I went through this a couple of years ago. You need a turntable/arm/cartridge combo and a phono preamp. The problem I had was if I bought either piece used I had no way to test it until I bought the other pieces. Further
I had concerns about buying a turntable and having it shipped. Even if it was set up properly before being shipped, would it still be after shipping? I finally decided to try and find a used turntable/arm locally. That way I could at least hear the table before I bought it an get a feel for the seller.
My other option was to by a pre setup entry level combo such as a VPI Traveler or Clearaudio concept. This way I could take my time learning all the ins and outs of setup. Plus I wouldn't have to buy any setup tools right away.
I lucked out and found a trade in turntable and arm combo I liked at a dealer. The dealer installed the cartridge and set everything up for me. This made things a lot easier.
I'm using VPI-Aries 2 last 5 years and happy with it. However, my next table will be equipped with magnetic bearings combined with latest technology and timeless design start the New Era.
For your needs, I'd keep it simple...a pre-packaged combo like a Clearaudio Concept w/MM, Music Hall MMF 5.1 w/MM, VPI Nomad (or Traveler if you can stretch ), Rega P3 with cart, etc. Lots of great choices at this price point.
What may be more important is to find a dealer you trust and who will support you through the process...TTVJ and Needledoctor have both been around a long time, for example, and can probably make some pretty good recommendations if you give them some background re: your needs. They're also offer 30-day return policies on most gear, which to me is critical in your case.
If you plan on keeping your CJ gear, then the new TT combination needs to work best with what you have, so synergy. I agree with Lostbears about being able to hear the table first with your gear, but that's not always possible. You can also try calling CJ and Dali for a recommendation, because they may have TT preferences in-house for testing/evaluating their own products.
If you plan on upgrading your CJ/Dali gear in the near future, then I would find a table that is a step up from this equipment, and build your upgraded system around the TT. Just a thought.
It sounds like you want to get back in with the least fuss. A turntable/arm combo with dealer-installed cartridge is your best option in that case. At that budget, you may want to commit to MM carts, many of which are as good as anyone really can ask for. Ortofon and Nagaoka have a nice range that allows you to move up as finances permit. They work fine on modern,relatively low cost "medium compliance-friendly" arms like the REGA 202/303. Used Bottlehead Seduction phono stages come up for sale pretty regularly at under $300 or so and are very good. Other MM stages of similar or lower cost are out there, though I've not owned or heard them.
I seriously thought about the VPI Aries 3 when I was looking. I ended up buying a used Clearaudio Innovation Wood Compact with their Universal arm. This table has a magnetic bearing and an electronic speed control. The magnetic bearing is really nice. There is absolutely no friction. With the belt removed, a little push and the platter will spin almost forever.
One of the concerns I had about buying one of the entry level combo tables was, would I quickly out grow it. I didn't want to be looking for a new table in a year.
That was one of the things I really liked about the Clearaudio Innovation Wood. I wasn't going to out grown this table any time soon.
I went down this road 7-8 years ago, and it can be a bumpy one. My own lack of knowledge was my biggest stumbling block.
I would advise you to read as much as you can regarding arm and cartridge set up before purchasing.
I, in a fit of naievety, bought an entry level table and cart, thinking that was all I would need. Wrong. Upgrades in all aspects of record playback ensued for several years, much of it caused by not knowing how to get the most out of whatever equipment (analog) I had at the time, before moving up in quality and expense.
I got to the point where I realized my mistakes, and am now more than happy with my current vinyl rig.
After enjoying a VPI Signature Scout for several years, I decided I wanted a vintage table, and that's what I will keep for the long haul. Don't get me wrong, the Scout sounded very good, but it couldn't hold a candle in looks or performance, to my DIY Garrard 401.
Before buying, try to listen to tables you are conisdering purchasing, if you have to travel to dealers, so be it.
Go slow, and learn about the subject. As with all things audio, it's a complicated subject, with a nearly unlimited amount of options to choose from.
Do enjoy the trip, though.
Many thanks to all the great responses - This definitely helps guide me towards several options that I can begin to research at my leisure. These appear to be pretty smart options and I am certainly interested in keeping the exponential decaying curve of performance versus cost in the realms of sensible reality (not a cheap skate but appreciate a value for cost solution) - my better half begs to differ !!!! - thanks to all.
I second and heartily endorse the inexpensive VPI. I own an original MMF-5 and it is truly easily set up, done for you at the factory, and the sound is very very nice, but it isn't nearly as precise or throw a stage like the VPIs.
Good luck in your search: the amount of time you invest will eventually repay you well, even if it takes some time. The more you learn now, the better your search is likely to reward you.
Where do you live?
I ask because if you are anywhere near me, you would be welcome to hear my Technics SP10.
Be bold, go to 'U-Turn Audio' web site. Buy one of their units. Enjoy, and save most of your dollars for other tings more important.
It's not that difficult! A used Rega P7 for <$1500 is a no-brainer!
i would look at one of the vintage denon, dual etc type tables to see if you really want to get back into vinyl. Many of these tables can be had for less than 500 with a reasonable MM cartridge and will do a good job with reproduction. Spend more on a good phono preamp and see where the spin takes you. Those tables tend to hold their value and you can bootstrap up to some of the more exotic, higher end tables/cartridges. Money spend on the phono stage will pay dividends in the long run if you start the upgrade path.
Check out SoundStage Direct. VPI Scout Jr with Ortofon Red cartridge,$1500.
Townshend Elite Rock. Buy yourself a new drive belt, and a two phase power supply - it will get you so close to the very best out there
Thanks again for additional comments - to the question of where do I live. I live in Houston area. Anyone know of any places around Houston to demo ? A quick search reveals nothing so will likely require to check Austin or Dallas.
Galen Carol Audio. San Antonio,Texas.
In Austin there is Whetstone Audio on East 6th St., Brian carries Rega and Well Tempered turntables.
Also Audio Systems on Koenig Rd. carries Rega and I'm not sure what else.
Pro-Ject SE 5.1 with a Sumiko Blue Point #2 cartridge.
Costs $999 blows away anything short of a $2000 VPI Scout
Turn key operation. Take the $500 you save and buy a good
record cleaner & take your wife out to eat. Buy it mail
order thru Audio Advisor and have it in 2 days
Thanks for advice. I actually had the Pro-ject se5.1 and Music Hall MMF5.1 on my list or, a good Rega (used). Although these are not high end did anyone out there ever actually regret buying either of these units ? These look fairly decent entry level units to get me back in there without fuss and will even leave enough over to buy the record cleaner, take the wife out and pay the babysitter. Probably need something to last 3-5yrs at which time I can begin a further 5-10yr upgrade process for all my equipment. I am doing lots of research and education in a very general sense and this is definitely helping my understanding (is fun as well). Will also try to get through to visit some dealers but concerned I will end up coming out with something high cost that I don't really need because it is played through great speakers/system and is not really comparable with what I have or truly need.
I had a Music Hall MMF5 and I thought it was very nice taste of
what analog is about. I ended up selling it for a couple
hundred less than I paid and bought a much more expensive tt
when I decided that I wanted to pursue vinyl. If I were in your
position, I would get a Music Hall MMF7, which has a better arm,
cartridge and isolated motor. It will keep you happy for a
couple of years, I would think. The only thing I would add is a
Herbies mat, which made a ridiculous difference on the MMF5.
Sounds like you have a pretty good digital front end. Keep in mind in essence you're competing with it for your musical pleasure and it will take a pretty good vinyl rig to do that. While it's a great idea to get into vinyl, I feel it's not realistic to get the quality you are used to for $1500.
IMO get the very best phono preamp you can afford and skimp on the TT-cartridge combo if need be. I dumped a ton into my analog front end. I'm very pleased with it.
I have to disagree with Dentdog. I had a $12K digital player at the time I bought my MMF5 and I was able to appreciate what analog had to offer, even with that huge price disparity.
Yes, a very good analog front end has it's virtues, but I think an MMF7 will let you test the waters without a huge financial commitment.
White Rega RP3 w/upgrades currently selling for $850.00
Dynavector P-75MKII currently selling for $450.00
Audio Technica OC9 MKIII currently selling for $395.00
You may never listen to your CDs again.
Clearaudio, VPI, or Music Hall has good starting turntable/arm/cartridge combo at around $1000~$1500.
I currently have a clearaudio bluemotion. It is easy to install and setup.
One you start enjoying vinyls, as with many audio enthusiasts, you you may get an upgrade bug.
The first thing you may consider would be upgrading the stock cartridge, then move to MC cartridge, SUT, then ... Along the line, you may want to purchase an additional turntable for mono cartridge.
Until then, enjoy your vinyls.
A Clearaudio Concept or a VPI Traveler are IMHO a standout best buy. The Traveler lists for 1500 but is sometimes even being offered with a Ortofon 2M red, which is easily upgradable to blue just by changing the stylus at a later date. The new Scout JR is planned to take its rightful place. Either table is good enough to grow into. You could without reservation put a $800-$1000 cartridge on either of them and still feel like it was appropriate for the rig you are putting it into, especially something like yours. If you like the BBC sound a used Linn LP12(80's Vahalla), or axis is also a really good way to go. New they sell for a fortune. Rega RP6 with a Sumiko Blue point EVOII comes in at about 2K new but also can be a very compelling match. If you want to stay at 1K or less, a Rega RP3, VPI Nomad or scout (acrylic platter) may be just the ticket with a modest cartridge. Unfortunately the Clearaudio product line is out of contention at this point. Unless you are lucky enough to find one with a MM cartridge used (about $1200 right now). A used VPI traveler sometime shows up too at about the same price sometimes, particularly the first generation. Any of these choice would sound great on your rig.
My humble opinion from my 25 years in this hobby. By the way I also own the Oppo 105, so flexible and good-sounding.
If you can strike a used Marantz TT-15S1 it should be within your price range. Here are my reasons for going this route.
1. It is real eye-candy for the money, and in my book, looks count with those audio toys. This philosophy applies to my current amp and speakers. Since this turntable is solid high-quality white acrylic, it is quite something. I put a $ 10 IKEA LED light hidden behind the table, and it makes a wonderful and soothing sight in a darkened room as the whole thing lights up.
2. Sounds exceptionally good for the money, and this in part because it comes with a nice Clearaudio cartridge. I have seen this cartridge priced from $600 to $750.
3. It is NOT a Marantz table but in fact made in Germany by Clearaudio, a most reputable manufacturer. Marantz had it made for them, and the TT-15 comes with better feet and a more sturdy feel than the equivalent Emotion Clearaudio table that the Marantz table is inspired from. You will read in some reviews than the M is actually an upgraded Clearaudio Emotion for less money.
4. The Satisfy arm is great on it and easily adjustable, unlike Regas. Everything is nicely machined, and the motor is very quiet and makes no contact with the table.
5. My previous table was the Music Hall mmf-7, a universally-acclaimed best buy. However, the Marantz is much, much quieter and the mmf put out much higher surface noise. Just do a slight fingernail-tab on the deck of both, no-contest.
Please take into account that I am NOT a vinyl junkie, and that I use my table sparingly. However, I know a good-sounding unit when I hear one.
The Marantz is of course no 3K VPI machine, but for the money, again, it is a fine purchase.
Hope this helps, finally here's a review I found interesting a few years ago...
Sonicbeauty, I thing you have another outstanding choice there too.