vpi scout, dynavector 10/20x cart, and a dynavector or lehman phono stage. could come in under budget if you are lucky and I think you would definitely enjoy the tunes.
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To get more out of your vinyl playback I suggest to consider the following.
1: You need to invest in and take time to beable to clean and keep clean your vinyl records. If you want to budget you can buy a good vacuuming machine for around $200 (Kab USA basic unit) up to more pricier models by Nitty Gritty and VPI etc. You may want to give a portable steamer setup as a low cost alternative. I find these work pretty good to. Yet other make their own DIY vacuuming setups using spare turntable platters and shop vac etc.
You also need an ability to keep your vinyl playing clean, a good carbon fibre brush works. I also use an older Discwasher D4 brush and fluid. These help keep my everyday playback cleaning fine. Still others also add a Zerosat static gun to aid in static control.
2: I suggest you consider the Technics SL-12xxMKII series turnatables especially ordering a modded one from KAB USA.
3: Get a good basic cartridge, look at Denon, Audio Technica, Dynavector and other in the sub $500 range. I like my Denon DL-110 on my Kab modded SL-1200MKII.
3: Pick up a good phono preamp a bargain would be the Cambridge Audio 640P.
You can get all this including a record vacuuming setup for under $2000.
I agree: Get a Technics SL1210 M5G (for the better tonearm wire), the KAB fluid damper, a better mat (e.g., Herbie's Way Excellent), Audio Technica AT150MLX cartridge, LPGear Zupreme headshell, and Cambridge 640P phono preamp.
This rig retains the strengths that attract people to digital--speed, slam, tight driving bass--while offering superior smoothness and a more organic presentation of the music.
I like the speed accuracy and consistency of the Technics as well, something you won't get from other turntables at its price. I am a big Count Basie fan, and the Technics never wavers on piano notes, and always conveys the exact, magical tempo and sense of swing that the Count always set.
I've had the SL1210 M5G for two years and the rest of the items I mentioned for over a year. For the first year I listened exclusively to LPs. Now I listen to some digital, but only when I have to, such as if the music isn't available on LP or I'm busy and can't tend to the records.
But whenever I drop the stylus into a groove I feel like I'm giving myself a special treat.
Wrtickle: I like your thoughts on the VPI table, but I am concerned that I will end up blowing my budget on a table/arm/cart before I even get a Phono-Pre. The Dynavector looks like a winner: http://www.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?preaphon&1250559771&/Dynavector-PHA-1-phono-preamp-
Maybe a complete table-arm-cart combination for 1100-1400? It seems the Scouts all are 1300 without the cartridge.
Les-creative-edge: I do clean my records on a VPI record cleaner. I have a good friend who is kind enough to share his cleaner. I am using the Walker 4-step process, including enzymes and high resolution rinse. It makes a great difference.
Your turntable and preamp are a little lower end than my thoughts, but then maybe I don't need to spend so much. Do you find Vinyl to sound better than digital in your system?
06-27-09: JbryngelsonYes, I have listened to it a lot as I had to stop working 2-1/2 years ago and I spend a lot of time at home listening to records, maybe 2-4 hours/day. That's given me plenty of time to listen, tweak, and refine. The same rig has a decent Sony CD/SACD player and my MacBook with CDs ripped in Apple Lossless Codec is also connected to it for comparison. So I have plenty of sources to compare CD, SACD, server-based digital, and LP for hours on end.
Looking at my rig, I also have to say you'll improve the Technics more by swapping out the supplied feet for SuperSpikes ($69/set) and then place the TT on a thick butcher block cutting board supported by something soft such as Vibrapods, Foculpods, or silicon gel pads from an office supply store.
The platforming tweaks do wonders to drop the noise floor, isolate the TT from room-borne vibrations, and improve inner detail and clarity.
Either get a Technics SL-1200mk2 or a JVC QL-7, mount a nice cartridge like the Audio Technica AT150 and you are in business. And spend the rest of your budget on good records. If you are into DIY, then find ways to mount different and better tonearms, you will have to spend more obviously, to the above tables. Personally, belt-drive turntables with wimpy toy motors just don't do it for me. A modified Empire 208 with the great Papst motor is one of the few BD tables that has the oomph to get close to direct-drivers. Idler-drive tables are also great but too much maintenance for someone new to analog. Whatever you are going to get, have fun! Just always remember that this is a hobby not a religion, so don't take anything too seriously.
Pick up a new Technics SL1210 from an interent discounter like Musiian's friend for about $470. Get a Jelco 370 arm on ebay for $300 and a Denon Dl103 on ebay for about $150 both new.
I have just CNC maufactured tonearm boards for putting Jelco arms (250, 750, 370 and Sumiko Premiere MMT) or SME (309, IV, V and 3009) on the Technics table (each board is different with the correct offset). I will list them for sale soon here on Audiogon but figure about 1/2 of the british place (about $100).
You will have about $1000 left over for a good phono stage and steam cleaner.
More often than not I find a good vinyl copy of a record to sound better in the overall sense and listener involvement than the CD variant. But not all LP's sound great nor better than a good CD version. Nothing is 100% one way or the other but IMO again more often than not I find on my system that the vinyl record is better and more enjoyable to the CD version. Not that the CD sucks, in fact I am fine with stating that a well made redbook CD can sound very good and IMO the regular CD gets knocked around by many unfairly. Yes, the stupid loudness wars of the last decade or so has hurt the CD but but too many non-talented artists being pushed on us by the industry is worse, and vinyl or no vinyl wont make a lousy artist sound good LOL.
I have many great sounding CD's and my current CD player is not some uber high end unit. In fact it is a $9.00 thrift store find, a Magnavox CDB-586 (same as the Philips CDC-586), 1989 vintage CD changer with the generally well respected TDA-1541A DAC and the well made CDM-4 swing arm laser assembly. No, it's not as good as my best CD player I have owned, my now sold off Cambridge Audio D-300se but given I have no idea what high end (what ever that may mean) sounds like and only can give reference to my current but in my hobbyist and hard planed, well thought out, modestly priced system well CD's do sound good too. But again IMO vinyl often sounds better and more enjoyable. My Technics SL-1200mmkII with the CARDAS arm rewire from KAB USA, a Denon DL-110 cartridge and a Cambridge Audio 640p preamp is really a very impressive setup to my hearing in my room through my gear.