Help me get back to vinyl


I can't believe I'm doing this, but I can't take it anymore. I've got a 25-year-old Rega Planar 2 sitting around doing nothing, and my parents just moved and brought over 4 boxes full of my old records. There's even an Original Master Recording of Donald Fagan's The Nightfly that I forgot I even had and can't wait to cue up since the CD sounds horrible. Ditto Aja. God knows what else.

Anyway, I'm looking to do this on the cheap just to get the disease started while avoiding divorce. I need a new cartridge and a phono pre (I have interconnects already), and the whole thing has to cost under 1000 bucks. I tend to favor neutrality and transparency with good imaging and 3D soundstaging, and I definitely do not want something that sounds polite or rolled off in the highs if that helps. I assume I should buy the cartridge new, but I'm open to a used phono stage and would prefer solid state but am open to tubes if the benefit warrants.

Also, the Rega hasn't been fired up in probably 20 years, so what service should be performed and about how much should I expect to pay for it? Or should I just start it up and see what happens? Would I be better off just buying one of the newer less expensive turntables rather than resurrecting the Rega?

Many thanks for your thoughts/suggestions.
soix
"just to get the disease started while avoiding divorce."

LOL...ya sure ya wanna do this? It gets addictive...
Cartridge: AT120e/t $80
Phono Pre Amp: Cambridge 640P $180
Rega belt: $15?

Clean & Dust turntable. Motor runs?, Arm moves freeley with no play?

Install and align cartridge.

ENJOY THE MUSIC!
Analogphil has good advice. I second the Cambridge phonostage, it is worth its price and more. For a cartridge, I personally would look at the Dynavector line.

Check the turntable bearing for low or gummy oil. The bearing may need to be cleaned and relubricated.

You'll need a cartridge tracking force gauge (the Shure is fine) and an alignment protractor or similar device.
I can third the Cambridge. Very good bang for the buck. It was my main phono stage before I bought the Sutherland Ph3d.
OK, based on your budget of <$1,000, if I was in your exact same position ... knowing what I know now (picked up almost entirely from A-gon and a few email exchanges with the good folks at needledoctor.com ... this is exactly what I'd do:

1) forget about the Rega. I had an old Thorens. It's history. Instead, pick up an Audio Technica AT-PL120 direct drive table. Retail is $300, but they can be had on eBay for $250

2) Replace the stock cartridge with a Audio Technica AT150 MM. Go to J&R Electronics. Available for $250. Or go with the Ortofon 2M Blue ($200) for a little better gain.

3) Add a Bellari VP129 Tube Phono preamp $250. I really like the sound I get with mine. This allows you to do a little tube rolling, so you can tailor the sound to your musical tastes. It comes stock with a 12AX7. I prefer the NOS 5751.

4) Invest in a MintLP cartridge alignment protractor $120 delivered.

There you have it; and it leaves some left over for, stylus force guage, spare tubes, upgraded interconnects, record cleaning supplies, etc, etc ...
OK, based on your budget of <$1,000, if I was in your exact same position ... knowing what I know now (picked up almost entirely from A-gon and a few email exchanges with the good folks at needledoctor.com ... this is exactly what I'd do:

1) Forget about the Rega. I had an old Thorens. It's history. Instead, pick up an Audio Technica AT-PL120 direct drive table. Retail is $300, but they can be had on eBay for $250

2) Replace the stock cartridge with a Audio Technica AT150 MM. Go to J&R Electronics. Available for $250. Or go with the Ortofon 2M Blue ($200) for a little better gain.

3) Add a Bellari VP129 Tube Phono preamp $250. I really like the sound I get with mine. This allows you to do a little tube rolling, so you can tailor the sound to your musical tastes. It comes stock with a 12AX7. I prefer the NOS 5751.

4) Invest in a MintLP cartridge alignment protractor $120 delivered.

There you have it; and it leaves some left over for, stylus force guage, spare tubes, upgraded interconnects, record cleaning supplies, etc, etc ...
Sorry about the double posting.
The MoFi "Nightfly" is just blow away good, much better than the CD, unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the "Aja", which has boosed bass and tinkly highs. Part of Gary Georgi's legacy.

If it were my money, I would buy a used Gram Slee Era Gold MKV phono preamp for around $650.00 and an Audio Technica AT150MLX cartridge for $249.00 and take the other $101.00 and start saving for a nice record cleaner, or blow it on records and strong drink.
Have to agree with Viridian . Maybe up the cartridge to the rega exact . With the graham slee reflex V it will give exactly the sound you stated you were looking for . Cheers
The above post by Viridian is right on. The Gram is superb and I have the AT150MLX which is one of the great under-rated cartridges. It retails for 500.00, J&R is the best price as is LPgear. I am using it on my VPI Scoutmaster and it easily dusts the Shure V15VXmr and the VandenHul/Adcom HOMC. It is fast, huge, open and reminds us why cd is ....well... just a cd. Clean the bearing well with a long q-tip and if you don't have one, let me know and I will send you some. I get them from work...medical stuff. Clean with a little alcohol, allow to dry and use a little synthetic oil like a 5w20 or 0w20 Mobil 1. An ATF will also work like the Mobil 1. The ATF is good enough for BMW transmissions...manual ones in some cases so it has the shear wear resistance properties. It also has a detergent to keep things clean. Change every year. Spin the black magic. Jallen
Be sensible, first just purchase a refurb Audio Technica at J&R Electronics for $50. Your get to go and you will be surprised at the good sound it produces. Yes, I have one, but also a VPI $6K rig and to tell you the truth, the Technica sound is quite acceptable. At least until you go up four grand or more.
I am also just getting back into vinyl after 20+ years. I found a Denon DP-300F turntable that has a built in pre-amp so you can plug it into an integrated amp or receiver that does not have a phono input. It came with a MM cartridge that I upgraded to a DL-160 high output MC cartridge. Total cost new was $600. The sound is very open, alive and full with no problem tracking records. It gave me the extra money for the stylus gauge, record cleaning supplies etc. I know I will upgrade but this is a very acceptable and affordable way to get back into vinyl.
Thanks for the great advice. I'm thinking I can get started on the cheap w/ the Cambridge pre and maybe the AT150 cartridge. I was thinking about the Bellari, but I don't think I want to be restricted to MM cartridges.

I was also considering the Graham Slee, but it's gonna take someone who compared it head-to-head with the Cambridge and found it vastly superior (be specific) to make me spend the extra $$$ at this point. Also, at that price point should I also consider a used AQVOX Phono 2 Ci?

Thanks again for all the help.
Soix

I had a similar concern about the Bellari, so the Pro-Ject Tube Box was a consideration. My buddy got a Pro-Ject pre to go with his Denon MC cartridge. It has MM/MC cart flexibility at about $450 retail. Understand your leaning more toward SS; but this would be a good tube alternative IMHO.
ZYX RS50 Bloom and the Cambridge 640P phono stage. The Rega arm will handle the ZYX without any problems. If you want sound staging at that price, that's where I would put my money.

Charlie
I own the Cambridge as a backup and do not own the Gram Slee, however I recommended the Slee because, in head to head comparisons, it was simply better in all areas and did not have the Cambridge's weakness in the bass. It is a purchase that would serve you through many upgrades in turntables and cartridges. That said, it may not be for you, in that you want MC capability. Personally, I prefer a transformer for MC stepup with an MM phono stage, rather than a high gain phono stage, and you could easily add this later. With your preferences, you may want to consider the Jolida JD-9A, which is a nice phono stage with high gain, it is no Slee though.
Well, I've gone through all your posts and as a result did a lot of digging, thinking, etc. I learned a lot in exploring all the options you put forward -- thank you.

If I could I'd start w/ the Graham Slee and a good MM cartridge and add a stepup and start playing w/ LOMC later, but alas it's not in the budget right now. This could very well end up being my upgrade path though.

So for now I'll probably start w/ the 640p and the AT150MLX and be up and running for around 400 bucks plus accessories. I noticed I could get a AT-OC9ML/II for $50 more. Would it be a worthwhile upgrade from the 150MLX or just different?

Thanks again.
Personally, I'd post the thread again, asking for guidance for a phono pre and cartridge under $500.00. That said, the little Cambridge is a great phono pre and will serve you well. The MC section, on paper at least - I have never tried the two together - should match nicely with the OC9. Perhaps those with first hand knowledge of this pairing will weigh in. I really think that the decision gets into taste issues as both are pretty great choices. You might just parse the forums here and on Audio Asylum to get a feel for the differing flavors of the cartridges.

My choice would be the 150, for four reasons. It sounds a little chunkier than the OC9, which I like, and you might not. I believe the MM stage of the Cambridge is clearer than the MC stage, albeit based on limited comparisons using a Denon 103 straight into the MC stage and with a transformer into the MM stage, the output of this cartridge being below the suggested MC range. The user replaceable stylus on the 150 lets you reload, so to speak, for less money. And finally, if you later choose a preamp or phono stage that only has MM capability, perhaps a tube pre, you obviate the need for an expensive step-up. Just some thoughts, there are no rights and wrongs here and most of the surviving LP replay products are damn good. I believe that you will really enjoy your new rig, whatever the choice.
Soix : As a old hand with analog I see you have some solid advice from the postings I reviewed. Since 25 years has passed, may I suggest having the Rega serviced & the cartridge of choice dealer installed , unless you feel confident in regard to your skills. An incorrectly installed cart can ruin your listening experience regardless of price.The dealer cost to you could be insidental to the extra's ,GEO Disc, etc. All the best.