Need help with analog system choices

I have recently become curious about exploring the realm of analog as my sister has a collection of LP's and I can always purchase new and used albums. There are always good sources around for LP's if I go that route. I have not yet committed and here is my problem.

I have been poking around the analog discussion forum and reading up on turntables such as the rega line,Mitchell Engineering Gyro SE, and SME products.

People speak highly about the Rega and Mitchell products, but I am confused about all the adjustments/mods people talk about. VTA ,skating,various mounting adjustments, cartridges, balance,wiring, drive motors,etc.

Is it really that difficult now a days to set up a turntable? My sisters turntable is an old Denon and she says its fairly easy to adjust parameters on her table. You just dial them in.

Any advice on a turntable that won't brake the bank and can be configured with a tonearm that provides all these adjustments in a user friendly fashion. Am I dreaming here?

Also, would it not make sense to invest in a better cartridge then put more money into the tonearm? The cartrigde is what is hitting the album?

Can you really hear a noticeable difference when you upgrade tonearms assuming the remainder of the system stays the same? For example, there is a forum on comparisons between rega tonearms and the SME V arm. Most say that the SME is the real thing and far superior to the Rega arms. Also the rega cannot be easliy adjusted. How true this is is a mystery at this point.

Are cartridges only designed for specific types of tonearms?

I am overwelmed. Is this really worth it? Do albums really sound better than CD's at this point?

Perhaps I need a drink.

Any advice would greatly be appreciated.
Also, Sean, SOTAs are (as far as I know) currently being manufactured in Chicago Metro. Upgrading and service is available, as well as rebuilt units. Glad you like SOTA. My pick for belt drives...

Hey, did you receive my reply to your email (again)? I'm waiting for your critique of cable cookers...

Also, I've got a buddy interested in your rack design. I think he'll email you soon.
Tazuser, another tt to put on your short list is the Well Tempered. It comes with it's own arm. Years ago I compared it to many TTs in or around the same price. I have seen the W.T.used from $500 to $800. Remeber, you are getting the tone arm with the table. At that time (mid 80s) the WT competed with the VPI and Oracle and IMO, none of the SOTA tt came close to the WT. I am sure the SOTA's of today are much better. At that time, IMO, the Sota tt was the most over rated tt I had experenced. Once you get used to the WT, it is very easy to set up and tweek. I wish you much success in your search.
Thanks for all of the advice. I feel more comfortable and at ease now. I also want to mention that the reason I did not provide figures for a budget is that I was not sure what was required to set up a TT system. Based on all of the responses, it appears that if I were to invest somewhere around $1500.00 I would have a respectable system. Here is what I have gathered so far from everyone.

There are plenty of choices for good quality TT's and there is no need for me to go broke in order to get high levels of performance.

It seems that the way to go is belt drive over direct drive.

Forget about the vacuum designs. Not for me.

Cartridge considerations will depend on my preamp. Is MM or MC better or does this depend on the arm chosen?

If I choose to go the analog route, I want to make sure that the turntable can be configured with an arm ,assuming it does not already come with one, that comes with the required adjustments.

I have already started checking out some of the recommendations from manufacturers such as Music Hall,SOTA, Michell engineering just to see what the differences are between different turntable designs. The Music Hall is wonderfully priced, but I am not sure if this is up to the quality and value of the slightly more expensive brands I listed above.

I was wondering if anyone has heard anything about Clear Audio. There lower end models tend to compete in price with Michell Procucts, but are more expensive than the Music Hall product line.

I really like the Michell product line. They have been in business for years and seem to build there products to high quality standards all the way through. They can be upgraded and they seem to have an aftermarket value should one decide to sell. The Music Hall that was recommended by someone in this forum and is far less money.

Someone mentioned having a technician set up the equipment so that I would not have to fool with it. In response to this comment I would have to say that if that is what is required in order to get a turntable to perform at it's fullest potential, then my decision will be to stick with CD's.

You see, I am not yet convinced that CD's sound worse that LP. Theoretically the LP should sound better because there is not sampling or conversion involved, but I do not think for me it would be worth it to have to depend on someone else to tune my TT. Besides, what would happen if it were to go out of alignment? What if I wanted to switch to a new cartrigde and needed to make different adjustments? This persons advice was influential in my decision to focus on TT's with belt drives.

I will continue my research as I am in no rush to make any decisions at this time.

Any new comments are welcome. They have helped me more than you can imagine.

Thanks again,

"It seems that the way to go is belt drive over direct drive."

For $650-700 for a modded 1200 you'll get your best performance/price ratio. User friendly, easy to set up, stays tight. Neutral sounding platform...

But, what do I know? I must be loco to be using a "DJ turntable".