Suggested entry path into vinyl...

...if cost is not a major constraining factor (within limits :-)). I guess my question is do experienced vinyl enthusiasts recommend starting with a "entry-level" analog set up and tweaking and upgrading over time to maximize one's learning of what one likes by sampling different tt/tonearm/cartridge/phono setups (as well as learning how to correctly set-up and handle tts and associated gear on less expensive equipment), or would you just buy a more "evolved" (and likely more expensive) setup at the outset that you have heard within the context of the rest of your playback system and that you like the sound of (but perhaps make expensive mistakes on that gear). I am deliberately staying away from specific examples to get at folks' opinions/recommendations about the approaches. Thanks for your thoughts in advance.
"entry-level" analog is generally a poor value. Better to set the choice on what you can afford now, and skip the upgrades, you will get better sound and value. Upgrades are like 'tail' chasing. So, I suggest a $2K budget, to include the table, arm, cartridge. Spend more to get an outboard phone pre-amp that is a match to the cartridge. Buy used if you can do the set up yourself, new if that is not your ability.
I agree with Buconero117. Buy something that's consistent with your income/buying power. You'll soon find that records are the expensive part of the hobby, not the gear.

Interesting and thanks for the feedback. Buconero117 - is buying used vinyl rig advisable given the more delicate/finicky nature of the equipment (i.e., more susceptible to buying a "lemon")? I would be more at ease buying a phono stage used for example but less so, the tt, tonearm, or cartridge given susceptibility to damage. Am I way off on that assumption? As for doing the setup myself, I have ordered Fremer's DVD for vinyl setup :-). I hope that will be enough to walk me through the basics of tt setup.
A $2k budget as previously suggested for table, arm, and cartridge is very reasonable. Add $1000 - $1500 for a phono stage and up to another $500 for cleaning supplies and you should be good to go. I wouldn't hesitate to buy a table used if available for local pick-up, has original packing materials, or is otherwise being sold by someone who is an expert at packing such an item. Same for the tonearm and phono stage. Personally, I'd never buy a used cartridge.

As for record cleaning you could probably start small and as you grow into vinyl then commit to something like a VPI machine. Many people are steam cleaning records now. There is lots of information here on record cleaning that can keep you occupied for a while.
pick front ends based on your software investment....for a couple hundred records, keep the turntable expense on the a few years, rethink it. you can spend a fortune and be babysteps ahead of a used technics, denon, dual, or thorens.
Jaybo brings up a good point.

Do you have any records now? Do you have a good source of used records in your area? Also availability of records may be genre dependent. If 90s rock is your thing, few titles are going to be available on vinyl. If you're into Jazz, original pressings can be very expensive.

This is why it may be a good idea to get something simple and reliable like a Technics SL-1200 in order to reduce the outlay if you decide vinyl is just not your thing.
Thanks for the feedback. I have 0 LPs right now - as I said new to the format. There are a number of very good record stores offering an expansive number of used/new LPs across all formats in the greater Boston area. I am a fan of '60s-'80s rock, '50s-current Jazz, and getting into classical, and my sense is that LPs as a source for these genres of music is plentiful (both new and used). I agree that I could end up finding the whole experiment frustrating but I won't find out until I give it a shot. My only concern with starting out with a very modest set-up is, if I end up not liking the "vinyl sound," I would always question whether that was a function of the format itself vs. the quality of the platform being used. Appreciate all the feedback thus far. Thanks.
After a couple of tries I am back into vinyl, I tried a couple of lowish TT and the results were horrible, my CD play back beat it hands you also have all the "amenities" of vinyl, like clicks and pops and with most of my old 80s Lps a lot of distortion due to over played records and wasted grooves!
I finally got an experts advice and bought a Technics SP10, an Audio Technica 1010 arm and a beautiful MM cartridge...right out of the box (well lets say just put toghether) it sounded waaay better than my CD playback... I could not believe how good it is, now after some tweaking and plinth solutions (or no plinth) it is sounding wonderful and better than some very expensive rigs I have listened to.
I spent over 2k plus phono stage, at the moment I have a Bellari on loan and we are all amazed how good it can sound in the right conditions and with the right Telefunken tube (more expensive than the Bellari itself).

Do enter into vinyl, but do it right...

Now, about availability of records; I have over a 1000 Lps from way back when, from those I think 200 are listenable (in good condition), and from those 200 I think 40 or 50 I will listen to regularly, the others are... well Cheap Trick and the sort!

I have now a huge list of Classical music 180 gram lps I want to buy, a few every month!
I suggest if possible you find a local dealer and spend lots of time auditioning gear. If anything, I've found the sound of analog gear varies much more than digital. While I routinely buy Amps and CD players from Audiogon I would never buy a used tonearm or especially cartridge. The benefit of a dealer is he will normally help set-up your cartridge/tonearm and may offer very good trade-in credit toward future upgrades. I found a local dealer (Analog Room in Northern California) that has been immeasurably helpful in my analog journey.

I would not recommend necessarily starting off with a budget system and upgrading - unless you really don't know if you will like vinyl. If you are committed to analog I would buy to the budget you have available to spend.

Good luck.
Thx Sibelius. I don't disagree with you at all. I have a number of dealers in the area. What has been frustrating is that even with very high profile dealers in the Boston area, the number of vinyl rigs available to audition is very limited to almost non-existent. Let me ask a follow-up question for those of you who own ARC CD7 and a vinyl setup. I have an all ARC front-end, including the CD7, which I found to be the least digital-sounding CD, with very liquid, smooth and natural sounding sonic character to CD playback. I envision well-put together vinyl can better the ARC CD7 on those sonic traits, and that one can get these types of results without necessarily spending an arm and a leg. Am I barking up the wrong tree here?
No you're not barking up the wrong tree. You have to be very careful about selecting the right components and ensuring they match up well together, especially the tone arm and cartridge. Proper set-up is important as well and having access to the right tools to do it yourself or resources to do it for you will help achieve your goal.
No, you should expect a good analog system to sound better than digital. If not, why spend the $? I have recently come back into vinyl after a 25 year absence. To my ears it is no contest. While I have a fairly expensive analog system ($20K) I have heard a good $2K system (Rega P3-24) sound better than digital. To my the major attribute of analog over digital is lack of listener fatigue. I can listen to vinyl all day. The only downside is that with LP's the quality of the pressing (old and new) is variable. A bad pressing will sound bad regardless of the equipment used. None the less, I can't see my going back to only buying CD's.
Thx Clio and Sibelius for your follow up answers. To Clio's point, any thoughts on component matching or any "truisms" regarding approaches to vinyl (i.e., suspended vs. mass loaded designs, use of motor controller vs. not for speed stability, certain types of tonearm technologies vs others). Also, any rules of thumb regarding how to match cartridges/tonearms for better tracking, and or cartridge/phono stage matching that I should be aware of? I know these are very broad questions, so any thoughts or any reference pieces folks can point me to on the net or other places that discuss these basic "matching" principles would be very much appreciated. Thanks again.
Truisms might be better called prejudices. ;)

To answer your digital vs. vinyl question, I don't feel it's helpful to think of vinyl as a sonic upgrade over CDs. I think that's pushed too much here and in the audiophile rags. At least, that's not how I see my own "relationship" to vinyl.

Motor power supply upgrades do work. I found the price of the upgraded Michell power supply hard to swallow, so I bought used.

The rules for matching cartridges to tonearms are a little tricky, as the dynamic compliance of cartridges is not reported consistently (differing by factors of even 2 or 2.5) or not at all by manufacturers. I guess the short answer on that one is: ask around first.
Thanks Daverz for your response and the link to the Analog Dept web site. Looks very useful.
I re-entered vinyl recently with a inexpensive used TT, a Project 9.1 a lower priced new Benz Glider a reasonable Nova Phonomena phono preamp and a VPI 16.5(a must have!).
I've had a friend's CD7 in my system and this "starter" rig bettered it, it's apples and oranges, your not "barking up the wrong tree". I like the GamuT CD-3 in my system better than the CD-7 it has a more organic sound to my ears and the vinyl rig is so superior to it I just can't wait to buy more vinyl!!
The one suggestion I would make is buy a table with an arm that has an adjustable (on the fly) VTA(I hope to soon) , this will enable you to tune your cart for the different thickness of vinyl and also make bass and treble adjustments.(right away this will put you in a higher price level and the rest should follow)
If you start with 0 LPs and 0 vinyl rig, right off the bat you have a decent-sized expense ahead of you. However, given the first sentence of your original post, the money (within reasonable limits) will not be the most "expensive" bit about jumping into vinyl. The "expensive" bit is the time spent looking for vinyl, fiddling with your system, reading about how to make it better, and eventually the vinyl itself. If you buy the gear used, and decide a year later you do not want it, you might take a small loss but not much of one. The other stuff (the Fremer DVD, the brushes and cleaning fluids, the time spent, etc) will all be more expensive.

I find vinyl playback to be enjoyable, but am not religious about vinyl being "better than digital." I use vinyl to discover music. I can buy lots of decent records for not much money, discover what I like, throw back the rest, and then I can go learn some more. I can also listen to what I have found. To a large extent, I do not pay lots of money for a great pressing in order to get a great original pressing of something I already have on CD or SACD. If I can find the record for $5, I might buy something I already have on CD.

Personally, I would recommend that you 'experiment with vinyl' in a completely different way. If you have garage sales or thrift shops in your area, I would try to find a used working Dual, Thorens, or other table from the 1970s or 1980s. If you buy a used cart (or spring for a new one) which matches the arm, you will get a lot of the subjective qualities you seek out of a $50 yard sale special and a $300 cart which matches (ask here or over on the Vinyl Asylum at for what would match). If you really want to go cheap, try a decent receiver from the 1970s at the same yard sale and you might find an acceptable phono stage. If after buying some thrift shop records, cleaning them, setting up the table, and setting it up again, you find joy in listening to the records you bought, and joy in finding more music and playing that, then the vinyl experience is for you and you can sell your garage sale finds at a garage sale and move up to a more expensive set-up.
Thanks Samhar and T bone. Appreciate the thoughts.
i have to say T bone's sugestion, is one as if to say, don't bother you won't(i don't) think it is any big deal and you won't like it anyway! WRONG! Vinyl is more then just the music, it is a obsession, it is a hobby, it is involvement in the music, it is a conection to the music, it expands your taste into band you would have never heard before, it is an investment, and when done right, it is GREAT sounding music! it is not for everyone but if it is to your liking it can be an adiction that can't be kicked. the bit of good advise he gave is to start used. i found vpi's a great starting point, but buy the best you can afford and are comfortable with spending. there is a lot of great new and used vinyl out there and more every day. i buy originals. rarely do i buy reissues, first issues usally are the best sounding and the most collectable. so if you chose to take the plunge good luck and enjoy the jurney. i have had a great ride up to now and plan to continue for many years to come.
I don't know how you got "don't bother" from T-bones post. I think his approach is the more down to earth one.

Original pressings aren't always the best. Mastering and cutting techniques improved over the years (I not sure about the present. I think a lot of that expertise is gone forever.). And you can find some deals by getting later pressings that aren't on some audiophile checklist.
Koegz, I certainly did not mean "Don't Bother!"
I completely agree with you when you say
"Vinyl is more than just the music, it is a[sic] obsession, it is a hobby, it is involvement in the music, it is a conection[sic] to the music, it is an investment, and when done right, it is GREAT sounding music! it is not for everyone but..."

What I meant is that the "bother" is actually far more of what vinyl is than the making sure the $2000 budget is spent just right, and whether this $600 phono stage smokes that $795 phono stage. Within a $2000 budget there are literally hundreds of ways to get it right. However, none of that matters without the commitment to do all the other stuff. As you say, it is an obsession, a hobby, an involvement in the music. It is also an involvement in getting up and changing sides every 20 mins, and brushing the records, and cleaning the stylus, and cleaning the record when you get it, and putting it in a new inner sleeve, and making sure your albums are stored right, and protecting the jacket bottom, and making sure your VTF hasn't drifted because this one is a thicker vinyl, or you changed mats, and cleaning the stylus again, or cleaning the record again (not to mention learning about how to do all this stuff).

If one has zero dollars invested so far in equipment and vinyl (except for the Mikey Fremer DVD on its way), to me the risk is on the "doing the vinyl thing" aspect rather than the "owning gear" aspect. If one can get involved with vinyl with a light heart and open mind, that is a good way to avoid the stress of "I've got $f&6#@ invested so I'm damn well gonna appreciate vinyl!" One can ALWAYS spend more money later. As for reissues vs originals... for someone just getting in, anyone should be able to enjoy well-pressed/engineered reissues. Many of them are indeed very well-done. They may not be collectable, and if you listen to ten great reissues vs their 10 great originals, the originals may be better in every case, but I agree with Daverz in that that is where the deals are, and ten great reissues is ten great pieces of music with the ability to go out and buy dozens (or hundreds) more for the same price as the ten great originals.

In any case, if Cmalak decides to splurge on gear at the beginning, used is still the way to go to get the best bang for buck.
did i miss something? where is it listed $2000 budget? is that a complete set up? if that is the plan there really is no plan and i humbley apologize for the miss understanding. as i said used is def the way to start, but $2000 budget, basaeball cards and comic books maybe, but not vinyl.
Another benefit of vinyl is you will hear what your system is capable of. As good as your system sounded to you before with CD's you will hear so much more. The first touch of the stylus and the first notes from the speakers and you'll know it was worth all the work improving your system so you could enjoy this quality of sound, digital's limitations will become instantly apparent. Those that have spent more than $10,000 on digital MMV but I've heard the Scarlatti and the vinyl rig in the same system was...well "better"!
I disagree Koegz, even at just over $2k, you can get a new Rega P5, a used Graham Slee Gram SE, and a VPI 16.5. Two grand is more than enough to get your feet wet. Jump in and enjoy the music. Buy the albums you like and even some you have never heard about. The journey is about the music not about the gear.
Thank you all for your comments. It has been very helpful hearing folks different perspectives. And I realize that the vinyl vs. digital debate can escalate to an all out smackdown among Agoners/audiophiles. I guess I never owned a vinyl rig (pre-teen in the 1970s) and so I grew up on the digital sound and while I am acclimated to that sound, I have grown to learn and appreciate what digital does well and what it does not do as well over the past 3-4 years which is when i started down this crazy audiophile journey and as my playback system has improved over this time. I recognize that this may still turn out to be an exercise in futility as I may decide that I do not want to deal with all the "headaches" for some and "rituals" for others that comes with optimizing vinyl playback, or I may not be able to look past the surface level clicks and pops that is endemic to the format (even with the most assiduous cleaning systems/rituals). I get all that. But I guess this is what the quest for "better" sound reproduction is all about and that is why I wanted to ask peoples' opinions about the best approach to entering vinyl as opposed to specific equipment recommendations (of which there are many threads on Agon).

Having said that, on the equipment side of things, one of the things that is clearly more complicated in evaluating vinyl playback is the whole issue of component matching (table, tonearm, cartridge, phono, and phono cable) and how to compare among different vinyl rigs. This may make auditioning different vinyl rigs at local dealers a bit meaningless because a vinyl rig one auditions will be a function of whatever set-up is being used at a particular dealer (i.e., you could hear Brand A turntable at dealer X and you can walk away unimpressed with that audition for whatever reason and you will write off that Brand A tt when in fact it could have been a poorly matched cartridge to that tonearm or poorly matched cartridge to the phono stage being used, etc...). The dilemma of having so many variables that determine what the overall vinyl rig sounds makes the auditioning process kind of a hit or miss proposition. Any thoughts on how to try to adjust for this in the auditioning process, or is it just the nature of the beast and one has to rely on the dealers matching components to show off the best capabilities of whatever rigs they have on display? I don't know if I was clear on that but your thoughts would be very appreciated. Thanks.
T_Bone You forgot the countless hours glued to your seat listening to great music... with none of that listener fatigue!

Cmalak If you want to spend a little less in the beginning try a top MM cartridge that you can get for around $ 500, if you want to get good quality from a recognized MC you will need to spend well over $ 1k plus a better phono stage...JMHO
MM is easier on the tone arm and on the phono stage.

Later on you can get an SV1 or a colibri....
MM cartridges are a great place to start. Many fine ones out there. There is an entire thread here on Audiogon discussing MM cartridges started by Raul Iruegas who IMO is a good source of information on cartridge tonearm matching. He sure owns enough of each and he has tried more arm/cartridge combinations than anyone I know.

Dealers should be able to demonstrate well match analog rigs, but some don't take the time to go through the process. For most dealers vinyl is not a priority. Even though I've had some good dealers available to me who knew analog rigs, I found it best to talk to some of the folks here on this site or use resources at other sites like Vinyl Engine. Lots of information out there. Exercise a little patience and you will do fine setting up a reasonably priced analog rig that will exceed digital play back quality.
Thx Clio09. I got the same advice from Samhar offline on the use of MM cartridges. He also recommended battery powered phono because of the lower noise floor which is so important in vinyl application. Thank you all. Great stuff.
I said med output moving coil so a lower db setting could be used in the phono section and the hassles with amplifying extraneous noise in a beginning system wouldn't be a big problem.
Hi Samhar. Absolutely right. I misspoke. Thanks all for your continued advice. Appreciate it.
i don't know, i am on my 5th album tonight and not one pop or click, just great sounding music and dead quiet in between, go figure.
let me second Clio09 and of course MM Raul :-)
I'm currently listening to an MM in my system (Shure V15 III xMR) and it makes me and my phono-pre a lot happier then any MC managed to date.

Some would say it's due to the phono-pre seeing a more 'workable' cart output voltage and I think it holds some truth. The next best think (in my system) was a 0.3 MC but ONLY when using a step-up transformer, but note: I have NO need for extra gain, as my system can muster some 78dB with relative ease.

Please NOTE, that I say in MY SYSTEM. A lot depends on the performance level of the phono-pre when it is supposed to produce TRUE music like output from e.g. an <=0.3mV cart output. It is there where the phono-pre chaff separates from the wheat.

I think MCs are much overrated in the presents of 'general' phono-pre performance. I have not had the pleasure to listen to a $32'000.00 phono-pre like e.g. Boulder 2008 so all I can relate by is something more 'middle-of-the-road' (see my system).
My advise be also: Get the best MM you can afford when looking for a cart.
So Cmalak, have you actually gotten into vinyl?

My two cents, from personal experience:

I started listening to a great deal of music at a very early age, some years before the Compact Disc playback system broke into the scene. While all my school mates were still listening to some childish dribble, I was pestering my folks for Queen, Kiss and Rolling Stones LPs. My mom even got me one of those portable “suitcases” with an integrated turntable and folding speakers, so I could spin my own records.

When I was fifteen, while visiting family in NY, I had some money in my pocket, so I went down to Canal St. and got myself a Technics SL-1200 MKII turntable, the very same unit that is now spinning ‘Let It Bleed’ atop my equipment rack as I type this post, some 22 years later. I could go on and on about the table, its technology and its history, but the point is that I paid $400.00 for it, surely the best money I ever spent during my lifelong musical journey. My baby still sounds great tonight, has aged gracefully, it never missed a bit, it’s built like a tank and it will go on forever. If I had to choose between my table and my Wife, I’d be stuck between a rock and a hard place!

Along with my turntable I’ve managed to preserve a decent collection of LPs, some purchased by myself as a kid, some inherited from others. Whenever someone was “switching to CDs”, my home was the destination for their old records. I currently own some 3,000 pressings of all sorts of genres and artists. A few are in great condition, but most of them have either been moved too much, stored and handled poorly, played with shabby needles, or all of the above. You can say that I’ve kept all these records throughout the years mainly because I had enough space. One day I ought to filter them out, but for me those records represent a great, free source for musical discovery.

So, although I always had a vinyl rig, the quality of my LP collection never justified a hefty investment in equipment. Also, the limited availability of fresh LPs in my area makes it unviable for me to consider a costly rig. Whatever records come my way these days, they are usually second-hand copies which I snatch at flea markets for less than three bucks a pop.

In any case, I grew up during the proliferation of digital playback. My CD collection is far larger than my vinyl and it is more representative of my own musical preferences. Being the avid audiophile junkie that I am, I spin those silver discs in a high end CD player that retails for over $6,000.00.

You may think that a current $6,000.00 high end CD player with great associated equipment and cables would just smoke the old $400.00 table with its cheap Stanton needle… And you’d be right! Still, every time a mint LP goes for a spin on that old turntable, even through that rubbish cartridge I can absolutely hear why so many people defend vinyl as the best, more musically satisfying format.

I will go as far as to get a better cartridge at some point in order to enhance my system’s definition, but I won’t go beyond a reasonably-priced option.

This is a hobby, after all. So –finally- my two cents are:
- If you live in an area where fresh vinyl is readily available,
- If you are willing to spend considerable resources in analogue hardware, software and isolation, as well as all the cleaning, demagnetizing and calibration accessories de rigueur,
- If you have enough dust-free space to properly store LP records…
Then vinyl will probably provide you with the best possible musical reproduction experience.

However, if like most people you are likely to just get your hands on a few old records here and there, which may not all be in the best of shapes, then settle for an inexpensive vinyl rig which will still give you plenty satisfaction, and devote more resources to consolidate your digital front ends.
Thx Dressprmex. Great thoughts. I agree with the advice. The approach I am taking is to go with a moderate set up to learn the intricacies of table set up/operation and to test whether I have the temperament for vinyl playback (get up every 20 mins or so, clean LPs, constantly check cartridge alignment, etc...) and also to start doing the rounds at various used record stores in the greater Boston area to see the choice and quality of LPs that is available to me. If I find that I enjoy the process of spinning vinyl and I have good sources for used LPs, then I will upgrade into a more serious vinyl playback system. I am still in the research phase and trying to figure out what I mean by "moderate" starter vinyl systsm. I will come back to all you folks for advice and pester you with questions (either in this or a separate thread) when I start narrowing down hardware options. Thx again for your advice and enjoy. Let me know if you get a chance to hear the Rockport Miras and what you think of them Dressprmex. Take care.
Dressprmex should be complimented for his thoughtful and honest response. Bravo !! My experiences are very similar. My love of music started during the days of Woodstock, and I bought a ton of LP's during the 1970's and early 1980's. No CD's back then, so vinyl was the only way to go (oh yeah, I had a box of 8-track tapes for the car) to enjoy the tunes. I'm lucky that I still have a huge portion of my original collection, which I still enjoy.

I've collected about a thousand CD's from 1986 through the present day, and "digital" sounds really fine on my system..... but I've never given up on vinyl. In fact, I've been "re-discovering the total joy" of analog over the past few years, and have bought about a hundred Blue Note/OJC/Contemporary jazz re-issues during this time (~$10-12 each from various websites.) I'm finding that I spend more time firing up my turntable than I do playing CD's lately, but I simply love music, and feel really lucky that my system allows me to listen both ways. See my "system" for's modest in cost, but is extremely musical, and true to the instruments and singers. two cents.......YES, analog playback is quite worthwhile, extremely enjoyable, and can be had without investing a ton of dinero. Good Luck, and Happy Listening !
Let me throw my two cents in......2 years ago I had an illness that damaged the hearing in my left ear. After much deliberation I decided that it was time to get back in to audio while I still had my hearing. This lead me to research audio which led me to Audiogon and many other forums. As you are probably aware, there arent too many HiFi shops left where one can go and sit and listen to different set ups. I finally got a basic system: speakers, amp, and CD player. I got good stuff even if it wasnt the most expensive. I kept reading about analog and how great the sound was. I looked at buying used here but was concerned about my lack of expertise with setting up a TT. There was no one that I knew of near me that could help me. Members of this forum advised me to try and find a dealer that I could visit. I found George Merrill in Memphis TN, about a 3 hour drive from me. George doesnt even have a CD player in his shop. He is all about analog. His own TTs were too much for my budget so he put together a Thorens that he highly modded. I cant tell you how worthwhile it has been to get his expertise. The thing blows away my CD player. I freely admit that I actually spend most of my time listening to the digital radio via direct tv. I work from home so I like low level music. But when I want to really listen I go to the LPs. Some of my ole Lps are beat up, but some with a good cleaning sound great. New music that I buy is mostly LPs. I find it great fun. My advice is to find some one you can trust to set your rig up. You will reap the benefits immediately. Good luck!
if you are within driving distance to memphis, it would be a good trip to go talk to george. He is one of the pioneers in this venue and will talk for hours on the merits of vinyl and will work with you to put together a system that will fit your budget. I came to him knowing a little and already having an old denon player and he showed me what an old modded AR could do and thus i started my quest for the "ideal" sound that i am still working on. However, he gives solid advice and is not tied to just his new equipment. He will also help you understand the tuning and tweaking of the system which is critical to get the most out of your vinyl experience. Also, this forum and the one at audioasylum can help also
Thx Catfishbob and Oilmanmojo. Appreciate the thoughts.