Getting close to starting the upgrade process...


About a year ago, I decided to get back into vinyl. I've had a Linn system for about the past 20 years. I use it for both 2 channel and video. I've got a Majik DS, Roon, Linn Kisto, 2x 5125 5 channel power amps with active cards installed, bi-amped active Ninka's, Sizmik Sub, Trikan center channel, and Unik surround speakers. I added an Emotiva MC-700 processor above the Kisto when the codecs evolved and run analogue outs for each channel into the Kisto for video.
  
I was not sure how much I would use a new turntable so I started out by buying a base Rega P1 plus. I ended up buying a bunch of records and really enjoying it. While buying someone's record collection off craigslist I was also offered their turntable. It was a Micro Seiki dd-35 with the MA505 arm and an AT150MLX cart. I picked up a Mofi studiophono preamp and tested against the base Rega. No contest. The Micro Seiki smoked the Rega. I sold the Rega and have been using the Micro Seiki for almost a year now. Since getting back into vinyl I've been buying and playing more 2 channel music than I ever did in the past. As a result I have been considering upgrading part or all of my system.
  
After months of research, I am getting close to making my first big purchase and wanted to get some opinions. I have explored several options on where to start (and possibly end) on this process. I have considered starting by replacing my older sub with a pair of new REL's. I have considered starting by getting a more robust phono preamp (possibly a used Uphorik or a Sutherland). I have also done a deep dive on turntables and have considered starting with a new deck. I have looked into new and used options from Linn, REGA, VPI, Technics, Mofi, Clearaudio, Sota, Well tempered, Origin Live, and GEM Dandy. I like to buy equipment that will keep me happy for a very long time. When possible I try to buy used due to the tremendous values that can be had.
  
After digesting a lot of information, I think I am leaning towards starting by getting a new GEM Dandy Polytable with the 12" Jelco arm and a moving coil cartridge (still undecided). It seems like a really well designed table that clicks all the boxes for me. I like that it seems fairly priced, easy to setup and use, handmade in the USA, and that it has all of George Merrill's best turntable designs/upgrades including the fluid damped motor system of the 101.3 and the digital motor drive to change and monitor speed. It seems like everyone that buys that table is happy with it. You don't see many on the used market. I am thinking of pairing that purchase with a Sutherland phono (possibly the Little Loco) and seeing how those two upgrades integrate with my existing Linn electronics and speakers.
  
My issue with trying to stay Linn and get an LP12 is that new I would probably want at least an Akurate level table and I don't want to spend $10k on a table. I considered used but LP12's are so finicky and I know service and upgrades at my local dealer cost a fortune. To be honest investing significant money in any used table scares me a little. I did find a good deal on a used Uphorik preamp but now that I am considering leaving the Linn ecosystem on the table that purchase does not seem prudent. All the other turntable options seemed to have issues with regards to price, features, performance, ease of use, reliability or support.
  
I realize that this level of front end will probably make me want to upgrade the Linn electronics and speakers at some point. Maybe not? I think leaving the Linn ecosystem for this first purchase, will give me more flexibility as I move forward. It would be nice to have the freedom to easily swap out or try something new. Right now I can't easily change my front speakers because my power amp has cards installed in it for the speakers. There are tons of great values in electronics and speakers in the used market too. I am actually looking forward to exploring other speaker brands and technologies. I will probably stay solid state with the electronics though because the system is used so often with video.
  
I would love to get your thoughts on any of the subjects above. I would especially like to hear from the GEM Dandy Polytable Super12 and Little Loco owners. I would also love recommendations on picking out a cartridge for this setup. The Hana ML and Ortofon Credenza Blue were recommended by George. The ML is at a much better price point but I have not really done a ton of research on cartridges. I listen to mostly jazz, vocals and classic rock. I despise surface noise and a harsh or bright high end.
  
Thanks in advance for your input.
D72f8114 aa4f 4a61 b60e eafe523c3603snatex
Sure, the little Merrill is a good table for the money and the Jelco is a great low priced arm suitable for the vast majority of moving coil cartridges but I look at the Merrill as a starter table and as an  unsuspended turntable of low mass there are many things in the environment that are probably going to bother it like footfalls and vibration from various sources. You have already suggested a fondness for subwoofers and in that context unless you have a concrete floor under your system you would be better off spending a bit more money and getting a well tuned suspended turntable like a SOTA Sapphire. SOTA will also install that Jelco for you along with a very functional dust cover.
Nothing will bother the SOTA. You can bang it, jump up and down in front of it, scream at it, whatever. Nothing in the environment will bother it. This table could easily be a life time investment. If you do not like bright cartridges by all means stick with Ortofon. Go with the Cadenza Black. Sutherland makes an excellent phono amp.
After you do the front end go for speakers. Once you find speakers you like and you really have to look and listen then deal with the electronics.

Mike

Keep the sub. Add more if you want but never sell a sub. Just add more.

Upgrade the table if you want. But try and understand, by far the best thing you can do right now is ditch anything multi-channel in favor of stereo. If you can get an integrated so much the better. The improvement will be so great I can just about guarantee you will not even have to spend one dime. Just sell surrounds and A/V, anything and everything that its your hands (amps with cards!) and put whatever that is into a good integrated. You will probably have money left over for a good phono stage.

You will find this simpler and more flexible approach carries big dividends. Things like power cords and interconnects make a huge difference. With the right choices you only need a lot less of them, and so can afford much better quality.

Believe me, you will not miss surround, not when you hear really good stereo, not for one second. Well maybe one second. But that's about it. Buy a couple more subs with the savings, the sound field will be as immersive as any surround, and that will be the end of that. 

Surface noise is largely a function of moving mass in the cartridge. The tiniest stylus motion sets up resonances, the mass at the generator end reflects it back down the cantilever to the stylus, which being light has no way of dissipating and starts bouncing around. This is the reason why you will find review after review saying expensive high end carts seem to have much less surface noise. Its not magic, its mass. Expensive MC have very low mass.

The lowest mass of all by far are the moving iron designs used by Soundsmith. You want good sound and hate noise you want MI not MC or MM.

unless you have a concrete floor under your system you would be better off spending a bit more money and getting a well tuned suspended turntable like a SOTA Sapphire
Thanks for the feedback Mike. I do have a concrete foundation and carpet and the turntable is on a very heavy solid piece of furniture. I don't think footfalls or vibrations should be an issue. 

From researching the Sota tables it appears that most of their good features start at the Sapphire line. Though I think the vacuum hold down is further up the line. A new base Sapphire VI with a Jelco 9" arm is about $5k without a cartridge. Thats about $2k more than the Polytable with a 12" arm. What are your thoughts on the SOTA's refurbished tables? They come with Series 3 motor and electronics and no warranty. That is not too comforting. Also, the add-ons and service propositions seemed pricey too. 

If you do not like bright cartridges by all means stick with Ortofon. Go with the Cadenza Black.

At almost $3k that is also a bit more than I would like to spend. Any other recommendations more in the $1k range?

The lowest mass of all by far are the moving iron designs used by Soundsmith. You want good sound and hate noise you want MI not MC or MM.
Interesting. Any particular models that you recommend checking out? 
Well I have my eye on the Hyperion myself. Reviews and user feedback on it is its a real outperformer, and me and my system are totally up for it. But the whole range is MI, and the assembly and moving mass of his cheapest biggest most massive budget cart is tiny compared to even a really light weight low output MC.

I suspect a lot don’t even know what that means. I sure didn’t. Not until about a year ago. Even then it took a while, because MI is such a small percentage of carts compared to MC or MM, which together are probably 95% of the market. Totally guessing. Whatever it is, its tiny.

In a MM the magnet moves. In MC the coil moves. Both designs require the moving mass, be it coil or magnet, to be powerful enough to generate useful output. With moving iron, sometimes called fixed coil, both the coil and the magnet are fixed, and the cantilever moves a tiny piece of iron. The output signal is the fluctuation in the field produced by the moving iron.

Very ingenious. B&O figured it out. Patented it. Soundsmith manufactured under license, continuing to develop the technology for decades. Now B&O is out of the picture, Ledermann finds himself the only guy in the whole industry knowing how to build the one design with the most inherently superior technology.

I’d look at whichever one suits your budget. Then stretch and buy the next one better. Because in addition to everything else he has by far the best warranty, rebuild, and re-tip deal. There are reviews on a lot if not all of them, and I have yet to hear anything bad from anyone. DYODD of course, as always.
Joe Grado invented MI cartridges back in the 1950's! Bang Olufsen were latecomers! Grado has an excellent MI cartridge for all budgets! The wood-bodied versions are particularly excellent and more affordable than the Soundsmith cartridges.
A $1K Grado is at least as good as a $3K Soundsmith! 
I agree with millercarbon! Scrap the Linn AV system and start over with an integrated amp (Parasound) and speakers (Tekton). Add one of the new Technics TT's ($1800) for LP use, along with a Schiit Mani phono stage. 
roberjerman
Joe Grado invented MI cartridges back in the 1950's! Bang Olufsen were latecomers!
I think you're mistaken. Joe Grado invented the moving coil phono cartridge. MI cartridges go way back to early GE designs, IIRC.
I agree with millercarbon! Scrap the Linn AV system and start over with an integrated amp (Parasound) and speakers (Tekton). Add one of the new Technics TT's ($1800) for LP use, along with a Schiit Mani phono stage.

I agree with roberjerman! 
I would go with a good tube integrated, but either way Tekton for sure, and slap a Soundsmith cartridge on there, you will be shocked at the improvement. Mouth agape. Tweaked out with TC, Omega mats and Synergistic HFT, ECT, and Orange fuses, and you're gonna need a bigger drool cup.
Dear @snatex :  I owned and own MM/MI and MC cartridges ( over 120+ cartridges that go from humble ones to top tiers. ) and in all designs exist very good quality performers.

You asked for a very good MC one by Ortofon and here you have it inside your budget:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9j252-ortofon-cadenza-red-new-cartridges

and other very good option is this one:

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9j39c-kiseki-blue-n-s-brand-new-cartridges

I don't have experiences with the Little Loco but I know very well Sutherland designs and is an excellent designer and I think you can't go wrong with.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
The question about cartridges appeared here every week from different people, i wish someone could use "search" first, because so many information already on audiogon and we can only repeat it again and again, especially about MM/MI carts.

First MONO Moving Coil was invented by Ortofon in 1948.

BUT Joseph Grado later invented FIRST STEREO Moving Coil cartridge, however his brand is making Moving Iron cartridges. Here is a nice documentary about GRADO. Joseph Grado, like Mr.Pickering and Mr.Stanton, believed that MC cartridge can’t be good, those people designed and improved MI and MM cartridges all their life. Both brands made low output MM/MI as alternative to LOMC. Stanton/Pickering made extremely low output (low impedance) MM for use with headamp or high gain MC phono stages, but the cartridge was a Moving Magnet. Very interesting!

Since i changed my amp from tube push-pull to a solid state current mode single ended First Watt F2J the resolution of my system became so much better, not only resolution, everything is better, but the amp designed for crossover less speakers (full range drives). In this setup my Joseph Grado Signature XTZ (MI) quickly became one of my favorite cartridge! This is the best model designed by Joseph himself in the 80’s, so it is vintage MI, but the styli are still available from Grado. I remember that with my ex tube amp the Grado wasn’t so good in my system (even with the best vintage telefunken tubes). I am happy that i found superior technology and i don’t need tube gear anymore. Mr. Nelson Pass is genius and his solid state amps are the best, very impressive indeed (even for tube lovers).

Apart from Grado XTZ there are many more absolutely killer vintage MM cartridges and nearly all of them advised by me and others here on audiogon. I like top of the line Pickering and Stanton models so much. Apart from the American manufacturers there are so many amazing cartridges from Japanese designers! You can just search or simply ask in direct.






You will also find that the “Cartridge Man” in the UK also builds MI carts.
Isn't the Cartridge Man is just a customized Grado cartridges? 
The generator looks identical to Grado, i believe Grado is a supplier for Cartridge Man
Snatex, The Quintet Black, not sure what It costs now. With your concrete floor go with the Merrill and spend more on the cartridge. The only down side would be if you were to move to a location without concrete floors.
Any rebuilt SOTA will run like a brand new one. I still have my first Sapphire. It has never been touched and it runs like new at 38 years of age. SOTA has always taken care of it's customers I can not believe they would ever leave you in a lurch.
Thanks for getting this back on track Mike. Not sure how things got sidetracked so fast.

Phone Stages - Would love if anyone has thoughts on the Sutherland Little Loco or its big brother. Also, the Linn Uphorik in and out of a Linn system. Thoughts on exploring a tube phono stage with Linn amps and speakers?

Turntables - Any Polytable opinions out there? Thoughts on 12" arms? When VPI owner built his own table it appears he used a 12" arm. Pros and cons of the tables I listed above? Does each manufacturer have a sound profile? 

Speakers - I feel like my speakers are very accurate and dynamic but they lack some soundstage and textures in the bass. Not sure if upgrading table/cart/phono amp will translate to a big improvement with the same equipment. It might? Been seeing many people enjoying speakers lately that have fewer but bigger drivers (Tannoy, Devore, JBL, Klipsch, etc). Thoughts?

Video - abandoning using this system for both music and video is not an option.
Buy an integrated Parasound Amplifier and a pair of SALK Song3 Encore speakers.  You will not believe your ears for the money you spent.  SALK sells direct because they don't have to cut their price to dealers and instead use expensive drivers and cabinet build.  Will need to go to a show to listen to them.
Snatex, I have heard a larger Sutherland unit and they certainly know what they are doing. I am not a big Linn fan but I have never listened to one of their phono amps. I do think you would be better off sticking with a 9 or 10" arm and spending the money on a better cartridge. The 12" arm is also going to limit you to stiffer cartridges as the EF is higher. 
Snatex, As far as the overall sound is concerned the turntable and cartridge will not change that. 
I think you were on the right path with improving your subwoofers. Two is the minimum. Set up correctly with a high pass filter for the satellites they will improve your bass and soundstage. Without digital bass management with room control set up is not easy. It is basically a trial and error thing. 
The best way to start is get a tape measure and make sure each sub and satellite woofer is exactly equidistant to the listening position. Then you have to play with volumes and crossover points. Ideally you should never be aware you are listening to a separate driver (subwoofer) but your bass should be the way you like it. Use an acoustic bass solo to set the system up like a Dave Holland disc.
I do think you would be better off sticking with a 9 or 10" arm and spending the money on a better cartridge.
The difference in price between the 9" and 12" Polytables is nominal and George believes the 12 is superior so he has pretty much stopped making 9" version. I did talk with someone locally today that could tune up my current table and I am thinking of putting the money I was going to put into a new table into a better cartridge and the rest of the system.


snatex: I highly recommend the Super 12. I was interested in the design and called George. He explained the design principles and answered all of my questions. He is a very gracious and intelligent turntable designer.
I got the 12" arm with the external motor drive with an Ortofon 2M black. The sound is incredible, neutral, and very revealing. I am in the market for a MC to extract all that I can from the Polytable. George highly recommends the Hana line. I am still researching other carts though.
I would give George a call (if you haven't already) and get the run down.
I had Music Hall and VPI tables before the Super 12. I can honestly attest that the Super 12 is the best that I have heard for vinyl playback.
If you go to the Parasound integrated you will not need a phono pre as they have good mm and mc built in, I'm sure it's at least the Schiit equal 
Since my post, I have added a used Linn Uphorik phono amp, a new Hana ML cartridge and a second Linn 10.25 Subwoofer (Akurate 226) to my system. These have all been massive upgrades and I've been very happy with these decisions.

I am still running my Micro Seiki DD-35/MA505 but also still considering upgrading my table and am still leaning towards the Polytable Super 12 if I go new or a used Linn LP12 or a VPI if I come across a great deal on one with most or all of the features I would want. Do you guys think that these other tables will be a big upgrade on what I have now? How do you think these tables will differ in presentation and use? 

I am also keeping an eye out for the upgrade Kustone bases for my Ninkas and possibly a C4200 Akurate Amp with Chakra Ninka cards.

Any additional advice will be greatly appreciated.
If you like your Micro then you can look for a Denon DP-80 and it will be a much better turntable than anything else in your list. It is also "best buy" in my opinion because the price is more than reasonable even for NOS units like mine. Stock or custom plinth is a matter of taste. This is a serious Direct Drive machine, one of the best! 

Another "best buy" in my opinion is Technics SP-10mkII, i've been using it with custom made teak wood plinth and many tonearms, on this image it's with Schick "12 tonearm (it's a new arm).