Possibly The Best Kept Secret In Turntables?

I have been noticing more and more forum threads on this site regarding entry into the world of analog. There were 2 today alone. Over the past several months I have read 11 threads asking basically the same question, "where is a good place to start with turntables"?

The titles of the threads were all different, but were all asking pretty much the same question.

So many new turntables have been introduced over the last ten years, it's been hard to keep track. Because of so many new introductions, we sometimes forget about some of the products that have been on the market for years. Many of these turntables have well established track records and are still considered "standards in the industry" even by today's standards.

All I am attempting to do with this thread, is provide the "newbees" in the wonderful world of analog, a reminder of an extremely cost effective means of starting into analog without breaking the bank, provide an easy entry level expenditure with lot's of room to upgrade, and provide an upgrade path that will allow them to eventually end up with a great sounding analog rig. This can be accomplished over any period of time with relatively small expenditures.

I am NOT pushing a specific brand here, although the brand I will be mentioning is probably one of the most diverse in terms of upgradability. And, I am finding more and more of the upgrade components available used, here on AudioGon at extremely reasonable prices. So PLEASE everyone, don't misread this as a promo or a plug for a specific company.

VPI Industries in Cliffwood, NJ, has offered the HW-19 seies of turntables for many years. The most basic model being the HW-19 Jr, (Approx. $500 new). This model can be eventually upgraded to the most well respected HW-19 MkIV/TNT through a series of upgrades at relatively low cost.

The HW-19 series can accomodate a myriad of different tonearms produced by many different manufacturers. The real advantage to these particular models is that you can generally start off with a HW-19 JR. and a Rega RB-300 tonearm (another cost effective and well respected analog component) with a decent quality cartridge for under the thousand dollar mark. Often in the used marketplace for much less than that. This will at least provide you with a good quality starting point.

This rig can be used as the foundation for any future upgrades as VPI offers many upgrade components for that model and any successive models that you "create" from there. It is also refreshing to know that you are working with a manufacturer that has offered this model for many, many years, has provided full support of that model line's upgrades and, will more than likely continue to do so. VPI has never been known for the "new model of the month club".

Again, please keep in mind that there are many other turntables in the marketplace that will provide you flexibility in upgrades, but to my knowledge, very few that can bring you to the level of performance that the HW-19 MK IV will provide in terms of price/performance ratio.

I hope that I have helped to provide some valuable information for those of you that are looking for somewhere to start in analog, and also allow you to enter the world of vinyl with a somewhat reduced degree of reluctance, if any. I feel I am somewhat qualified to make these suggestions as I have followed the same path that I have spelled out in this thread. And I have been very satisfied with the results. Is it the "best" analog rig out there? Probably not. But then again, I have not spent the "best" money either.

And hopefully the tagged URLs will provide any additional information you may require.

Best of luck with your ultimate decision and happy listening.

Thank-you Buscis. Very helpful for me.
Thanks for the advice. One thing keeping me from exploring vinyl is the "setup," which I know nothing about. Seems like I'd be forced to go with a new TT (and have to spend more) to try vinyl. I assume I'm not alone with this concern.
Eeerie, there are knowledgeable people on this website who will help you with the setup, if you need it.

Buscis2, nice post.
Eeerie1, Turntable setup is something that many first time turntable users feel a reluctance towards. It is really very simple and only requires a couple of inexpensive tools to assure that the settings you are making are correct. These tools will also assist you in fine tuning the sound.

Remember, the initial setup of a turntable is what will be the most time consuming. For the average person, about one hour. After that, fine tuning the sound will not take long, because you will only be making very small adjustments in tracking weight or vertical tracking adjustments.

Many entry level rigs won't even have a VTA adjustment, so that's one less adjustment to be made. If the cartridge was initially installed properly, the only real adjustments you will have after that would be tracking weight and, or anti- skate. Either one of those adjusments can be made in less than ten minutes.

A simple stylus pressure gauge (approx. $30.00), and a cartridge alignment tool (approx. $50.00), are really the only tools you will need. And, those tools will be all you need anytime you upgrade. So, the investment in the correct tools will benefit you throughout the life of the turntable.

In general, most people who I have assisted in doing their initial turntable setup, were quite surprised at how easy it really is.

Don't let those settings intimidate you. You will be a pro in no time. And you will also find it interesting how the most minute changes in tonearm setup can and will alter the sound.
I'm a vpi diehard. The mk IV is a great value, but so is the MK III and the basic jr. I see and hear other tables that sound better, but then there is always an upgrade for the vpi, and the upgrades are very reasonable priced. It is also worth mentioning the bulletproof reliability of vpi's, and besides the fact that they are easy to upgrade, swap parts, and set up, they are easy to treak. I like the fact that often times, comparisms are made to the vpi, and I know of no arm or cartridge that does not work great or is mismatched with the vpi.
Basement, Ditto. As I had mentioned, there are numerous turntables available today in the marketplace. But I think anyone would be hard pressed to find one that could bring you from entry level to high quality/high performance without actually having to completely change turntables. VPI had their thinking caps on when they designed the HW-19 series. I have owned mine since 1994. It is now a full blown MK-IV with a Rega RB-900 arm.

Interesting note, this winter I installed the Incognito wiring kit into the RB-900. WOW, what an incredible difference in sound quality. Also, as I looked through the equipment listings today, I noticed a HW-19 MK III for $650.00. Now that's a bargain.
I ended up getting the 19 jr just because of the ability to upgrade it. Funny thing is, I think I can hold off on that for now. I love it the way it is. (For now)
I know this is an old thread but I appreciate Buscis for starting it. I have been interested in expanding my audio hobby into vinyl but am reluctant because it seems more "high maintenance". I've looked at the Music Hall series and the Pro-Ject series as well as they are fairly inexpensive. I'm still looking and researching. Hopefully one of these days I will fulfill that wish!
I have to admit that I cam very, very close to buying a VPI mkIII as my first "nice" turntable. Other choice was a Gyro SE. I did my homework and weighed out my options. It was a tough decision. In the end, I found a nice used Gyro and went that way. I have to admit, though, that part of that decision was because I really wanted to learn the ins and outs of turntable setup. The VPI is relatively "easy" once the initial setup is done. Doesn't need so much attention.

The Gyro, on the other hand, likes to have my attention. I periodically re-level it and check things out. Getting the cartridge aligned has been quite an adventure. I've finally given up completely on the paper alignment template that came with my OL Silver--and I think my cantilever might be skewed a little to one side, which makes that template even more useless. Soon I'll be looking into proper alignment tools, though I do have a Shure force guage and have been interested in experimenting with different stylus forces. The anti-skate is still kind of a mystery--I can't figure out where I like it, especially since I keep changing other settings...but again, experimenting has been quite educational and I'm starting to learn the ins and outs of all the little adjustments and how they affect each other. The Gyro seems to be a tweaker's intrigue! It'll also impress your friends--mine just love the appearance (though my personal fave is my preamp), and we have a theory that the Gyro is really just a great sounding UFO. One of these days I expect it to fly off to the mothership, ha...what can I say, I'm weird ;)

That said, for the analog newbie who doesn't want hassle, those HWs really are some great 'tables. Well built, no-nonsense, and sound rich, warm, and lovely! I think the VPI is good advice. Sonically, I have to say that if I woke up one morning to find a VPI sitting where my Gyro used to be, I really wouldn't be bummed out. A solid performer. Cheers!

I promise to stop rambling now...