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The VPI Aries with the JMW tonearm and a Sumiko Celebration cartridge. Then add the VPI SDS control device for ultimate precision. You can buy this as a package through the Elusive Disc and of course other dealers. I have this setup and it is really enjoyable. This is also a great looking and well built unit that will not keep you wondering if you went too far or should have gone farther in the analog world.
I'll strongly second the Aries, JMW and SDS (though I am quite happy with my Grado The Reference cartridge). I got a nearly mint complete Aries setup with flywheel -- I'd recommend it -- and extended dustcover for $3,100 on Audiogon; I've seen the cartridge recently going for About $800.
Don't overlook the value of a good phono cable (I like the XLO Signature, which has moved on Audiogon for as little as $250) and stand (I use the big, very expensive Symposium Ultra TNT atop an old Lead Balloon rack). Altogether, you can put together a "final purchase" combo within your $5k budget.
Kirk- For every respondent you are likely to receive a slightly different tt combo suggestion. However, the great thing is that there has never been a better time to jump into analog. There is more choice at near reference levels than ever before. Basis, Oracle, Michell, VPI, Teres, Clearaudio, and others offer models that can easily provide sound that can simply amaze. How you value the differences compared to the additional involvement with the equipment is something only you will be able to determine. Jazz and Blues will most certainly provide the better sound than most Rock/Pop vinyl. However, as your system improves, you may find your musical tastes broadening to encompass even some Classical pieces simply because of their incredible recording quality.
Depending on the sonic level that you wish to attain with your analog, there is one other thing to consider. Your current system is slanted toward digital, and as such, to gain the best from analog, you might want to consider the addition of a pre-amp/phono stage that is more capable of serving analog. Of course, you'll need at least a phono stage anyway, but consider an analog pre-amp as the actual heart of your system. Yes, the MC-12 does have an analog bypass, but with a pre-amp/phono unit you'll be able to do your own A/B tests to determine the configuration that offers the best sound. Just a thought.
Enjoy the music.
The previous post offers an excellent suggestion. If you decide you want to spend a bit less than the Aries/JMW arm combination, you might consider a setup I can recommend as a "high value" approach to LP reproduction: VPI HW-19 Mk 4 turntable with Rega RB900 arm and Grado Reference cartridge. If you need to buy a separate phono preamp, there are several very good, moderately priced options today: the Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE (with the new PWX power supply); the Phonomena (with separate battery power pack); and the Camelot Technologies unit (called the "Lancelot", I think).
There is plenty of good advice to consider above. The only thing I would add is you should consider getting a tube or high quality solid state pre amp with phono stage or an outboard phono stage. I would suggest something a little better than Sdcampbell's suggestions above. EAR 834P, AR PH3, Sonic Frontiers Phono 1, AcousTech. A really good way to go would be an Audible Illusions M3A preamp, which gives you an outstanding phono stage suitable for higher output cartridges. Any of the reference Grados would be an excellent choice. I personally would not use a digital preamp for an analog system. You may want to consider a DAC to go with your Sony if you are not happy with its sound as a stand alone (obviously you're currently using it only as a transport). My guess is you can do better than the Lexicon, but not having heard it can't say. That's another subject, but if you want to go analog a good analog preamp is your first step (that and your source of course). Good luck. You will be amazed I think!
To add to Tswhitsel's post, the Audible Illusions M3A is also available with a solid state phono section for low output cartridges. Designed by John Curl, it is an outstanding value and gotten great reviews, although I'm sure some of the outboard tube phonos might be prefered if you have the resources for those units.
I have the M3A with the John Curl board (some call it a "Gold Card") and am quite satisfied with it.
Thanks for all the excellent advice - exactly what I was looking for. The Lexicon does have true analog bypass and while I'm sure that the suggestions of buying a separate analog pre-amp has a great deal of merit, I probably would at least start with the analog bypass through the Lexicon.
If that's the case, I assume I need to buy: the TT, an arm, a cartridge, a phono stage, and a cable. Is that the full set to get up and going in the configuration I describe? Obviously there are other accessories, but I think that's the full set of what I need to play the first record.
Thanks again for all the good advice -Kirk
I am in exactly the same situation as your are. I have been debating trying out analog for a while. I have been going back and forth finally decided to research it.
I would recommend that you consider the Michell Engineering TT's. My research indicates that they are a great value for the money. Very well built products that are suppose to be easy to set up. This is an important criteria on my list; ease of use.
What surprises me is that these don't seem to get mentioned nearly as much as the other brands such as VPI, Basis, Rega, SOTA. Not sure why.
You might even be able to get a package deal with a rega arm with the VTA adjustment. The turntables are more in your budget than in mine, but I feel that they offer good value for the money.
Later, if you feel more convinced that vinyl is the way to go, you can upgrade the arm and/or cartridge.
I myself am leaning towards a Michell table, but am still researching as you are.