How good does a TT have to be for a good cartridge

I have often wondered would you get good sound from a really good cartridge on a decent but not super good table. I am not an analog fanatic. I do own two fairly basic modern tables. One is a plain VPI Scout and the other a Music Hall MMF 5. Could I expect great sound from either one with a very high caliber cartridge that might cost lets say $3-5K . Is this an example of not being able to put lipstick on a pig?
A better table will improve the sound of a modest cartridge more than a poor turntable will be upgraded by an expensive cartridge.
As long as the arm is compatible with the arm and you have a good phono stage you will get better quality sound from a better cartridge on your tables. Though there are better turntables out there your tables are still very good and should work well with better cartridges
Although I may be lacking in experience, compared to many on this site, I used for several years a Dynavector XX2MKII on a Scout Signature, with a couple of phono stages, Simaudio Moon LP 5.3 w/outboard power supply, then a Modwright SWP 9.0 SE. What happened is the Scout just sounded much better than the Lyra Dorian it replaced.

I'm off in a different direction now, I'm in the finishing stages of a Garrard 401 restoration/upgrade, mounting a Dynavector 501 arm, and I'll use the XX2MKII here as well. I'll see if this project sounds better, or just different, but who knows?

I'd sure like to try the Dyna XV-1S, or an Ortofon A 90, but those are not in my comfort zone money-wise.

The lipstick adorned pig enters in here, too, but I couldn't tell you where that is.

Good luck, and good listening,
I have had the Scout [I am a VPI dealer]. While it is a good table I would think a cartridge like the Denon 304 or AT 33EV, both of which I used with it, would exhaust its potential. There are two schools here; mine is that the table is the critical element , very closely follower by the arm. The cartridge is important but it is better to go for the very good TT/arm first; it will get the most from whatever cartridge you choose. Conversely, the lesser table will not realize the full potential of the expensive cartridge. Sell the Scout, put the money from it with most of the 3 to5 k$ and spend something like a $ 1000 on a cartridge. THEN upgrade when and if you have the urge. Otherwise you are wearing out the expensive cartridge without realizing its potential. I am sure others will argue the opposite position.
It makes more sense to put 5k into a better tt and arm and use your existing cart. Then when the upgrade bug strikes again you can justify a better cart. Though it depends on if your phono stage is up to the task. You may want to upgrade your phono stage as well before you move up to a upper end cart.

In general the higher performance the cart the higher demands it puts on the other equipment in the chain. IMO
What I believe you will find is that a good cartridge will sound good, a fair cartridge may also sound good, and a bad cartridge sometimes will sound good on a pedestrian turntable. On a really excellent turntable, what you thought was a good cartridge may sound awful, and what truly is a good cartridge may sound much, much better. I had cartridges that I thought were good only to find out that they actually stink when mounted on a good turntable. In short, a good turntable is far more important than most people believe. At least, that is what I have noticed.

Confusing enough?
I remember going into London Audio while at University. This was 25 years ago. The gentleman in charge was very nice. He knew I was not in a position to buy anything, but he sat me down and put on an album side. At the conclusion of the album he came back in, moved the album to a different table, and I listened to the same album side again. At the conclusion he asked me which I preferred. I told him the first one was easily better. He first told me I was now hooked, and then explained that the first listen was a Linn Basic cartridge on a top of the line Linn Ittok arm, with the second being a top of the line Linn cartridge on the basic arm. He explained that the tonearm is the most important part of the LP chain. The TT was a Heybrook TT2.

Your tables are more then enough. Spend your money on the best arm you can afford. After that a good cartridge is easily upgradable in the future.

The phono Pre now becomes the second most important part of the analogue chain. Tubed is my first recommendation. If you don't want to deal with tubes, go with Tom Evans Groove. This should be at the top of any list.
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The Scout is bottlenecked by its' lame JMW-9 arm and the MMF-5 has an entry level arm.

Save your money.
Since turntable systems all work through vibrations, you want only the right vibrations getting to the cartridge. If the deck and arm are adding vibrations, the cartridge will pick them up. A better cartridge will more easily pick up those vibrations, as they can't tell which vibrations are the right ones (from the record groove) and which are the wrong ones (from the deck and arm). With an inferior deck that adds vibrations, the result is degraded sound.

Following this logic, you'd want as good a deck and tonearm as possible, as garbage into the cartridge = garbage out of it. I'm not calling either of your decks garbage by any means, but I'm not sure it would be worth your while to go all out with a cartridge. It'll most likely be similar to a great set of speakers ruthlessly revealing all the flaws of an inferior source or amp.

I wouldn't spend much more than the cost of the deck and tonearm on the cartridge. I have a Pro-Ject 1Xpression with Speedbox II and acrylic platter, and run a Dynavector 10x5. While demoing the cartridge, I got to hear the shortcomings of the deck. It's a great match IMO, but the 10x5 is capable of better performance. One of these days when I have more disposable income, more vinyl, more time to listen to it, and my daughter is older than 14 months, I'll buy a better deck for the 10x5.
I actually think it's the other way around. With a cartridge that is just "good", low- to middle-priced, plus a really good tonearm well matched to the cartridge and and an excellent tt, you can get better results than using a very expensive cartridge with mediocre tonearm/tt. So, first get the best tt and tonearm you can afford. Then play with cartridges to your heart's delight (and your ears too).

I hope I accurately figured out what you wanted to know and responded to it.
Don't bother. 10x5 is okay, nothing more. I have it on my Spacedeck/Spacearm and look forward to getting rid of it. When you are ready for a better table/arm you will want a better cartridge too. But it will sound better on better combo, sure.
I belong to table first school. Then tonearm and phono stage, then cartridge. Putting $3k cartridge on those tables/arms would be a very strange undertaking, to put it mildly.
The 10x5 is OK and nothing more? A lot of people would disagree with that statement. I've heard a lot of cartridges on my deck for about the same price - Linn, Grado, Ortofon, and Goldring to name a couple - and nothing came remotely close to my ears.
I like the 10x5 but it is clearly not as good as a 17d3 or Lyra Delos. Of course, those cartridges are at least twice as expensvie, but still not in the stratosphere. I believe that the $1000-1500 range of cartridges give the best bang for the buck, which includes the Ortofon Cadenza/Kontrapunkt and Benz Glider series. After that the law of diminishing returns really kicks in.
The best answer is "It's complicated." There just isn't an easy answer because the table/arm/cartridge is a combination and some combos have a synergism and some do not. The issue is made more maddening because the types of sonic changes from an upgraded table are different from the changes with an upgraded arm or cartridge. I don't doubt Cousinbilly's story above comparing the Linn arms and cartridges; it shows how important the tonearm is, and I agree with that completely. However, improving the table the arm is on can result in some qualitative changes in the sound that, once heard, are indispensable. When I replaced my VPI 19 III with an early Galibier some 8 years ago, I was stunned by some of the changes----a profound sense of quiet that I had never experienced before; a lack of mechanical artifice; and a remarkable sense of see-through transparency. These changes were in addition to the normal audiophile stuff like improved detail, frequency extension, imaging etc. My conclusion was that a table upgrade can result in some qualitative improvements that cannot be achieved with a new tonearm or cartridge. So all 3 are important, but if I were to rank them in my order of priority, I would say the table is #1, arm #2 and the cartridge a distant #3. In fact, right now I have a $400 cartridge (AT 33EV) on my Triplanar VII and Galibier Gavia, and it sounds very, very good. Not as good as my Benz LP, but it doesn't give up anything I consider essential to listening to records. Going backwards on the table, however, would not be an acceptable compromise.
Salectric, I agree with you 100%, but bringing in a Galbier (Teres, Redpoint, TW Acustic, Saskia, etc.) into the discussion is just unfair. I'm taking my Talea and going home!!.
My local dealer did a blind testing of carts on a very hi res system...the verdict/?...many couldn't distinguish between a 200 dollar cart vs 2k cart al things being your chips...other hi rollers will dispute this...but everybody wants to justify their purchases...even at the hands of clever marketing
Very good plus top tonearm.
"The Scout is bottlenecked by its' lame JMW-9 arm and the MMF-5 has an entry level arm.
Save your money."

i.e. I don't sell these in my store.
Phasecorrect, that dealer of yours, what was he using for those tests? I mean the entire system. And what cartridges are you talking about? If we want to discuss this, we need to know all the details including cables, power cords, room etc.
I suppose an explanation is warranted. The Scout has a JMW-9 tone arm with a 20XHO Dynevector cartridge. The Phono stage is a Grahm Slee Gram Amp 2 SE which has gain suitable for MM/HOMC carts. My Preamp is an AE-3 modded with top notch caps and hexfreds, I use Sylvania Metal Base 6SN7W s and a variety of other really good 6SN7s in it. The pre feeds Opera Consonance Cyber 800 tube Monobloc power amps which power Focal/JM lab Electra 936s. Cables are HomeGrown Silver Lace ICs, Audience ICs, Cardas Golden Ref Ics, and Jena Lab copper braid speaker cables. PCs are eccentric custom made ones with fancy RFI/RMI pixie dust and braided ground wire shielding for the amps. Audience and Cardas PCs again on the other stuff. The sound is really wonderful. I was only asking that question out of pure curiosity.
The MMF 5 system is a WAF centric one. The cart is a Goldring not sure which one.. (I think maybe the 1042 or the lesser 1012X, it came pre-mounted on the table??) the Phono is not so great it is an Australian SS mini box piece by Redgum. The amp is an integrated Jadis DA-60 (tubes are GL KT-88s Sylvania 5751s and Amperex 7316s) and the speakers are Von Schweickert VR2s. The cables are a mediocre mix. The sound is not nearly as detailed or transparent on this set up as I like. However, it is quite nice, very smooth and easy on the ears, but that amp deserves better in all honesty. The Phono stage would be an easy target here, perhaps I get a better one for the Scout system and use the Grahm Slee in this set up. I don't have the were with all to improve on this system right now but some day.
You can't go wrong upgrading the phono stage. The Gram isn't bad but can definately be improved upon. I suggest buying the best you can so you don't have to upgrade again later.
"My local dealer did a blind testing of carts on a very hi res system...the verdict/?...many couldn't distinguish between a 200 dollar cart vs 2k cart al things being your chips...other hi rollers will dispute this...but everybody wants to justify their purchases...even at the hands of clever marketing"

I've heard the same arguement for amps (so long as they're not clipping), cables, and DACs. To my ears, everything makes a difference. I may not agree with the hifi rags and some users as to the magnitude of the differences, but they definitely don't all sound the same IMO.

I've heard cartridges compared where all things were in fact equal, and heard a difference every time. This wasn't once or twice either.

Cartridges work by vibrations. Will every cartridge pick up every vibration exactly the same way? Different styli fit into grooves differently. Different cantilevers and their suspensions will allow those vibrations through differently.

This is the first time I've heard all cartridges sound the same though. I thought turntables and cartridges were immune to this nonsense, but I guess you learn something new everyday. Quite possibly the most absurd 'all x components sound the same' agruement I've ever heard.

How's this one - assuming correct placement and room acoustics, all speakers sound the same, except for low frequency extension.
I'm currently trying to answer this very question. Recently acquired a Dynavector XV-1s for my Scoutmaster Signature table (w/ JMW9 sig arm). I'm A/B this with the prior Sumiko Blackbird cart. One might think it should be a slam dunk with the XV-1s, but there's actually a number of traits about the Blackbird I favor over the XV-1s. This may be a result of better synergy with the table, the arm, the phono pre (EAR 834p deluxe) or all three. I actually have 2 JMW 9 sig armwands so that I can A/B easily. So, the jury's out, for my tastes. About to also mix it up even more with a Herron VTPH-2, just to see what a phono pre upgrade might offer....
Your vinyl set up is only as good as the weakest link. Instead of focusing on a $3k+ cartridge, work on isolation-cables and synergy between the cartridge and phono preamp.
You need a good tonearm. I had 2 10x5's that sounded good but are junk as far as construction goes. A highend cart won't do as well as it should without a good arm.
I had 2 10x5's on my Sondek 12. They sounded good, but are junk as far as construction goes. If the tonearm is not good the cart. won't be of much help.
The JMW-9 will never optimize the XV-1s.

"A tonearm's gotta know its' limitations".

-credit to Inspector Callahan
The XV-1s is a GREAT CARTRIDGE. It could be your preference to the Blackbird but you might think differently about the XV-1s with a different setup. Maybe the Blackbird is a better match with the JMW 9.
Mechans, I'm curious what decision you made after reading all the answers and the results?
If I had a chance to buy an inexpensive music hall 7 with intentions to upgrade the arm, which drop-in arm (if any) would you go with? Any wiring upgrades? I would use the mmf 7 with a music hall cruise control on a wall bracket shelf and a jasmine 2.0 mkll phono preamp with either an ortofon 2m blue or mc-3 turbo. TIA!
One thing I discovered recently that suprised me was how much difference a tonearm makes. I have a Basis 2000 turntable that came with a Basis modified Rega arm.

I recently replaced the Rega arm with a Basis Vector 3 arm and the improvement was stunning. No looking for small changes or careful listening involved at all. It was so much better in every way it was almost impossible to believe.

My advice is to upgrade to the best drop in arm you can afford. With that table I assume it will be a Rega type or a Jelco.
$4000 Benz on a $200 Well Tempered turntable rebuild. I believe everything matters in audio. As such, you're obviously not going to get the best from a high dollar cartridge but you'll most likely get everything a cheap turntable has to offer.
A Rega RP3 (bone stock) owner that posts here is using a Lyra Delos with great results.
The guys defending the 10x5 are right, it is better than the negative comments would have you believe. The guys saying get a better tonearm are also right. The tonearm is extremely important, maybe more important than the turntable or cartridge (as long as the latter 2 are not horrible). Unfortunately, all but a small handful of tonearms are really flawed.
"Unfortunately, all but a small handful of tonearms are really flawed."

What tonearms or tonearm designs do you think are not really flawed?
Which do you believe are not flawed?