First Turntable - Direct drive or Belt drive?

First Turntable -  

Having no prior experience with a turntable, I need your help in understanding what are involved in setting up and playing a turntable. I’ve been contemplating an analogue front end that has a good synergy with my existing digital music playbacks and provides a music experience that excels what my current ARC CD-7 tube CD player could offer.

Here’re the components in my existing system:

Audio Research CD-7 Tube CD player (I much prefer a tube-based CD player than a non-tube based one)

Ayre K-1xe pre amp (without phono)

Pass Labs XA 30.5 power amp

Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 speakers (Sound Anchor stands)

Audience Au24e balanced interconnects

Audience Au24SE speaker cables

Kind of music listening to: symphony, chamber, strings, vocal, pop songs, jazz

FYI, I have no of collection of LPs.


First, where do I start collecting LPs? Buying new (expensive) or getting used? FYI, I’m in NYC area and I think there’re some LP stores around. Second, do I need a decent record cleaner to achieve a reasonable level of LP playback experience? Moreover, how do you store your LPs? Any suggestion for a good quality shelf/storage for LPs?

 Trying to understand the output from a turntable. I read somewhere on the forum that the output of a turntable is inherently balanced. What’re the typical output connectors off a turntable – balanced, RCA or other?  My pre amp has balanced input/output and power amp has balanced input. Should I get a phono stage that has a balanced input/output to take advantage of the pre and power amps?

If a turntable (i.e. Technics SL-1210GR) has a RCA output, how to connect it to a phono stage? Turntable RCA output > Phono RCA input > Phono Balanced output>Pre Amp balanced input?

 Any recommendations for a high quality, less maintenance First Turntable around $2K (new or used? Thinking about the Technics SL-1210GR? Is its playback more digital like than analogue?

Lastly, I need recommendation on a moderately priced, solid rack for a turntable. FYI, I currently do not have a rack and I put all components on the floor. A rack that will house a turntable, pre-amp and CD player would be ideal. Or, they could be 2 separate low-profile racks.


Thank you!

Omigod!  Too many questions.
To buy LPs in volume in order to start a collection, and unless you are very well off financially, I suggest you need to find a reliable source of used LPs.  Best to buy direct from a dealer; don't buy off eBay. Fortunately for you, you live in NYC where there are a number of suitable emporia.  Look in the West Village.

Technics SL1200GR is a fine choice but not the only good choice.  It will put out one particular flavor of analog.  If you want a digital sound, go digital.  The output of a CARTRIDGE is inherently balanced.  That has nothing whatever to do with turntables.  Despite the facts, for generations 99% of tonearms have been using single-ended (RCA) connections between the tonearm where it outputs the cartridge signal and the phono stage. 99% of phono stages operate in SE mode.  If you happen to choose a phono stage with true balanced circuitry inside, then you can re-terminate the cables with XLRs or change the cables for balanced ones with XLR termination. Don't worry about this for another second.  I notice that you own an Ayre linestage which probably has balanced inputs and balanced circuitry.  You probably should choose a balanced phono stage but if not, there are ways to link the phono to the Ayre, SE to balanced.

I don't do racks.

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With regard to your primary question: Direct Drive or Belt Drive?

IMO it doesn't really matter, all turntable drive types can sound good or bad.  The question is what sounds good/better/best to you?  Listen to as many turntable/cartridge phone stage combinations as you can, preferably in your room and with your amp and speakers.  Then pick one.  If you are like most audiophiles you will end up replacing your first turntable with something else soon enough.  You have allocated a healthy budget so you should be able to find an analog rig that rings your bell without too much trouble.

If demoing turntables is a chore and not fun, you're doing it wrong...

If you are looking for a new DD table within your budget of 2K the Technics is the only game in town. There are plenty of used DD tables but they are 30+ years old. I doubt that you will go wrong with the new Technics! BTW,what is your budget for phono preamp and cartridge?
I think we've been had. The OP's post really makes no sense unless you buy into it.
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This may not be the answer you want.

I am a vinyl lover who has a first rate set-up, I think, and a large record collection.  I also think I'm a critical listener.

After many years of being disappointed in digital play-back, I have discovered, in the last two years, that a reasonably priced digital system can now be had that is as good as vinyl.  In fact, I have listened critically to many of the same recordings on vinyl and digital.  Add to that the fact that digital can be far more convenient, as for example, choosing tracks off my phone.  

In addition digital is noise and maintenance free, and used CDs are a bigger bargain than used LPs.  They are cheaper and noiseless.  Even old scratched ones can play as new.

Also, new vinyl is ridiculously expensive, and in SQ not as good IMO as the old stuff.

Bottom line is that if I were not already invested in vinyl, I would not get started.  There's really no reason to.

If your digital player is not giving you what you want, look for digital elsewhere.
Melm, the man already has good digital. Take a look at his equipment list.

Also, the man has some money. The obvious fit for a phono stage is the Ayre P5Xe, which is a balanced circuit to go with the Ayre linestage. In which case it makes sense to go balanced from cartridge to phono input. If balanced is desired it’s probably not a good idea to purchase an all in one turntable with built on tonearm arm and internal wiring, because all such units are SE. For true balanced hookup you want a 3-wire connection with identical conductors for the pos and neg phases and separate ground. And, to me, there ARE important SQ differences between DD and idler drive on one hand and belt drive on the other. Best bang for buck are the former types, IMO.
For collecting LPs Discogs is a godsend, even if just for checking prices. My practice is to often buy a cheaper repress to see if I like it and then hold out for an original. What are your tastes in music?

Hmm, I never really considered that I might be neurotic.  That explains a lot... 

The OP says he wants an LP system that "provides a music experience that excels what my current ARC CD-7 tube CD player could offer."

I don't know anything about the OP's DAC except that it costs about $9000.  [I also know that the correlation between DAC price and SQ is far less than perfect.] The OP's budget for a turntable is $2000.  Given that the DAC is worth $9000, or anywhere near that amount, the likelihood of equaling the SQ of his digital, never mine "excelling"  in SQ beyond it, is almost nil IMO.

And then there are the issues of software, particularly used LPs.

It seems the OP is missing something, something his current system doesn't provide.  I think he should look within.  A $2000 turntable will not give him more.  A $10,000 turntable probably won't either.

Anyhow, it's not your money so feel free to advise away! 
I would say the problem is less that the OP is missing something, than that the OP is missing.

One post. That never did make any sense. Which by its very nature will now run on and on and on, let's see for how many pages. 

DD, lol, where do I buy records (in NYC!) lol!
Yep.  Good old R0817 has apparently taken a powder.  I'll miss his wit.
Thanks for the feedback and suggestions so far. As I mentioned in my post, I had no experience with turntables but would like to give it a try. Obviously, I've asked too many questions at a time that turned out to be counter productive.

Let me clarify that I didn't mean to get a 'forever turntable' at the first attempt. Rather, I want to start experiencing LP playbacks and determine if it's what I expected. Direct drive or belt drive is not critical. I want my first turntable to be low maintenance and reliable.

BTW, I love my current digital playbacks and there's nothing missing in it. So no guess work here. We just live one life and want to try something new to keep ourselves interested. So here are the questions:

Can you recommend a turntable/arm/cartriage in the $3-4k range, new or used that is relatively easy to set up and maintain yet provide an excellent LP playback experience?

As for phono stage, it doesn't need to be balanced as long as it offers a good synergy with the turntable and pre amp. Tube or SS, which makes more sense?

Could you elaborate on the configuration of a turntable output? What are the typical connectors?

To clarify, I don’t live in NYC and am not familiar with those LPs store in NYC. For turntable, I’m looking for the traditional analogue sound rather than digital like sonics. I already have a satisfying digital set up.
My point was that since you already own an Ayre line stage, which is inherently a balanced circuit, you may as well also acquire a balanced phono stage. I say this also because most people with experience suggest that the Ayre products sound best in balanced mode. Although Ayre does offer single ended mode as an option. So, you have the luxury of knowing that whether you choose a single ended or a balanced phono stage, either one will be well accommodated by your line stage. Taking it back one step further, that also means you can easily hook up your cartridge in balanced mode. Of course, this is not mandatory in anyway.  In choosing a phono stage either single ended or balanced, tube or solid state, it would be helpful to know your budget. Given the high quality and cost of the remainder of your system, I naturally assumed that you could spend up to around $2000 on your phono stage. You could with some patience acquire an Ayre P5XE phono stage within that budget. As to whether tube or solid state is to be preferred, most guys these days prefer tube. I too would suggest tube, if I knew that you were going to use a high output cartridge, which is to suggest a moving magnet or moving iron type. If you want to use a low output moving coil cartridge then perhaps you would more seriously want to consider solid-state devices, like the Ayre.Many tube  phono stages will require the use of an outboard SUT in order to develop enough gain to deal with a low output moving coil cartridge. That would entail another level of complication, another pair of interconnects, etc.
hi there.

the vintage Japanese Direct drive with a good arm is probably what you want. good Direct Drive usually outperforms good belt drive. idler drive  can be better than both belt &DD but can be worse. i suggest making idler your 2nd choice AFTER you have a good 1st choice. 
i suggest technics sl1015 (ridiculously under-valued)  and sony  ps x70 . both of these great decks have great arms . the technics rig goes for 1000-1500 while the sony deck goes for 400 to 700.  grab either. 
What is a Technics SL1015? I am not familiar with that model. Or did you mean to say “SL1500”? If so, I would have thought you could buy one for less than $1K.
The OP owns a multi thousand dollar CDP and some other fine equipment as well, so I think he can aim a bit higher in selecting a turntable. But I agree that DD offers best bang for buck.
Thanks guys for your feedback. As @lewm suggested, I might consider a higher level turntable and will take my time exploring various options.

For the time being, I think it may make more sense to add a full range pair of speakers to my existing system so that I can achieve a more realistic listening experience when playing big scale orchestra off CDs.