Best Turntable/arm/cartridge system for $30k

I have finally decided to take the plunge into the Analog world. My current source is Accuphase Transport/DAC 100/101. This combo is the best player money can buy when playing SACD but a letdown when playing CDs. I have yet to come across a CD player that can make CDs sound musical and involving. Not even the latest DCS or Emmlab gears can achieve that. I will probably stop buying CDs altogether and focus on LPs collection instead. Any recommendations?
If you take away one zero, there might be some reasonable recommendations for specific units (complete, or separate TT, TA, cart,) but at $30K there are just TOO MANY great rigs you could put together!

Not knowing your musical tastes (if specific) or your preferences for placement/operation of a TT, or what kind of phono preamplification you're prepared to provide (or possibly already have in your existing preamp) anyone who would try to advise you at this point would be doing you a disservice IMO.

I'll say this: if you're just starting out in vinylog, I'd suggest you avoid the high-ticket stuff for now, and get a (quality) entry-level unit from Music Direct, or Acoustic Sounds, and spend a little more time with the medium. After a while, you'll learn what the different kinds of (higher priced) hardware can/can't do, and you'll probably be able to make up your own mind; or at least ask specific questions about specific gear.
The world is your oyster for $30000.

Personally, I'd take a look at some of the better Soundsmith cartridges if I were looking to shoot the works on an analog setup.

Or you could get a great rig for 1/10th the cost with a little research and do something else nice with all the money you save.

If you can't find a CD player that makes things sound musical and involving, there may be other things to take a look at in your system.

Or, you may just have much more sensitive ears than I.
I'd recommend not taking a $30k plunge. Vinyl may not turn out to be your bag. It's the best format available for music (IMHO), but it is labor intensive compared to other formats. You might not care for all the cleaning, changing sides, mounting/aligning cartridges, etc.

Since I assume you've got $30k discretionary to spend (good for you!) then you probably wouldn't care if you bought a more modestly priced rig and sold it a year later to upgrade, right?

With that said, I'd recommend dipping your toe into the analog pool first.

Some excellent tables at moderate prices are:

Michell Gyrodec
Nottingham Spacedeck
VPI Scoutmaster
Rega P7

Some cartridges:

Dynvector DV20X
Shelter 501
Audio-Technica AT0C9
Rega Exact

One of those will mate well with the turntables mentioned above.

You will also need a phono stage. You can usually find a Sutherland PHD used on Audiogon for around $2000 - $2500. The phono stage is not an area where you want to skimp, and the PHD is a great phono stage for the price.

Aesthetix, Art Audio, EAR, and others make great phono stages that can be had for similar prices, new and used.

That can get you into the analog world for only a $5k to $6k outlay. And (again IMHO) it will easily outperform your digital rig.

If you like it and want more, or you simply must take the $30k plunge, check out the Teres and Galibier web sites.


It seems like Arwp is very perceptive and wants to get the most out of his plunge into vinyl and is willing to devote ample resources to get it done. Although $30K sure is a lot of money, it would be quite easy to go through a majority of it if you were to shoot for high performing rig that includes phono stage, cartridge, isolation, cleaning, and table/arm. Go for it.
I agree with Tom (as I already said) about not taking the plunge right away, but I do not agree with his suggestions, which, although excellent, are beyond what I would consider quality entry level ;-)

I was thinking more along the lines of any complete system under $3K on these pages:

If one is going to "go for it" it takes lots of information and personal experience (along with "ample resources" ;-) Otherwise you are going to wind up buying someone else's dream!

It's not clear to me from the inforamtion you provided in your post alone that the digital source is the reason your system does not sound musical or involving to you. It could be anything from room acoustics to overall system synergy to some component in the pipeline not performing up to specs for some reason.

I'd make sure, if you are not already, all the ducks in your current system are in order before looking to an expensive vinyl system as the solution. It may in fact be one solution, but not necessarily the only one.
spend 25 on vinyl....5 on a combo
Dear ARWP: Money always help!!!!, but if this is really your first time with analog the first thing that you have to know is that analog source ( like a whole source ) is not ( far from there ) a plug-and-play source like the digital one.
So you have to learn ( very quick ) or to have someone ( audio dealer with the right know-how or an audio friend )to help you on the right whole set-up.

The second point is to have " software " ( LPs ) to play with. If you don't have it then you have to start to buy and develop a good collection with the kind of music you like.

Third point can be to conform your analog source and my advise is to go not with an entry level one but with something better.

Thinking on TTs: Galibier, Acoustic Signature, Raven, SME are some names that comes to my mind.

Tonearm/cartridge: I like the Dynavector XV-1s ( but other people likes other cartridges too ) and you can mate it with a Triplanar or a Phantom tonearm but you can choose the MM cartridge alternative too where there are several cartridge options ( like the MC alternative ).

If you choose ( example ) for the XV-1s that is a low output MC cartridge IMHO it will be best " served " for an active high gain Phonolinepreamp ( no step-up transformers ) that you have to buy too.
Here ( like you say ) try to find the " best " because is in the phono stage where the cartridge signal pass to a " severe " process that makes a degradation to the cartridge signal.
So, you want to add the less and lose the less on that cartridge signal to be nearer /truer to the recording.

Regards and enjoy the music.
don't know about the "best", but this should be a safe bet.

TW Acustic Raven AC
Graham Phantom
cartridge of your choice
Einstein phono stage

new retails around $30k, you can get them for less in used market.
Arwp, fly to San Francisco and hear the Shindo Labs vinyl system, including their turntable, arm, and cartridge. You will get away with about a third of your money.
I'm sorry, but as much as I respect Raul's (and other's) very fine recommendations, you are asking someone who apparently has NO experience with vinylog, to spend a great deal of money (I don't care how rich he is!) on something that may not be the best for him. And, worst of all, he will never know it!

Or do you all think Mr. Arwp should buy SEVERAL assorted $30K analog rigs according to all these wonderful recommendations, and then decide which one he likes best ?? ;-) C'mon . . . . .!

If Mr. Arwp in fact wants to try vinylog simply as a cure for 'digital dissatisfaction' as some have suggested (are you Mr. Arwp?) then perhaps some 're-thinking' is in order. Either of those formats can be very satisfying with the right combination of hardware (and as Raul so beautifully points out, "money helps"!) However, the road to Audio Nirvana is littered with poor souls who were never really happy with either format. Y por que? Because they didn't spend enough time getting the most they could out of their room and their WHOLE system -- everything!

My point, Mr. Arwp, is that you've already spent Thirty Thousand Dollars on some VERY FINE digital playback equipment. At that $$ level, it should give you QUITE a lot of enjoyment, regardless of the brand (nothing is a 100% ;-) so perhaps your source equipment and the format aren't the problem? In the Vietnam War and now in Iraq, everytime there was a problem, they threw more money at it! That might work occasionally, accidentally, but it's NOT the way to learn anything ;-(

I'm not trying to discourage you from exploring vinylog, Mr. Arwp, just from spending too much money up front; not when I'm unconvinced that the (digital) format is at the root of your sonic unhappiness.
If there's not a digital rig made that you can enjoy, you won't like vinyl either, IMHO. Nothing's perfect and a certain amount of snap, crackle and pop is inevitable with vinyl even with the best gear you can buy. Can you tolerate that?
"If there's not a digital rig made that you can enjoy, you won't like vinyl either"

I would tend to agree and advise again against a blind plunge into vinyl as a solution.

I know for fact though there are many out there that assert there is no digital rig that they can enjoy as much as vinyl.

If you must take a blind $30000 vinyl plunge, do save some money to acquire a suitable vinyl library and don't assume everything available on CD will be available also on vinyl (or vice versa).
Fly to Denver and audition a Galibier Stelvio at Galibier Designs.
If you have to "fly" anywhere......CES should be your only destination. IMO
Except at Galibier Designs you get one-on-one attention without the pressure of a room full of other people vying for the host's attention. You get to hear a system properly set up in a room that has been optimized, unlike a hotel room. You get to absorb the knowledge of someone who knows what he's doing and is happy to spend the time to educate you about analog in general, and about the products he builds and represents. You get to enjoy the Colorado mountains. Maybe you tie it together with a ski weekend.

One only has to study the Galibier website to see Thom is someone who goes the extra mile to impart information that enhances the understanding of vinyl set-up to anyone caring to read it. No strings attached.

There's an advantage to that scenario over CES. However, at CES you certainly get to see a lot of stuff, albeit not under the best conditions.
to answer your question directly is focusing in on the few who have invested close to this amount on an analog rig, i am not in that crowd. But if i had 30 grand to throw at a new analog rig, i would look at the avid acutus, airtangent arm, zyx universe cartridge and good phono preamp. The table might change to used forsell if i could demo it or a used walker (if i push the envelope on the other components).
Got to agree with Mapman here. If you can't do CD, you will never get vinyl to work. I second the suggestion to work on what you have first. Find that weak link or set-up mistake and fix it/them. This will give you a huge leg up on the vinyl journey.

your question has hit a nerve here for sure; what an exciting concept to be able to spend $30k for a first step into vinyl playback. it sounds like the investment in Lp software has also been considered.

i own three tt's; one way over $30k and two maybe 1/3rd $30k. i own SOTA digital and SOTA RTR. i have my own opinion about the answer to your question....for me, my system, and my tastes. the problem is that your question is too open-ended to answer in a helpful way.

there is no doubt that you will enjoy a large increase in listening pleasure thru a strong commitment to as one who likes all the formats i say go for it.

as some others have suggested; i think you should take some time to listen to some quality tt set-ups and try to get a feel for what level and type of vinyl gear will justify the commitment to vinyl. also; some here are direct drive or rim-drive believers, others like belts. there are new tt's, modern used tt's and vintage tt's with new plinths and arms. some like tubes and warm sounding cartridges and others like solid state and neutral sounding cartridges. every catagory has it's proponents.

it's all good.

but what might be good for you?

you'll know it when you hear it. and unless you choose an audio mentor and just follow their lead you need to invest some time and decide what sonic characterisitics are most important to you. most here have discovered our perspectives thru the slow methodical steps up thru the vinyl food-chain.

good luck.
Arwp, in their day the Accuphase 100/101 were virtually undeniably state of the art. Today there are better digital sources, including some which provide very enjoyable redbook performance, albeit not at the same level as great vinyl.

I agree with some of the comments above about traveling to audition what interests you. At this price level there is no substitute for hearing what you are considering. What is talked-up on forums such as this one can be misleading and may not be what is best, and proper setup is so very important. As a seasoned show attendee I do not recommend them for serious auditioning; they are useful mainly for becoming acquainted with the products and the people behind them.

Depending upon your location, you may want to travel to one of the larger metropolitan areas near you and visit a few dealers there. In your budget range it's entirely reasonable for you to expect the dealer to deliver, set up and optimize the system in your home, at no extra cost. At least that's my approach.
As usual Mike Lavigne's advice seems wise.

It's worth the time to work through the various analog threads on this and other forums. You may get an idea of what is right for you but there is no substitute for listening yourself. If you don't already have a friend/audiophile mentor whose advice you trust, try and find a dealer or manufacturer you feel comfortable with. At this level of investment, I would definitely find the time to audition some of the top contenders.

I went through a similar process last year and would be glad to chat.
Why not just chop this figure way down to something more reasonable. It's a great possibility that vinyl ain't your thing? I would if I were you, look to buy a table like the VPI super scout or master model. There easy to run they set up easy and there built very well, and there easy to sell and recoup most of your investment. I would plunge into vinyl slowly. And if you enjoy it, and it brings you more pleasure where Cd did not, then dive into it.
Greetings to all. Really appreciate all your replies. I still enjoy listening to SACDs thru my Accuphase combo. Well recorded SACDs always sounded open, natural and almost life-like. I will continue to collect SACDs eventhough fewer labels are producing them now. My opinions on CDs may seem critical. I just feel CDs sounded relatively flat, veiled and edged even with all the upsamplings. I chose not to replace my Accuphase combo but to invest in a good analog system. I will need to add a good phono amp though.
Sounds like your mind is made up.

In order to be sure of getting the best, maybe go used here on A'gon.

If you find a supportive seller, you might be able to pick up a $60000 rig for only $30000.
Arwp, in your budget range by careful selection you can get a no compromise analog system that is within a hair's breadth of absolute state of the art. Again, I wouldn't even think about buying anything in this price range without an audition and would discount recommendations posted online. You are looking to purchase a long term solution, just as your digital system has been.
Mapman, the only problem with your recommendation is that Arwp would not hear what he is buying before he buys it.

I would agree that most shows are quite poor for auditioning components. I go to most and have seldom hear anything apart from a quick comparison with and without something that resulted in my buying something. The best circumstance is to compare components in your home, but this is largely impossible. I would not trust reviews either. We all have only our ears and few have the same frequency response in their hearing.
I suspect making a first time foray into analog with a $30,000 rig is going to be a very, very expensive lesson, which is why the easiest and least expensive route will be following the lead of someone who has already made the mistakes and assembled a successful vinyl front end in that price range.
I basically agree with Jaybo, but would spend $6k on a table / arm / cartridge, another $3k on a Loricraft and other cleaning supplies and a MintLP protractor, and the rest on vinyl.
Tvad, your cynicism about more expensive audio equipment is renown.
If you've made your mind up to spend $30k on an analog rig then I assume you can travel to audition. Heck you could use some of that $30k for a travel budget and still have enough cash to buy a state of the art analog rig.

The advice to visit Galibier Designs in Colorado is a good one. Having been there myself and met with Thom I can say your time will not be wasted. While in Colorado you can also visit Teres Audio where Chris Brady has also set up shop. Then if you don't mind venturing south a bit you could go to Scottsdale, AZ and visit Peter Clark at Redpoint Audio. The Galibier, Teres, and Redpoint tables are well thought of and it so happens that Thom, Chris, and Peter also share some common history. If anything you'll walk away with a lot more knowledge than you came in with.

Not sure how much research you're doing here but this is the best forum on Audiogon. It might help to look at some threads that discuss the importance of cartridge/arm/table matching. Lots of good advice from some experienced members. If you're going to spend $30k you want all the components to have the right synergy, phonostage too. It's easy to mess this part up.

Best of luck in your search. I wish I had your problem.
For USD30k, I would think seriously about flying over to the UK and buying the TT etc there. With the pound/dollar exchange at the moment, you can get much more for your money, even allowing for the flight and the shipping.

Definitely add an analog option but make sure your room and your amp and your speakers are optimized for top of the line tt. With your budget no reason for trial and error buying used on the ' should demo the table and arm

Some 'goners think a single rug is more than enuf room treatment

Correct Speaker placement by a professional not merely a audio dealer pays hug dividends.....

Synergy between your preamp and amp. Perhaps a quality tube that has line and phono preamp or a more transparent solid state preamp that has both like dartZeel may make you happier with cds