19th Nervous Breakdown...

Here I sit on the fence again, trying to decide whether it's worth it to shatter my budget one more time, wondering if the sonic differences between the following gear justifies the sacrifices necessary to pay the toll.

Should I live on beanie weanies and cheap beer for a good while and spring for a Basis 1400 or 2001 table with a decent arm, cartridge and phono stage for about $3K, or do I "settle" for one of the Regas, a P3 or P25, or one of the Music Halls for less than half that, upgrade my diet, and buy a few albums to boot?

I realize that this is in some ways a hopeless and hedonistic calculus, and that there may be no "right" answer. But I suppose what I am looking for are the opinions of those who have traveled the upgrade path and already paid the price. Was it worth it? How would you describe the sonic differences in moving up to that next level?

If you were starting over and COULD manage to stretch your budget to $3K or even $3.5K, what would YOU buy (entire rig, including phono stage, and, of course, buying used)? Or would you go for one of the "entry' level, non-upgradable units and be happy with it?

I have a good collection of albums from my mid-fi days, and I have a pretty good system (First Sound/Bel Canto EVO 200.2 monos/Vienna Acoustics Beethovens), so I do have an interest in more than 'dabbling'.

I have already received a LOT of help on this site and I appreciate every bit of it. There are many friendly and helpful folks around here. I am very happy with the system I have built so far.

Now if I can settle this analog business, I can relax for awhile and just enjoy the music. So what will it be, oh audio gurus, a VPI, Basis, or Oracle table, or a Rega, Music Hall, or Thorens table? Which arm? Which cartridge? Which phono stage?

Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated. I wish I were in a position to audition this gear, but I'm not.

thank you all...

i have seen some good deals on vpi hw series tables here. i think that would be the trick. i recently did the same thing and have never been happier. i bought a vpi hw19m3 it came with the old sds and fr64fx arm for 900$ i put a shelter 501m2se cart 800$ and a arc ph3 phono stage for 900$. it was a good rig...(i upgraded the phono stage to a joule electra.....big difference....much more money).

well recorded lps are much better than any cd; sacd or dvda.
why do you think they say the 20k players are almost as good an vinyl????

always imo

good luck
One word: "Tubes"...
I travelled the upgrade path and tubes is where it's at. Of course it's worth it! But if you're short on cash, the best thing to do is stay away from this site and enjoy your system as it is. And definitely avoid the rags too.
But if you want to move forward, definitely upgrade the source.
I remain very biased when it comes to my analog front ends. Oracle made some awesome 'tables, if you can find a Delphi Mark IV or Mark V, buy it. Best, Jeff
I had a P3 with a Talisman (HO MC)with an Acurus P10 phono pre and solved the upgrade dilema by upgrading the pre to an Audible Illusions M3A w/ the optional MC phono section (used, $1400)and hooked up a Well Tempered Classic ($900, used)with a Benz LO.4 (used, $500). Any single upgrade would have yielded significant improvements in clarity, quietness and dynamics. Collectively, this seems to be all I could want, short of going hungry. Well worth the extra $$, and to no small degree. As my non-audiophile brother-in-law said (after sitting in dis-belief that he was listening to a record), "It's so....CLEAR!"

The P3 with a good MC cartridge would be a great start, though. It would be relatively easy to sell the P3 later when it's time to upgrade and keep the cartridge for the new table.

#1 Can YOU hear the difference??? Many of the so called upgrades require a refined sonic palatte. Don't get caught in the upgrade to what everybody else thinks is best, or thinks you should have.

#2 What shape is your vinyl in?? What does it justify in terms of cost?? Then don't forget the record cleaning system, and all the other goodies that send you over budget.
With a $3000 budget I would consider the Teres or Redpoint kit. Those two seem to offer genuinely high returns for your hard earned dollar, and that is something seldom offered nowadays.
If it was me I'd buy the better turntable. Food isn't that big of a deal. And with audio to me, alot of the better/best stuff is only the standard to just keep me listening, not even necessarily thrill me. When I had to buy a tuner, just because I didn't have one and wanted to listen to the radio, I knew anything less than a grand probably wasn't going to do it for me. I wasn't going to go for the top-of-the-line Magnum Dynalab, or a Day Sequerra, or the Linn Kremlin (although there was one up for bid at a *very* attractive price), partly because I knew I couldn't give it an antenna to do it justice, so the Fanfare was the only option (it seemed better than the comparable Magnums). I wouldn't've liked the cheaper tuner though, I don't think. That's just me though.
VPI has a new table out that resembles the Aries which I own - it is a bit smaller but looks really nice and retails new with the new JMW 9.5 tonearm for 1500. I saw it debuting in the latest MusicDirect brochure. It is called the Scout.
New: a big Pro-ject w/arm + Benz Glider or similar, OR, VPI scout (as ljgj above), OR, small Clearaudio w/arm. Used: many choices, Oracle (as per Jeff above), smaller VPI's, big Thorens w/ SME arm... ...many choices out there, at least these should cost less than 3k. Other cartridges to consider (new)are the cheaper Clearaudio, Ortofon and a superbe Denon (can't remember the number -- but it's a very popular model). Cheers
For $3500 on the used market you should be able to buy a great rig. Whatever you buy, consider that the table itself will have the greatest impact on sound quality, then the arm and last, the cartridge. It has been my philosophy to put most of the money there and worry about upgrading the arm and cartridge later (and tweaks, gimmicks etc, later yet).

A few other tips:
1. be careful with used cartridges.
2. where the phono stage goes in the pecking order is difficult to say. I bought a nice phono stage to use with a low output mc cartridge. But my integrated amp has a mm phono stage and, in retrospect, I would have done better to use that with a decent mm or high output mc cartridge and put the money into the table. Oh well. Others may disagree, but I believe that the pecking order should be: table, arm, phono stage, cartridge.
3. Tweaks: don't waste money on expensive alignment tools - you can sometimes get them free on the web. Demagnetizers, clamps, etc can wait. But a good test record (Cardas makes one) is very useful.

good luck!
Don't forget to look at a Clearaudio Champion Level II from Brooklyn Audio. I recently ordered the table with the OL 250 arm and clearaudio cartridge. It is a wonderful system that matches well with my Sonic Frontiers preamp and LLano power amp with Straight wire connections all around and finally Apogee Stages. My phono preamp is the Creek moving magnet OB-8 (I think this is the right identification). Brooklyn Audio's Jody Crane is very knowledgeable and helpful. I encourage you to contact them. Email is:
jody.crane@ns.sympatico.ca Brooklyn Audio is also a showcase dealer on audiogon. I know you can get the same setup as I have for less than $3,000. Cory
Basis 1400 turntable = $1400 retail
Graham Robin tonearm = $800 retail
Benz ACE (0.4 mV output) cartridge = $550 retail
MS Phonomena phono preamplifier = $600 retail

TOTAL = $3340 retail

If you buy this whole package from an authorized MS dealer, you could probably get it all new/sealed for 20% off retail, which would be about $2672. If you're not in the same city as the dealer and he ships it to you, you won't even have to pay sales tax. Heck, you might even be able to talk him into free shipping.

I don't know of a better setup for the money. You'd even have about $325 left to go out and buy some more records.
My audiophile experience has led me to conclude that the mid-level audiophile stuff is not worth the incremental cost. Either stay at the Rega level or spring for big bucks at the VPI Aries/JWM level, or higher. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that there is not some sonic improvement to be had between these two levels, but in my opinion it's not worth the money. You'll only get somewhat better performance, but you'll eventually want to upgrade again. Very cost ineffective. The Rega is a very good quality component. You might also consider a used Well-Tempered. Also, don't skimp on the phono stage. The EAR 834 is an excellent piece. Best of luck.
May I suggest the following:
Michell Gyro SE
Origin Live RB250 (I think there is one for sale here)
I forgot to mention the Aragon 47k phono stage used cheap.
Analog is one of those areas where money unquestionably buys real improvement. That said, you have to listen and decide what it's worth to you. My general advice is to remember that it's the music that moves you, not the reproduction of music. You don't need VPI to hear what Beethoven is saying. VPI just brings you a little closer to the concert hall experience.
We are going through the same thing and at about the same time I might add.

I am searching and researching my options to get into analog and am running into the issue of what direction to go in.

Assuming that you have not already committed to an analog rig, I would recommend that you consider the Michell Orbe SE MKII turntable. Not that there is anything wrong with Basis TT's but, I don't think you can get a new Basis 2001 for less then 3K anyway.

The reason I tell you to put the majority of funds in the table is that it's the most expensive and difficult part to upgrade.

If you buy a budget table like a rega or Basis 1400 then if your like me, two months later you will want to upgrade to something better. This will end up as a hidden additional cost. You won't feel it because your not spending the money upfront, but you will in the long run.

The reason I say this is that I considered the Rega myself, but through my research I discovered that they do not have a suspension and are therefore very sensitive to placement. They use small belts which act to couple the motor and its noise more directly to the platter. The platter does not have the same level of dampening as the Michell ORBE. On a positive note they are less expensive, have consistent build quality and come with a good stock tonearm. If cost is the major factor, I would recommend the REGA. Its good, comes with a tonearm and a P3 or P25 won't kill your wallet. Its better than not having a turntable at all.

The Basis is a good table, but again the 1400 has no suspension system. I believe that the 2100 is the entry level unit that gives you a fluid damped suspension. It better for the price. However, if you compare the BASIS 2100 to the Michell ORBE I think that while both offer good suspension systems and dampening. I feel the Michell edges out the Basis 2100. I believe that the Motor on the ORBE is better than the one that comes with the Basis 2100. If your going to spend this kind of money than you owe it to yourself to check out the ORBE.

The basis certainly seems to be more popular among audiogon members. I am not sure why this is the case.

Good luck
Gboren, have to respectfully disagree. I feel the arm/cartridge has the most effect on the sound.
As an example, a friend has a Nottingham Spacedeck/Space Arm combination (list $2500) with a Grado Reference Platinum cartridge ($300). Sounds very good with his Sonic Frontiers Phono Pre, SF LS 3, Audio Aero Capitole amp (yes amp, and it's terrific), and Von Schweikert VR-7s.

I took over a SME V/Dynavector Karat 17D2 MkII and a Graham 2.2/Lyra Helikon SL. These arm/cartridge cowbinations work very well together, a critical consideration IMHO, and each lists for quite a bit more than my friend's total analog rig. Swapping these in for his Space/Grado combo gave dramatically better sonic results, truly a different level. Did my arms/cartridges sound as good on the Spacedeck as on my Oracle V? No, but we agreed the difference was not as great as the step up in arms and cartridges.
Grandpad, I'd be curious to know how his Space Arm sounded on your Oracle V.

I'm much obliged for all the good advice, folks. At the moment, I am sort of leaning toward a Nottingham Spacedeck with a OL modified Rega 250 arm and one of the Dynavector cartridges. As for phono stages, maybe the Phonomena or Lehman's Black Cube. Of course, I'll be scouring the used ads. I'm not sure yet about the tonearm, but I'm leaning pretty heavily in the direction of the Spacedeck/Dynavector combo.

Of course, I want to have it both ways--quality and affordability. This path would seem to keep me under budget, where the higher end Basis, VPI, and Oracle rigs will not, while, at the same time, allowing me to take a step up from the Regas and Music Halls.

Once again, I'd appreciate your comments on this plan. Does anyone see any fatal flaws here, or perhaps a better way to go? Your friendly neighborhood neophyte needs your help.

Thanks again, everyone.
I think you are on the right track. I bought a Rega25. Wish I got a Spacedeck.
Gboren, I understand where you're coming from and it's a very legitimate question. Unfortunately I can't answer it because I don't have an Oracle mounting plate that will work with the Space arm. My Graham has a SME mounting base rather than the Graham mounting clamp so I can interchange on my Oracle. And we had a Nottingham SME-style pod to use with the Spacedeck.

I think the Space arm would probably sound better on the Oracle than the Spacedeck (at least it had better given the price difference!), although I don't think it's a particularly good arm, nor would it be a good match for the moving coil cartridges that I prefer. However, I was quite impressed with the Spacedeck and think it's a strong contender at its price point, and probably above.

If you have a Space mounting plate for an Oracle I'll be happy to run the comparasion and report back!
Hi Walter

Don't worry about food. There are so many organizations willing to help out that you'll never have to worry about eating cheap food let alone going hungry. I would however be concerned about going the cheap beer route, what will the rubbish collector think?

I recently upgraded my analog rig after living many years with one of the original SOTA Sapphire's, chosen over a Rega, big improvement at the time. The extra money spent, after pondering the decision for weeks, brought me many years of satisfaction and I'm really glad I did it. Food on the other hand comes and goes, if you know what I mean. I would stretch the budget as far as my uncle would allow and in the long run, my guess is, you will be glad you did.

A cheap DAC competing with the better ones is realistic, more hype than substantive in my experience. A cheap analog rig competing with the next step or two up is a pipe dream. It is one area where money REALLY buys big improvements. Take this from one who always has both hands and at least one eye on the wallet :) GO FOR IT but also, don't neglect buying the albums. You'll just have to hunt out the garage and estate sales to get them. You'll probably end up with more music and maybe even a new hobby. Happy listening and best to you.
I don't doubt your experience with your friend's table and your arms. I just thought that the best music reproduction starts from the best source. In the mechanical chain of processes that is a turntable, the rotation mechanism is primary and the pickup mechanism is secondary. The best pickup mechanism cannot restore a signal degraded by the rotation mechanism.

I would be willing to make a small wager that Oracle/Space Arm combo sounds better than the Spacedeck/Graham or SME combo. Unfortunately, I just sold my Space Arm/Oracle mounting plate to my cousin, so I guess we'll never know!
Having an SME arm on a Spacedeck with a Dynavector ruby 1702 I would have to say it sounds damn good,and for the price difference for an Oracle(which no longer exist and there customer service even when they were around was less than desirable) you would be hard pressed to justify the price difference.I certainly think the tonearm is equaly as important as the mechanical end of the TT.Bottom line,the quality of all the parts counts on a TT ,and the proper matching of arms and cartridge make all the difference in the world.
Gboren, guess will have to agree to disagree. There's no absolute right or wrong here, just personal opinions/experiences.

Personally, I would define source as the cartridge in this context, then matching it with an arm that gets the most out of it. The turntable must, obviously, meet at least a minimum standard so as not to introduce colorations, etc. Actually as far as turntables are considered are considered, I think a critical consideration is whether you go for a suspended one or not, which leads one into how/or where you are going to place it to insulate from vibration. This can lead into the wonderful world of intertubes, sandboxes, concrete pillars, wall shelves, etc.

Great hobby isn't it? It's a wonder we have time to listen to music!
Walter, your plan is well considered, but the point I was trying to make earlier is that stretching to upgrade now will prove more costly in the long run. Looking at the general quality of your system (which is quite high), I suspect that you will quickly want to upgrade again above the Spacedeck/Dynavector/Black Cube level. My advice is to keep it cheap now while planning and budgeting for a "serious" setup later. What I'm really saying is that the sonic differences between the baseline Rega and the Spacedeck is less than the difference between the Spacedeck and a VPI Aries. Of course, one could argue that the added enjoyment of the Spacedeck now will outweigh the added cost of the future upgrade. As you said in your original post, there is no correct answer. Good luck.
Upon reflection, I'm not quite sure we disagree any more. While I would probably still use the upgrade strategy of getting a great table and worry about the arm upgrade later, I am no longer convinced that the strategy is at all linear (ie, table>arm>cartridge).
Gboren, I think you're right, I don't think we're really that far apart at all. Besides, I've found these friendly debates are educational as long as we're not rigid in our points of view.

While you are obviously a vinylphile, I did order the 2 xrcds you recommended on another thread (Black Pearls and Sunday at the Village Vanguard), so we're both jazz fans - Coltrane is my absolute favorite.

BTW, did you decide on an arm for you LP12? If so, which cartridge did you mate with it? The Helikon SL is a recent acquisition and superceded the Koetsu Onyx, my long time favorite. Can be used with a wider variety of arms than the Onyx. Mates well with the Graham. Don't know whether it's the "best" with the LP12, but Bob offers an armboard for it so it must be doable. His proprietary alignment system is slick.

If you live anywhere near eastern Long Island, drop by and we can continue the debate, along with some music, wine and a swim (not necessarily in the order).
Gee Grandpad, Thanks for the invite! Unfortunately, I live in Michigan so I'll have to take a rain check.

I haven't decided yet what to do, but I am pretty sure I'm going to keep the Linn and just upgrade the arm. Possibly a Graham or Ekos II depending on what's available on the used market.
Gboren, which cartridge are you going to use - the Graham is a great piece. Haven't used the Ekos.
I'm using a Benz-Micro Glider L2. I also decided on an Ekos II I located. The graham was tempting, but it would also require a new armboard. I'm getting the Ekos for about $1200 less and I can pop it right in to where my Akito was.
Here's another angle. Rather than looking out for the gear, try finding a vinyl expert or a good vinyl dealer in your area. They will often have really good old gear that has been abandoned in an upgrade and are now not worth much, but can have fantastic sound if they were properly cared for and serviced. Set up is also a key. Its also worth keeping in mind the main problem of vinyl, which is that you cant get all the records you want, and if you go second hand you can get some nasty surprises.

If you want to go new I would also consider the eurolab premier.