Sumaato, your post is a model of truth and good sense.
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i've run a Pro-ject 2 Xperience acryl, 9c arm with a Shure V15 Jico SAS on it for years. So far, I've found this to be a great affordable quality table and it gives terrific sound. I added a heavy puck-it record weight and a Speedbox S, which both helped a little (the puck more so).
But I find that by far, the quality of record pressings/recordings determines sound quality more than any tweaks or cartridge choices I have made. New 180g or 200g reissues yield almost completely silent surfaces and fabulous results. I have not yet been convinced to throw any more dollars at this system, or buy into a higher specced system. I'm putting my money in new vinyl.
I've tried a Grace F9 ruby cartridge, some Grado, Sumiko. All yield different but not better results than the Shure.
Since you enjoyed the 5.1SE....why not own that model?
I recently purchased the Xtension 10 with the Sumiko Blackbird cart that comes with the "Super pack" option, because I needed the whole shebang and the bundle seemed like the best value for me. This is my first high end turntable so unfortunately I probably won't be a whole lot of help because I don't have points of reference to compare/contrast. What I can say for sure is that what you may have read about this model's excellent bass performance is true.
And that the Beatles have never sounded so good on any system I have ever had. But that's probably due to the fantastic Mono box set mixings than to my new hardware. But the Pro-Ject is certainly up to the task! It's not a weak link in my system and I have some decent electronics.
Tjnindc, "Going thinking seems to be that the Pro-Jects weaken as you move up the line, but I would love to hear if anyone has had good experiences with their nicer decks."
I am not sure who is thinking this, but I think the Pro-ject Extension 10 and 12 are great turntables for their price, and real bargains that get overlooked.
If you like to change thinge things up and you like low compliance cartridges, the Extension 12 will take a 12 inch Ortofon tonearm, which is a match for many low compliance cartridges, especially the SPU cartridges. Sometimes the Extension 12 will show up on Audiogon as a used or demo item.
You have a bice system. Good luck with your search.