Combined with a good cartridge, I think an "entry" level table can do a fine job of letting you hear what's on the records.
It all comes down to your access to records and the quality of the records. If you have a good source of used records you can have a lot of fun discovering the huge amount of music available on old vinyl. If you'd be buying new $30-50 audiophile records to play on a $300 table, well I don't think that would be a good use of a music budget.
You can expect to spend time looking for good, clean records, caring for the them, and caring for the equipment (keep that stylus clean!). Often the records will just be dogs or too damaged (a more expensive rig may be more forgiving in this regard, but can't do miracles). The equipment requires careful setup (which should be done by the dealer the first time around).
My first turntable was crap compared to the rest of my system, and especially the very expensive disc player I had, and loved.
I am now all vinyl 2 yrs later, if that tells you anything.
With my limited vinyl knowledge and experience, i would say your phono pre-amp is also a factor. I chose to wait until I had a bigger budget than yours, and still was a little let-down. My cdp is a Resolution Audio Opus 21.
However, if you already own vinyl which is not getting any play; why not buy the gear now, and upgrade slowly?
Try a Pro-Ject Debut III, $400 including a pretty decent Ortofon OM5 cartridge. I bought one last year to listen to Christmas records in the living room, but when I brought it downstairs to compare to my much more expensive 'tables I was astonished. Analog (including this cheap machine) gives you the air that is missing from cd. It's free of the digital haze that restricts dynamics and sense of real space. I'm not a digital hater: my cd player is an Esoteric X-03se, and I love it for what it does. It's just that analog, even the inexpensive Pro-Ject, can make music come alive in a way that cd can't.
But as someone entirely new to analog you may find that surface noise, ticks and pops can get in the way of your musical experience. I never hear them myself, and many of my records are real "beaters" filled with noise. Of course I bought my first record player in 1956, and like most of us who started with analog, there's no adjustment to make. I have a friend who's a very sophisticated listener and knowledgeable audiophile who cannot abide the surface noise. Really the only way for you to find out is to make the commitment, give it two or three months, and resell if it's not your cup of tea. Even if you buy new for $400 and resell for $300 (typical for the Pro-ject) you're only out $100 to learn.
You will need a phono preamp, too. Many adequate ones available for under $100. Or, if you want to push it up a bit, $250-300 for a used Lehmann Black Cube will give you real high-end quality, and it's instantly re-sellable if you give up on analog.
That's all I got. Have fun!
At a much lower cost is going with a used table to begin with...I had a project expression 4-5 yrs back...and although it sounded good...the lack of any real suspension caused the table to skip when one was in the same are code...that bad...and the build quality on the entry level regas and projects are nothing to write home about...people scoff at older non-1200 series technics...but they are built better...i currently have an h/k table from the 80s which cost me about 1/4 of what a P1 would run...and the P1 is mdf and plastic....
I think a table in that range is a good idea to start out with. I was in your position five or so years ago. What I have found is that vinyl isn't necessarily better than digital, it's just different. I personally find the difference very enjoyable and thus moved up to a more expensive table. The differences I've included are:
more care required for storage and cleaning of records
much more attention to setup and maintenance of equipment.
shopping for vinyl is more enjoyable than downloading or buying cd's. I love spending a few hours going through the inventory of the records shops in my area.
less long term listening fatique. I still get good detail in all frequency ranges, but the highs just are quite as biting over the long term.
In my system images are stightly less precise compared to my digital setup. Sound stage is slightly better.
I like not having the option to fast forward through tracks. It makes me listen to the entire record as the artist intended.
I started with a Music Hall MMF5 which at the time was in your budget (now a new one is much more expensive). A table in the this range will tell you if vinyl is something you want to invest time into. I hate to throw in a plug, but my MMF5 is for sale if you are interested.
Don't forget table is not a player. For your $500 you will have to secure a table, cartrage and a phono stage. Spend the money on a CD player and never look back.
The Brio that the OP has, has a built in phono stage. As a start up system, this phone stage will work perfectly.
The Rega P1 (or the new RP1) would be a great table to start with, and both come with a decent cartridge.
As a cautionary note: You will most likely become a vinyl addict and spend crazy amounts of money on vinyl and turntable upgrades in the near future!
******** Dealer Notice --- I'm a Rega dealer ************
I got back into vinyl after a twenty year hiatis. Now as in the past surface noise (new or used vinyl) can be an issue specifically snaps clicks and pops. I bought a Spin Clean Record Cleaner and a Carbon Fiber Brush along with a stylus brush/cleaner. I have been able to reduce the surface noise on most albums to very low levels. Some are dead quite with the exception of the occassional pop. I did have to send one brand new album back because it was so noisey that I couldn't listen to it. But with either media the quality of the recording as well as the quality of the pressing(vinyl) makes a huge difference.
As to the sound the vinyl has more fullness to it at all frequencies and the soundstaging is better and in most instances also more organic, symbols sound more like symbols,drums more like drums etc. With Digital(SACD) the dynamic range is wider but the sound is thiner at all frequencies. Soundstaging is also very good and the dynamic attack is a bit stronger. In the end I seem to prefer vinyl and I say this after having pounded my chest to the superiority of Digital (SACD) to vinyl. But vinyl is more work, higher maintainence and more finicky than digital.
I bought a used Thorens td166mkII a used Musical Fidelity v-lps phono stage and a new Denon DL103r cartridge. Including the cleaning products I have about $800 into my analoge set-up. My digital player is a modded Sony SCD-1 about $5K into it. So given the fact that this moddest analoge system can compete favorably with my digital set-up is surprising to me. I would say give it a try spend wisely and you won't get hurt if you don't like it.
The rest of my system is a Cary SLI-80F1 tube integrated and Focal 1007Be Monitors with Homegrown Audio DNA interconnects and X32 Speaker Cables.
Good Luck and Have Fun.
..it all depends on your entire system and room. You may like your CD player better after all is done.
I was initially very disappointed when I tried what you are contemplating. Lots of good advice above, especially those who point out that a turntable also requires a cartridge, phono preamp, cable... and an isolation stand or similar device. It adds up. I reached c. $6K on the turntable setup before it clearly bested my ancient cd system (Pioneer PD-65/Muse Model 2/Genesis Digital Lens). But now I listen almost exclusively to records (again). It takes a lot of time and effort to get a turntable to live up to its potential, they are not plug and play like digital. I could not recommend going down that road unless you already have a worthwhile record collection.
It all depends how much enjoyment...or conversation piece equipment one wants to own...but truth be told...it is kind of a misnomer that you have to spend thousands to fully understand vinyl...similiar to Mac computers...there are those that must justify their purchases...and having esotoric gear falls into that...I would find a decent, clean used table in your are for cheap(far less that the $400 for a rega...and see if it floats your boat...in you have any analogue inclinations this will bring it out...from there you can upgrade...note: i have several used record stores in my area so going second hand is very easy and cost effective...if you live in a more rural area and have to purchase new via mail order, etc...that kind of defeats the purpose of used savings...
Expect nothing in advance - just try it. I agree with the recomendation of Pro-Ject Debut III. Add to this Pro-Ject phono box and Pro-Ject speed controller.
Thanks for all the helpful comments and advices. One thing that makes me want to try out vinyl is the ritual of listening musics through a turnable. After countless hours with computer and lossless music files that you can easily move from file to file at will, the idea of taking care of your records, your turntable and taking time to set up a record to play music seems enjoyable to me. It is like taking care of your pet and it is also like ZEN; living slower, mindful of what you are doing and enjoying v.v.
But then to make all these exercises worthwhile, it is a must that the end music does not disappoint. My goal is to reach a level of music through vinyl that is comparable if not exceed a good CD player such as the Rega Appollo. As I said a above, I don't mind the time taking care of the rig and I do have time budget for that :)
For the start, the Rega Brio 3 I am using has decent phono stage as I heard. Debut III or Rega P1 seems to be an OK idea for an integrated vinyl set-up. But if there is other bargain below 1K that better satisfy my goal above, then I think I will be willing to invest.
I don't have a LP record collection. But I have access to some good used LP stores. I also thinking of buying bulk here in Audiogon or Ebay for a starter. How bad is that idea ? What is the chance of getting some respectable LPs in cheap that way ?
Thanks again, You are all great.
How about an upgrade to Music Hall MMF-7 for my goal ?
I recommend that you purchase Spin Clean to clean those used records. It will made a huge differance in your enjoyment of vinyl. A clean record will sound much better than a dirty one.
Vqlong2000, you wrote: "the ritual of listening musics through a turnable. After countless hours with computer and lossless music files that you can easily move from file to file at will, the idea of taking care of your records, your turntable and taking time to set up a record to play music seems enjoyable to me. It is like taking care of your pet and it is also like ZEN; living slower, mindful of what you are doing and enjoying v.v."
I think you are a perfect candidate for an analogue rig. Now, to answer your original question, my recommendation is that you try and attend a couple of live concerts. Preferably ones with minimal electronic amplification. Great venues, and great performers are an obvious plus, but not absolutely necessary. Local music college recitals, church concerts, will do just fine. Go and listen to the music, not hi-fi effects, and calibrate your ears. As soon as you get home from the concert listen to your CD player using similar music. Do you notice your shoulders relaxing at home as much as they did at the live concert? Those are the kinds of differences that you can expect.
After growing up on my older brothers' records and 8 tracks (Kiss, Bob Seger, Zappa, Black Sabbath, Doors, Sgt Peppers, all the good stuff), I went all digital when I got one of the first CD players available in the US in 1983--the original Sony Discman CD1. No looking back either. I just set up a good digital server system using a Squeezebox, streaming FLAC files when I don't play CDs directly (I can't tell the difference and it's a lot easier to find my music). I thought this was the end for me. No muss, no fuss. But I was missing something.
Yes you read all about how much different analog vinyl sounds here in these forums. Over the summer at a local garage sale, I found a box of records from the 70s and 80s. Some good stuff, pretty beat up, but some in great shape. It sure brought back memories.
A month ago I got a Marantz TT15 demo for 1200 bucks at MusicDirect. There's plenty written about it in the forums. It's a rebadged Clearaudio with a great cartridge. Coupled with a PS Audio GCPH phono stage and some Cardas balanced cables I already had, this setup gives me a lot of bang for the buck. I got a Spin Clean too, and it works OK, it's a lot of labor but fun. My investment in all the equipment (above plus brushes, stylus cleaner, stylus VTA gauge) is around $2K. Doesn't include records.
In short, I haven't had so much fun in years! It has brought back a lot of fun to this hobby. I love holding music in my hands. I love the old stuff. I love finding records that never made it to vinyl. I love the hunt. I love the smell. I love the record stores. I love the fiddling, the setup, the tweaking. I love getting it just right, listening late at night, sinking into the music, hearing it all without the digital fatigue that no matter how great your setup IS there. I love the magic of how a turntable physically translates the sound from the grooves to your ears. I love showing my kids how it all works. I love how my wife shakes her head at me. And she likes listening with me too.....
I don't love the snaps, the pops, the background noise. I don't love the occasional rumble when I turn it up too loud. I don't love the scratches I don't think matter when I look at the record but it disturbs the recording. I don't love how perfect albums in the store sound noisy when I play them at home, and others you don't think are so great really are. I realize how much it takes to throw off the chain, how fragile a stylus can be, how it wears every time you use it. How you have to keep adjusting everything but when you get it right it's really pretty easy to keep right, at least with my setup.
Other posters are spot on about costs. The records are all over the map. I at first was just buying whatever I could find to build a collection--yard sales, Half Price books, etc. THose dollar records are priced at a dollar for a reason! They really sound like crap no matter what you do and I worry about my equipment with those records playing. Also, I have been fooled by what I thought were early pressings but were really 80s reissues that don't sound as good. Now I am more selective. I find that going to a good shop and paying the price is worth it. I have found some really good early pressings that are clean and noise free and it really makes a difference. I even have found some that are really mint, never played, original pressings. How fun is that?? Some shops are more proud than others, so check around. The newer reissues are pretty good too, but not all. I just picked up Guns and Roses Appetite for Destruction and Nirvana Nevermind in 180g vinyl and they sound amazingly good--quiet, tight bass, great soundstage. Vinyl costs more than CDs now, but hey, if you really want the hands on experience and take care of your stuff, it's all worth it.
If you want the hands on, like to fiddle, want to enjoy the music, then yes, go vinyl. I haven't had so much fun in years and I have a lot of fun with this hobby. I do think you need to spend a sufficient amt to get the most out of your setup. I probably will upgrade some day, but am pretty darn happy now.
PS: Vqlong2000: also thinking of buying bulk here in Audiogon or Ebay for a starter. How bad is that idea ? What is the chance of getting some respectable LPs in cheap that way ?
I think as you begin you should avoid this method until you have more experience with the "hands on" and get to know what a good record looks like and how they play when you play them. What an early pressing really is, what a label means, there is a lot of education and learning to go thru. Grading is all over the map. I see VGPlus records at a good store near me that I would call Good minus. So I dont' buy them. So what do you know about a bulk collection online? It's hard enough when you are at a yard sale.
Check Craigslist and shop local if you can. There are lots of collections that price out at buck a record or so. I keep going after them but usually am late to the party.
Buy the new Rega RP-1 (around $450, including a good "starter" cartridge), and have a ball ! This should match up perfectly with your Brio and Harbeths, and you'll have a really wonderful entrance into the great world of analog. Don't worry about comparing vinyl to CD's.... trust us all.... you will enjoy LP's. They sound really good. Happy Listening.
I agree with many if the previous posts. Unless you have a good-sized record collection. This is not a great starting price point. The Apollo is a very decent player and cannot easily be beaten by a P1 with a cheap cartridge in your present system. I would wait until the budget allows for a P3 with an entry level Clearaudio cartridge. Your phono stage that came with the amp is pretty decent as is, and your speakers are quite good. I just wouldn't get into the turntable market on the cheap. A good table takes time, patience and careful set up.
I agree with Samuelg. I agonized. I almost bought the project debut on clearance for 299. But I realized I needed to be in the 1k range with what I have been used to with my digital setup. There are a lot of really good options. Check musicdirect or audio advisor for clearance deals and there are deals used here. Remember that cartridges make a big difference and you want a good one to get the mids you crave.
Vqlong2000,I got back into vinyl a few years ago with a mmf-7 and although I am looking to move to a better turntable the mmf-7 can with the right cartridge be better than the Apollo. IMHO.
Good luck in your vinyl journey and have fun.Looking for good vinyl is half the fun.