recommendations for TT + arm + cart, around $3.5k

Hi all - I'm looking to upgrade a Rega P1 to something more substantial. My setup (currently being upgraded):

Focal 1027Be Speaker
Rogue Audio M-180 Tube amp
Peachtree Audio Nova preamp/DAC
Rega P1 with NAD PP2 phono stage

Can anyone recommend some turntables that I should check out? I know comparing the P1 with something in the $3.5k price range is wildly unfair, but FWIW it's sound is too soft for me, so I'm looking for something on the brighter side. I listen to all kinds of music, with the bulk being rock/jazz/country/folk and a little classical of late).

I plan to upgrade the phono stage in the not-too-distant future, but I'd like to get the table sorted first. Budget of, say, $3500 all-in (table + arm + cartridge).


Are you sure you can't get there by just getting a different cartridge? There a huge differences between types of stylus' and cartridges that can get you where you want to go.

Were I you I would first concentrate of getting the type of cartridge that fits your budget and sound requirements. If, after you get past that, consider what you will need from an arm which should match the needs of the cartridge and TT to compliment the cartridge and arm. For many less than dyed in the wool analog audiophiles looking for the best available, a cartridge which will work with your present phono stage and arm may be all you need.

Just something to think about. :-)
Hi Newbee -

Thanks for the reply! I did pick up an Ortofon OM20 cart to replace the stock cart - that improved things over the stock sound - firmer in the bass, and bit more velvety, but it still sounds mushy or veiled to me. I've also got a Groovetracer platter in place, but honestly I didn't notice much effect from that. Of course, at this point, the GT and the new cart cost as much as the P1 did originally, so I was thinking of just getting a much better table instead of upgrading into oblivion on a $400 deck!

So, at this point, I'm exploring my options before taking a listen at stuff.

As always in this hobby, I always find myself buying stuff, then a year later replacing said stuff with new stuff that costs 3x (10x?!) as much - so this time around, figured I'd set a decent budget and try to save myself from future "upgraditis"! All that said, I'm open to any and all suggestions!

The Well Tempered Amadeus (which includes a phenomenal tonearm) and an Ortofon 2M Black MM cartridge are just toward the upper end of your price range and will equal or better TT/cartridge combos costing far, far more. My opinion, of course. YMMV.
Yuo basically have thre issues that can contribute to the sound or lack ther of that you are seeking. As Newbee stated the cartidge can be possibly more critical than the "table" (though the cartridge/arm match is critical), but also the phono preamp. I moved through three stages (first SS external. second tube external and now using the internal stage in my VAC pre. Each change brought about an additional removal of the "veiled layers". The phono pre is as much responsible for the final tone of the signal from the cartridge as the cartrige is in picking it up from the groove. The table and arm just allow a better translation of those signals. Just more to think about.
Were I in your place Justin, assuming that you are not trying to establish your analog source as some type of reference system and are only trying to adjust tone a bit I would explore some old mm cartridges that might just give you a very accurate reflection of what is on the disc.

The only problem is that 1) You have to be sure that the cartridge's compliance matches the mass of your tone arm, and 2)and that these cartridges are cheap and not exotic! No bragging rights! :-) Just recall they were very popular 30+ years ago and are still available, for example some Stanton and Shure cartridges (I forget the numbers but with the Stantons they were something like 681 and or 881 and the Shure M97(?). I used some models from them for years back before the profusion of MC cartridges and was quite happy. I felt they were neither warm nor additive.

While I can understand your situation and have certainly gone thru more than my share of upgrades, analog is one of the areas where nothing is plug and play. The design of your stylus/cartridge demands an arm of a certain design. The design of an arm demands a certain type of TT. Often a one system purchase from a manufacturer can be your best bet, so long as you are satisfied with the actual sound when you plug it into your phono stage (which should be in sync, sonically, with your cartridge OR you know to and be able to modify the tone of the cartridge to give you the sound you want. For example I use tube phone stages and can change tubes to change tones).

Cheap and simple works but, unfortunately, it usually takes work on your part to make it so.

Now to give you a WAG about what is currently available on the market that might work for you (with the right cartridge added) think of the newest TT/Arm by VPI called the Classic. Worth looking into as are some of the Older "Scout" series. I'd also look at the lesser Nottinghams, a TT design I really like, maybe not so much the arm, but then I'm not sure how much I'd like the arm that comes with the Classic either.

Now life gets really complicated for you..........:-)
Great info, Drrsutliff and Newbee - very cool.

I was going to hold off on the phono preamp, as eventually I will upgrade my Nova (as a pre) to , and figured I'd wait a bit as whatever that might be, could have a decent phono preamp. I could just look for a better phono preamp now, and see how that works out, and then think about the next step.

I've been reading about the Classic, and my local hifi guy SWOONS over it! I'm not sure about the aesthetics though - I could take it or leave it. Is there a strong reason to prefer the Classic to the Scouts, gun-to-the-head (I know - gotta hear them, but I mean in terms of construction, features that I may care about later when I get more involved with the TT and learn about proper setups, etc)?


Clearaudio Performance SE and Benz Glider should solve the upgrade bug for awhile.
I WOULD get the VPI classic and a $700 to 1K $$ cart.
Carts to go with:
Benz Glider, Benz ACE, Ortofon 2M black, Dynavector20X Lyra Dorian
The VPI is a great table.
I just bought a Rega P5 with a Benz Glider,.. I would have gotten the VPI classic, but they are backordered nearly everywhere.
Agree just wait on phono pre part til' TT/cart settled
You also may want to take a look at Nottingham. Right now you can get a 294 or Hyperspace for under $3K. Add a cartridge and you have a very nice system. Down the line you can add a different tonearm (generally considered to be the weakest part of the Nottingham) like SME, Graham, Moersch etc.. and you've kicked things up a notch to an extremely nice system. I've seen some real good prices on Nottinghams lately. I think some of this is due Nottingham being between US distributors. Nott's don't have a lot of "flash" or "buzz". They are just very solidly engineered tables that should last a long time.
OK - lots for me to think about here! A couple of suggestions on the Classic, a couple for the Nottinghams, plus some cart suggestions. That's a good start for me.

Thank you, everyone!
My VPI Classic is in a differnt league from the Scoutmaster Sig or the Aries I that I had previously. Much better sounding table.

For you budge pick one of many great cartridges, including the Sumiko Blackbird, or many of the Grado or Dynavectors
I have some radical advice for you: sell your Peachtree and new amp and get a very good integrated and separate phono stage and DAC. For about the same money as you're willing to spend on a TT + Cartridge + Arm, you could provide your speakers with amplification more befitting their abilities, while also upping your DAC and Phono stage. This is the versatile and forwarding thinking approach, as you'll squeeze more out of that TT+Cartridge than your current phon and amp are, plus, it'll allow you to upgrade to a different TT/cart in the future and appreciate an even bigger leap. If you blow your wad on the turntable and cartridge now, you're still left with a so-so phono stage, and and amplification component that seems somewhat mis-matched with your monitors. Sorry if this seems out of line, but that's what I'd do first. My usual chain of equipment is: speaker=>amp=>source=>music=>accesories.
Hi Brookjoo - not out of line at all, I appreciate the feedback. :)

However, I am going to go with a VPI Classic with a Sumiko Blackbird, and a PS Audio GCPH phono pre.

I don't want to go integrated at this point (hence picking up the monoblocks) - so the next step, which I'll hold off on for a few months, will be a replacement for the Nova (likely a standalone preamp and a standalone DAC - then the Nova can take over bedroom duties). But for now, I'm all set.

Thanks for everyone's help!
To respond to Elizabeth, seems a shame to give up on the VPI Classic just because it is backordered. I would not think the lag time would exceed six weeks. Hope your Rega P5 meets all your needs. In my case, my dealer had one VPI Classic in stock but I had to wait a few weeks for the very same cartridge-a Benz Glider.
Heard a vpi classic the other day ........ great table and beautiful to boot ......Probably the first time I actually heard very good/great vinyl ..........It had a Benz cartridge (Don't know the model) running through a ARC phono-stage ..... and ARC amp/pre-amp ..... Good Stuff
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Blackbird can sound a bit thin.....
Classic is a "classic choice" super tables and upgradeable..
worth the wait for one
Moving coils Dynavector,or lyra are really nice
I recently purchased a VPI Classic with a Benz glider (.8mv) cartridge. The combination of turntable and cartridge works great. I haven't listened to a CD since I received the VPI and the CD player I currently own is very good (Cambridge 840C). The Benz and Dynavector cartridges work very well with the VPI 10.5 arm. I would highly recommend waiting for the Classic and matching it with a an upper-end Benz or Dynavector cartridge.
Kuzma Stabi S package w/table, arm goes for about $3200, I think. Lots of great carts have been mentioned here so far.
I bought a VPI aries 1 with sds speed control jmw 10 arm, upgraded motor and original platter for $2500. The Kuzma Stabi S was and still is a temptation. While I would have a hard time buying a "new" audio product the vpi classic which I haven't heard looks great. I bought the aries on audiogon, I was looking online at one from audio classics in binghamton ny for $2300. I had owned a linn lp12 with rega rb300 tonearm which I really liked but didn't like the maintenance and set-up interface and didn't want to put money into the upgrades. My only other table was a rega p3. I have to admit I am a sucker for any table that has a modular upgrade path like the vpi tables. So my experience is limited but I have been very with the vpi aries
I've got the 1027be's. Running Sim Audio amplification and phono stage using balanced interconnects. TT is Kuzma Stabi with Stogi S arm, cart is Clearaudio Maestro Wood (MM). Great synergy, plenty of dynamics, soundstage and some sweet mids. Not the last word in detail but not a bad thing with the beryllium tweeters on the 1027be's. Kuzma TT is excellent value for money with great engineering and a sexy look (is TT love indecent??).
I received my Classic today, installed a Sumiko Blackbird cart, and running it through a new PS Audio GCPH - have to say that it sounds night and day better than my previous setup with the P1 and PP-2. I mean, not a little bit better but totally different and wonderful - I've been spinning vinyl all night all having a blast! I'm sure my setup is far from optimal, and I'll figure that out eventually, but I'm very happy right now! Thanks all for the input. A new table and phono pre was the right way to go.

Recently upgraded my cartridge to a Dynavector XX2 MKII. What an amazing cartridge. Everything is better than the Benz Glider, as it should be considering price (not that the Benz was bad). Bass is quicker, tighter and deeper. Treble is airier and crisper. Midrange is natural. Music sounds more like the real thing (live music).