Project Debut III, with a cartridge and a great arm. An excellent table.
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I've recently seen examples of the venerable, but still great, AR XA turntable in good condition being offered here on audiogon.com for around $150.00.
Add a decent, reasonably-priced MM cartridge like a Shure M97, Sumiko Pearl, Audio-Technica AT-95, et cetera, (check LP Gear for good catridge info!) plus a thorough set-up job, and you'll have a good basic --and I do mean basic-- suspended 'table for not more than $300.00.
I have to disagree about a vintage turntable, when so many outstanding new beginner tables are for sale. When I say 'vintage' I mean AR era.. Once you find a used Rega P3 for $150. then I would go for it HAH HAH.. (MY bias) but really buy a new TT that comes with a cart, or a recent used one with cart here on the goN'
The first poster Project Debut III.. go for it.
The reason i say buy one with cart is few do setup anymore. Go to your local Hi-Fi place ?(Does such a place exist in 99% of the USA?)and even they don't "do" TT setup anymore. Sure, they can screw on the cart.. but do it right?
So, Go for the premounted new TT, or a used one with the premounted cart. (Rega uses a three point mount which negates mounting woes.. but I who have a Rega P5 use a none 3 point cart)
I acquired the vinyl habit about 1.5 years ago. My experience with vinyl is that either your in (fully committed there is a lot to learn) or you are out. That does not mean expensive but it does mean committed if you are going to experience its full capability. All the things that were said by earlier posters are true and I would add cleaning LP's, cartridge/arm matching,cartridge mounting, setting vta,vtf,rsa etc. Ultimately you have to enjoy the activity as well as the music. Having said that Rega TT with rega cartridge is probably the best way to try vinyl because Rega's do not require many of the adjustments that have been mentioned. Good luck.
Any other ideas regarding decent budget TTs for under $600 or even under $400?
Locally by me I see older Pioneer (PL-50), B&O (TX-2) and Technics (SL-1200) for about $200 to $250 but keep thinking I should be aiming higher. I mostly play CDs but am curious about vinyl after reading about how great the music sounds from TTs here.
My Phono preamp would either be a NAD PP-2 or a Vincent PHO-11 phono preamp.
I second the recommendation for the Pro-ject. Music Hall turntables are also made by Pro-ject.
I would actually look at a Pro-ject Xpression III with a Speedbox. You should be pretty happy with that.
I goofed around and ended up with a Pro-Ject Debut III with an Ortofon Salsa mc cartridge which necessitated the upgrade to the acrylic platter (standard on the Xpression) and also got the SpeedBox. All-in was about $800. Cartridge was a significant portion, though. My rig sounds very good, and I am happy with it for the near future. I may upgrade next year-- but only after buying a record cleaning machine and a bunch of LP's.
If it were me, it's a tough call between the Pro-ject tables, the Music Hall tables, and Rega's.
Jedinite, if your budget is $400. I would start with the Debut III. NeedleDoctor often runs them on sale. I would have them upgrade the stylus. You may not want to upgrade from there.
I would also bypass your choices on a phono pre and instead get the the Musical Fidelity V-LPS. You can then get the power supply upgrade later.
That's easy: the Cambridge 640P. Less than $200, handles both MC and MM. Extremely quiet, accurate RIAA, catches the details and also the dynamic jumps. I've had one for 3 years and even with several downstream upgrades, its basic goodness holds up well and resolution is further revealed.
The other contender would be the Musical Fidelity V-LPS at around the same price. To get appreciably better you'd need the Musical Surroundings Phonomena II at $600 or the PS Audio GCPH at $1000.
Thanks PMB, Lears and Johnnyb53 for your input.
From looking at some old threads here one TT I may be considering is the Audio Technica AT-PL120 or an LP Gears modified Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB. For under $300 new it seems to be a decent table that doesn't require much set-up time and tweaking. I may keep looking around for a decent Pro-Ject or Rega TT as well locally.