Advice wanted on mid range setup


Having heard an SME 30 setup blow away a DCS elgar digital at Sound by Singer last year, I am finally ready to get back into analog. (BTW, it was an all out assualt: All boulder electronics, into the JM labs grand utopia using a chesky reissue lp against the same recording on CD. It only took about 10 seconds to come to the conclusion, it was by no means a sublte difference)
My idea was to see if I could find software, stating this weekend. So far, after 2 days of hunting, I have about 70 lps. Cost: Zero.

People will just give this stuff away, amazing. So, I am humbly asking the advice of the analog denziens here for ideas on a rig that will be of matching performance to the rest of my system.

Currently, I have ARC electronics (LS16 MK2, VT100 MK3, CD), running through audioquest cabling (diamond X3 silver balanced interconnects, Caldera Biwire for the speakers) Speakers are Martin Logan Ascents and room treatment is by ASC

I Would like to spend an upper limit of $7,000, including phono stage (tubes, if possible), arm, TT, cartidge, and interconnects. I would be looking for used stuff here on Audiogon, with the possible exception of the cartridge. I have some reservations about buying a pre owned cartridge: is this a valid fear?

Thanks in advance for all you help.
Even though most people know what I'm going to say, I'll recommend the Teres turntables again.

I still feel that they are the best for the money, and the higher level models are pushing the envelope, and approaching the best analog sound available.

For your budget, I'd recommend a Teres 255 or 265 turntable. These are $2800 and $3700, respectively, brand new. You could select from a wide array of tonearms, but again I think that the Origin Live tonearms are great arms at reasonable cost. You could get an OL Encounter arm for $1295 new, or even an OL Illustrious arm for about $2k new. Probably the Encounter would suit your budget better. It is a great sounding arm. Of course, I'd suggest a Shelter 501 to go along with it. Excellent match, and superb sound for the money. Only $800 new. There are only a handful of cartridges that can beat it, and they all cost alot more. It'll need about 65db gain in the phono stage, plus about the 15db gain in your linestage. Use a tube phono stage if possible. If you like the ARC, I think you can get one in your price range, after buying all this other stuff. If you could step up to a used Aesthetix IO, then you'd have it made.

Regarding buying used cartridges, it is probably safe in many cases, but since you can get a killer cartridge for only $800 new, I don't really think it is worth the risk of buying used.

I think you might be very surprised at how the analog rig I described above, compares to the SME 30 you heard. I wouldn't have any hesitation in comparing them head-to-head. It would definitely be firmly in the high end category, not mid-range, as your thread title states. And it is all brand new.

I'd also strongly suggest a record cleaning machine, if the budget permits. This will solve the problems of record noise that accompanies many used records. Of course, the wear and scratches will still be there, but many of the pops are just dirt. You'll want one eventually.
Thanks for the ideas, I have been following some threads here and the Teres seems to come up a lot. Question: 65 db of gain seems like an awful lot to ask of tubes, I assume that careful selection of the actual tubes is a big consideration, microphonics and such must really come up as a big issue here. I can here the voice of Doug Frey, one of my EE professors at Lehigh, "take as much gain up front as you possibly can..."

The ARC ph3 seems to be the one in my price range, but that has only 54 db of gain. I will have to look into the Aesthetix model.

Your professor is correct. Get the gain up front, for the lowest noise floor.

You will need to have good, quiet tubes in the phono stage. That is a must.
I bought a used Linn LP-12 with Ekos, etc. 2200
New T Kable 400
New Lyra Argo 1200
Mana Stands (part new part used) 650
NOS Mullards for my Rogue phono 300

So I guess I have 4800 wrapped up into this new/old habit. And I am psyched. It sounds fabulous.

If I were to buy an outboard phono, I'd probably go for an Aesthetix Rhea at 4K. If I weren't a tube guy for my pre, I'd consider a Linn Linto, as it matches well with the LP-12.

With all due respect to TWL who knows a ton about all things analog, I don't see how you are going to get into a Teres rig with a 901 and an Aesthetix phono stage for under 10k. Maybe I'm missing something, but the IO alone will blow your budget, even used.

Good luck and have fun.

Rlips--you can most certainly use the ARC PH-3, because you add its gain to that already provided by your preamp. You will be fine with the PH-3. Used they are about $900. I use that phono pre with a BAT VK-30SE, but previously used it with an ARC LS-15--plenty of gain for a medium output moving coil.
Rbirke, I suggested a 501, and that the IO would require a stretch of budget. They can be had for about $2700 used, if you look for awhile. You are right, it would cost considerably more than his budget. But it would be a one time buy, and he'd be set.

And if he selected the Teres 255 instead of the 265, he'd save $900 right there and still get a hell of a good table. Heck, my 245 is a hell of a good table, and a 255 is better than that! A 255, OL Encounter, Shelter 501 rig would be only $4900 retail. This would leave $2100 for the phono stage, which is only about $600 shy of getting a good used IO. I think we are getting pretty close.

If he could get a dealer to cut him a 10% discount on the arm/cart combo, then he'd only be about $400 shy of the IO. If I know audiophiles like I think I know audiophiles, the $400 hurdle is capable of being overcome. I know I was willing to eat hot dogs for awhile to get my new amp!
Can't improve on TWL, but you might have the pace of acquisition or playing to use Disc Doctor's manual system of terry cloth, purified water, miracle cleaner and brushes until you want to spend more for a machine cleaner. And dont forget the Last preservative to cut friction and noise.
Ya know, $400 is what, 5% of 7k? Seriously, I don't think it would be a stretch to tell my wife I came in on budget. If +/- 5% is good enough for the electric utility, it's good enough for me.

Still wondering about the ARC PH3, seems like the 54db is just on the shy side for .4mV output.
You could get away with 60db for your .4mv cart. 54db is too low- it will sound distant. I am using 64db at 15k loading with my .35mv cart into the LS-25mk1. The LS-25 is set at 18db gain and this is just about right. It is a much better synergy to have proper gain in the phonostage than apply excessive gain in the linestage. The dynamics and information lost can't be recovered. There is a limit to the amount of voltage input before clipping- that the LS16 can handle. The set-up I use just brushes up against that threshold- so be aware of that.

Thanks for your ideas, i agree, i want to take as much gain as possible in the phono stage. Any one have any recommendations for very high gain, affordable (1 to 2 k used) tubed phono stages? Or will the very high gain part rule out use of tubes? (gasp)

What is the conventional wisdom about step up transformers?

(BTW, the LS16 will probably become and LS25 in the future, but after i get the analog rig)

thanks again,

Let's visualize for .4mV cartridge to find an interface between LS16(22dB gain, 120mV input sencitivity)...
After short calculations it figures that the output from discussed PH3 phonostage will be slightly less than 180mV it's not sufficient since there are different levels and even traction speed throughout the record surface may make the cartridge voltage vary one way or the other with sacrifice to detail and dynamics.
If you can get away with used SS Pass X ono or Pass Aleph ono with Twl's sugested the rest of analogue setup than you will have some extra left from your budget to buy records.
The problem I beleive that you have allready addressed that seams to get overlooked is the output of the MC cartridge verses the phono stage output. For a ph3 w/ 53db gain and say a .5MV MC cartridge it is pushing it. I know allot of fellow audiogoner`s will argue that issue. My settup .8MV Benz Ruby H / BAT vkp-5 56db gain and I feel I need more gain. Im going to step up to Aesthetix Rhea 4K new. 40 to75 db gain, load 75-47k 9 settings all from the front panel.
I know you are thinking 7K for the whole settup, there has been a few great tables disscussed so I won`t get into that issue. Keeping in mind when you listened at Sound By Singer the signal was going the 28K Boulder the best phono stage available today. I personaly feel the phono stage is the heart of the anolog settup don`t skimp on the phono stage. David
this analogue demo you heard(. sme, etc.)is by no means normal.... and basing an important purchase on a chesky audiophile recording is not a good idea, no matter which format sounds better. audition at home before you buy anything!
I am always amazed by the drastic statements made by people like you with no real basis of fact. This is a very impulsive statement you are making - based on what, maybe a half an hour of listening. I am not saying you are wrong, what I am saying is you don't have enough information to base your statement on. Do what you want. By the way what are you going to purchase from Sound by Singer? Or do you think they are there for people like you to waist there time.
Jjmali, having a bad day?
Jrd351 and Jjmali,
The man heard what he heard. If he listens to my sytem he'll hear it again. It doesn't take half an hour to hear the superiority of a good analog rig, half a minute might be enough. As to the choice of music auditioned, who are we to say? Surely he knows his own tastes.

I can add little to Twl's recommendation, which will give you an immensely satisfying rig that is much better than mid-level, and much handsomer than an SME! My Twl-ophiled analog front end also cost about $7K, see my system for details.

I chose stepup transformers because I already had a MM phono stage in my preamp. I am very happy with the BentAudio stepups: variable loading and enough gain to bury all tube noise. Strongly recommended. Even some well regarded tube MC phono stages like the $4K Aesthetix Rhea are admitted to be a bit noisy. I might keep the stepups even if I had one of those.
Dougdeacon good point if all he is going to listen to is the chesky reisue lp. I wonder why he wanted 70 copies of it (so far). Happy listening to him and you. By the way I'm having a great day. By the way again, I am enjoying my vinyl collection again on a modest denon dp 52f with a new shure m5.
If you do not think the PH-3 will provide enough gain for your cartridge, then consider the Linn Linto, available for about $1100 used. 60 dB of gain, DEAD quiet, no tubes though. Still, I used it for a while in my system before returning to the PH-3 and was very impressed with its sound.
Wow! "I am always amazed by the drastic statements made by people like you with no real basis of fact"

People like me? How do you know what I am "like?"

Regarding Sound by Singer, we went in with no pre tenses whatsoever. My brother in law had purchased some equipment from them in the past, and, as we were in the neighboorhood, we stopped by. We got into a great discussion with Mike about the merits of digital vs. analog. I clearly told him that I was not going to buy anything that day, and told him the content of my system.

Mike seemed to have time, and he suggested that we go all the way to the back room. At that point, it was three music lovers, talking about music, equipment, and life in general. He seemed very enthusiastic about doing the comparison.

Now, maybe this was all just good salesmanship, but, having 94 sales people in my employ, I do believe that he was geniunely enthusuastic about this. I mentioned that we were taking up a lot of time, and he very emphatically stated that he was having just as much fun as we were.

As far as reference to live music goes, a little background: I have two degrees, one in Electrical Engineering, the other in music literature. I studied trumpet with the Empire Brass quintet in Tanglewood, and been going to live concerts for over 20 years.

Three days before the demo, I was in the audience at Carnege hall, listening to a live orchestra.

Being an engineer, I had long ago just assumed that digital had to be better, as the numbers are superior. I did NOT want to consider that I would be getting into an old, non mainstream medium.

I know what I heard: the analog sounded more like a real orchestra. Period. Believe me, I would rather spend the 7k on more cd's, but, I know what I heard.

Also, I am aware of the obvious fact that what I heard was not "normal". I have since heard other analog rigs, and confirmed the virtues. Maybe not on the same level, but enough to carefully decide that a well purchased used rig here on audiogon is an experiment worth doing.

Anyway, aside from your two posts, people here have been very helpful. It seems as the synergy between components is the most important issue, especially the gain issue.

Another question: Is there any technical reason why the "better" cartridge have such low output? Is the idea to keep the coils as small as possible so as to have the lowest moving mass? Are there any very nie cartrides that might have higher output?

Thanks again
Rlips, you are correct in your perception that the low output moving coil cartridges do better, due to the lower moving mass of the smaller coils.

The answer to your other question is primarily no, but there could be some proponents of a radically different cartridge design originally pioneered by Decca. It is a very high output design which can use an ordinary MM input level. It uses no cantilever. These types of cartridges are still made today by Decca and Ikeda. I cannot advise you as to whether you will like them or not. They have a particular sonic signature which is very forward, and some would say "in your face". Some claim them to be the most dynamic and natural. It is a preference matter.

For the most part, the general consensus is that the low output MC cartridges give best sound. However, you can get too low, so that no readily available phono stage will play the cartridge. Generally it is advisable to stay above 0.2mv to ensure phono stage compatibility with at least some phono stages. Or you could use a step up transformer to bridge the gap, which is what I do.

One other note of interest. There is a definite difference in sound between the Japanese and European cartridges. My preference personally is strongly toward the Japanese sound, with cartridges such as Shelter, Koetsu, Denon, Miyabi, and the older Supex, Fidelity Research, etc. These are typically low compliance cartridges with pretty low output, and have the "Japanese sound", which I think is much more musical, on the whole. The European cartridges have very good specs, analytical detail, and often a lift in the high frequencies. Most of the Japanese cartridges I mentioned are loaded at around 100 ohms or below, and most of the Euro cartridges load at 47k ohm or thereabouts. To my ear the Euro cartridges tend to be too etched and analytical, at the expense of the "magic" that is often associated with Koetsu, but is present to some degree in the other cartridges from Japan that I mentioned. It is a personal preference matter, to be sure, but my preference is definitely in the Japanese cartridges of lower compliance.
Rlips, my point to my post was a simple one. You stated you based your judgment on a recording comparison of one particular recording you listened to on two different media formats. I don't know what your engineering degree and the number of concerts you have been to have to do with your conclusion. I have had the opportunity to listen to some pretty sophisticated turntable setups. I can tell you that the sound demonstrated by these did not approach what I get from my system on cd. The cd/sacd examples I can give you are: Diana Krall - Live in Paris, Norah Jones, Diana Krall - When I Look in Your Eyes (SACD), older recordings Al Dimeola, John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia - Friday Night in SF, Pink Floyd - The Wall (Japanese mini lp). There are many others I could mention. I have also heard vinyl that I prefer to the cd. Please keep in mind I am not saying that one is better than the other. I am happy that both are available. I told you my turntable setup before - very modest. The rest of my system is a Krell KRC preamp w/ KPE phono driving an FPB 300 amplifier. My speakers are B&W Nautilus 802. My digital is a Sony SCD-1. My cables are Monster Sigma Retro Speaker Cables, Monster Sigma Retro RCA's running from the Sony to the KRC. My power cables are Custom Audio, LLC w/ furtech ends. May you find the enjoyment in your system that I get from mine. Happy listening!

I specifically want to add that in old vinyl time only the first ones sounded real good. Reissues very often was sounding terrible. I know some ways to distinguish either by serial numbers or by jackets but I realy collect only originals. Reissues on CDs sounded even more terrible. Hence, my point of view in that case is to have ONLY originals and my truth is that I realy enjoy holding in my hands a large original UK issue of "The wall" with booklet, inserts and posters no matter wether it's better or worse sounding than japanese mini-lp.:-) Do you know that Led Zeppelin II original sounds very close to MFSL issue

One more hint: singers who sing for microphone are easy to record...
my comment to the post was not meant to be a knock on analogue....i just know that when you add any front end to your system,(particularly one that is thousands of dollars),its a good idea to listen to it on a trial basis in your own system with a lot of your favorite music...
On a positive, we are all very passionate about our hobby.
I want to thank all the posters who have given me constructive input here. As usual, it is of incalculable benifit to build on the body of knowledge, rather than plod along in isolation.

My stratagy, I think, will probably be to build from the cartridge (and the music collection) on up. I am fully aware that this is a SYSTEM, but one does need a starting point. The cartridge seems to dictate both the phono stage requirements as well as the arm requirements which in turn seem to hint at the type of TT to be used.

To those who seem to have a problem with the process that lead me to undertake this strange journey, I wish to point out that you miss the entire point of a forum like "Audiogon:" due to this community, I can buy and sell equipment with minimum financial penalty. That IS my in home trial!! Far more fair than "wasting a salesman's time with no intention of buying".

It is interesting to me that those who seem to find some fault with my desire to do this have 1) No sales feedback, 2) No systems posted, and 3) Have only recently joined our community.

That being said, I will now respectfully ignore those individuals who's posts I find not to be helpful.
Once again Rlips is making statements which are false:

"It is interesting to me that those who seem to find some fault with my desire to do this have 1) No sales feedback, 2) No systems posted, and 3) Have only recently joined our community."

My agon rating:
Feedback about Jjmali
Positive 61
Neutral 0
Negative 0
Calculated rating is   183

His agon rating:
Feedback about Rlips
Positive 5
Neutral 0
Negative 0
Calculated rating is   15

If BS were music Rlips would be a brass band!
Rlips, if my relatively recent experience can help, please let me know. You seem to have a good handle on both your likes and your process.

Thank you. I primarily find myself listening to classical and Jazz, almost exclusively accustical Jazz. I don't seem to get as much pleasure out of electric instruments, I suppose that I have no reference in my mind as to how they should sound.

With my penechant towards tubes, I have found I like a relaxed, but resolved sound. I am not really interested in "Slam", although sound stage depth is important.

I live in New Jersey, but travel extensively, and would certainly love the opportunity to hear some systems if possible. I suppose at this point, I am intersted in hearing different systems.

Best regards,

We do virtually all classical, though I do have one jazz LP and two CD's! We also like tubes, but otherwise our systems seem quite different.

I'm in central CT. My schedule is very tightly booked (whose isn't these days?), but email me if you're ever passing through.