Should I keep or sell my modded AR XA for a Rega RP3 or comparable deck?


Hello Audiogon community! This is my first post and it's somewhat of a doozie!

The big question today is should I keep my modded AR XA or sell it in favor of a Rega RP3 or other deck? Just to rattle off some specs, the XA is still running off of the original Haydon motor and is the single-belt style. The tonearm has been completely gone through and has new Cardas wiring along with sapphire bearings in the vertical pivot and a new ball bearing for the tonearm spindle. Cart is a Grado Black1.

Beyond that, the base is polyurethaned Red Oak with a brand new AR logo and brand new tonearm rest. The interconnects for power and audio jacks have also been replaced in favor of a 3-prong grounded plug and two RCA's courtesy of Part Express. It may be worth mentioning that most of the deck is still in pieces as I have to assemble and solder the connections, but that should take no more than a few hours. 

The main reason why I'm even running it by the Audiogon community is because as much as I'll appreciate the deck and the work I've put into it when I'm done, I just don't seeing it out performing a new 'table like the RP3. Because I'd be jumping from a Technics SL-220 and an Ortofon FF 15XE to one of the above decks, I'll see an improvement in sound quality either way. I just want the best improvement at the least cost! 

My original plan was to go for the RP1 and blow the rest on speakers, however, I'd much rather spend the money on something that will last 'til the end of time and be more upgradable. After testing out the RP3 and RP1 at a local HiFi shop, I was thoroughly impressed by the build quality of both, although the RP3 did have a significant leg up when it came to the tonearm. The RP3 sounded better in the top end too, but that was more than likely the result of the Ortofon 2M Blue it had mounted compared to the stock RP1. 

Bottom line, if I go for the RP3 then there's no possible way I could get a decent set of bookshelves to complement. If I go for the RP1, I can get some decent bookshelves, but I'd also shoot myself in the foot in terms of upgradeability and versatility. If I stick with the XA, then I'm getting a tank of a 'table, but the compliance of the arm is sub-par at best and will only accommodate a select few carts. Beyond that, I also wouldn't have the cash to snag some decent bookshelves because it would be tied up in the 'table.

Really just want some advice. I listen to vinyl more casually and like it for the experience rather than the sound quality, although sound is still very important! Would be using the deck with a Yamaha A-S301 integrated amp if that helps in your decision making. Also would prefer to keep deck under $500 if I go for bookshelves. If not, limit sits firmly at $700-$800! 
mjperry96
mjperry96, I would not sell the AR-XA unless I could audition another player which I found I liked better.  And with your $500-800 budget I doubt you'll find anything better.

I owned a couple of AR-XAs decades ago but more recently restored one for some elderly friends so they could sell it.  I was very pleased to be reminded of the performance of that unit.  It was stock other than removal of the damping pin in the tonearm.  They make music!
@pryso, thanks for the input! To be honest, I really like the fit and finish of the AR XA and to hear that it sounds as good as it looks is a godsend! 

At any rate, I can't wait to get it together and see for myself! My only concern though still lies with cart upgrade paths. I bought the Grado Black1 at the recommendation of a few threads over on Vinyl Engine, but I don't want to fix it to the headshell until I go about soldering everything together. Don't even know if it fits yet! 

I've heard some people have had luck with replacing the stock tonearm tube with a Technics arm tube, but because I've already replaced the wiring and bearings, I'd rather not mess with it anymore. 

Do you know of any carts that pair well with the XA headshell? Had my eye on Ortofon's 2M series but think it might be too big to fit...
Obviously you'd like the selected cartridge to fit the headshell.  Just remember this is a low mass arm so higher compliance cartridges should work best.  Popular choices were Grado, Shure, Pickering, ADC, etc.  Lots of choices new, and with a little luck a NOS or low hour used cartridge will be found.  I'm not familiar with the Ortofon 2M.

I read about replacing the arm tube with a Technics recently as well.  But since you've already done wiring and bearing upgrades all that might be gained is accepting a universal headshell, unlike the AR.

If your arm still has the damping pin that should be removed.  AR recommended doing so and I understand eliminated it in later production.  Fairly simple and instructions are on line.

Lastly I just saw mention that 3-D printed headshells are now offered, maybe on flee-bay.  Original ARs are a bit expensive.

Keep the AR i had one many moons ago .. Tough to beat for that money 
OMG!!!  Keep the AR and just take care to do a little maintenance on the arm.  The Rega will never come close to the performance of the AR. 
Thanks to everyone who's sent in replies so far! However, in spite of overwhelming support for me keeping the XA I think I may go with my original plan to sell it. Everything on the 'table is good to go except the wiring for the tonearm, but even that is coming along quickly!

Since my last post, I've actually gotten in contact with the Vintage HiFi Museum in Connecticut and the guys there have been extremely helpful! I'll be going there again this weekend to do some volunteering and will probably finish everything then. If the sound it makes blows my mind, then I may change course and keep it, but like I said I listen to vinyl more casually and prefer solid-damped designs to the XA's sub-chassis.

With all of the upgrades I've done, I think I should be able to get at least $850. As for the new 'table I'll be running, I've been entertaining a cheaper alternative to the RP1 and RP3; a custom U-Turn Orbit. I ran the idea by Michael Fremer over at Analog Planet and although he wasn't familiar with my model Technics he said that it's tonearm was likely better than the one found on the Orbit. Although I don't doubt Mr. Fremer and his experience I figure it's a good idea to run it by the folks here before a make a purchase. For reference, the Orbit I'd build would have an acrylic platter with a Grado Black1 cart. 
Buy a used Rega Planar 3, which can be had for 300-400, if you shop smartly. It a great table and can incrementally upgraded.
I've had an AR-XA, an XB, the 1980's reissue AR table, as well as a Rega RB-300 arm. The problem in choosing between the original AR and a Rega is that any of the Rega arms is far, far superior to the piece of junk AR arm. If you want the suspended-subchassis type AR table, get the 80's reissue version (which allows the use of any 8-9" arm). Changing the arm on the XA or XB (which I did, putting on a Formula 4 Unipivot in place of the stock arm) requires surgery on the AR's subchassis.
mjperry, I have not followed pricing for AR tables recently but am amazed if you could get near $850 for a restored one.

On the other hand, if they do now command that range in pricing, what does that tell you?

The XA is a great table, made beter by the improvements you have added.   The table and arm are capable of outstanding performance using a variety of cartridges.    Back in the day many AR tables were sold with Shure cartridges installed.   The M95 and V15-111 were very popular.    I restored an XA and mounted a Shure m97xe.   I checked alignment to see how far off it was and I was surprised that initial alignment was perfect.  I rechecked alignment using another method, and again it was perfect.   I did some research and discoverd that many believe that AR recomended Shure cartridges, and prealigned the XA arm for Shure geometry.   Anecdotally many report that grado cartridges can hum when used with vintage AR tables.  If someone is willong to pay you $850, dont ask questions, take the money and buy another table !    Unfortunatley an XA is not worth $850.   $500 would be about right, with cartridge installed and aligned.