Best turntable/cartridge combo for $700-$750


I have been out of analog playback for several years and want some advice about turntables and cartridges up to about $700-750. I have seen a few prepackaged combo's by Project, Rega, and Music Hall. I would prefer more cartridge options than these combos offer. I realize my price range may limit my options. I have been recently quoted on a Soto Comet II with RB250amr and an Aurum Wood Classic, but the price is $450 over my budget.I am not familiar with this cartridge's performance or value.... The Sota table by itself seems overpriced.....I have a Creek SE5350 Classic integrated amp with their MM phono stage, and a pair of Silverline Preludes. I use Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cable.... All advice welcomed
sunnyjim
May I suggest the Music Hall 5.1 and get the Goldring 1420 replacemnt stylus... I have this combo and it sounds so much better than the stock one. More richer, warmer sound and less surface noise...
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In your price range, you'll also want to consider a KAB Technics SL-1200 MK5SE w/ a Denon DL-160 cartridge.
Here a variation of Nrenter's "Can't go wrong" recipe: Technics SL1210 mk2 from Musicians Friend (free shipping!) will run you $400 and you can then add either a Denon DL160 or an Audio Technica 440ML. You'll have change left over to purchase some actual LPs! KAB offers an upgrade path you can travel at your leisure. The archives here and at The Vinyl Asylum are full of worthwhile reading on these very combos - hard to argue with the performance/cost ratio. Welcome back to vinyl!
Go the extra bucks and purchase a refurb Marnatz (e. g. Clearaudio) The accessories for less web site will give you great pricing. It comes with a matched $800 clearaudio cartridge.
04-26-08: Soulbrass
Here a variation of Nrenter's "Can't go wrong" recipe: Technics SL1210 mk2 from Musicians Friend (free shipping!) will run you $400 and you can then add either a Denon DL160 or an Audio Technica 440ML.
MF Technics + DL160=$560. Add KAB Fluid Damper ($150) and Sumiko headshell ($40) to bring it to $750. Quiet, great pace, great attack, great bass slam, pro-level build quality and precision. Adding the Denon/Sumiko plus fluid damper brings a surprising amount of refinement and control. I can really "hear the room" with this rig.
"I would prefer more cartridge options than these combos offer. I realize my price range may limit my options."

not sure what you mean by that. You can get any cartridge you want.
Wondering why the Technics is recommended & not the Rega P1, which is the same price: is Technics a better table?
04-28-08: 5u4
Wondering why the Technics is recommended & not the Rega P1, which is the same price: is Technics a better table?
Overall, I'd say the Technics is a better table than the P1 or P2, though I'd get more disagreement on the P2.

They bring different things to the party. The Regas are lively and being belt-drive, have a certain relaxed presentation about them and a rather organic midrange. They represent 21st century thinking about vibration control and noise isolation. OTOH, for your money you have a pressed wood plinth, an MDF platter, a cheaped-up version of the RB300, and a cheap AC synchronous motor driving the platter via a rubber band.

The Technics is a marvel of economy of scale. These things weigh about 26 lbs., are built to insanely close tolerances (tonearm bearings polished to .5 micron, tonearm bearing drag specified at 7 mg or so). Sonically they have dead-on accuracy, good slam and bass. They represent noise and vibration isolation theory from almost 30 years ago.

As far as build quality, there's no contest that the Technics trumps the P1 and P2. Speed accuracy and basic S/N and rumble figures also tilt to the Technics. Controls are quiet and smooth. You change speeds by hitting a button, not by removing the platter and putting the belt on another part of the motor pulley.

But there's an innate relaxation and musicality to the Regas that is compelling.

It's my understanding that there's only so much you can do to a P1 (or P2) upgradewise to keep it cost-effective. For the Technics, there are myriad aftermarket upgrades that keep making it sound better and better. Since it's based on a very quiet, high precision motor, my personal opinion is that these upgrades are cost-effective and worthwhile. In other words, if you get a Technics for $400 and put $1100 in the RIGHT aftermarket tweaks in it, it'll still be competitive with a $1500 turntable, and to many owners who have done so (by what I've read in this forum), the performance exceeds most 'tables at that price.

I'll say that the $150 KAB fluid damper plus $40 Sumiko headshell elevates the tonearm performance surprisingly. I have no complaints now and no compulsion to upgrade the arm further.

I've also made great gains in inner detail, clarity, smoothness, musicality, etc. by getting a better mat ($10 for a used Oracle Groove Isolator), switching out the stock feet for brass cones ($20), and platforming it on a heavy slab of butcher block (25)supported by shock absorbing isolators such as Vibrapods ($24), Isoblocks, or sorbothane footers.
Wow, great answer, thanks!
A more relevant comparison (quality-wise) would be the 1200 to the newer, more expensive P3/24 which has much more potential for, and worthiness of, upgrading. In my comparison, posted elsewhere here, I mostly favored the P3/24. I would characterize the difference that I heard as more transparency and liveliness but a bit bright and edgy, compared to the Technics being more relaxed and opaque; just one controlled but somewhat limited shootout. I sell both.

dealer disclosure.
I want to thank all the members who responded to my post, especially those who recommended the Technics table and offered opinion about the Rega I didn't think that Techincs offered such a quality product. I have read reviews about the Rega 3-24, but it seems like a lot of money at $895 for what you get, and that does not include cartridge
04-30-08: Piedpiper
A more relevant comparison (quality-wise) would be the 1200 to the newer, more expensive P3/24 which has much more potential for, and worthiness of, upgrading. In my comparison, posted elsewhere here, I mostly favored the P3/24. I would characterize the difference that I heard as more transparency and liveliness but a bit bright and edgy, compared to the Technics being more relaxed and opaque; just one controlled but somewhat limited shootout. I sell both.
I'm curious as to how the Technics was accessorized and platformed, such as the fluid damper, clamp, outboard power supply, etc. I definitely appreciate your comparison of the two, as real side-by-side comparisons of equivalent-cost belt drives vs. the Technics are hard to come by.

You could trick out an SL1210 from Musicians Friend with KAB's tonearm rewire, fluid damper, and Isonoe feet (or most of the way on the outboard PSU) to bring the expenditure to the same level as a bone stock P3/24.

It's interesting that you found the Rega bright and edgy vs. the Technics sounding more relaxed. Usually it's the DD TTs that are characterized as bright and edgy.

In my experience with the Technics, the Sumiko headshell, vibration control platforming, and the right mat make a big difference on transparency.
Johnny,

You're absolutely right. That would be an even more appropriate comparison.
The unit I compared was stock. I did put both on a large, thick butcher block on
a combo of sorbothane and isoblocks on my Maplenoll air bearing 90 lb. lead
platter on a large Room Tunes rack, all in an adjacent room. I used the same
Rega Exact cartridge with the same VTA in my reference system which you can
view here. I even used the same Rega felt mat which worked better than what
was on the Technics. I also used my Maplenoll lead clamp as a record weight on
both which improved both equally. The Rega was much cleaner except for the
highs which were a bit rough, the Technics being noticibly opaque in
comparison. Perhaps I'll do such a comparison some time and spend more time
exploring than I had a chance to do before.

dealer disclosure.
Piedpiper,

It looks like you were pretty conscientious in trying to put together a fair comparison, especially in the platforming. Is it just me, or is the Rega Exact a kick-ass cartridge?

One thing that may skew my opinion is that I read enough (even from KAB) about the not-so-great tonearm wire in the base SL1200 that I bought an SL1210 M5G for the higher grade of tonearm wire. So perhaps I have not been exposed to the "dark sound" or "opacity" I've read in reviews about the SL1200's sound. Mine is satisfactorily airy and extended in the treble without being bright or hyper-detailed. Maybe the wiring in the basic SL1200 is that bad.

I do think that the Technics' mat needs are far different from the Rega's. Any mat needs to isolate noise from the turntable and room noise from coming up into the cartridge, but a mat for the Technics needs to keep that machined aluminum platter from ringing, which is no small feat.

If the stock Technics sounded smoother in the highs than the Rega, you should hear it with upgraded wire and the fluid damper (filled about 1/3). Adding the fluid damper imparted a surprising level of control, refinement, and delicate detail in the treble (e.g., violin, cymbals, and bells) and in hearing the ambience of the recording venue.
There's no question in my mind that, although I haven't heard them, the KAB mods must be a great improvement on the stock model. Re: the mat I simply listened to the two and chose the Rega felt one for both which was handy for keeping the comparison to the tables themselves even though the Rega felt mat would be unlikely to be used with the Technics. There are better/different mats for both tables but I didn't want to muddy the water any more than necessary.

Attempting direct comparisons are ultimately confused at best because optimizing the very important cartridge/arm relationship gets thrown out by using the same cart for both. I used the Exact because it was the best appropriately priced cartridge I had on hand that was broken in. I later put an older Sumiko Bluepoint Special on the Rega to great effect which surprised me that I liked it better in some ways than the Exact. I haven't tried it on the Technics yet.

05-15-08: Piedpiper
Attempting direct comparisons are ultimately confused at best because optimizing the very important cartridge/arm relationship gets thrown out by using the same cart for both. I used the Exact because it was the best appropriately priced cartridge I had on hand that was broken in. I later put an older Sumiko Bluepoint Special on the Rega to great effect which surprised me that I liked it better in some ways than the Exact. I haven't tried it on the Technics yet.
I use a Denon DL-160 mounted on a Sumiko headshell on my Technics. The Rega and Technics tonearms are pretty similar in effective mass, though that can vary on the Technics depending on the headshell.

I get the feeling that the Technics would like HOMCs, because it sure likes the DL-160 (esp. w/fluid damper), and A-Goner Ferrari's review of the Blue Point #2 on his Goldring GR1.2 indicates that the DL-110, 160, and Sumiko Blue Point all have a similar (good) presentation, while the Sumiko sounds a little more refined and detailed.

There are also some Technics/DL-103 enthusiasts out there, though I suspect they use a heavier headshell and the extra counterweight to match the effective mass to the DL-103's low compliance.
How about this?
http://cls.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/cls.pl?anlgtabl&1214939629
It's about as close to set and forget as you could hope. No tweaking or modding needed, and the price is right. The technics would be nice too.
I recently faced a similar decision and decided to go with pre-owned (1-week old) Rega P3-24 and a pre-owned Audio Technica AT440MLa cartridge. The total cost, delivered to my home, was $720. I'm absolutely thrilled with the sound! There's really little comparison between my old rig (Technics SL-3200) and thew new set-up. The most obvious improvement is in bass response and resolution.
Mika