Help for a vinyl novice


I've swam about in hi-end audio for over a decade now, but only in the digital world. I've had plenty of experience with tubes, ss, planars, drivers, etc. However, i'm making the plunge into the deeper waters of vinyl. Whenever I see a good, "entry-level" tt for sale, I immediately start researching it here and elsewhere online. And, of course, there are as many good reviews as there are detractors and I end up with cold feet.

Could someone point me to a solid tt under $1K, including arm and cartridge? I'm not averse to upgrading either at a later date and feel comfortable enough to undertake such an upgrade as needed, though not immediately.

I have a pair of Reference 3A de Capo i's being powered by an LSA Statement integrated with an MM phono input. My listening room is small - 10'W x 12'L x 7'H - and I have an 8" Velodyne sub lurking in the corner.

Maybe take a look at what's being offered now and advise? or advise what to look for in future listings?

Thank you much,

I went through the same thought process last year as you are going through now. I ultimately purchased a Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable, Musical Fidelity V-LPS phono stage, and the acrylic platter upgrade. All in, the cost was about $650 all new. It is a nice piece of gear, the included cartridge sounds good, the purchase was a smart one. The only thing I miss from my turntables growing up are the auto start and auto return features. Other than that, it will serve you well.

Normally I don't like to recommend what I already have or want to have, preferring to suggest something that is right for you. Not me. But in this case I have to.

Take a look at the Pro-ject RM5.1 at 1K even. It come pre-equipped with a Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 cartridge and Pro-jects carbon fiber 9CC tonearm. These items purchased separately are $400 and $700.

For all you get, I truly believe this is the best value in a turntable package out there for a thousand dollars. I bought one and it sounds and performs so well, I cannot see upgrading it yet. BTW, the Blue Point No 2 is a very nice high output MC cartridge that will work well with any MM preamp. It is extremely well balanced and I enjoyed its sound for 1200 plus hours until it was time to replace it. The tonearm is used on entry level models by high end TT manufacturers Oracle and Avid.

Hope this helps and good luck.
Hi Simao,

I was in your position only a few months ago. Here's the thread I started:

My suggestion:
Linn LP12
Technics 1200Mk2
VPI Traveler

For Pre (you don't need one, but for reference):
Cambridge 651p
Musical Fidelity V-LPS
Jolida JD9
Musical Surrounds Phonomena II

I ended up (much to my surprise) with a Technics. For about $500 used you can get a very good TT provided it's not DJ'ed. I'll eventually upgrade, but for right now, entry level, I don't think you can go wrong.
My current vinyl front end consists of a Rega P3/24 with a Dynavector 10x5 cartridge and a Musical surroundings Phonomena phono preamp. Also, I upgraded the table with a Groovetracer acrylic platter and Reference sub-platter. I have spent a total of: P3/24 used=$700 Dynavector new=$450 Musical Surroundings used=$325 Groovetracer upgrades=$450. I did these in steps over a couple years.I would have to spend $5000.00 to get better sound from here.
My brother uses a Rega P3 with the Rega Exact cartridge $600.00 and he uses the LSA Integrated amp as well. He loves It!! Big, Dynamic and taught with excellent imaging and sound stage,brilliant highs and beautiful mid range.
Check out SOTA Moonbeam,it is $750.You will have $250 left over to buy a nice Grado cartridge!
A dealer is selling a Music Hall MMF 5.1, 7-day old customer return with full warranty. Comes with everything you need. I had one and it's a very good tt to start out with. When you upgrade, you'll only lose a few hundred bucks. Not bad in this game.
Consider a Technics SL1200 direct drive table. Web search on the various SL1200 modification services(KAB, Zu Audio, Applied Fidelity, others.) This gives you a solid platform for future upgrades to a very high level of performance, and lots of fun along the way.
hi all,

your advice is awesome - as is all your backing information. I'm still weighing and waffling - but thanks also for the feedback. Please keep it coming? I'll post when I settle on one. And where I live it's hard to audition a specific tt; plus, I'd like to do it through my own system rather than a dealer's.
ditto the Technics 1200 with upgrades and damping. It is not a bad place to start and you will not spend more money until you know something else is better - it is that good.
The Clearaudio Concept that is on sale by me (another analog novice), is a great choice. I thoroughly enjoyed this table, its almost plug and play.
I think what you really need to do intially is to set a budget for a TT/cartridge combo. Since you do not have a MC stage exclude the likes of any Dynavector (ie 10x5 that was mentioned earlier) I am not a used junkie for TT's myself unless it is something special like an LP-12 (expensive mind you) or a more cost efficient rig like a Thorens TD-160 which I believe is far superior to any of the Japanese made units made in the 70's. Also the auto return features are also not so important in my view because in many instances the auto features malfunction and without it working properly the whole operation of the TT is compromised. Do you have a set budget? The Music Hall that Chayro mentioned is very good rigbut from what I hear adjusting the VTA is a pain. VTA adjustment I find is very important!!! Also stick with Belt Drive.
Technics 1200...proven, reliable, upgradable, holds value...another 500 on cart and preamp...its going to sound really good....
Spend some cash get bottom of the line TW ACUSTIC a really great TT.
Okay - so everyone is raving about the Technics 1200. I have no experience with it, but is it really THAT good? Maybe I'm swayed against it by its reputation as a DJ tt, or that it's not belt-driven?

Would you recommend the 1200 or the Linn LP12?
My strong opinion is that if the rotational speed is not accurate, nothing else matters. This just makes sense to my logical, analytical side.

The Technics tables are direct drive so the accuracy is there.

A lot of folks will probably disagree with me - good for them - it is there ears to hear what they hear.

The DJ thing is baloney, or elitist, as dj's will use equipment that can be relied upon every night.

With the Technics, one needs to address the surface upon which the table will sit(butcher block and brass cones) and the tone arm requires rewiring.

$1000 with cartridge and you are good to go.
For pure audiophile use the Lp-12 by leaps and bounds over the 1200. The Technics is what i call an industrial use piece of equipment, robust, as one has said can be used as in evironments with more than your conventional home audiophile use. Its not an elitest thing at all, its a fact. The Lp-12 with the proper Tonearm/cartridge is still held in the highest regard among audiophiles. The Lp-12 of course cannot be used for Dj work or nightclub/frat party use. It sounds like Simao is more heading into the home/audiophile direction. So Lp-12 hands down. There is plenty of information on the 2 units so I would be interested to hear what your impressions are.
Purists may it doesn't carry a "boutique" pedigree...but the Technics is a time tested, quality machine...unfortunately the cat is out the bag...prices have increased...but deals still abound...even in stock form...its pretty impressive...I would pick it over a mid level Rega, Project, etc...but to each his own....
The LP-12 is a continuum of product bifurcations dating back a mid-70's design. I wouldn't recommend it to any self-professed novice, and certainly not at the $1K price level.

Arthur's site can be controversial, but so is an LP-12.
Agree with Dgarretson. The LP-12 is a fussy, sensitive thing that requires either deep knowledge or deep pockets to perform well. $1K won't get you far with a Linn dealer, and a newbie's inexperience would be sorely tested by the LP-12's fickleness. If you love your Linn that's great, but that doesn't make it a suitable recommendation for everyone.
As a Linn LP-12 /Ittok owner since 1982, I would never recommend that to a novice. The suspension and power supply problems are enough to steer clear of any used Linn's.

I personally don't mind fussing with turntables, but it is not for the faint hearted or folks that just want to enjoy vinyl.

Project, rega, and vpi traveler for a little more would be my recommendation.
Technics vs. Linn:

Used Technics $500 w/ cart
Used Linn LP12 Sondek $1k - $1.5k w/ cart (or more)

For me, the difference in price was why I went with the technics. I couldn't justify the expense right out of the gate of the LP12. I wanted a good platform that I can tweak, upgrade and mess around with. The 1200 is just that. There is just a *ton* of support out there for the technics. Many time tested (and proven) advise and upgrades.

Also, at these price points, I don't think the LP12 offers 2-3x the performance the technics does. For my money, the better value is the 1200. I mean really, you can't go wrong with either one..
So - I went on an impulsive hunch and ordered a Pro-Ject 5.1SE yesterday. Came with the Blue Point 2 and the carbon fiber arm.

I mean, I researched the heck out of it before I ordered it, so it wasn't just a "oooh - that looks pretty and audiophile-esque)" decision. But I wanted something I could be happy with and build on as needed.

About ten years ago in another life and with a lot more money than now, I had a Meridian/ARC/Maggie system and though I don't know whether I'll get into vinyl enough to warrant laying out that kind of cash again, I did want something beyond a nouveau-hipster tt.

Anyhow, thank you again for all the advice - especially the warnings about the Linn. I actually look forward to learning how to tweak and adjust and fuss with my vinyl components, so in a few years maybe I'll move up to something like that.

Question, though - since the stylus feeds into the cartridge which feeds into wires - doesn't the quality of those thin wires leading back to the IC's really determine the sound quality?
Congrats... and enjoy! It sounds like you made a sound decision for sound reasons. :-)

Yes, the quality of tonearm wire has a significant impact on sound quality (more so with a LOMC than MM). Upgrading those wires is one of many tweaks that vinylphiles love to get into.
Question: the Pro-ject came with its separate IC's and grounding wire. If I want to use my own ICs, can I just separate the ground wire from the existing Project IC's and use it with my own IC?
No problem Simao. Just separate the ground and use it with the interconnects of your choice. That what I did. Enjoy the music!
Awesome. Thanks for the advice, all. Look for an amateur review upcoming when time and kids allow.
So, the Pro-ject 5.1SE arrived a few weeks ago - a day after I had shipped off my LSA Signature to be upgraded to the Statement Integrated. Thus the Pro-ject sat idle for about three weeks until the amp arrived last Thursday, blinged out and resplendent in all its sonic, tube-hybrid, and wood-railed glory.

In the meantime I fastidiously followed the set-up directions, aligning the stylus, ensuring the tone-arm was parallel, getting the counter weight just right for the Sumiko Blue Point's weight, leveling the top rack of my Salamander stand (my listening room floor has a definite list to port, much like a slowly sinking ocean liner). I cleaned my vinyl and ordered a Spin Clean Vinyl Washer. I have no idea whether I'll stick with vinyl as a medium for playback, but if I do, I'll probably dive deep into it as I usually do with whatever pursuit catches my ephemeral fancy. I don't know if I'll go so far as to change cartridges each night based on which record label I'm spinning, but as a music/color synesthete, I do appreciate fidelity and dimension in my music.

Anyhow, I finally hooked everything up a few days ago, using my Clear Day IC's in lieu of the Pro-ject stock ones, but stuck with the 16v power supply (a Speed Box might be in my future?). I then, feeling somewhat foolish, donned the included white gloves and removed my first vinyl from its sleeve.

Actually, that's not true. I first found the corresponding cd's in my shelves to conduct the obligatory side-by-side comparison of cd and vinyl. Then I let the LSA warm up for about ten minutes or so until the Amperex 7308's were nice and toasty. THEN I played the cd versions first, followed by the analog versions.

1. Steely Dan - "Aja" (Aja, AB-1006): This was the best version of the vinyl I could track down online, with most reviewers saying the AB-1006 kept dynamics and presence consistent and pristine. I believe it was from the first pressing. Be that as it may, at first the vinyl didn't strike me as punchy or forward as the cd. In other words, it lacked the brassy balls of its digital counterpart. However, what I was impressed by as the song unfolded was how deep and wide the stage was through the Pro-ject. And when Gadd really got going, his drums cascaded around me in thunderous but tight swirls, with that iconic stick hit at the end of a fill pinpoint in the sound stage. Fagen's piano was similarly warm and open and wide, yet precise and distinct.

Nick Drake - "Fly" (Bryter Layter - LC-00407). This was the latest reissue of the album, I believe, and this track outperformed its cd version. Drake was right there, in the room, while his guitar shimmered ghostly slightly off to the left. The haunting strings were visceral in their presentation, playing in perfect melodic counterpoint to Drake's guitar. My de Capo i's can't really project past their lateral plane in my tiny listening den, but this music was deep and all around me I listened to the album twice before moving on. Isn't it a shame that absolutely no footage of an adult Nick Drake exists? No concert, no candid, nothing. In a world where image is icon, to have such an icon without image is a great loss.

10000 Maniacs - "Verdi Cries" (In My Tribe - Mobile Fidelity Silver MOFI 1-1013) The same as with the other discs. Merchant's voice and piano were palpable in the quiet room. Her notes hung in the air, decaying softly until the next notes rang over them and also faded out in the background. Some muddying during the more dynamic vocal sections, but I felt as if she were in the room, hopefully along with Nick Drake. The production of the rest of the album was somewhat less dynamic, but that could have been a symptom of 1987 standards.

A few caveats: My LSA has an MM phono stage, while the Blue Point is a high output MC rated at 2.5mV. I'm not sure how much this affects the sound. Would a MC phono stage improve things to any great end?

I'm loathe to use a sub, and my monitors can only go down so far (40Hz, I believe). I do have an ancient Velodyne 8" CHT sub I could hook up, but I'm resisting and, in fact, am in the market for a pair of Ushers Tiny Dancer 2's or Dali Helicon 400's or even Audiokinesis Jazz? I wonder how the TT would sound through full range speakers?

But I'm incredibly satisfied with the 5.1SE and the Blue Point. I know it's middle of the road as far as cartridges and TT's go, but it's fine for now. Especially as I haven't decided whether I'm sticking with vinyl for the long term.

So thank you all for your advice, suggestions, and guidance these past few months. You helped me along my musical journey.

Simao - While the Blue Point is technically a MC cartridge, being a high output design it will work optimally into a MM phono stage as far as loading and gain is concerned. So while you could get a better quality phono stage, as long as you are using a high output cartridge (either MM or HOMC) you will not benefit from getting a MC phono stage. In fact it would be overloaded from the high output level of the BP.
Bill is correct. However the Sumiko recommends the BP be capacitive loaded at 100 pf or less. I own a BP but have it loaded at 100pf. I am not sure what impact on the BP the higher loading would have. Many phono stages are set to 200pf I believe. One advantage of many outboard phono stages is flexibility of loading.
The LP12 is a great TT. They are not hard to rebuild, and can always be upgraded. You need to be patient to get one at a good price. I sold one for 4500.00 a second for 3500.00 and have a 3rd one that I got for a steal. Before I got the 3rd one I had a Rega RP3 with the 303 arm. At first I thought I'd never miss the Sondek LP12, but after a few albums, I realized what a cheap piece of junk they are, especially the plinth. Easy to set up, so so sound, but not worth more than 100.00 bucks to me. Yes, I did get the deck and Ittock LVII with in your price range and it sounds as good as the more expensive Linns I had. Best of luck.
1. Technics 1200, swap arm for rega arm. A friend of mine swapped out the arm wand for Carbon fibre rod, this may not be practical for everyone and it took a lot of work but I with his rewire and tone arm I can confidently say it is the best 1200 I have ever heard.

2.VPI HW 19, many different models to chose from usually with an audioquest/Jelco arm on it. Very nice deck

3. If you are feeling cheap, vintage Thorens. But I have to say you are giving up a lot taking this route over the other 2 options. It comes with arm, and the deck has a very nice triangle suspension to it.

NOTE: As for the cart, it is hard to say without knowing if you want to go MC or MM. There is always High output MC also, which might be good if you are on a budget or want to avoid a step up device. I will not stir the discussion regarding which option is best, however you might want to look at the Benz Gliders, new or used in whatever configuration you like best. I think they will probably provide the best quality and technology if on a budget. I do not know of anyone putting together a hand made swiss product, with a micro contact diamond and boron cantilever at prices anywhere close to the cost of a benz new or used.

Well I hope that helps.
Wow Polk432!!!

Calling the RP3 a "cheap piece of junk not worth more than $100.00" is a little radical, don't you think?

In it's defense, the Rega RP3 may well be the most significant audio product of the decade. The RP3 has been designed and engineered to achieve outstanding performance way beyond the expectations of a product at this price point.

Most importantly, Rega concentrate the manufacturing costs on the high quality parts necessary to reproduce records accurately (double brace technology, 24V motor, RB303 tonearm, etc) and not on "looks".

The so called "piece of junk light plinth" is purposely and cleverly design to prevent energy absorption and unwanted resonances which will add unnatural distortions to the music. Sit this table on a sand box and completely eliminate unwanted vibrations from the 24V motor by locking it precisely with the Rega TT-PSU and you will have a dead quiet table capable of producing eeire black backgrounds with the right cart.

All TTs have strong and weak points. In the end, it all boils down to synergy and taste. I can happily say that my modified Rega RP3 "sings" better than any other TT I've ever owned and that I dont miss my rather expensive Linn LP12 set all.

Happy listening!