$500 doesn't go very far in the world of phono upgrades. I suggest you leave the phono the way it is and spend the $500 on a nice-looking hooker.
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$500 doesn't go very far in the world of nice-looking hookers either Chayro.
I think the $500 would be better spent on Dynavector 10X5/Mint LP Tractor. Dynavector's have good synergy with VPI tables. Harry even has Dynavector custom make a cartridge for VPI.
To be honest, I haven't even checked out prices for phono stages, but considering I'm plugging straight into the amps phono section, I figured any upgrade would be an upgrade. Also, I don't need a "nice" looking hooker so $500 should get me one or two. Probably going to pull the trigger on the Dynavector/MintLP tractor idea I had as the next upgrade.
The MintLP tractor is a great idea to start with. You may be suprised at the sound improvement from your present cartridge with a more precise alignment. If, after using the MintLP, that is not all you were looking for then you can make an educated decision to spend on a cartridge upgrade and maybe have aquired some additional funds by that time. I was extremely pleased with what I now consider to be one of the best system investments I have made. Once you have it custom made for your table and arm it will benefit any future cartridge you aquire.
You can upgrade the opamp and regulator in the Mcintosh MA6900 phono stage with those Burson kits... then you will have some change left.
Here's a blog post on another Mcintosh upgrade using the Bursons.
I have a Mint LP and it is a great tool. I also have a Dynavector 10/5. Be very careful with these! They bend very (too) easily. This is the 2nd one I have carefully mounted and even though they sound good, to me they are a piece of junk, since I had no trouble mounting Linn K18's and Nagaoaka's using the mint LP. Try one first with your cart. Also get as high powered a magnifier you can get (maybe from a coin shop) and have plenty of natural light. It is about a 2 hour job the first time around. For $500.00 get two Hookers. Best of luck
Put a set of Aurios media bearings under your VPI. Preferably four if you have leveling feet or cones on your VPI. This will cost you under $300, and will make a bigger sonic improvement than anything else sensible to be done with your existing gear. If you don't have your turntable on a slab of maple, spend the rest on that. If you don't have cones, get some. Your VPI 19 on cones on Aurios on maple will sound surprise you, and give elevate the platform for subsequent upgrading of cartridge, phone section, etc.