diminishing returns will come sooner and cheaper most likely.

The answer lies mostly with what one looks to get out of the hobby. For some, the returns will never diminish. For others, much much sooner.

You have a good quality ultrasonic record cleaner......that’s huge!  No rig can make up for dirty or poor quality records.
Inna, I have access to three Otari reel to reel machines, one of which I plan to bring into my system. We will have to stay in touch. What other sources exist for material other than the tape project?
Actually RTR should be capable of setting the reference standard for sound. Then you can try to approach it with vinyl but will probably never happen. Hi res digital might have a chance.

You mean PBN / VPI DD GrooveMaster :-)  We make these in many different configurations  The one you mention above is owned by a friend of mine.


Above link to the BeltDrive units we make using parts sourced form VPI  and others.

Working on some very cool turntables currently - making 3 GrooveMaster Vintage Direct DP7 Custom - these are for Lyra and will be fitted with the Swedish SAT tonearm as the main arm and a SME 310 or a Custom Origin Live tonearm as the secondary arm.

There is also 3 of the GrooveMaster Vintage Direct DN308 in the works, these use the Denon DN308 Commercial grade Turntables as donors. They will be made into tabletop versions (the DN 308 is a console)  and will be fitted with SME312S or SME V12 tonearms.  


Good Listening

"Rushton,The fun doesn't stop with purchasing the turntable. Now you have to work on the details to get the best sound from it."

I agree with you on this, the last bit is in the details.

mmporsche, I saw you bought a KL Audio record cleaner, which is a great thing to own if you listen to a lot of records. One other thing that you should address is a base for your turntable. Given the amount of money you are spending I recommend you get a Vibraplane or Minus K platform. I have a Vibraplane, purchased through Sounds of Silence, and it or the Minus K make a real difference for any turntable. Either is about $2,000 to $3,000 and is a worthwhile addition. 

This ''point'' start by your first ''improved component'' and does

not end till you find some other, more important, hobby.

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Don, I think we did our best to accomodate you. Perhaps you should take your own advice and go somewhere else.
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@rushton  please contact me regarding the Walker table, I don't see it on Agon classified.  michaelmartincolorado at g mail dot com
This is funny, everyone is prepared to spend your money-LOL.

$25K is healthy budget. My only advice is to listen to as much equipment as you can understanding that you will never duplicate the environment- so you only get the shadings of the illusion you will create.

 I have close to $50K in a front end that also includes the Io from Aesthetix and folks on some forums would chuckle at the modest investment I have.

There is no end it is a black hole.

Many would also consider the Io the worst possible choice of technology for the purpose of amplifying signals in the thousandth of a volt range.

I don't know your age or your inclination for being handy but take that into consideration when you make your decision. Vinyl is a serious commitment to maintain and adjust the hardware and to seek, clean and rate the iterations of software. 

You want to the equipment to be removed from the equation in terms of reliability and maintenance. The nature of the vinyl reproduction chain is that there is no "1" and "0" the adjustments and permutations are endless in terms of set up and tweaking.

I don't want to deal with airlines, drain lines, springy suspensions and the influences of some mad scientist who produces pieces in his garage with tolerances that are suspect. I've been through the air bearing tables and arms, magnetic levetators and stabilizers, flywheels and magnetic tape belts.You need to consider the quirks of some designs and balance the workload and any sonic benefit from them against that work put against their use.

Moving to a high mass stable turntable with impeccable machining from aircraft type materials on a solid platform made a big difference. I also believe that wood and plexiglass don't belong as part of  a precision instrument- just me.

Having said all that, its a hobby- so have fun and don't listen to a guy that does not want to futz with a turntable but has over 30 tubes in his system with lines across the floor  traveling to his electrostatic speakers carrying several thousand volts- never mind :)

I directly compared the rhea signature with the Herron and much preferred the Herron. It's cheaper too!  Worth checking out. 
After watching YouTube videos of the Walker it looks sweet, however, I don’t have the room for the large compressors and tubes. I want to find the balance of great sound and convenience. That is why I bought the KL Audio cleaner - cleans both sides - no fuss, no muss. I am willing to clean a record but I don’t want to spend more time preparing to listen than listening.

Analogluvr, I will see if I can find the Herron, sounds interesting.