Is turntable == phono stage == cartridge right?

Is this the preferred upgrade path still?

I've only owned three record decks in 30+ years as a music lover. I'd rather buy LP's than buy equipment!

Each of my two Thorens decks I had for about 15 years each. About 4 years ago, my wife gave me a Scoutmaster for an anniversary present, but I'm thinking of moving on. I admire the Scoutmaster, but I don't enjoy my music on it as much as I used to, despite its clear advantages for noise and detail compared to my old (very old) Thorens decks.

Current system is Scoutmaster w. Shelter 501 and Benz Lukaschek phono stage. And about 1500 mostly classical LP's. Oh, and a VPI record cleaner which to date was my best-ever analog purchase!

If I'm budgeting about $5-7k, where would my money best be spent for upgrading? I assume I should be looking for a new turntable? Recommendations?

Thanks for borrowing your experience!
You are going to get a lot of different opinions on this. I will tell you that while some folks really like the Benz Lucasheck phono stage, I found it to be uninvolving. Hard to put my finger on it, just a bit bland. You might start there. If you buy used and shop carefully, you can probably buy 2 or 3 phono stages and keep the winner without much loss of $. I've never heard the Scoutmaster or the Shelter cart. As far as a TT goes, you might consider looking at two US "boutique" manufacturers; Teres and Galabier.
If the VPI Scoutmaster doesn't do it for you, there are many improvements/upgrades from VPI. Personally, I'd look elsewhere. The Scoutmaster is a wonderful table.
Scoutmaster is a great table, no need to replace it. I also think that the Benz Lukaschek might be your problem. Also, what are the rest of your system? Problem could be somewhere down stream.
If your Scout has the 10.5 arm, outer ring, super platter, SDS then you have exhausted it possibilities. Once all the latter is in place, then change the cartridge. If that does do it, you need to move up to a walker, assuming a small inheritance has come your way.
a thorens 160HD...a new classic
For that money, you could get a better arm, phono stage and cart, especially if you sell off your existing ones.
D: Keep the Scoutmaster , invest in a excellent phonostage and re-examin the platform that supports the turntable. Consider investing in a "Voice" Cartridge by Soundsmith ($1,500) one of the finest ever made. Invest in a hand held Steam Cleaner and practice the steam cleaning method ... Save the rest of your $$$$$ for LPs. All the Best
thanks folks for the advice...

Swampwalker, you might be right about the Lukaschek. It's the only phono stage I have that has enough gain for the Shelter, and it certainly produces a detailed and clean presentation. But maybe I should experiment. My old Audible Illusions has an OK phono stage, so maybe a head amp or step-up transformer would be worth trying?

Also, based on your comment I did some searching on this forum and found a LOT of positive talk about the turntables you mentioned, and some others. Guess I should have checked there first.

Tiger, I still have the original arm on the Scoutmaster, so I suppose I could look there. Got the power thingie -- SDS?-- too, and the rim clamp (which is a pain to use). I do wonder about the 9" arm though. It's my first experience with a unipivot arm.

Are there other arms that are known to work well on this deck? I had an SME on my Thorens which I liked fairly well. But that technology was 20 years ago, so I'm sure there's better stuff now, right?

In the interest of full disclosure: One of the reasons for my current dissatisfaction is due to my recent upgrade of digital source. I got a ModWright Transporter and it's raised the bar on sound quality for my whole system. It sounds spectacular -- and better than my analog gear, which I just can't believe. I suppose it's possible that it's just that good. But LP's have always been so much better than digital, I'm thinking there must be something wrong with my analog chain. Usually I listen to about 80% LP/20% CD, but lately I'm listening to a lot more digital because it sounds so GOOD!

Sidssp: I don't think my system is a problem. The rest of my system is a mix of tube/solid state. My speakers are Magnepan 1.6qr that are heavily tweaked: Mye stands, & actively bi-amped with a pair of 120wpc KT-88 tube amps on the treble, and 600wpc solid state on the bass panels. I use a home-built transformer-based active/passive preamp, or sometimes a Modulus 3a tube preamp. I don't think the system's the problem. I'm totally happy with the sound it produces via well-recorded digital music thru the MW Transporter.

Crem1: I've got a Ginkgo platform, the one with the handball balls under it, although I haven't done any real listening test with/without to know whether it makes much difference. But I like your other reco. I know Peter Lederer of SoundSmith, as he's worked on my '70s Tandberg tuners and my old 1963 McIntosh preamp from my bedroom system. I'll have to see if I can audition the cart you mention. I think he also does retips of Denon's and stuff like that. Good idea to go talk to him! Thanks!

There are a lot of variables at play here, so it can be hard to isolate the culprit. From my experience when shopping for tables last year, I found the Oracle and Michell tables to be more involving to listen to, whereas the VPI had a more laid back presentation (in the treble at least) that wasn't what I was looking for.

My advice would be to seek out alternatives to VPI that you can listen to before making any decision. You need to figure out what products on the market have the sound you're looking for. I would do this before buying any add-ons to the VPI, as they're going to tweak the sound that's there so won't turn something you dislike into something that you like.

FYI, based on their reputations (haven't heard them myself - well, did hear the Shelter on a VPI HW-19 table, but that's too different a table to mine to comment on the cartridge from experience), your phono and cartridge also fall into the more laid back camp. You might look into a used Graham or Morch arm, with perhaps a Dynavector or Benz cartridge? For the phono...can't give much info here, have only heard 2 in my system. The difficulty, as always with TT's, is finding a way to audition all this stuff. Buying used is always an option!
i have owned a few different tables, for the money if i were you i would look to buy a used VPI-HRX, hopefully with the cart. i liked the one i had, and it was quite a big step up from the other vpi's out there and good looking as well. the phono stage is very important, but start at the begining and work your way down. i had the dynavector drt xv1s, excelent cart. only complaint was that the cantilever breaks to easily and it is very expensive to fix. happy shopping