Choosing a new turntable

I've used an LP-12 for more than 30 years, mostly an 80's version with Valhalla and Ittok. I took it in for a tune-up last week and decided that's it, I'm done with this. I want 45 rpm, I don't want to throw more money at the Linn, I want something different.

My budget is $3K or less for table and arm and my inclination is to buy new, though that's not a hard requirement. My current cartridge is a Benz L2 wood body. I like an organic sound. I want an unfussy system (I briefly had a Kuzma StabiS/StogiS a couple of years ago and never got comfortable with it). I want a table I like the looks of. I've read every relevant thread here. I am intrigued by the groundswell of renewed interest in high-torque systems, but am not sure that will make sense given my budget and needs.

It's tough to audition tables, as you know. I'm hoping some of you seasoned vinylphiles can help me understand the kind of sound to expect from the various choices out there. Here's what's currently on my radar:

VPI Classic -- Price is right, buzz is good (though you have to be careful about that). But the table's footprint is a bit bigger than I'd like and I'm told the VPI sound is on the dark side. It's a bit clunky looking in the pictures. Also, I'm quite inexperienced with unipivot arms.

Clearaudio Performance SE (or the new, lesser, Concept). I like the looks of these tables, they seem well made and easy to set up. I've heard Clearaudio is fussy about support and may be hard to get good sound from for that reason. (I have an Apollo rack with a Neuance shelf.)

Well-Tempered Amadeus. Again, lots of good buzz about this new table. But I have heard of some reliability problems and the thing looks fragile and fussy. Also, no cueing lever (though I understand an add-on will be offered), which would drive me crazy I think.

Technics SL-1200 from KAB with some of the KAB mods. This is an entirely different kettle of fish, I realize. Much less money than the others, would give me a taste of direct drive, very easy to use, and I'd probably take advantage of the detachable headshell to play with some other carts. I could put a better arm in it eventually. But I have no idea if the sound I'll get from this table will be even in the ballpark of the others or even of my sub-optimized LP-12.

I suppose Michell and Nottingham should also be in my consideration set. What do you think?

That's it. And before you start flooding me with suggestions for searching out some long-discontinued rarity or DIY project, let me say that I appreciate the suggestions but I'm really inclined to keep this simple and off-the-shelf.

Hi Dan,

Have you considered the SOTA's? With a little patience you can most likely pick up one of their better models, in used excellent condition with arm, for well within your budget.

I have used an early SOTA Sapphire, with Magnepan Unitrac unipivot tonearm, since I purchased it new in 1983. It still looks and works like new. It is so well suspended that I can literally pound my fist on the plinth with moderate force while a record is playing, with no audible effect whatsoever. And its looks are very classy, with an oak finish and dovetailed corners.

The only downside I can report, which may not be true of more recent versions, is that on slow sustained piano notes I believe I can hear a very slight wow and flutter, due presumably to its use of a servo motor.

Best regards,
-- Al

I did a similar upgrade recently, after having had a pair of older technics and dual tables in my system for years. I ended up going with a VPI scoutmaster. I found it pretty easy to set up and dial in. The build quality is nice and I like the look of it. I'm not sure how it compares to the VPI classic, which seems to be getting a lot of good reviews, but I didn't want to wait several months to find a Classic I could audition.

If you're interested in comparing cartridges you can always buy an extra wand for the VPI arm since they're easy to change (with their unipivot design the wand arm just lifts of the mount once the plug is disconnected).

good luck with your search.
I have an LP12 and am very happy with but about yr or so ago I considered a new table and the one that caught my eye was the Avid Diva II. I looked at the Clearaudio, VPI (although the classic wasn't out then),Rega and Project.
There is no Avid dealer in Colorado that I know of so I was shopping Music Direct. You may see if they will sell with a 30 day return option if you don't have a local dealer. Just another suggestion. As a final side note: I understand the frustration with LP12 but for 3K you can get it tuned and add the Lingo.
There is a listing for a SME10A posted right now, they even take trades - trade in the LP12 and you may just be at budget - a no brainer !

Hmmm, I'm going through a similar search. For me its hard to find dealers within reach with a good product range. So far listened to Well Tempered Amadeus and SOTA Jewell, LP12, Clearaudio Solution. All based on what is available rather than what I want to listen to. Can also get a Michel Gyrodec for a good price, NOS unopened box but no prior audition. I want ease of use and a path to future upgrade. I found that many dealers are not good at correct TT set up, especially if they only stock TT's as a sideline. Not to mention the issues of getting a dealer TT demo with a suitable phono stage! Oh well, more research here and a leap of faith coming up!
A couple of years ago, I swapped out my LP12 with an upgraded Mitsubishi LT-30 linear turntable. With all of the upgrades, I have about $1200-$1500 in it (including the original $500 purchase price). It is extremely easy to set up and the upgrades make it comparable to ones you're looking at. There is an Audiogon member who does these upgrades. The LT-30 sound put meat on the bones that the LP12 left.
What's your take on the WT Amadeus?
There are many positive comments about the sound of the Amadeus, although for some reason it seems to often be paired with a $9K cart. It looks good but somewhat tweaky and a bit strange to me (tiny wires, golf ball) but I need to get some hands-on to see for myself.

I'm coming to the realization that appearance, build quality, and what it's like to use/operate these tables is more important to me for this decision than for other components. Especially since it's so hard to do good comparisons of the sonics. To that end, I will ask, which tables have folks found the most satisfying to operate? (I hope the question makes sense to you.)
Dan -- If you haven't already, see this current thread on the SOTA's.

-- Al
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

I recently upgraded to the Gyro SE and have been really enjoying its build quality, its musical presentation, and yes, even its looks. I didn't consider the Gyro SE when I first researched turntables because of its looks and I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with a suspension system. But due to unanticipated circumstances I ended up with the Gyro and I'm glad it turned out that way. The spider chassis and suspension system take some time to set up but once done it seems to be stable and is easily fine tuned if needed.

Its appearance may be an aquired taste and not for people with an eye towards a more classic form, but I think it looks cool. (I left the suspension tower covers off because I think it looks better without them; the brass weights on the platter show up better.)

I would also recommend getting the Orbe threaded spindle and clamp upgrade. It's overpriced here in the U.S.A. but still worth the cost because the stock Gyro clamp isn't that effective in getting the correct clamp tension.

The price new is more than you've budgeted for (adding a proportionally priced tone arm will likely put you over the $3000 limit) but you could always add an affordable tone arm like the Jelco 750D or a Rega and upgrade the clamp later if the budget is locked in. Michell carries a line of mounting plates to accommodate a number of tone arms if you decide to upgrade the tone arm in the future.

Oh, by the way...

Artech Electronics Ltd ( carries a custom Rega RB250 for $549 USD. Here is an excerpt:

"Artech Electronics has been supplying an exclusive North American version of the Rega RB250 on the Michell TecnoDec for some time. The RB250 Special Version provides far better performance than an RB300, even if equipped with the same upgrades. This tonearm sounds so good that dealers and consumers have been asking us to supply it on the Gyro SE or on its own. We have therefore made arrangements for Michell Engineering to put this arm together for us in standard Rega style retail packaging (Molded foam clamshell with outside carton)."

"The arm consists of a Michell-branded RB250 onto which the Michell Tecnoweight, VTA Adjuster and Finger Nut have been installed. It includes 3 shorter arm board standoffs to give a wider range of VTA adjustment if used on a GyroDec, or Orbe turntable. Mounting template, alignment protractor and instructions are included."

I will add the SOTA to my list as well as the Gyro SE. I don't find the Gyro unattractive although my tastes tend to run toward more traditional looks. If I could own any table based on its appearance, it would be one of the Spiral Grove tables or the Artemis or the DPS that Ayre distributes,

The dimensions of the SOTA Sapphire are too large for my Neuance shelf, which is 18" x 15". Does the entire 20" x 16.5" need to sit on the shelf or are there feet inset or a smaller sub-plith?
Dimensions of the Gyro SE have two components. Footprint of the motor and support feet would fit on a 18"x15" surface (with an inch or two of clearance behind) but to use a full dust cover requires a surface more like 20"x17" minimum to clear the chassis and tone arm. I just use a lightweight piece of fabric to cover the turntable.

On my 1983 SOTA Sapphire, for which the maximum dimensions (including the dustcover brackets at the rear) are 20.25" x 16.5", there are three feet, two towards the front and one towards the rear. A square platform measuring 13" on each side would be sufficient to accommodate all three feet.

-- Al
It''s hard to go wrong with the VPI tables for the money. Are there 'better' tables out there, yes, but then you are spending many more $$$. I'm not crazy about unipivot arms myself; they seem so 'jumpy' and 'bouncy', almost unstable. However, I owned a Scout for several years and found it to be extremely enjoyable and an absolute steal and high-performer, especially for the dollars spent. I've heard the VPI Classic at shows sounding both fantastic and not so hot... Like everything else, system matching is key. Having said that, I agree that the VPI tables can sound a little dark.

I've auditioned the Amadeus in the showroom and I was not overly impressed. I compared it side by side with a VPI Aries 3 (same cartridges) and the Aries 3 was much better in my mind. However, it's the arm's lack of a lift lever that would drive me insane; manually lifting that arm each time and attempting to place it delicately and softly down on a record would make me a nervous wreck!
There is a Wilson Benesch "Full Circle" advertised today for 999.00 plus arm. A Rega or OL arm would work. I went with an Origin Live table. Audio Revelation carries the line. You may want to check them out. OL recieves favorable reviews from the British press and an older review in Stereophile of the table I purchased was very favorable.
Thanks for all the suggestions.

Would anyone care to comment on what the SOTA "sound" is, perhaps compared to other leading brands, such as VPI, Clearaudio, WT, Linn, etc.
Hmmm...this looks pretty attractive:
Are you sure you want to deal with the hassles and maintenance of the vacuum system? Plus this is another sprung table. I had the impression from your post, you were tired of the maintenance problems with the Linn. It very well be a great sounding table but you are going the opposite direction from what you originally posted other than the 45 RPM. Maybe I misunderstood?
The Sapphire doesn't use the vacuum system. True about being sprung, but I believe it's much less sensitive and critical than in the Linn. Am I wrong about that?
I did the same thing back in "2000" dumping my Linn LP12. I never looked back. I went to a Michell despite the suspension problems I had in the past. It's still not perfect but at least it can be adjusted easily and it does not really affect the overall sound as it did the LP12.
I have heard the VPI Classic recently and really liked what I heard. It's really "NO FUSS" and has a nice sound with good defined bass, (better than the early Aries). I did not find the Classic dark sounding, actually opposite of that. I have a HW19 MK3 and it was much less dark than that. If I was looking for a $3K TT now I would really take a hard look at the Classic. The only issue I would warn against is the exposed arm wires can act like RFI antennae if your local is as predisposed to it as mine is. You could always try and get one w/o the VPI arm and mount another arm.
Do they make the classic armless?
I own three different turntables. The least expensive is the Amadeus fitted with a Dynavector XX2 MC cartridge and Auditorium 23 RCAs. This is a far less expensive setup than the other two but it is easily the 2nd best sounding setup of the three. Extremely musical with the best bass I have ever heard from any turntable, tonearm, & cartridge combo. Sound stage, PRAT, instrument locations, and instrument textures are all excellent. The build quality is quite good but of course it is not the same quality level as my Ayre-DPS or Basis Signature 2500. Like the OP, I had some concerns about the lack of a cueing system, but the tonearm is so damped and otherwise easy to move and control that I had no problem adjusting to the lack of a cueing system, and my Amadeus is necessarily on the top shelf of an equipment rack that is arguably higher than what I typically see; the top shelf is 48.5 inches high.

So far I just flat out love this turntable! I do not find it "fussy" or overly "fragile" but those attributes like so many other things we might associate with the toys in our hobby are highly subjective. In other words, what might be perceived as fussy or fragile to one individual will not necessarily be a problem for someone else.

I have not encountered any reliability problems nor have I heard about any.

Bottom line: This is a remarkable TT that is a tremendous musical value at its price point. I highly recommend anyone planning on spending between $3K and $6K on a turntable/tonearm combo that they audition the Amadeus. It continues to astonish me!
Very good summation of the Amadeus, 4musica. Spot on. Does the Ayre or Basis sound similiar? or were you just talking build, or looks of materials? I've seen some gorgeous-looking tables lately with flashy parts, but it doesn't always show up in the sound :).

Not that I know a whole lot, but Drubin, you'll be shooting yourself in more than the foot if you swapped your Linn for a Sota or Technics. Realize that so many people recommend what they own. But have you seen the cars they drive?
You think a reasonably up-to-date SOTA would be a step down from an out of date Linn? Why?
If you can stretch to $4K, consider the Galibier Serac with the $750 arm of your choice.
- major step up at an attractive price
- small (albeit tall) footprint
- accommodates any tonearm you choose, now or in the future
I owned a SOTA Nova Series V (upgraded from Star Sapphire) and in my experience these are well designed tables that are great values for the money, especially used. However, I found the table a little too sensitive to vibrations for my taste. You would definitely need to consider a wall shelf to help this. If you decide to go with SOTA get one with the vacuum platter as it is a huge benefit with SOTA tables.

That being said today I own a B&O Beogram 8000 and 8002 (both over achievers), and just sprung for a Galibier Serac. I would give Thom Mackris a call and inquire about the Serac and arm package he offers.
i haven't heard anyone mention nottingham yet. the absolute stone simplest tables on the market. the only problem is that the founder went through a divorce recently and they may be harder to find now.
as for sound, they sound very big with very dark background, huge soundstage. i use a benz wood on mine and it responds very well to it. not quite as fast as a rega, but very good (low torque motor) no on/off switch, spin to start and stop. they maintain speed very, very well because of the low torque. non-suspended, so no major problems with suspension. i think you could get a new space-deck for $3000 with a little negotiation from the dealer.
Chashas1 et al:

My Ayre, Amadeus, and Basis analog setups all sound quite different from each other. The cartridges and arms for each are all different, and each is in its own system, much to my wife's chagrin. As you know, individually and especially collectively, those accessory and system differences pretty much preclude valid A/B comparisons. With that said, my favorite is the Ayre, it just does everything right for me. The Amadeus is a close second, bettering the Ayre only in bass response and sonic value per dollar spent. The Basis is a pretty close third. It has the darkest background of any of the three setups.

From an esthetics perspective regarding materials and construction, the Ayre and Basis are just superb and score very high in the "all-important" eye candy category. The Amadeus seems to be at least as well built as a Rega, and I find its look to be eclectic, even without the golf ball!

Tomcollins said the Nottingham turntables "maintain speed very, very well because of the low torque."

Why is low torque the reason for well maintained speed? I would argue the opposite! I have used the Spacedeck before and it puts me to sleep and I suspect because of the low torque.
I have to agree with Dougdeacon, given your constraint on size/space, and desire to get something with support, this would be an excellent contender. And Doug's point on tonearm flexibility is key too. For Doug's tonearm add-on price, you could get a Micro MA-505 (and you can ask Thom Mackris at Galibier what he thinks of them).
I looked at the Nottingham Ace Space today at a dealer. This is the current edition of the what used to be the Space Deck. The dealer had it fitted with a Rega arm that had been rewired, which is what he would suggest to keep me within my budget. I liked it very much, I must say. He's going to let me bring it home for a weekend, with my cart installed, to see if I like the sound.

But don't stop this discussion -- no decisions have been made.
SoundStage! did a review of the Not AceSpace and somewhere compared it to a slightly lower-priced VPI. I read it a couple of years ago. I remember the reviewer preferred the 'richness' or 'fullness' of sound from the VPI (maybe the HW19, can't remember) over the Nottingham. I have heard neither but perhaps others could opine on whether the review was accurate or not.

Separately, if interested, there are several DD or idler implementations one could buy for that money which would do you very well. And given how well-supported Technics SP-10Mk2 and Lencos/Thorens124/Garrard401s are these days, one could pretty much consider one of those plug'n'play if you got it used but refurbed (they come up reasonably often - there are a couple up now I believe).
I read that Soundstage! review. In a PFO review, the reviewer also seemed to prefer his Sota to the Nott, but described the Nott as leaning toward the analytical side of the force. Interesting. When I listened to it at the dealer's yesterday, my thought was that it may be too dark and thick for me. I guess there's no substitute for listening to these things. :-)

What I value about vinyl playback is its ability to sometimes seemingly cross the border between reproduction and real life, to communicate an organic "breath of life." If I can get that, I don't care if the bass isn't the best or the soundstage is small or whatever.
A good table will get you unbelievably good bass, and once you get it, you don't want to live without it. I have yet to figure out what it is which gets you the right bass. Other than setup and cartridge/arm matching, among table factors, I am inclined to think it is inertia and/or torque. The few tables I have had with light platters didn't do the bass right. The very few with very heavy platters or super-torque do bass the way it is supposed to be done.
drubin, you are absolutely right about listening to them as they are all different. also, different depending on the arm, cartridge, room, phonopre, etc, etc.
i hope you like the nott in your listening room and if not, try something else and most importantly, ignore us.
good luck, there is no bad choice.

i am also looking for a new table in the $3000 range. i have auditioned the clearaudio performance se, nottingham spacedeck, and the vpi classic, and the well tempered. i liked the clearaudio best. followed by the nottingham. the clearaudio is very neutral sounding, easy to set up and use, and beautifully built and designed. i really like this table. the nottingham is a very big sounding table and is a little warmer than the clearaudio. its a relly well engineered table, but fit and finish a not as nice as the clearaudio. i could definately live with this table. i personally did not care for the vpi classic. it sounded pretty good, but im not a fan of vpi arms and it is big and ugly in person. the well tempered is a great sounding table, but kinda fussy and i just cant spend $3500 for a table with a tonearm that uses a golfball floating in the dampening fluid. hope this helps.
That's very helpful, yes, thank you. I would expect to have similar reactions to you, but need to see them in the flesh for myself, and listen to them of course.
I agree with your assessment of the Well Tempered table. The golf ball isn't even a Pro v1.
TW Acustic great tables sound wonderful well made.