Front end. Buy something that you can build the rest of your system around moving forward. For $1000 to 1500 there are plenty of really nice used turntables to be had, as well as cartridges, as a package.
Once you have that set, a decent phono pre-amp would be my next choice.
I have a bullfrog however he wants to keep his skin.
Here are 2 very good turntables. The Shure cartridge on the Dual is a score in itself, although the styli are getting expensive. The Linn is just sweet with a great tonearm, although I recommend looking for a Basik if you can find one. The Axis power supplied can go bad.
Then you have money for a nice cartridge, phono preamp, maybe a cable upgrade (don't get carried away with cables. Music Direct is having a sale on the Moon pre by Simaudio: https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-preamps/simaudio-moon-110lp-mmmc-phono-preamp-amoon110lpslvhttp://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-United-Audio-Dual-Turntable-1229Q-w-Shure-Cartridge-Dust-Cover-WORKS...http://www.ebay.com/itm/Linn-axis-turntable-with-linn-basik-plus-tonearm-/282091203831?hash=item41ad...
You'll also want to budget for some kind of record cleaning system; but that's a whole other subject.
Given that you seem to be happy with your 5.1 system and are simply attempting to add vinyl as a source I would devote your expenditures toward that end. Stick with the electronics (amplification) you currently have.
Though it is easy to recommend upgrading your vinyl front end, and that would surly provide sonic benefits, the process need to be done judiciously at a $1000 expenditure.
First you need to ask yourself how do you like the sound you are getting from your current vinyl system and what about it do you want to improve?
Second, I agree that you need to budget for a vinyl cleaning system. This is the 1st thing I would do. One option is to check out the Spin Clean at ~$80. There is a thread here regarding improving results with this system. Vinyl is a labor of love, starting with insuring clean records. There are many cleaning options, research this.
In terms of your TT, if you are happy with how it performs, I would look into two possibilities, upgrading the cartridge and getting an outboard phonostage.
What cartridge is on the TT? I believe the AT95E is the standard on that model. I may be wrong. Is it in good shape? With most TT systems sold with a cartridge a cartridge upgrade is a good place to start. Given your budget I would stick to MM cartridges. There are more budget options and they have greater compatibility with most phonostages.
There are several outboard budget ($130-$200) phono stages available. Schiit audio makes one that comes very highly regarded for $129. I believe any of them would make a sonic benefit over that supplied in your AVR.
One last suggestion, purchase a copy of 'The Complete Guide to High End Audio" by Robert Harley. A great single source of information for anyone interested in audio.
Good luck in your audio endeavor.
A system can only be as good as its weakest link. And for vinyl playback, the weak link would be sending the analog signals through the Marantz AVR's preamp. And I just don't mean its phono stage either but its preamp section. Even in so called "pure direct mode", its an afterthought. That phono input the AVR has is just a convenience and not for true hi fi performance.
So I disagree about a new TT/cartridge - it would all be wasted going through the AVR. Concentrate on the weak link and getting the AVR out of the analog signal chain. Find a nice stereo preamp with or without a phono stage because you can always add an external one. If the pre-amp has an HT bypass feature even better. This will allow your AVR to be integrated into your stereo system. If it doesn't, you can still integrate by determining the Unity Gain position on your stereo preamp. Google HT Bypass and Unity Gain to learn more.
An analog source is best kept with analog electronics.
excellent advice everyone. Thank you so much. I will pursue! I realize this is the high end of high-fi forums and I'm at the low end, but I really appreciate the guidance. :-)
You don't say if your 120 is the PL120 or LP120-USB. Both have internal pre-amps, I believe. It is important not to use them; but to use the much better Marantz Phono section. If you read the following you will see how some other people describe your turntable, how it can be tweaked if you know someone capable, and how it's biggest drawback seems to be that it is not a good match for the AT-95 or any cartridge that tracks at over 1.7 grams. So a cartridge upgrade is a good place to start to give your turntable a fair chance. Best of luck and have fun!http://www.vinylengine.com/turntable_reviews.php?make=Audio%20Technica&model=AT-LP120-USB
You need a good pre-amp to be honest. A Tube based Pre-Amp and a Decent Phono Stage to start off with.
By the way we all started just like you. Nothing to be ashamed off. You can pick up a very nice Tube preamp on audiogon within your range.
Yes my turntable is the USB model with the At-95 cart and I am using the phono stage in the Marantz. Yesterday I spent and hour reading about removing the phono stage from the turntable, but I think I'll hold off on that adventure for now. More than anything this thread is confirming that I was at least already pointed in the right direction. I think I'll continue to pursue all three paths at the same time; some small affordable up-grades now, like cart and maybe phono preamp, while looking for the right deals on a better turntable and tube pre-amp. Both those larger ticket items are intimidating because there are so many more obscure choices out there at the mid to high end. Guess it's more hours on the internet for me. (I spend some time learning about the Linn axis this morning, which I'd never heard of, but I'm a little afraid of that eBay one as it seems to need a new power supply already). Deep in my heart I want a Mcintosh tube pre.
One follow up question. Do others agree that the Moon phono preamp suggested by 2channel8 is a good choice? That seems like a sweet price I could take the plunge on today, but I also know there are many options in that arena. :-)
Ah, my poor friend. You are obviously one of us helpless addicts now. What a sweet addiction. Don't spend so much time on the net that you neglect the listening. :^)
:-) OK, I pulled some triggers. Ordered the moon phono amp after reading a few reviews, the AT 120 EB cart, and a cork mat for my turntable. That's my budget for this week. I'll continue to troll craigslist for the bigger items. Thanks everyone!
Just Curious what tubes are in the Moscode. There should be 4, total??? They may be good ones ,or if it was tube raped (or they were dead), some new cheap stuff. New tubes are good because it will work correctly, not be noisy etc. Old is good,- if tubes are working and also in good condition. Older tubes sound better than new production tubes. in many instances and are more valuable. Contact me and I will tell you what you got- if you want. No I will not buy etc, just advise.
The Phono Preamp choices are numerous. I don't know what you want to spend, (About $400) but the Graham Slee 2SE is very very good, I love mine. Did anyone tell you this can be an expensive hobby.
Congrats on your purchases. I believe you have optimized what you can get out of your TT and did not exhaust your budget. Just curious, were the cartridge and cork mat purchases based on recommendations made in reviews of your turntable? I am not familiar with the AT 120 EB. The thoughts presented in my previous post were made based on your budget and the fact you were trying to incorporate vinyl into an existing system. I was trying to encourage you to spend slowly and wisely. This I think you have done.
As you go done the road to upgrade I have to say that I agree with paraneer regarding the 'weak link' concept and the AVR preamp being such link. Your are now in a position to consider the approach offered by him, which given you have a 2 channel amp and a phonostage, will allow you to search out a quality used line level preamp with HT bypass and 'have your cake and eat it too', a 2 channel audio system and a surround sound system.
OK, learning about HT bypass today. :-) Yes, the cart upgrade was recommended by multiple reviews on the turntable and seemed a no-brainer for $100, same with the $15 cork mat.
In the meantime, I disconnected the Moscode amp and took off the cage to examine the tubes. The two outer tubes which are marked GFQ7 on the board are Westinghouse 6CG7/6FQ7 tubes. The inner tubes, marked 6DJ8 on the board are 6DJ8-ECC8 "made in USSR" tubes. Any opinions on those? :-p
Please let us know what you think once the phonostage and cartridge have been in play for a while. I think I might check into the AT 120 myself. Looking for an inexpensive cartridge.