Before you invest big bucks, why don't you buy a used Well Tempered turntable and arm, find a decent cartridge, and have some fun. After playing with this setup you can decide if it provides a level of listening pleasure that has been missing from your digital system.
If in the end you are not drawn in to the world of analog, you can sell the gear for about what you paid.
Without the pressure of a big investment, you may find the initial fun of analog becomes addictive and will eventually replace a portion of your music library.
I can tell by the equipment that you own that you must have really deep pockets, so I will recommend a world class analogue set-up disregarding cost but still practical:
Turntable: Well Tempered Reference
Cartridge: Lyra Helikon
Phono Stage: "The Groove" Phono Stage from Tom Evans Audio
The Well Tempered comes with its own superlative tonearm. You can spend thousands more for a cartridge, but I seriously doubt if you can better the Lyra's performance significantly. Ditto for the "Groove" phono stage.
i have to agree with albert. i had/have the analog bug. but here are some things to remember (or learn). 1).not all albums will sound better than your cd's. i picked up 400 albums (used) some are worse than cds. 2). you only get half a cd before turning the album over...some symphonies are cut in half and you have to flip the album. 3). the tone arm does not lift by itself at the end of record. (i bought a lifter shortly after the tt). 4). no remote control...no automatically skipping tracks. 5). you have to clean records much more often than cds. 6). really good albums are more expensive than cds. 7). set up is either a labor of love or hell (verdict is still out on this). 8). albums are not as quiet as cds. that all being said.
good albums sound better than cds. much better. they are much more musical and no fatigue. as for recommendations...i would need to know your budget. you cannot go wrong with the vpi tts and arms...nice people to deal with too. i am sure there are other good tts out there also. phono preamps....skys the limit; i strongly suggest you addition them first. i bought an ar ph3 because everyone said it was great (never listened to it). its ok at best. carts i like my shelter 501mk2 (delicate and detailed). 800$ from japan vs 2500$ state side. i am sure there are better....but you can spend 10k on a cart. (you can spend more than that on a wadia).
big thing is that every review on a high end cd states "almost as good as vinyl". heck....i will try vinyl.
sorry for being so long winded. just crossed this bridge a month ago. no regrets. of course IMO.
To start up without dissapointment sufficient and enough to outperform on some records your digital setup will be:
inexpancive J.A.Michell Gyro SE MKIV,
inexpancive Shelter 501 if ordered directly from Japan,
inexpancive RB300 tonearm with Michell VTA,
and I would strongly recoommend BAT VK P5 phono.
I do not think that if you'll go for cheaper analogue setup(Rega P3/RB300/Rega Elys/... for instance)you will outperform your current digital setup.
My digital front end consists of ML #37 + Sonic Frontier SFD2 mk II with NOS tubes. I recently took the plunge and purchased the Michell Orbe SE (a step up from the Gyro) + SME V arm + Benz woodbody M2 cartridge. ($8000 retail total, about the same price as my digital setup) The setup costed me $5300 all brand new. Added the PH3 SE (used, another $1500) to my LS-2B mk II preamp.
The analog sounded wonderful! I've not turn on my digital front end for the past two months. The only catch is finding the software. Classical music are plentiful. You can find them at used record stores or goodwill stores for $0.50 per LP. But you need to learn about different labels to know what to get. Same album could be released several times, some will sound better and some worse than CDs. Jazz albums are harder to find. I just buy brand new reissues which cost about $10 - $18. I did find some original 60's LP. It's like collecting baseball cards, you have to really look to find them in good playing condition.
Oh, and there are accessories. Record cleaning machine is a must. Also record brushes, aligning tools, etc. And all the regimen of vinyl listening: Brush the LP, clean the stylus, then play, turn the LP over, etc.
Is this all worth it? You have to decide for yourself. I find all these pre-listening routines help me prepare my mind to enjoy the music more. And LP collecting becomes a challenging activity in itself.
You're right, Marakanetz.
Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a fan of those glass and particle board turntables. You've got to get a decent platform and a superb MC preamp and cartridge. Otherwise, save the money and buy lots of CDs instead.
The Well-Tempered is a good recommendation, but I would also suggest the SME-10, which includes the arm as well, and also Tom Evans Groove or Mini Groove Plus. The SME-10 has world class quality, and the long history of SME, even today, will be able to provide parts for a 1960's SME tonearm.
Although many more 'tweaky' table/arm combination will sound better than the SME-10, you would waste too much time and put your focus away from music or building a useful LP collection.
Pick a cartridge of your fancy, a Helikon is fine, so as a Lydian Beat which gives very little. 3 years later and you have 300 records, you can upgrade the table or cartridge.
Personally, the RB arms are over-hyped, cheap no doubt, but it has no VTA which limits ability to work with various cartridges (after market Rega VTA kits are available but why bother ?) The SME 10 arm made with magnesium is a very nice arm that is not available separately.
I just got my analogue set up to the level of the rest of my system, and now I listen to vinyl about the same as I listen to cd's.
You didn't say whether or not you are a big "record collector" type of person. I am, and the truth is there are bad sounding lp pressings just like there are bad sounding cd issues. So, it certainly isn't the case that any LP will always sound b etter than cd. Some lp's just plain stink.
But plenty of lp's sound great, and there are tons of great sounding records out there. These days, I buy all of my rock new releases on vinyl if they are released in that format, because there is a touch of body and warmth and stereo depth that is not quite there in my digital one.
No recommendations for specific analogue gear. Others who post here have more experience than me listening to a wider range of analogue gear. No dealer in my area has a turntable to demo!!!
Extremephono's right on the money...
What's so special about the Rega tonearms?
Answer: It says 'Rega'; it's 'British'; it's 'high end'.
Since I own a 'DJ turntable' I did not want to write anything derogatory about the Rega tonearms. However, I think all that stuff is way overrated (including the European glass and particle board turntables). Truth is, Skiidman, one of those old SME tonearms on a good platform and a high output MC will give you a decent entry in analog. I bought the 'DJ turntable' because I have twice as many albums as CDs (600 vs 300) and I wanted the best, most reliable new TT under $1000.
Question: Do you have any albums at all?
Take the plunge! But first define for yourself what "facets" of sound quality are a priority for you. It's going to be hard if not impossible to find an analogue set-up that sounds better, in every respect, than a top notch digital set-up. However, IMO a good analogue set-up, and Albert's recommendation is a good one, will do certain things that even the best digital cannot do. This has been dicussed over and over again here, and I encourage you to look up related posts; and many will disagree strongly. Specifically, I refer to things likes subtle timbral differences between the sounds of acoustic instruments and likewise subtle details in the area of rhythm or "groove" in a performance.
If acoustic and minimally processed music is your bag, I think you'll find that analogue is definitely worth the investment in money and effort. Pay attention to placement and setup of your turntable! The very subtlety of the things that analogue excells in can be destroyed by carelessness; but depending on your personality, the tweaking can be great fun and educational. If electric or processed music is your thing , I'm not so sure that it's all worth the effort. Although just this morning I was listening to Steely Dan's "Pretzel Logic" on vinyl and I've to say that the sound of the drum set and even electric guitar are natural (accurate)in a way that you just don't hear on pop records anymore.
If you do take the plunge, and need reassurance, go hear some live music and then compare. I think you'll be surprised. Good luck and have fun.