Recommendations for a modestly priced analog system


I have been listening to digital music only for a number of years. Now I am thinking of adding an analog system. I don't want to go nuts buying expensive components. I just want to get under the proverbial point of diminishing return. I have  Cary Audio 98P preamp, VAC phi 200 (planning) and Sound Lab ESL speakers. My budget from turntable to cartridge is $5-7K. I prefer buying used for the best bang for the buck. As I am getting older, I need a no fuss, durable and low maintenance system. Any recommendations?
75e32c24 d2c6 46b4 a0d2 6d61eecb2efcchungjh
Turntable, arm, cartridge $5-7k? What about phono stage?
I can recommend Luxman PD-444 as the best bang for the buck!
Got a few of them in my system, you can add whatever tonearm you like for your cartridge.

Read more about this model here.

However, I think $7k is not a modest price for turntable, tonearm and cartridge!
Post removed 
Chung, you have plenty of money to buy a new table. I would avoid used ones as tonearms and turntables are rather delicate devices and easily damaged. A Sota Sapphire with an Origin Live Encounter tonearm and Soundsmith Carmen cartridge will do the trick nicely. The Sapphire is totally isolated and you can get it with a dust cover. Footfall issues won't happen and you do not need any special stand to put it on. 
There are better turntables from the golden age than new Technics.
Those better turntables often even cheaper and you can use any tonearm on them including "12 inch tonearms (nothing can beat the PD-444 at $3-4k).
There is the very highly regarded, like new Pear Audio Kid Thomas on AA Trader at half price.
@millercarbon.   My preamp Cary SLP98P has a phono stage in it. But, I don't know if I should get a better one or not.
I returned to vinyl 1 yr ago, with a Denon VL12. For me: the perfect starter tt that also is easy to tweak and built like a tank. AND they're a bit under $1k. 
There are several different ways of spending $5-7K for turntables (including plinth, tonearm, cartridge, headshell, tonearm cable, phono preamp).
The easiest way is to buy one as a whole package. There are cons and pros of buying the whole or separates, and buying used or new. If you are not that knowledgeable on analog systems in general and not quite techy, I would recommend you to buy a new turntable from a local store that comes with everything (except phono preamp). If I were you, I would buy something like Technics 1200GR ($1600), Rega P6 ($1600) or Clearaudio Concept with Satisfy tonearm ($2000) and spend extra $500~1000 for a new MM cartridge. And $1000 ~ $2000 for a new phono preamp. Then, spend the rest for buying albums and an ultrasonic record cleaner. 

After a few years, you might feel an urge to try different, then you might think of buying vintages (like Technics, Denon, Thorens, Garrard) and think of mono cartridges or MC cartridges and SUT.

I've owned over ten turntables (which is a modest number for Analog folks), and now I have three, one from each kind -- BD, Idler, DD.
Clearaudio Bluemotion (whole system, bought new).
Garrard 301 with two arms (bought used, all separate).
Denon DP-80 (whole system, bought used).

Again, there are many paths, and there is no one right path. 


Your Cary will have an MM stage, so unless you want to run a step up, you'll want to look/consider an MM cart.

You have TONS of great options for a table/arm and cart at that price point.  As matter of fact, you really don't need to spend that much, unless you just want to.

Couple of ideas on the new side--

VPI Prime 21 with an Ortofon 2m Black

Pure Fidelity Encore with either the TA-1000 or Origin Silver Arm plus 2m Black Cartridge
A Sota Sapphire with an Origin Live Encounter tonearm and Soundsmith Carmen cartridge will do the trick nicely.

This!  ^^ 

@millercarbon.   My preamp Cary SLP98P has a phono stage in it. But, I don't know if I should get a better one or not.

That's why I asked. A better phono stage will be huge, if you can afford it. The two that would be great with the excellent rig above would be the Herron VTPH2A at about $3600 or the Decware ZP3 at about $2k. I have the Herron, its an outstanding over-achiever, and the Decware seems to be as well.

Either of these will be a massive improvement but each with a different flavor. They both use tubes but only the Decware is all triode zero feedback, and depending on cartridge output may need a step-up. But Decware has SUT with free exchange eliminating a lot of the usual SUT hassles.
FYI....the built-in phono stage on the Cary is actually a decent stage...but as I mentioned above, is MM only.
@chungjh Your Cary SLP-98P only has 43dB gain on the phono so you won’t be able to use any carts less than ~2.0mV output w/o using a SUT. That’s pretty limiting for the otherwise $5K-$7K vinyl rig you’re considering. Another issue is that the linestage side of the Cary produces 20dB of gain which is pretty beefy and could start introducing quite a bit of noise if you start adding a separate phono pre into one of the line inputs on the Cary. Years ago I had the same pre and felt the gain was too jacked up and the unit was a bit noisy and simply not resolving enough, particularly for a higher-end vinyl setup. This may be an opportunity to swap the whole unit out for a different preamp, possibly with phono integrated. There are so many choices out there. Don’t just plug in a Herron or Decware or anything else into the Cary w/o thinking about the implications to your setup as a whole. Ignore the folks who give advice without understanding your entire rig...one size never fits all.
I am not married to Cary SLP-98P. I bought it used one month ago for $2500. I can sell it get a new MC phono/preamp if needed. So, may be I need to think about a phono/preamp as well?
I have the Cary SLP98P.  I used it for many years until I recently went to a Cayin integrated.  The phono stage on the Cary is good but I much prefer my EAR834P (RIP Tim de Paravicini ).  It's really not even close.
Kuzma Stabi S w/ Stogi S 12 VTA or 313
As millercarbon recommends, focus on a phono stage as much as the table. One can make or break the other. Avoid tables such as those with a built in phono stage or USB capability. Those features just run the price up and do not add to the quality and performance.
Simply....table, cartridge, arm, and phono stage, and solid support. For your budget you should be able to get a pretty decent rig. Then the adventure starts....all the good vinyl you can get your hands on.

Lot's of good recommendations already given.  

You can find a very nice used VPI TT in your price range and leave enough room for a good phono stage and cartridge.  Lots of deals on VPI's that have upgraded 3d tonearms and a good cartridge such as the ortofon black.  You should be able to find a package in the $3k-$4k range and that leaves you plenty for a decent phono preamp.  

Many good choices out there for a phono preamp but it depends on your preamp.  I would pay attention to input / output impedance match up.  MillerCarbon recommends an outstanding phono stage with the Herron but make sure your preamp can match up well with the high output impedance of a tube phono stage.  Unless unusually low such as the case with my Bryston BP26 preamp you should be fine.   If you want something different the Parasound JC3 also is a good choice IMO. 

Good luck on your journey.  Your budgeting enough to put together something very nice.  Enjoy!   
Music hall 9.3 with the eroica lx, preferably the walnut version. A highly regarded turntable and a steal at $2600.....run it through a Tubed phono stage from tavish and then roll some nos tubes in...nice. 
Rega P10. IMO you need to spend 2x to better it in all aspects.
Hello chungjh! I am running a VPI HW-19 MKIII with Jelco TK-950S (recently purchased, used to have 550S and 750) and Hana SL. As a gift to myself, I am looking at the Benz Micro Glider SM. (User kron sells it among other cartridges at a discount.) My phono stage is a C-J EF-1 with premium capacitor upgrades in a few places. I am quite pleased with my set-up which in Canadian dollars should be around 4.5 - 5K at present used prices. I believe that's very good price-performance wise. 

My suggestion would be a used, even vintage, turntable as long as it is sound mechanically and functionally. Some turntables, as long as they're taken care of are indestructible. The VPI HW-19 MKIV is a good contender I think, based on my experience of the MKIII. And of course you've got some other suggestions already.

But buy a new tonearm for peace of mind; unless you know the person you're buying from, it is a risk to just take people's words on precision mechanical instruments like tonearms. If you should buy a used tonearm, have someone take a look into the unit. Same with cartridges. 

And I agree that you'll have money to spare to get accessories, records and a good cleaning system. 

Happy hunting! 
We just purchased a Parasound Hilo Hint 6. It lists for about 3K but you might be able to get it for about $2500 or $2000. Has a built in pre-amp. Not too many bells and whistles. We do basic 2 channel analog.  My dealer who just closed sold it to me  for $2100.  Speakers you will need to listen but Kilpsch makes nice speakers under $1000 a pair.  If you can find an AR turntable used or contact Vinyl Nirvana he sells used vintage very fair price.  On CD players not sure who makes a good one that will not be a fortune or a receiver if you listen to FM. Be careful of used equipment as sometimes it does not work.  The guy below can provide some guidance and sells vintage too.
 WILLIAM THALMANN
MUSIC TECHNOLOGY, INC.
5418 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22151
703-764-7005 x106
HOURS: 11-6 Mon-Fri
bill@musictechnology.com

good luck

You can probably use a Soundsmith moving iron cartridge with your built in phono pre, I'm using one myself and find them fantastic.
There are literally 100’s of great options you can choose from and the advice you are getting is all relevant and useful.  I’ll comment on the ops statement ......‘As I’m getting older, I need a no fuss, durable and low maintenance system.

I’m also getting older and just did an upgrade to my system that I’m very happy with. Lately, I’ve been buying more and more 45rpm records and my last fully manual turntable was a pain everytime I went back and forth between 33’s and 45’s, manually changing the belt on the spindle. So, I just bought new the Thorens TD 1601 semi automatic turntable, along with a Soundsmith cartridge.  Plays great, sounds wonderful and best of all is no fuss, durable low maintenance.  And, of course fits perfectly within your budget.


I have both the EAR 834 and Cary SLP98P with F1 mod. The Cary with the mod and an outboard step up transformer sounds about equal to the EAR. Both great. You can get a Cary upgrade that adds a step up, and Parts upgrades for about $750. A great way to go IMO.
I also modded a Cary SLP-05, and it is excellent - but expensive.
For a TT, try Salon1 in FL. I got a Pro-ject Signature 10 there for $4500. Add a Hana ML or ART-AT9, and you’ll have a great analog section for your budget.
@cakids. I also have Cary SLP98P with F1 mod. Cary is asking $500 to change from MM to MC. Is this what you are talking about? 

Someone mentioned VPI TNT. I see a couple on the market. Quite old-I wonder if they will need motor replacement.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/353287715811
https://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649683730-complete-vpi-tnt-mk-v-turntable-ortofon-mc-winfield-ti...
You can straddle the vintage and new worlds with something like the PTP Audio Solid 12. A very sensible re-imagined Lenco...
If the budget risestowards $10k there are several excellent modern direct drive tables. I'm in the trade and sell one ( STST from Germany ), or there is the Brinkmann, Technics etc.
Gonna put in my rec for a Well Tempered table like Amadeus GTA with a Soundsmith or Clearaudio MM cart. Once set up, a WTT is the most no-stress player in life.  With this you have budget for a preamp upgrade. 
Thanks everyone for great recommendations. So, with Cary SLP98P preamp upgrade to MC (step up), it will be $3000. Is there a Preamp plus phono stage that are better at this price or let's say up to around $4000?
With the Cary step up upgrade, they can also upgrade the caps and diodes. Ony a couple hundred more, and well worth it. My SLP-05 was just upgraded this year, and it was a pleasure to deal with them.
most preamps with only have high output moving magnet phono capability. So I have no other recommendations.
Good luck.
If you decide for an MC cartridge, I would buy Allnic Audio H-1202 phono preamp now in Agon. It won’t last long. I don’t have a direct experience with it, but Allnic phono stage is almost universally liked by all users, and its price is at your grab. I am actually tempted to buy that. For MC cartridges, you can go for a separate phono preamp and SUT, but I would bet Allnic is as good as any phono preamp + SUT at under $3000 or better.

Then, worry about selling your Cary SLP98P preamp and buying a line stage preamp that matches with your power amp. There have been many good advices so far. More may pour in, but too many causes confusion.

For turntables, research a little bit about different styles -- direct drive, belt drive, idler -- and choose one you like. I have all three kinds. If you want a used, it would be still better to buy one as a whole package, rather than buying a table, plinth, tonearm, cartridge, and headshell all separately. Also, shipping is always tricky, so look for something that is available local or within drive range. I bought a Denon DP-80 (with everything including an MC cartridge and HA-1000 head amp) from an audiophile who had kept it like new, and I was lucky.
You have a great preamp. First ,change all the 6sn7 with 6f8g and adaptors.
The difference is huge.
I can’t recommend a new tt because my choices are from a different era.
I have garrard 401 , acos lustre gst1 tonearm and a nagaoka mp300.
Great match.
@jman67. Where does one get the adaptors to use 6f8g instead of 6SN7? How did you figure out that 6f8g works better? 6SN7 tubes are very sweet sounding preamp tubes in my opinion.
If you spend some time waiting, you can get an incredible turntable on Agon for that budget.  I wanted to upgrade myslef (had a moded VPI TNT Jr.) and nailed a JR TRansrotor Rodino for under seven grand.  Incredible turntable. I was looking for Clear audio (upper models), Brinkman, Bergman, TW Acustic, SME, Kuzma, Palmer.  I kept an eye to see what came on sale and I snatched the Rodiino and couldn't be happier.  (ended up snatching an Allnic H3000 phone stage here as well a short time later).  I have the SME 5012 Arm (I got it for $2,500 recently) and still using my clearaudio strad II (looking for a used airtight not overseas...) and am in vinyl heaven.  I could not be happier.  So, key is to wait and get the best you can for your budget.  
For a phono stage, I would look for a used Asthetix Rhea or something similar.
 Chungjh;

I just did what you are describing:

modestly priced is the keywords with 85% of performance of top of top on line ( I think)

Pro-Ject Classic  $899
Hana SL $700
Musical Surroundings Phenomona II.   $750

I’ve listened to it for a while & adjusting and buying albums at $2.15 & then compared to a buddies system Lyra, ARC ph3, & German table 

pretty good in comparison 
I am still dumbfounded how quiet 1970 albums are 

good luck 

jeff

frozentundra

Wow, those are cheap!
Chungjh. Hello, i bought them from ebay, i think from Poland. Iam using slp 98p 15 years now. I have used almost all the 6sn7 out there. Nos, new,  vt231, meltz, kenrad, rca, metal base....all.
The best results is with 6f8g. Better highs, deep bass, excellent mids. The dfference is huge with all my power amplifiers (cary v12, Radford sta25, pioneer m22...).
Best wishes
Hello,
If you want a great turntable I would say VPI prime scout or Rega P8. Order without the cart and get a higher end Audio technica AT oc9xsl cart. I know you can get a few bucks off the cart from Rega but they also charge more money for the cart. This will leave you around $3000 for a decent Phono preamp. Also please go with moving coil. The ortifon black is a great MM cart but the AT will suit you better and won’t kill the budget. These two tables are pretty phono preamp friendly. Phono preamps are like DACs. The more you spend usually the better they are. Buy once cry once. Just pay for sound and not the bling. Sutherland 20/20 is a great phono preamp for $2200. Little loco is $3800. Sutherland. Little loco is a smoother/ sweeter sound over the 20/20. All of this can be ordered from holmaudio.com if you buy together you get a package deal and can mount the cart for you if you like. 
Pro-Ject and Rega are the worst turntables on the planet just like the rest of the cheap belt drives today.

In the beginning of this thread the OP was thinking about the right direction, but after some useless advises this topic as always goes somewhere else.

I prefer buying used for the best bang for the buck. As I am getting older, I need a no fuss, durable and low maintenance system. Any recommendations?

Right, "no fuss" is a Direct Drive turntable with fully adjustable tonearm (VTA on the fly, removable headshell). Today it’s Technics. I believe you can buy used SL1200G for $3k, and if you want to buy even better look for the SP-10R drive and buy plinth and tonearm separately.

Technics SL1200G seems to be a real nice no fuss table for $3K used. Adding Allnic H1202 or Heron Herron Audio VTPH-2A will complete the job. I was eyeing on Allnic H1202 at $2175 in Agon, but gee, it is already gone.
BTW, SP10R with plinth, arm, and cartridge would be $20K.
@chungjh,

You have received some excellent advice and a great deal of suggestions and ideas to consider; I'm sure it can be overwhelming to try and digest all you've read.  The advice and recommendations you're seeking is a bit unique and intriguing to me -- typically when I've encountered a music fan preparing to "dip their toes" in the analog waters for the first time and enter the world of Turntables and Vinyl, they do so with a much smaller budget than the $5,000 to $7,000 range you mentioned.

I believe I may be as excited to follow your vinyl adventure as you are -- I've always enjoyed spending other people's money, LOL.  At that price point, the analog world may not completely be your oyster...but it damn well is close, it's got to be at least your mussels!  Please keep the Forum updated on your eventual decisions.  I know I'm not the only person truly interested in finding out how your journey continues.

Some turntables that fit your budget I would add to your list to consider include: VPI Prime, VPI Prime Signature, Dr. Feickert Volare, Dr. Feickert Woodpecker, EAT C-Sharp Reference Turntable, Music Hall MMF 11.1, Pro-Ject RPM 10 Carbon, Pro-Ject Xtension 12 Evolution, Thorens TD 1601, and finally, the Rega Planar 8 or Planar 10.

Happy shopping and reviewing, and keep us updated.  I'm anxious to find out what gear you decide to purchase, and what's the first slab of vinyl you play to christen the stylus.  

Have a Happy New Year and Cheers!

Allen Fields
Hello.  I think I went through a similar situation this year. I started pondering on the idea of an analog setup when covid hits.  I got rega rp6 with aria phono and a mm cartridge. It was surprisingly pleasant. I ended up with 300 to 400 records later and decided it was time for an upgrade. I started the second journey and looked at vpi and rega tables.   But eventually I found Brinkman Bardo with Benz LP S cartridge mc.  And I researched for a phono stage.  Best one that is reasonably priced was the allnic h1200. It had raving reviews that fit my needs. The result was nothing but surprises. I'm still breaking in and it sounds better every day.  If you need one, I highly recommend reaching out to https://forum.audiogon.com/users/kevalinaudio

I also posted about John on this thread. https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/great-experience-with-allnic-and-kevalin-audio

So the phono sets u back 3k.  So I guess you have another 4k to play with. I ended up with direct drive. You have to decide what kind of table features you need.  Like do you want to swap cartridges easily? Are you a person who enjoys tweaking?   Too many choices out there.   But I wanted one table that can be my last, I ended up spending 8k on mine.  But you probably wouldn't hear much difference between a 4k and an 8k.  I think roi is less when you get to that level.  I probably be fine with a high end technics in the 3 to 4k or a vpi in that range or even rega table or even a rebuild of a thorens. If you are interested in any of those, you may contact me since I already went thru the journey recently I still have some of my contacts. They have given me superb service and I wouldn't mind passing their info along to you. 
 I want to thank everyone for contributing to my vinyl journey. I would like to report back on what I decided. I purchased a very well maintained Sota star III with Sumiko premier MMT tone arm and Denon D103R cartridge. The gentleman who sold me this set up also included a phono stage that he built for this cartridge. All for a little over $2K. Now, I just have to get some vinyls. 

If you were to upgrade this setup, where would you start?
Dear @chungjh : Come on, why are you on a hurry?.

First than all you need to make the set up on what you bougth then after 20-30 hours make  the " fine tunning " job and after that listen it for at least 50 hours and then decide what you don't like it or what you think you could need as an up-grade. 

Anyway, is up to you.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
Seems like a good buy. Any details on the phono? Oh and is the 103r in the stock plastic body?
Regarding the phono stage (that he made), this is what the seller said.

Any preamp with an auxiliary input will work. The "Takata phono stage" will drive any 5k or higher input impedance, with gain ideally around 10dB (depending on your power amp and speakers). As it is, you do not plug it into phono input. One day, you may get the urge to do a little surgery on the phono stage, and try the MC step-up transformers connected directly to your phono input. Inside the cabinet, are the schematics for the Cine-Mag step-up transformers connection options and the phono stage, which will make it easy to understand how I’ve set them up. From experience, however, many vacuum tube phono stages suffer from higher noise, or tube microphonic issues, forcing one to buy super-premium grade tubes. I’ve also included spare transistors for the non-standard power supply regulator along with that schematic. Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense right now.

The cartridge is aluminum not plastic.

@rauliruegas 

I agree with you. However, never having had an hifi analog system, I am not even sure I will be able to hear what could be improved, unless it is super obvious. One never knows the deficiency of a decent system unless you hear a GREAT system. These days, listening to other gears is highly impractical.
What do you all recommend for vinyl cleaning. Is ultrasonic the way to go?
What do you all recommend for vinyl cleaning. Is ultrasonic the way to go?