Do I buy an upscale TT?

I recently heard a $50K TT at a friend’s and was floored by the performance.

It was a sound from a system I have never heard.

I have a very nice Woodsong Garrard 301, Tri-Planar arm and Grado Epoch 3 cartridge. Going into an Atma-Sphere MP-1 pre wt phono.

Discovered an affordable TT based on the Legendary Commonwealth idler drive TT (said to be among the best). One is $8500 and the other more elaborate one is $15K.

And there is another highly modified brass Garrard 401 for $10K. (said to be as good as the Commonwealth)

The big question is whether or not I am going to be pleased with the improvement in sound? There will certainly be a lot of hassle to change TTs!


Who is the sayer who said a Commonwealth idler is the best? And who says the modified Garrard is as good? Moreover what $50K TT did you hear that floored you? Was it too an idler? What were other components in that same system? Take a deep breath.

Make sure to replicate everything from the wall to your ears.  This includes exactly duplicating the space that you used when listening.

"It was a sound from a system I have never heard."

To be clear, you are familiar with this system otherwise and the turntable has taken the SQ to a place you have never heard before?  

there are a number of people who have traveled down the road of simply buying improved levels of Garrard 301. they love the 301 sound and want better, but don’t really want a different sort of sound. and they get to a place where it’s an ultimate for them. done. and the 301 is that good to be an end spot. had one and loved it.

and others who want something different and more all around transparent and refined. is the Commonwealth a ’better’ Garrard? or is it something else that goes to a high level? don’t know. if it’s a better Garrard then make sure that’s the direction you want to go or it might not be worth the trouble.

maybe depends on your choice of music. will a different type sound take you someplace you really want to go? be of value to you?

the guy with the $50k tt sounds like trouble to me.


I just picked up the SOTA Escape with an Origin Live arm and it is quite good.  It has me loving vinyl again and it didn’t break the bank.  

There are world class turntables based on idler arm, sprung, and unsprung. Personally, unless one is strongly rewarded by nostalgia for a youthful experience or reproducing a “sound” from your history, it makes no sense to buy old tables. The formula has not been lost. But the available tooling and parts as well as designs have leaped forward over the last fifty years. Especially around the turn of the century there was a huge advancement in turntables.

I would recommend taking advantage of new technology. The Tri-Planar is a very well respected tone arm… I would recommend using it on a contemporary turntable. Go listen to some high end tables. 

I have found tables to make an enormous difference in sound. Obviously not just the table though, it's the whole rig from the table to the arm to the cartridge as well as the phono stage. Like any other component tho, different units will have different signatures. As someone else said, what was the 50k table and it's constituent parts? I'd say I less it was a Garrard that's not the way I'd go. I know there's a whole cohort or people that love idlers but if you look at current technology, idler isn't it. Take the Thorens for example. The original version of that table was an idler but when they resurrected it they made it a direct drive. I'd say that the DD technology has come a long long way and is as good as or better than many belt or idler drives. I have a brinkmann Bardo and it's absolutely amazing. 

In the end, what I'd say is try and listen to some high end analog rigs and see what YOU like before dropping 10k or more

@mglik you have a very nice system. Whether the Commonwealth or the tricked out 401 are better than what you have will be very much down to the details of their builds, how far they have been taken. Hard to know on paper.

Do you feel your table/arm/cart are setup to a high level? I know that's a hard question to answer. Its possible setup could account for some difference. 

 btw what table / arm / cart / phono blew you away? Just curious :)

Lastly, and I see you have fondness for idlers, which I totally understand, have you heard good direct drive ?



lug your TT to the friends…….

i agree on refining your thinking about what was different…..and discerning how that relates to strengths  / deficiencies in your gear and or setup….

Enjoy the music and the journey…


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Stick with what you have! The 301/Tri-Planar/Grado Epoch is truly excellent - and very costly! Spending more $$$ beyond this is a waste of money! If you want to hear a real change buy a better pair of speakers.

IMO, the turntable is the most important part of the vinyl system. You already have a fine tonearm and cartridge - let them sing! Be sure to audition an air bearing TT, air thrust and air sleeve. Air for both, if you can find one.

Once you have heard air, there is no going back. IMO.

But others like Mike Lavigne also have very good advice.


You have had some good advice from colleagues above.

I would like to add that what you heard was a total system, including room dynamics, acoustics. Please do not underestimate the impact of room treatment, simple adjustments to your current room (furniture layout, alignment of speakers, sound absorption of curtains / wall sound absorbers etc) will yield surprising results without change of rig.

My friend bought a fully refurbished Garrard 401 with some upgraded parts, with a very nice plinth, fitted with a Groovemaster 12" and an Ortofon SPU Royal GM II.

For some reason he had to go back to his other turntable which was Nottingham Analogue Ace Spacedeck fitted with the same arm and cartridge.

Let's just say the Nottingham Analogue wiped the floor withe the Garrard 401 in everyway possible.

Whilst I understand the nostalgia in owning a Garrard 301 or 401, and for those of you that own and love them fair play to you, but from my experience they cannot compete with more modern well engineered turntables.

To get good sound from a Turntable requires a huge investment. Unless you really want to spend over 50-200k you will never be happy chasing dragons.

sell you turntable like I did and focus on digital and getting a better amp and speakers first. Or buy a Kronos Sparta for about 30k-35 with a good tonearm and get a 20k audionet phono stage with a 10k power supply for it. You will also need Kubla Sosna elation tonearm cables and power cables.
All this will not be perfect but will be a step up from what you heard in your friends room.


Ehat a ridiculous statement! You do not need to spend $50,000 on a turntable to get great sound

I had a cheap starter system that was about 6.5-7k with a Rega planar 6, mofi ultra tracker MM cartridge and a rogue audio phono with NOS tubes all with upgraded power cables from Shunyata Delta V2’s.

The legend Mike Trei helped me align and pick out the cart. So don’t think i did it half ass and do not know what I was doing.

It was a solid 6 out of 10! I realized for me to get to the next level would be more money than my entire system. Good vinyl playback is possible but requires a huge investment to read the record well and extract all the information out! I have a very resolving system and invested more money into my Lampizator and got better results through digital then I could ever afford on vinyl. I heard many 15-20k-25-30k-35k from AMG, Basis, Kuzma & SMS rigs that sound flat or just wrong and off. Most of the good stuff is over 50 grand as he pointed out in his original post. I would say it takes about 100k to really make a statement vinyl rig and 200k for a reference vinyl rig. Kronos is the best I heard. The new Kronos discovery is the only rig I have heard that can beat the best 50k-100k dac’s out there. It also depends on your speakers. If you have british speakers or Sonus Faber or Dynaudio or lower end Focal stuff you don’t need to go as nuts with vinyl since they don’t have the dynamic range of a YG acoustics like I have or a Magico, Rockport Technologies, Stenheim, or newer Wilson Alexx-V or Alexia V or XVX..Best bang per buck a Rega planar 10 with Aphelion 2 cart and a Rega Aura Moving Coil Phono stage. Everything will match impedance levels and set up will be easier without any guesswork to get something solid for about 18k with good synergy. 

Whatever Garrard 301 enthusiasts say, one does have to ask whether a 70 year old turntable design is the best sounding thing you can buy.  And I speak as an former Garrard 4HF owner.

Then I did sell that in 1966.

@pennfootball71 : "I would say it takes about 100K to really make a statement vinyl rig and 200K for a reference vinyl rig" - so spake the moneyphile!

Garrard 401 with two tonearm setup



as for what you heard, IF possible, take your TT there, listen to it thru that phono stage, all his equipment. Now, your TT, his TT, degree of difference?

moneyphile? LOL No No I gave conditions for this based on speakers. I also gave a 17-18k system for most people that is moron set up proof. 

I think you’d be better off assessing what you currently have and make modifications or tweaks that would help you achieve the sound you are looking for. For example cartridge, cables, arm. speed controller, damping, feet the list goes on. Rarely can you find what you’re looking for “off the rack” so to speak. The other option might be to try your friends turntable in your system if that’s possible. My point is I’ll bet it doesn’t sound the same. Good luck. 

Hey... do you guys Hear Yourselves?

Geez, talk about First World Problems...


What a ridiculous statement! You do not need to spend $50,000 on a turntable to get great sound

A turntable should not add ANYTHING to the sound quality. The most important attributes a turntable can have are lack of noise, isolation from the outside world, pitch consistency and speed accuracy. Pitch consistency requires unwavering speed and a very flat record. So, the turntable must be able to clamp the record flat. 

Going to another idler drive will do absolutely nothing for you. Remember, the sound of your friend's system was due in the most part to his Speaker/room combination not the turntable. You already have a fine set up with one exception, the Garrard. @clearthinker is absolutely right. Idler wheel drive is an antiquated design. The noise and rumble are legion. Each bearing and contact point adds to the symphony and on top of that their pitch consistency is poor. The attraction to these turntables is purely psychological. Like clearthinker I sold my last idler wheel drive table in 1967, never to look back.

On the bright side there are meaningful improvements you can make by going to a quieter, more accurate table with isolation and either vacuum or reflex clamping. Sota is out because your arm will not fit. SME is a possibility if you can find one you can afford. The Kuzma Ref 2 is an excellent choice and in your price bracket! Get a good dust cover for it and you are in business. You will notice my blacker backgrounds and a realness to the music missing in setups with poor pitch consistency. Wavering pitch kills the illusion that you might be listening to a real performance. 

I would expect anybody who is introduced to a System for the first time, in a home environment, where the system has been carefully put together to get the best from the sources selected to be used, will be impressed with the demonstration offered.

It does not take a $50K TT to seriously impress in such a set up, a lesser valued TT, can I am sure offer a great performance.

I in the past and mainly prior to covid times, had travelled a Four Hundred Mile round trip to attend a HiFi Clubs periodical event, where the meeting place has a resident £200 000+ system.

The Speakers and Amplification alone retail at £140K.

The loom is said to be near £20K. 

The main attraction is to get to hear devices brought by others slotted into the system, to see how they perform in such Hi End Company.

Vinyl and Speakers are the biggy, with Digital being the less frequent.

I have heard modified TT's and Tonearms costing a £1000 as donors prior to being modified, hold their own alongside TT > Tonearm > Cart's costing 20-30 time more as a retail price.

No Different with Phonostages, the resident Phon' is a £10K retail price, and it isknown this model quite happily competes with Phon's upto twice its value.

I have witnessed the resident Phon' matched with the homebuilt Phon' Designs, or  even bettered, if a certain range of a frequency is ones most preferred. The home built designs costing approx' £1500 - 2K, produced by adept EE's, can really shine out for the attractiveness they offer.

I have also heard these home produced Phon's make Commercial products sound very inferior regularly, that are 2.5-4 times the price.

As advice for the OP, I would suggest continuance of enjoying the system that has been produced.

Whilst enjoying what is already in place, I would suggest attempting to experience other systems, whether personal owned or from a commercial environment.

There are experiences to be had that can be of equal impression to the friends system, and possibly achievable for substantially less monies, if wanted to be pursued.

Keep a open mind, Branded Items are produced with tight financial constraints, and can quite easily be placed in the more expensive end of the market, especially if aesthetic appearance has been the heaviest of impact on the overhead to produce.

The DIY Market is not so constrained and a lot can be offered for not too much, the end aesthetic might be a little robust but 'hey ho', it is easily overlooked if one does not do their listening with their eyes. Bear in mind the TT's you are focusing on are coming from this background, and is possibly evolved into a cottage industry, with a High Mark Up on a product, due to a small turnover of sales.   


I sort of chuckle when I read some of the stratospheric cost figures that got tossed out here for sound reproduction systems. Personally, I'd take that same "budget" and attend more *live* music events, where the sound is, well, the sound you're trying to replicate in your room. I'm fortunate enough to live in an area that supports a wide range of live musical performances, so I get my fill of classical, jazz, and rock performances--these are my true "reference" system.

Since this system is owned by a friend I assume that he would help you analyze this opportunity to upgrade. Do you and your friend both have CD players hooked up to your systems? If so you can start with a simple comparison that will answer a lot of questions. Note: When I say Turntable I mean the entire system including tonearm and cartridge.

Pick a vinyl record and the corresponding CD title from your collection that is good demo material. If you lack either the CD or the record, buy it. Compare the CD and the vinyl on your system and note the differences - frequency response, detail, soundstaging, etc. Take the CD and vinyl to your friend's house and do the same. Does his TT blow away the CD? What are the differences there? Does the CD sound amazing too?

This test can be valuable for a couple of reasons: 1) CD players are much more uniform in SQ than turntables so they can provide a good reference, and 2) If you hear substantial differences between your friend's TT and CD player it will help you analyze what you are hearing and what appeals to you.

This is easier than @tomic601 's suggestion of lugging your TT to your friend's house but I heartily endorse his idea too. Before you contemplate spending tens of thousands of dollars it would make sense to do some due diligence. Besides, geeking out with your audio buddy is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Hipsterjefe If you can have both , expensive system and able to go to live music why not? Here in Illinois I live close to Ravinia festival.and 30 minutes from Genesse theater where they have good line up of musicians. So I ussually attend live music as well. I hope I can attend where Patricia Barber plays with her band in Chicago, I live 30 minutes from Chicago as well.

Once you get to a certain level of vinyl playback equipment it becomes more about flavor nuances and aesthetic appearance. Maybe better to ask yourself whether you are looking for a different flavor rather than “better performance”.

Number one question I thought about when I read this post is: 'what did the room look like'? From my own experience components seem to be a noticeable but minor actor in the equation. When changing the components, you will be ’tweaking’ the quality of the sound. The main protagonists are the room structure and speaker relationship. I would spend that 50k tearing out drywall and lifting ceiling heights and buying nice Persian/Turkish rugs.

Puting a rug in the right place does more to sound than going from one high end component to another.




"Especially around the turn of the century there was a huge advancement in turntables"

I thought vinyl was dying/in coma around that time  

on the 100K comments, I think you need a decent room and a few K (used) for an amazing analog sound. Of course you can spent 10s of 1000s and get a better sound.


But the momentum of producing great new high end tables had tremendous momentum… and before table companies started cutting back the vinyl resurgence occurred.

+1 @pennfootball71 

That Kronos TT I heard at RMAF 2019 was unlike any analog I have ever had the pleasure to listen to.  Completely incredible. Bonus was the designer was running it. Very approachable.



What elliottbnewcombjr said.

I am guessing you will be very surprised. You already have a great TT,

Playing Vinyl typically requires your direct attention. This is where the look becomes important ie, two arms Great cartridge record clamp. 

After hearing at a dealers a Kuzma Safir tonearm and having heard this system many times before but with a 4point I can say the tonearm transformed the sound more than any other piece of gear. Yes it's an expensive arm but I'd say buy it rather than a multi thousand dollar table and be very happy. BTW the table was a Kuzma Stabi R and had  MSL cartridge (don't recall model).

After hearing at a dealers a Kuzma Safir tonearm and having heard this system many times before but with a 4point I can say the tonearm transformed the sound more than any other piece of gear. Yes it's an expensive arm but I'd say buy it rather than a multi thousand dollar table and be very happy. BTW the table was a Kuzma Stabi R and had  MSL cartridge (don't recall model).

I've said the same here in this forum for years. A great tonearm paired with a competent drive will blow anyone away when set up properly with no more than a modest cartridge. But most audiophiles buy with their eyes. Like loudspeakers, they fixate on the turntable only to their detriment. 

@fsonicsmith  A great tonearm with a great cartridge on a competent drive will do the trick. You have to consider the cartridge and tonearm as one unit.

The variation in the quality of cartridges is quite substantial. The more expensive cartridges are more carefully constructed with better components especially diamonds. Some cartridge companies like Lyra, MSL and Ortofon maintain their quality as you go down line, others most definitely do not like Audio Technica. I mention these companies because I have the most experience with them.