starting from just about scratch w/ $600 to spend

I'm just getting back into vinyl and currently have a old Technics TT, SL-1950, one corner proped up by CD's cause the foot is missing (I bought it for $15 at a tag sale) and a grado prestige red cartride with about 15 hrs on it.

I just bought a Bryston B60 int amp w/o the phono stage, so I def need to spend part of my money on that. My speakers are signet sl280ex.

So how much and what would you spend on TT/cart/phono pre. It looks like I can get entry level used MMF-5 or NAD 533 with cart for ~400, leaving $200 for phono stage. Are those $200 carts they come with really that much better than my grado?

Or should I buy a more stable vintage DD TT (with feet intact lol) for ~100, and spend the remaing $500 on cart and phono pre. ie, Are the cart and phono pre more important at the price points I'm looking at?

I can go a little over budget if it gets me considerable sound quality upgrade in return.

There seems to be quite a few budget phono pre's around, and I have no way of ABing them, so I could really use opinions on that.
My suggestion:
You can upgrade your TT to a new Technics SL-1200mk2 for $400 if you shop around. Your Grado Red is fine with the SL-1200mk2. That should leave you $200 for a phono stage.

A gently used SL-1200mk2 is also an option, but at $400 I would opt for a new one, given that some DJ-used decks are subject to abuse. If you decide to buy a used SL-1200mk2, you better read what Joel at the Turntable Factory has to say.

An obvious upgrade to the SL-1200mk2 is a tonearm damper at $150 from KAB USA.

I also suggest that you read the recent test of the SL-1200mk2 at TNT-Audio

Good luck!

- Harald
If you want a really good little box phono pre try the Redgum from Australia but they aren't that cheap. E-mail on the side and I can tell you where you might be able to work out a deal with an MMF-5 I own both. The MMF-5 is a great solid table, very quiet, very stable table, but the MM cartridge while being an incredible bargain -the cart is worth $120 by itself- does not yield the detail and finer elements, or dynamics that I have heard, wth MC carts. Still you won't find a better table new for that money, IMHO. Old tables that haven't been refurbed are a crap shoot and a royal pain to fix yourself. If you can get a good one that was owned by an audiophile on the cheap, well try it and pray.
a vintage thorens 160,166,145,147 etc. will compete with turntables in the 2k range, and the build quality and appeal will outlast anything newer for 600 bucks.
In your price range, an extra $100 can buy you a lot more cartridge, but only a little more preamp. So don't sweat the preamp. (You can always upgrade it later.) In your shoes, I'd spend $100 on a preamp, and get the best table w/cartridge I could afford.

BTW, $400 for a used NAD 533? You can buy the same table new (the Goldring 1.2) for $300. Neither comes with a $200 cartridge. It's a $70 Goldring Elektra. It's pretty good, but there's always something better out there.
I agree with the vintage Thorens route, you can get a nice one totally set up for around $200-250, and then a used Bellari Rolls tube phono stage for just under $200 used. Then the rest of your budget can go to records or maybe a Nitty Gritty record cleaner. Have fun!
The NAD 533 (or any Rega P2/P3 or clone) is not a bad start into vinyl. I would suggest a used one to keep costs down. There is lots of scope for upgrades that you can add as you get the finances therefore.

I do not know of any good phono in your range, but I will say try not to cut corners on the phono. The phono is really a key component in vinyl audio reproduction. Keep the Grado and put as much as you can afford into a phono.

I do not recommend going DD (or idler gear) on the TT and a number of posters will vilify me for this, but I have yet to hear one that can produce anything close to ‘hifi’.

Do the Thorens require anymore tweaking/upkeep than a contemporary belt drive TT? Can any needle be fit to it?

There's a few on EBay.

My bad on the NAD table, used I've seen them used for $300. Haven't seen them new for $300. I just assume get a table w/o the cart, as my Grado Red (with little use) is at least just about as good as them.
You may want to consider the VPI jr as they sell for around $500 used with arm and cartridge. The jr has good upgrade potential as the Music hall tables don't besides the VPI sounds better but this is just my opinion. There are many $100-$200 phono pre out there to get you started and when funds permit you can upgrade. Another approach to this is save your money as your budget for table, arm, cart, and phono stage is a bit of a stretch! I did the exact same thing as you on a simular budget and pretty much wasted money when I should have held out a bit longer for a better rig, but if you must have now you do have a few choices to go with, Good Luck with your TT journey, It's fun!