Help with TT ideas for my first TT

Hi All,

I have been reading alot of reviews and searching around for my first TT.  ALot of recent recordings that i want are basically only coming out on vinyl or super crappy mp3.  I have an Aaron integrated amp, with some custom built SB Acoustic Monitors (Bromo).

I am looking at the marketplace in the 1 - 1.5k range and see I can find alot of different solutions and wanted to get peoples thoughts:

Marantz tt-15 - Seems like  bargain at 1500, but difficult to setup
Clearaudio Concept - good reviews, bumps against the magnetic arm (Cement floor at my place)
Music Hall MMF 7.3 - Seems like a great solution
VPI Cliff Wood
Pro-ject X1 or X2 - Have read some reports of motor noise
Rega Planar 2 or 3 - Seems to be they are what they are

With such a crowded field how do people choose?  I live in Central Mass, and dont have alot of options in terms of auditions so would love to get peoples thoughts. 
Is it the biggest contributor to a decks sound?  Looking at the ultra versus studio they seem pretty close except for the carts.

Have a lead on a Clear Audio Virtuoso v2 for about four bills, which seems to be reasonable and what was in the Marantz.  Would this make a big jump compared to my studio tracker?

Is it the biggest contributor to a decks sound? Looking at the ultra versus studio they seem pretty close except for the carts.

No, the cart is not the only difference between the two. The Ultra has a heavier platter, a better bearing, actually uses a sapphire thrust pad, similar to what is used in my SOTA Sapphire, thus it’s name, the Ultra uses a layer of aluminum in its plinth vs only MDF, the Ultra has Cardas wiring in the arm, the arm on the Ultra is also internally dampened and the bearings used are better. So no, there are other differences between the two, not just the carts used. I was strongly considering the Ultra before going the SOTA route with separate arm and cartridge.

Be careful not to ‘chase’ something you think you are missing just by swapping carts. I’m certainly not saying the Cearaudio may not be an Improvement, it may be, it should be. If you can get it for $400, that is a good deal, but how many hours does it have on it? That isn’t a stylus you can replace yourself.

I guess the question should be; what are you trying to improve? What do you think is lacking? And most importantly; what are you trying to make it sound like? Are you comparing it to something else?
I would like better separation. Sound stage is wide but not as deep as I would like.

I acknowledge I like part of the chase, and the tweaks that are part of the audio experience.

I know I need to do more research, but how do people compare without rolling the dice.
If you cannot compare in person, then study, read, find possible reviews of the carts you might be considering looking for their strong and weak points, Etc. Ask members here who might have the same cart and/or table.

We all like tweaks. That is pretty normal. If you can afford the Clearaudio, go for it, try it, as you can always put the stock cartridge in storage and use as a back-up.

Lack of soundstage depth may not have to do with the cart itself, there are so many other factors, including how that particular recording was made. Phono pre could also be a factor. Or, have you tried moving or tweaking your speakers? After getting my new vinyl rig setup, I found my old speaker locations (width) and toe-in needed tweaked/changed. In my case it wasn’t about lack of depth, but the table/arm/cart changed the width presentation quite a bit vs the old rig.
This is my second system so I am comparing to my
main which does this better and why I am looking for it. But to you your point it could be sone thing different so will compare some cds between the two to get a better baseline. Initially there was some minor brightness but that was resolved with the phono cable change.

with respect to used cartridges, why is a reasonable life span of a cart, 1000 hours? More or Less?  Also what are signs of a cart is worn out, or what should I listen for?

You guys have been great as a resource appreciate it.