Looking for help on upgrading my entire vinyl rig.

So I'd like to upgrade my Cart/TT/phono pre, but I'm having a tough time pulling the trigger. Not sure if I will replace all, or part, but I am looking around spending $1500. But whatever I replace, I do hope to step up, not sideways. It makes it tougher to buy new, but I'd rather do it that way.


Currently I have a Technics SL-1800. It's a fairly well built table, with the platter and tonearm on a suspended sub-chassis. I have had a few lower model Technics, Pro-ject 1.2, Debut III and even a few I cant remember that went to the dumpster. My biggest dissapointments were from the Pro-ject tables, with a variety of issues such as wobbly platters that bottomed the stock carts (OM5, oyster) or just generally unpleasant-thin sound & poor tracking. Also, with a variety of the old tables, there were speed issues that really made them sound odd, especially with piano.

After taking a break with audio, having flipped quite a few amps and speakers over the years, (nothing of significant value)I have currently settled on a Jolida 502brc with Tung-Sol 6550's & Snell EII's. I really have enjoyed this combination. Especially with Jazz and vocals, but I find this very listenable for pop/classical etc as well.


For the SL-1800, I grabbed an AT440mla as I was attracted to its ability to track. In many ways I like this cart, and it really does track amazingly well, especially on the inner grooves of used LPs. I also like the dynamics across the whole spectrum. However, it's not long before I find it fatiguing. I decided to try a Bellari VP130 and a few tubes to soften the blow. It helps, but not enough over the long haul. Still fatigues. Tried some passive resistive loading. Helps but Id need to try more values.

I tried a Shure M97xe because it was cheap. It is exactly the opposite of the AT440mla. It does not track as good and has higher inner-groove distortion, even on a few new clean pressings. I've tried stabilizer up, down(more weight) and even hours trying different protractors. It does have a smoother sound that is pleasant at first on some recordings, but overall I find it less dynamic and dull then the AT.

Phono Preamps:

So the Bellari might be ok for now, but if I start going up the food chain, I'm thinking I might want to move beyond this. I've had to replace the power supply with something more robust. I can't remember now what it was doing, but it would act up sometimes, or sound strange. Haven't had an issue with it since, but sometimes I wonder if need to have a tuned phono pre even. After all, my low cost Marantz CD5004 can usually trump the performance of this whole rig, at least in some regards. And I'm not talking about noise/pops/clicks, as it is not a concern of mine really.
But, sometimes, there are a few shining moments on certain jazz/vocal recordings on LP with this set up that really capture my attention in sweetness and detail. There just isn't enough of those moments.

What to do what to do:

I have scoured the Internet of information till my head hurts. But I do have a few ideas. I would love a VPI Scout, and they are close to my price range ( more so If used/B-stock). But that would gobble up all the funds. If I drop that thing into my system with the cart(s) and pre that I have, I feel like it would be buying a new Porsche with no engine. Lol? But honestly, other tables in that range don't seem as interesting to me. Sure, the traveller might allow a cart upgrade, but will I be kicking myself? The clearaudio looks nice, but still, if I'm going to blow it all on a TT alone it might as well be the Scout, but that's my opinion at the moment. I have goo-goo eyes for thier products for some reason.

But even still, realistically I don't see myself dropping this all on a table. So if I must get a table to make any of this worth while, it's seem like the Rega RP3 might be sensible. If anything, the arm on it alone has really good value in it, and could be installed. Won't I be mad as hell if I don't like it as much as the 'ol Technics - and for that reason - I don't even want to mess with anything below an RP3. I have not counted out SOTA yet as an option as I might be able to acquire a Comet from a friend. That might be cool.

In the meantime, would it make sense to buy a cart? I'm looking at a Goldring 1042. It seems as though it would fall between the AT and the Shure with the best of all their qualities all wrapped up in one. It looks to me like it may have a more neutral balance between those two, with tracking on par with the AT. I've also read a bit about the basic HOMC Dynavector, which also looks like a good choice. I have to wonder that being only eleptical, will it track as well ? Either way they look like good choices, might be easier to just replace styli though.

The technics has no VTA adjustment, or azimuth. So that's also a concern of mine...

Say the cart is a go on this table, for now. I'm thinking preamp. After lurking around, I can help but feel kind of excited to try a Sutherland PH3D. It looks like it has the potential to preform extremely well with a variety of different carts. I like the idea of the flexibility, lower noise and quality of this piece.

Buying a phono pre seems kind of unexciting to me, but this looks a winner. I could grab that, and a nice cart and just get a new TT at a later date. Even if I'd rather REALLY spend the money on something that looks a lot more substantial.


Thanks in advance if you made it though all this!

I think upgrading to a phono pre that doesn't limit your choice of carts is a good idea.

For the TT, you'll probably want to look for a good TT/arm/cart bundle (or at least a TT/arm bundle), so I'd put off any decision about carts until after you have a good TT base from which to grow.

By the way, I have 2 AT carts, the MM 150MLX and the MC AT33PTG. The 150 has some nice properties, but the AT33 is just miles beyond it in terms of smooth highs and liquid mids. I think highly of the value and quality offered by this brand, but I'm sticking with their MC carts.

(My experience with Rega is circa 2000, so take my opinion with a few grains of salt, but I don't think as much of the brand as others seem to. Maybe it's OK for POP, but classical requires better vibration control and lower noise.)
Thank you for the response!

You know, sometimes it feels good to just make a decision on something...So I'm grabbing a Sutherland PH3D.

I'm surprised that I went for a preamp first, even without demonstration. But really it is such a high value piece, it would seem that in a worse case scenario, I could get most the investment back on a resell. I am however, feeling very optimistic about it.

On AT, I haven't ruled them out completely. There is still lots to enjoy even from the AT440mla that I have right now, with possibilities of further experimentation. In the meantime, I did order up a JICO/SAS for the Shure M97xe that I have, in case I need something else to listen to.

Ultimately, I think your right about waiting on a better turntable with tighter tolerances before I go nuts with carts.

I am completely undecided on TT's. No idea. So I'll either wait it out or grab something I can upgrade. I'm going to try a SOTA Moonbeam next week on a take home trial. That's upgradable through SOTA. I could get a Rega RP3, add mods if I want later (or keep the arm and dump the TT later).

However, I must say that the restored Thorens with nice arms are such eye candy.
I would certainly go used if you are on a budget, and probably try to buy a complete table/arm/cartridge if they are suitable as the package price will likely be less than each part purchased separately. There are any number of Sota Sapphire or Stars available in your price range with Sumiko MMT or similar arms. Same with VPI Scout with the JMW arm and whatever cartridge they came with. The Dynavector 10x5 is a great, inexpensive HOMC. At the 1500 range, the Lyra Delos is hard to beat.
Well, I was looking around $1500 for everything TT/cart/pre but it doesn't look like it is going that way. Lol.

Once I decide what I want for a table, I may then consider used. I do however feel inclined to buy new. Had many years of flipping used and I'm tired of it (although not all products of high standard). I also like the idea of supporting my good friend who recently became a SOTA dealer. New/upgrade path has its appeal.
It will be interesting to know what the Sutherland does for the sound of your current carts.
That is exactly what I'm thinking about tonight Daverz, before I change the rest out. I'm excited really. Monday I should have the preamp in hand.

I was really surprised and impressed by Mr. Sutherland's responsive and kind communication regarding the purchase. Gotta love doing business with people like that.

Unfortunately, JICO told me they are 4 weeks out now on the production of my M97xe SAS. Bummer
There are enough boss tweaks available for Rega P3-24, that you can bring it up to the level of a new Star Saphire as your finances allow. I've done it and I'm quite satisfied.

While the Saphire has a suspension, and the Rega doesn't, I use mine primarily for recording, and I do that on a concrete floor. New is always better than used, because you can send it back if you don't like it.
Thank You.

Rega seems to have hit a "sweet spot" in entry level-new, due to nice arms (RP3/RB303 $895). The rest of the package isn't much to look at. Groovetracer platters & subplatters look like worthy add-ons, But now (if new) it's a $1300 TT.

Could be added together later, upgrade path there I suppose.

Shaky old house however. Everything moves! So I haven't abandoned suspended designs/SOTA.
Shakey old house needs a Saphire, I like that one a lot too. Forget about the "Moonbeam", unless you know something I don't know. All Sota's are not created equal.
Yeah, the Sapphire looks amazing but WAY outside my price range. But if they are offering upgrades over time, it looks more doable. ( Hence my looking at a Moonbeam). However, they sell B-Stock with healthy discounts, my good friend is also a dealer, might be a future win.

I do still wonder about those classic Thorens tables. So purdy. Seems like the kind of thing people keep, even when they continue on other paths.

At this point however, I may wait awhile on a new TT, and dig a bit deeper before I settle.

I did get the Sutherland PH3D today however. No sense reviewing it until I've had a few weeks or so with it, maybe a month even. I will say this though: It is a smooth and revealing machine.
So I ended up with a SOTA Moonbeam after all. It deals with this shakey old house surprisingly well. So well in fact, that I can pound my heel on this ancient wood flooring infront of the rack and it won't skip.

The combination of this basic Rega designed arm & the M97xe/JICO SAS has met my expectation in tracking performance, neutrality and definition.

The Sutherland PH3D has been great in that its presentation is so transparent and free of noise. It seems to be one of the most "nothing" components I have ever purchased. It just doesn't seem to add or subtract anything.

I suppose what I have selected here may not be everyone's choice or cup of tea. But it has been a nice departure from trying construct something that represents a euphonic tone machine, imposing itself on recordings. To me, this has been an interesting step toward providing high fidelity playback, while leaving room for future possibilities.