"House sound" of VPI, Clearaudio, Rega, MH, etc.

I'm seeking the collective wisdom/opinions of this to group. I've definitely decided to get back into vinyl and have posted about some of my auditions. My trouble is that I have to travel several hours to hear anything other than the basic Regas and the Marantz table.

In your experience, is there a "house sound" to a brand - VPI, Clearaudio, Rega, Nottingham, Sota, etc? If so, can you describe that house sound in relation to the others?

I'll use your experience to help narrow my focus.
it there a house sound? yes and no. the needle and cartridge will play a major role in the final sound. at their given pricepoints, and have more in common then many will admit.all the tables you've named are competitive. dual is even back with a nice semi automatic.
I just spent months comparing a VPI 19 to a Sota Jewel. Swapped cartridges but not arms. I would say the Sota is "warmer" sounding with a bigger soundstage. The VPI is very light and airy with possible a little more high frequecy detail. Just my opinion. I've owned everything from Transcriptor to Thorens to Marantz to Dual and more. Both VPI and Sota win. Sota is my favorite.
Thanks for the comments Elevick and Jaybo. I was hoping a few more forumites could chime in about the other brands. Clearaudio vs VPI? VPI vs Rega?
Thanks in advance.
Do you have a budget in mind and are you wanting go used or new?

As Piediper mentioned above, the amount you want to spend is a big part of the decision. For my money, and the solid "entry" level, it is hard to beat a VPI Scout. I have one with a Dynavector 20XL and my Hovland HP 100 and it sounds great! The Scout is fast, dynamic, and keeps your toes tapping! It is not the last word in detail or 'grunt' (bass and mid-bass punch)but there are several things you can do to improve these items. First, use a nice maple block or a Gingko as the base; both will improve the Scout. Second, get a better cartridge. The 20XL is very good at it's price point (about $600) but there are many other options that will improve the detail and thump.

Or, do like I did recently and upgrade to a VPI Aries 3...

In any case, you will not regret your move back into vinyl. Vinyl just sounds better than digital. I've heard a Scout completely slay a $6,000 "high end" cd player... In every category, vinly is just more musical and enjoyable..
Piedpiper: I'm targeting up to roughly $3k for table and cartridge and I prefer used. I might bump that up if I fall in love w/ a MC pickup because then I'd need an outboard phono preamp. And, who knows - I haven't heard the phone stage of my unit yet. It may be substandard (Parasound P23). I certainly don't mind coming in below that amount either. I've already heard the Rega P3-24 and think I could live with it if moving upstream is diminishing returns.
I was actually hoping there's a similarity in sound across all offerings w/in a manufacturers line. Does the Rega P7 and P5 (both of which I'm considering but which I can't easily audition) sound like the P3-24? Similarly, does the Clearaudio performance table (unable to audition) sound like an improved version of the Marantz table (which I have heard) which they make? I haven't been able to hear a VPI deck of any flavor and would very much like to. How do VPIs sound relative to Rega/Clearaudio, etc. I thought perhaps there might be a house sound to a line which could be generalized here.
It's looking like if I venture beyond the Marantz or lower end Rega tables, I may be doing so based solely on opinions expressed here as I doubt I'll be able to audition then. The only table I've been able to audition upstream is the SME20. Loved it but way out of budget.
Thanks for your help.
Stickman: Very helpful. Can you tell me what you heard when moving from the Scout up to the Aries 3? I've been looking at them for sale here and am quite interested in that particular table. Did you move your cartridge from one table to the other so that what you heard was pretty much just that upgrade?
I'm thinking I'm going to be putting the table either on a wall shelf I'll mount, or on a concrete mantle to my fireplace. I know that's relatively inert though perhaps it has some high frequency ringing.
In my opinion, the Aries 3 bests' the Scout in every way. Actually, I do not have the Aries in my rig quite yet; I just ordered it last week. My in-store listening eaisly convinced me that the Aries is much better overall. Also, I will have a Dynavector 507 MKII arm relacing the stock VPI unipivot. The combo between the Aries and the 507 is special. This combo gives a bigger, more defined, more detailed sound along with more layers, and provides an extra dose of thump and grunt over the Scout. The Aries with the 507 is several steps above the Scout in transparency and refinement.

Having said that, just about any decent table will kick the crap out of cd. The Rega's are all very good; but I liked the Aries 3 the best. I think the VPI tables will give you a 'bigger' sound and are more musical overall than the Regas, but you cannot go wrong with the Reags either; they offer a lot 'bang for the buck'!
Buying a used table/arm and a new cartridge with your budget you can certainly do way better than a P3/24, and the diminishing returns syndrome is overrated IMHO as long as the rest of your system is up to the task. You should be looking at table/arms with list prices of about $3-4k and cartridges in the $1k range. You can do even better, although a bit risky, by buying the cartridge used as well. There is a lot of very good competition at that price, with varied appeal sound wise, ergonomically and aesthetically. I would make a short list of what appeals to you at that price and don['t worry about whether a P3, or for that matter, a Technics 1200, will do just as well. It won't.
"What Hi Fi? Sound and Vision" magazine out of UK offers a monthly feature where they rank 1,400 products by one to five stars. They cover turntables and will give you good insights into your house sound by brand and model. They awarded Clearaudio and Rega their products of the year for 2008. England presently leads the vinyl revival as we know it and you will find nice information around a wide variety of English and German manufacturers.

www.stereomojo.com just did a nice review of the Music Hall 9.1; and the new Rega 3 has been getting universely great press: the Rega 3-24 is a wonderful entry point to get your feet wet. It will deliver years of trouble-free wear. You certainly can play in $1k range and get great performance per dollar. Gene Rubin Audio is an excellent retailer around all things English.

Dynavector and Denon make great entry level cartridges. I especially like the modified Denon 103 by Zu Audio--handles a wide variety of genres well.
Addendum to my last post.

When manufacturers develop their line, higher priced models have to be demonstrably better to justify their positions otherwise not only will customers not buy them, but dealers won't sell them.
Continuing my quest. I found a dealer for VPI while traveling - unfortunately he was out of stock. He did have a Linn LP12 and a Rega P3 setup side by side, so I gave a listen to those.

Now, I've heard the Rega elsewhere - and with the PSU - was quite impressed at the price point.

He had the tables running through a Linn preamp, and a Mark Levinson amp driving B&W 801s in a fairly sizable room. They weren't out far enough, but it should have been okay. This is a dealer who claims to be expert in TT/cartridge setup. Unfortunately, I didn't have my records. Here's what I heard:
Very smooth, very quiet, very dark and no air or spatial presentation. The Linn was very marginally better than the Rega. Certainly not 5x the price better. I think the dealer was almost hurt by my reaction. Perhaps I have too much wax in my ears. But, the other presentations of the Rega were much better. He asked me to come back w/ my music. Both tables had comparable MM cartridges - a Linn and Rega Elys at the same price points.
So, what was wrong?
Could be the dealer likes it that way and works the set up to that end. Could be you like things bright. Could be the recordings.
Could be that you heard the truth, and it was wrong. Listen elsewhere.
Much of the worth of top tables is in the handling of them and how they appeal to your aesthetics. You could simply buy one that you seem to like now, or, drive or fly to a big city to actually handle and listen to them. In truth, if you pick VPI, Clearaudio, Rega, etc... you will not go wrong. Yes the sound ultimately will be a bit different for each, but you could live with any of them.