How about the Hana LS shibata mc cartridge and a Schiit phono stage? This combo would be well within your budget!
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JLTi phono stage (MM/MC), latest version from the manufacturer.
Bargain, the price in AUD so in USD its even cheaper ($1015) !!
Great phono stage with long history. Best buy in my opinion.
RCA plug load resistor is great option for a cartridge.
Then you have the rest for the cartridge, up to you. You can find many great cartridges under $1k, but my advice is MM or MI
After reading a few reviews of your receiver it appears to sound much better if you stick to mm cartridges, there are a number of great ones available so you may want to head in that direction. Moving iron may also be a good option. I've always had great luck buying gently used where you can get much more for your $$..
Your system(s) is not as simple as you've indicated. Recommend you set aside the surround system for movies only. Two channel is where it's at for vinyl playback.
That leaves you with the Outlaw receiver and two turntables: a vintage Franken-Thorens and a newer VPI. If you like having two turntables, hook them both up to the Outlaw receiver for now. Use the MM (moving magnet) phono input for the Thorens. Buy a $125 Schiit Mani phono stage for the VPI. The Mani can accept either moving magnet or moving coil cartridges, and it it's very good for the money. It's easy to attach the Mani to your Outlaw by connecting it to an AUX or other line level input. Set up this way, you can shuffle between the two turntables and maybe swap cartridges around to see which one you like better and which turntable you like better. You can also test the Mani against the built-in phono stage in the Outlaw. I'll bet that the Mani will be superior. I also have a hunch you'll like the VPI set up somewhat more than the Thorens, but you never know, right? Then sell the turntable that is lesser, or for fun get a mono cartridge (if you have mono records) and use it on the lesser turntable as a dedicated mono rig alongside the other turntable that is set up for stereo.
goheelz You are correct in your assessment. The VPI is a superior table to the Vinyl Nirvana Thorens table in my opinion, although the Thorens is nothing to complain about. I bought the Thorens for use in the basement in my recent house for a dedicated 2 channel system to listen to while playing pool. I like it so much it warrants some improvement. The VPI was attached to a different AV receiver in the old house which was far superior in 2 channel mode than what I replaced it with in the new house. That amp will be upgraded at some point and one of my turntables will potentially be returned to that system.
I will be running both tables and will leave the Thorens alone and use it in the Outlaw’s phono stage and run the VPI with a phono stage. I’ll buy the phono stage before I purchase a new cartridge. I’m thinking I may want a little more phono stage than the Mani but I could be wrong. I plan on gradual improvements in equipment in this system. For the short term just improving the VPI end is on deck. Any other recommendations on phono stage or do you think the Mani is enough? I did some quick research on the JTLi recommended by “chakster” and it seems worthwhile. It is quite a bit more money though and I could invest in speakers sooner spending less than something in the $1000 or on vinyl maintenance items like a record cleaner, stylus cleaner and anti static equipment.
There’s a Parasound Z Phono on sale at Safe and Sound I think it would be a step up from the Mani.
You may want to wait and decide where you are headed system wise before investing in a phono pre. If you step up in integrated it may we'll have a satisfactory phono section. It's no fun to upgrade one piece and then notice other equipment is holding it back.
The VPI is a very nice to and watched with the right equipment can deliver killer sound.
johnto: That's a good point about future upgrades and something to consider. My budget dictates that the receiver will be replaced no sooner than 2 years and more like 3. It's why I'd like to buy more in the $500-$1000 range. If I find the sound respectable after I get the VPI in order and get new speakers I may leave the system as is.
Honestly looking at the whole situation I think johnto has the best idea. If your budget was higher or if your time frame was shorter it might make more sense to go with the best phono stage you can, knowing it would only be with the receiver a short time. But three years is an awful long time to be suffering along with what passes for music coming out of a receiver. There really is no such thing as a good receiver.
You should on the other hand have no trouble finding an integrated with a phono stage built in. For sure it will be better than what you have now. For sure the phono stage will be better. For sure the amp will be better. No possible way you can do worse. Very unlikely you will be able to find any phono stage that when run through the receiver will sound as good. Certainly not on your budget. Even more so when you consider the phono stage will require an interconnect.
There's just no way. Integrated with built-in phono stage. Totally the way to go. Worth the stretch to get as good a one as you can, then in 2-3 years upgrade either the whole thing or to a better phono stage.
What I mean is if you go the phono stage option then you need an interconnect to connect it to your receiver.
Here's the whole big picture. The phono stage both equalizes and amplifies the cartridge output. Right now you are using the Phono input and built-in phono stage in the receiver. So when adding a phono stage the turntable connects to the phono stage and then you need another interconnect to connect that to the receiver.
If you want to get some sense of what the phono stage does, try connecting your turntable to one of the line stage inputs. Sound will have no bass, treble will be like noise, and it won't be loud until the volume is cranked, and maybe not even then.
This is because the sound on a record goes through RIAA equalization that turns the bass way down and the treble way up. To play it back requires RIAA equalization to turn the bass back up and the treble back down. All phono stages must do this- amplify and equalize- whether on a built-in card or stand-alone component. That's a lot of amplification, and a lot of equalization, and doing it right ain't easy. No wonder there's such a huge leap in performance going from a built-in card to a stand-alone stage.
So any, and I mean ANY stand alone phono stage is gonna be a vast improvement over the card in your receiver. However, a lot of that improvement will be lost on a crappy interconnect. Then even more will be lost in the receiver. Which like I said is okay if short term but not a good way to go for 2-3 years.
Now going to an integrated, the improvement over your receiver is gonna be so big you will notice immediately. The problem with receivers, they try and do too many things at once. This raises two really big and really unsolvable problems. One of the most critical parts of any component is the power supply. In order to reach a price point the receiver almost always uses one power supply for everything. Just look at yours- one great big toroidal transformer. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with that. Except for there only being one. For everything. The other unsolvable problem is each of these different components creates its own noise that must be shielded from each of the other components.
Its not that your receiver is bad. As receivers go its probably really quite good. The problem is it could be the best receiver ever made in the history of receivers. Twice as good even. Still its got a tuner, EQ, phono stage, and a DAC (always incredibly noisy) and more, all in one box. Simply cannot be done well. If the first store you go to doesn't have an integrated for half the price that kicks this things butt I'd be shocked. That's how big a difference it was back when I actually did this comparison, and I seriously doubt anything has changed. Because however much receivers have improved, so have integrateds.
So what you want is an integrated. The only slight downside to this is being limited to integrateds with a built-in phono stage. But this is not that big a problem, owing to the fact that they will all be so much better anyway. Both the integrated, as well as its phono card. Both.
Hardly ever, btw, do I give advice on particular components. My advice is all first-hand experience based only. Which is unusual around here. I've actually compared receivers with integrateds (and with Home Theater gear) and separates, and with more phono stages, interconnects, and power cords than you can shake a stick at. Direct to your situation, I've actually built whole CD and LP based systems for people and at even smaller budgets than yours. ($1200-3000 total system- and total means total: power cords, interconnects, speaker cables, and Cones, all included, complete. Total.)
Still, while I recommend an integrated with a built-in phono stage, what I really recommend is you go and listen. Find a store with a few components in your price range. Doesn't have to be exactly what you're looking for. Just close enough to be applicable. Ideally I would find some place with very close to what I want, and just be up front and tell them hey I'm thinking of upgrading this receiver, but on a budget, so is it okay if I bring it in and compare it side by side with your integrated? Maybe try your receiver with their recommended phono stage. If you do this, pay attention to the interconnect they use, and be sure to compare that too, both with yours (bring it!) and with at least one other of theirs.
If the store is any good they will say okay. If not be polite and go elsewhere and ask again. I've done this exact thing, brought in my CD player, interconnect, even a big heavy 200 wpc Dynaco amp. No one has ever said no. Every time I was shocked to find that what I had and thought was pretty good was absolute crap. And the biggest shock by far was how crappy my crappy patch cord interconnect was compared to even a budget interconnect!
You got a pretty nice table. With the right associated gear I think you'll be surprised how much better it will sound, and for not a lot more money. If you do it right. Go and listen. You will see.