I would like to upgrade from Sumiko MMT tonearm

I inherited a sota star sapphire turntable and sumiko mmt tonearm and grado reference ( the cartridge does not have wood sides?)cartridge. The sound is good but not great on old rock albums albeit with many scratches. Jazz does sound much better. Can someone recommend a better tonearm/cartridge combo that won't break the bank?? Or should I just buy some higher quality Vinyl ??
If you do a search at the vinyl asylum at Audioasylum you will see that the both the table and arm you have are highly regarded. I doubt if you'll experience much of an upgrade in the arm/cartridge department unless you spend well over $1000 and possibly closer to $1500. I have an FT-3 arm which is in the same league, possibly a bit better than the MMT and the only step up I'd make is probably into SME IV territory which is pricey (maybe around $1200 used?). Personally, I wouldn't be interested in buying used cartridges unless I knew the seller very well. I'd consider a used arm.

You don't say how old the setup is and the cartridge may be past its due date, so that might be worth tackling first.

All that being said, if you are playing beat up and dirty records, there aren't many tables at any price that can make them sound good. If they're just dirty, investing in some basic wet cleaning/vacuuming equipment like the entry level Nitty Gritty or KAB EV1 and some RRL fluids for a few hundred bucks is probably the way to go. If they're really scratched and/or groove damaged that isn't going to help though. There is lots of great vinyl out there, used and new, at reasonable prices if you look for it.
You might keep your eyes out for a SME 309. There seems to be a special symetry between SOTA and SME. For a cartridge, I liked the Grado Sonata. Good luck.
Thanks, since I am new to vinyl, how important is the pressure of the stylus on the record >> grams and what is a typical gram wt to apply?
Proper set up is critical. The stylus is tracking information many times smaller than a human hair. There are some great helpful guides at the top of the Vinyl Asylum home page.

MY recommedation beyond proper set up is to get a record vac. A little over $200 at Audio Advisor. It's the best $200 I EVER spent on audio improvement. Ever use a Stridex pad and been surprised at what crud it pulled out of your pores? Same thing for a record vac and an lps grooves.

Correct pressure of the stylus on the record (called VTF, Vertical Tracking Force) is vital, both for best sonics and for the protection of your vinyl.

A very common misconception is that light-as-possible VTF's will reduce record wear. Not true! Records slightly worn by excessive VTF's are rare, or at least very hard to identify as such. Records destroyed by inadequate VTF's are numbered in the millions, maybe billions. The problem with too little VTF is that the stylus (a sharpened diamond) cannot maintain steady contact with the groove walls during higher amplitude passages in the music. So it loses contact momentarily and then crashes back into the vinyl a nano-second later. Picture a diamond chisel ricocheting between two plastic walls and you'll easily imagine the problem.

All cartridges come with a range of VTF's specified by the manufacturer. Most cartridges sound best and track cleanly in the UPPER half of that range. Trying to play in the lower half presents serious risks to your vinyl.

Look up the range for your cartridge and adjust accordingly. Also, don't trust the VTF dial on your tonearm (if it has one). Pick up a decent VTF scale and measure directly. Good digital ones can be had for well under $100 here or on ebay.

The excessive background noise on many used records is caused by two main problems:

1. The record was/is being played without being cleaned. NO record should be played before proper wet cleaning and vacuuming. Scraping microscopic grunge against a plastic groove with a diamond-edged tool will have predictable and permanent results: scratches and gouges that cannot be repaired. Assuming your cartridge isn't worn out, your next analog investment should be a record cleaning machine. (RCM). Search this forum for many discussions about those.

2. The record was/is being played by a mis-tracking cartridge due to inadequate VTF, as discussed above. If a previous owner did this, the vinyl damage is permanent and cannot be undone. If you are doing this, stop now!

Since there is a great deal to learn about, I'd suggest picking up a copy of Michael Fremer's DVD on 21st century vinyl playback. It's a good, basic info source for vinyl newbies.

Welcome and enjoy the music!
Thanks so much, this is great and useful info. One more question, how do you know if your cartridge/needle is worn out? Since I don't know how long this was used??

Thanks, Bill
I would echo earlier responses - the Sumiko MMT is an excellent design and would certainly do a good job with a better cartridge than your Grado.

The cartridge hardly every wears out - it's the stylus that gets worn down and loses its shape. You find that it doesn't track as cleanly even when you're sure the geometry is spot on. Generally this would be after around 1000 hours of use.

The best way to check is by looking at it under a microscope.

It's possible that your stylus is covered in gunge - the Mr Clean Magic Eraser works well if you lower the stylus down on it and lift it again. Search the archive here for more info.