The best TT system for under 30K


Hi agoners! 

I have been floored by Kuzma Stabi XL DC with 4 points TA on a recent audition. It was extremely analog sounding, insane details with speed, beat and clarity that made me wonder if I am listening to a live concert, just can’t help my toe tapping. Was comparing the sound to the top of the line Accuphase CD player with the same rest of system and it was no contest. 

Switching from Accuphase CD player to Kuzma XL DC was sounding like adding a pair of subwoofer and going up 2-3 levels on the rest of the system. Mind you the rest of the system was Accuphase E-650 class A integrated that should favor the Accuphase same brand CD player but that wasn’t the case. The speaker was Kerr Acoustics K300 under 10K entry level bookshelf and the sound of the entire entry level system armed with Kuzma XL DC beat the hell out of the entire super high end system the dealer has on the other listening room with Avalon PM3 speakers, Accuphase A-250 monos, Audionet Stern Preamp with Accuphase CD player. 

However obviously I cannot afford the whole set of Kuzma XL DC considering I am also in the process of upgrading my existing system. What will be the closest contender in the US$30.000 retail price range that has the same sonic signature as Kuzma XL DC? 

Thanks in advance for any advices!!
uwiikz
While ’you get what you pay for’, there are ways to think about this- they should however be based on your system versus the dealer demo system. If you feel like sharing the rest of your system it will help suggestions to be more specific.
Without knowing details I will make a ( biased since I sell it ) suggestion to research STST who have been making direct drive tables since later 80s. Very good, very musical. Of course there are many other great tables...


Wait until you hear a master tape dub played on great deck. You will forget about turntables.
Anyway, you will have to audition. Starting with, say, $10k for table/arm, that's where serious things begin.
If you like the Kuzma sound, why not look at the new Kuzma R with 4Point11 arm - total cost US$16k. Leaves you plenty for a good cartridge as well. If you are looking at Kuzma cartridges - I heave heard both CAR40 & CAR50 on same deck with 4Point - the CAR50, although a big jump in price, is substantially better than the CAR40.

My existing system is as follow:
- DCS Bartok streamer and DAC
- Mcintosh C22 preamp
- Mcintosh MC75 mk III monoblocks
- SF Guarneri Evolution
- Transparent Ultra Gen 5 cables
- Shunyata Delta NR PC 
- PS Audio P10 regenerator 

Path to my upgrade:
- Turntables first and foremost. If result by adding quality TT alone can compare or beat the (my) reference system I auditioned at the dealer then I will stop here, otherwise continue to below steps in order;
- Replace speaker with Franco Serblin Ktema
- Replace amp with Accuphase A-250 Monoblocks
- Replace Pre with Accuphase C2850

I actually considered Kuzma Stabi Ref 2, it fit my budget perfectly but the dealer doesn’t have it on stock for audition. Wondering if it will perform similar to Kuzma XL DC?
@uwiik2
Interestingly, I know someone here who moved from the Stabi Ref2 to the Stabi R, and was very happy. If you want to spend more than the new Stabi R then you should look at the new Stabi M, not the Ref 2.
If you are spending that much I would audition some more turntables. Here are a couple I have heard in your budget range. I have not heard the Kuzma, so my suggestions should be considered with that in mind.

At the edge of your budget. An impressive sounding turntable. The smaller Viella V-12 is in your budget with an excellent cartridge. The V-12 is great, but not quite as great as the Forte
https://www.stereophile.com/content/amg-viella-forte-turntable-and-12jt-tonearm

In your budget with an excellent tonearm and cartridge of your choice. I have a very similar Garrard 301.
https://www.tonepublications.com/review/the-artisan-fidelity-garrard-301-statement/

Best of luck with your search.

Jim Perry
Have you considered Basis tables and the super 9 arm?
@pops 

+ 1 on the Basis TT and Super Arm. I have not heard the Super Arm, but the Basis Vector is an outstanding tonearm, so presumably the Super Arm is even better
You'd better inject at least the Stellar Phono pre for great analog.
What was used in the audition?
Anything Artisan Fidelity and a good performing arm.  
I have an original XL with 2 motors and the Airline arm, and upgraded from a Kuzma Reference with Triplanar. There was a world of difference in presentation- mainly in the absence of the sense of a turntable spinning. You don’t know it until it is gone-- I call it a "halo" effect--something people seem to assume is part of the record playing experience. I attribute that to both the table and the arm.
In terms of cheaper options, what about used? You can always upgrade the motors later)(I still haven’t done it and probably won’t until the original motors fail)-- I’ve had my table since around 2006 or 2007. Except for changing out a belt, lubricating once I drained the bearing well to move my household, and having Franc do some work on the inner platter, which he ultimately replaced for me--it was rubbing-- the table has performed flawlessly. There are other tables, some priced higher, that don’t make me want to change at this point.
One table that has long interested me is the Platine Verdier-- it is now sold as a "nouvelle" model, I gather the original was a killer with some tweaks. The newer model may not have issues, and is worth looking at or researching in more depth--it is similar in the sense that it is no suspension and high mass, external motor ’pod" and allows multiple arms like the XL.
One other issue that you may have to sort with tables like this is isolation.
I have not had the table on concrete slab but typically set up in older houses, wooden floors, etc. High mass isn’t easy to manage for that purpose and I had to buy a Minus K iso platform in my new location, given the weight of the table/arm and the inability to isolate it from a wooden floor via a wall mount.
I do have a 4 Pt 9" in my vintage system mounted on a period Technics SP-10 and it does deliver- no on the fly VTA like the bigger 4 Pt. models (and the Airline). I had the 4 Pt 9 set up to do side by side comparisons with the Airline and preferred the latter on my main table/system.
Dear @uwiikz : Do you remember wich cartridge was mounted in the Kuzma dealer's system and the Accuphace CD model?  in that dealer sessions which CD's did you listen it and if you can let us know if the comparisons were with the same LP's titles than the CDs?

Thank's in advance.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
IMO you can do no better than Thales. Under $30k you can do either a combo of Compact + Simplicity, or Slim + Statement.
Technics SP-10 mk III or SP-10R in a custom plinth with modern tonearms like Reed 12 inch and compatible cartridge of your choice. 
  Wait until you hear a master tape dub played on great deck. You will forget about turntables.
Masters are rare and when found cost a lot of money, it's not a software medium that you can buy in every store.
Post removed 
@best-groove is it not Franc Kuzma? And can you tell us why you don't care for Kuzma tables?
Dear @uwiikz : Do you remember wich cartridge was mounted in the Kuzma dealer’s system and the Accuphace CD model? in that dealer sessions which CD’s did you listen it and if you can let us know if the comparisons were with the same LP’s titles than the CDs?

Thank’s in advance.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.


I don’t remember what exactly the cartidge was, but it was a $6500 cartridge from Miyajima and $6500 4 point Kuzma tonearm. The CD player was Accuphase DP 750. Phono was the Accuphase plug in board for the integrated amp. The rest of the system was low-ish end really and it beat the hell out of CD player based 200K plus system the dealer had in the other room. The margin of performance was quite a lot between the low-ish end system armed with Kuzma and the 200K plus system that I cannot help to scoff at the other system.
Album on both LP and CD was Diana Krall Live in Paris, same tracks on every comparison. The sound from the CD player while also very very nice was sounding really bland compared to the Kuzma. With the Kuzma the voice was very 3 dimensional, clear and distinct separation from the rest of the sounds. Just by switching to Kuzma it feels like Diana Krall took two steps forward closer to me, ditch the microphone and sing beautifully in a private audience. Clapping audience sounds very very real with distinct energy you can literally feel the audience hands hitting each other. Each bass tone was tight and rounded with complete authority on each hit. I would’ve believed the dealer If I did a blind test and the dealer said he added a subwoofer, the bass quality change was really that extreme. Midrange was very liquid, holographic and magical, there was literally ZERO trace of SS sound, I could’ve sworn it was tube midrange sound. I never thought I would ever ever consider SS in my system but the low-ish end system armed with Kuzma made me a convert in a few minutes. I have been a high end aficionado since I was a 13 years old kid now at 40 (17 years hiatus in between because I have to be an adult and start making my own money instead of siphoning my surgeon dad’s money... I love him dearly) and I never ever ever favor SS sound even on megabucks system until now, Kuzma really made me hear the best quality of an SS system. My wife is my second set of ears and she is my reference for totally objective judgement of sound because she plays many instruments and also sing, she have no idea of the system and cost (before she gets the bill) and she was claiming it was almost exactly like hearing a live concert, that’s the first I ever heard from her. Like I said before, switching from CD player to Kuzma feels like the system was entirely upgraded by 2-3 level of class.

@rsf507  

sorry I am confused ....is correct Frank Kuzma.

There's no real reason why I don't like them, I just don't find these front-ends interesting.
Consider the Nottingham Analogue offerings, particularly the Dais and the Deco. They favour the Trans-Fi Terminator air bearing tonearm, which is itself a tremendous value.

I use a near-Dais standard NA TT with a Terminator TA for mono, with a Miyajima Zero cartridge. It's the best you can do south of an air bearing TT. Which I also have.

IMO.
Path to my upgrade:
- Turntables first and foremost. If result by adding quality TT alone can compare or beat the (my) reference system I auditioned at the dealer then I will stop here, otherwise continue to below steps in order;

I like this plan, and you are in the same budget area as I have been researching for some time now. I am very thorough and careful with my upgrades!

Top of my list is the Onkk Cue. Do your research. Paul Beckett has a masterpiece here. No lube/no wear ceramic bearing, astronomical accuracy speed control, designed to last forever, infinitely user adjustable playback speeds. Comes in right at $30k. If you don’t get that then I am indifferent as there are no bad turntables at this level.

But I don’t know about you but I am not made of money. Have to be very cost-effective, especially at this level. Can easily spend $5k just on the interconnect. Which is one reason I recommend Origin Live Conqueror. Or any Origin Live arm. The phono lead is hard wired. The improves sound by eliminating a lot of harmful connections, and saves big money- not to mention trial and error trying to find the right wire.

On the arm I mount the Soundsmith SG1. The strain gauge saves even more money, as it eliminates the phono stage. Again, do your research. There are shootouts with highly experienced listeners saying you could easily spend $10k to $20k or more just for the phono stage alone, never mind the cartridge, trying to reach the same level of performance.

This front end will probably be closer to $40k or $45k than $30k. However I am confident when you hear the Cue you will understand that as high as it is, it is really only pointing the way to levels even way beyond.

Congratulations on waking up to the reality of analog. You ain’t seen nothing yet! Onkk Cue, OL, SG1, you will be in seventh heaven!
Thanks a million for the suggestions folks! WOW, lots of suggestions and all seems great. There are a lot of brands you guys mentioned that I never heard before and all are looking interesting.  I do however have a problem with auditioning in my particular country Indonesia, it’s a third world country so we don’t have much choice to audition, we do have official dealers for a lot of brands but most are catalogue sales.
Given my country’s lack of audition possibilities, perhaps I should rephrase my original question. What lower priced alternative than Kuzma XL DC that would give me the almost exact same sonic characteristics? I do not want to risk my investment by going to totally different sonic characteristics TT which actually might be also very good perhaps even better than Kuzma XL DC. Everyone’s taste are different and I happen to find my match with the Kuzma XL DC. I would’ve bought the Kuzma XL DC if it’s not outrageously expensive. Perhaps I should stay within Kuzma range to not risk disappointment? Do all the line from Kuzma posses the same sonic characteristics? Does Kuzma have a house sound? I cannot find any deeper discussion about Kuzma in any forum and it’s a bit frustrating given what I heard on the dealer’s system. Unfortunately the official dealer only have one Kuzma TT on stock and that is XL DC. The thing is I can actually afford Kuzma XL DC if I really want to but despite my long history with audio this will be my first rodeo with turntable ever so I am a bit leery of spending that much on my first attempt at TT. I used to always swore on my future grave that I will never touch TT ever, especially after owning good streamer with Roon and boy there is always first for something LOL. 
Perhaps ordering Kuzma R with 4 point 9 tonearm and Miyajima cartridge sounds viable? OR just please somebody tell me XL DC is the best ever and there is no other that can compare so I can just jump the cliff and took the plunge? LOL!! Damn this audio bug, my wife gonna hate me for the next one month. 
"sorry I am confused ....is correct Frank Kuzma."

Franc Kuzma, (ne Frank Kuzma).
Millercarbon,
thanks a lot, your description sounds very assuring, detailed and authoritative. I will give it a strong look and see if I can find the dealer locally. Do you mind explaining the sound signature of the front end mentioned? 
+1 on Artisan Fidelity tables - I have a Technics SP10 Mk2 or 3 mated with a Kuzma 4p (11) and it is fantastic.  If you can find a used one in good shape, you'll get what you need for less than half of what you plan to spend.
Holy Moany Audiogonie!
As I mentioned upthread, I had a Kuzma Reference and upgraded to the XL some time ago. The XL is a better table and its "sound" is better because there is less of it (you aren't hearing as many artifacts of vinyl playback). The bass is also extremely good, goes very deep, and that with an air bearing arm which is not an arm design known for pronounced bass. 
I'm not saying the Kuzma is better than any other table but you asked about a house sound. The point, to me, is to be utterly absent as part of the presentation. And you don't appreciate that until you don't hear it. Short of the XL, the M would probably be a good table, lower in price, but I have no hands on experience with it. Kuzma does support his product well. I've talked to Franc many times, as well as his importer/distributor here in the States, Scot Markwell. I don't know your territory and players so I can't speak to what can be had there which competes, offers a better value and is similar to what you heard.
I also use a vintage SP-10 with a Kuzma 4 Pt. 9" in my vintage system and it is more table than the system requires in some ways. 
Ultimately, the table/arm/cartridge and phono stage make up the front end and variables including the wire could affect the sound. I'm currently using stone bodied Koetsus on my main table- the XL and they work fantastically with the Airline. There are of course other cartridges and arms that you may prefer. You are in control of this- based on due diligence, such as you are doing here. Getting a chance to listen to a particular set up in a dealer's room is better than nothing, but it still isn't the same as your system/room. Set up is part of it too and can make a significant difference in performance. 
Have fun with this. 

As an owner of the Kuzma XL DC, I concur with uwiikz’s listening experience as described in the thread opener.

What lower priced alternative than Kuzma XL DC that would give me the almost exact same sonic characteristics?

Certainly not the Technics Sp10R & Mk.3 direct drives, as they are different beasts entirely. Not better or worse per se, simply different in terms of playback, presentation and overall character.

In my system, I’ve elected to employ various turntable drive types, all which provide immeasurable levels of musical satisfaction each through the lens of their own unique persona. None are identical and yet all are immensely capable, reference caliber analog playback devices. If I were to recommend one alternative turntable which has some similar characteristically musical virtues, it would be the Garrard 301 Statement which I believe with optional ac power supply would cost about $8000 less than the Kuzma and accepts nine to twelve length inch tonearms. Being a properly implemented idler drive, it has a certain propulsive and dynamic nature coupled to a powerful, extended bass signature with loads of air, space and deep layering abilities. Inner detail is superb as well. Again, to clarify, it is still different from both of my belt drives and direct drive turntables, some attributes of each an individual may find more or less desirable than others, subjectively speaking but if you are seeking something with quote "beat", "speed" and "clarity", then this would be the closest thing in my system resembling this kind of demeanor, comparatively speaking.

Personally, I think the Kuzma XL DC is one of the great bargains of high end modern belt drives and far, far from being overpriced. Their other record players, aside from the Stabi M, although to a much lesser degree, do not sound like the XL DC as they are lacking the impact, scale, focus, layering and life of this model. After auditioning the Stabi R last year, it was immediately apparent to my ears that it was a significant step down the in the manufacturers hierarchy. Somewhat odd my impressions felt, as we did not seem to have the same sense of urgency present as its closest sibling the Stabi M although they share the same motor. Perhaps the difference lies within the power supply. The XL DC remains the superior Kuzma, at least to my ears. Their latest offering the XL DC Air, I personally have not yet seen or heard yet, so I cannot comment.

please somebody tell me XL DC is the best ever and there is no other that can compare so I can just jump the cliff and took the plunge?


A polite reality check, this is high end audio, and "best ever" does not exist. Not a single audiophile has seen, tried, compared or heard it all. Try to enjoy yourself during the journey and along the way find what is best for your personal listening tastes, budget and playback goals. Conjecture is something we all must contend with at some point in this game but fortunately you have some helpful, constructive insights here from various members to study and digest prior to making your final decision.


Now that appears to be the turntable that you seek. I have not personally heard it, many think it is the very best there is.
You do want to approximate the sound of tape, and they say this is the closest.
Even better, get top of the line Pear Audio table/arm for $10k+ and save a lot.
In any case, don’t listen to me, listen to Whart - he knows the stuff and he knows Kuzma tables very well.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9ejh9-continuum-caliburn-cobra-castellon-turntables

WOW! Never expected this thread to be this informative with so many detailed responses!! Happy being here folks!
I just called the dealer just to chat about acoustic panel for my new dedicated listening/HT room/mancave. He offered me a crazy deep discount if I am willing to take the display model they had for two years, the exact same Kuzma XL DC I listened to including Kuzma 4 pt TA and Miyajima cartridge. Basically he slashed the retail price for the display item by almost half....so I think it will be extremely unwise for me to pass the deal. Thanks a billion folks!! I think I have found my answer. Special thanks for Ferrari275 and Whart for sharing your personal Kuzma XL experiences and confirming my impressions of the Kuzma XL DC. LOVE IT!!!
That's good. You got lucky, go for it. I hope that you will get full warranty coverage, just in case.
to the OP you do understand MC has never heard, actually heard what he is “ selling “.... just like a Porsche guy reading about driving a Ferrari.....comical at best..

especially as we go sailing by.....and yes, I have a** bumped a few 911 right into the armco...

consider Basis, Brinkmann, Triplaner, Lyra.....things people own, have heard, etc...
congrats on scoring the Kuzma demo !,, enjoy the music
Are you returning to final after a period being without a Vinyl Set Up ?

Have you got a Vinyl Collection ?

My advice would be if there is a requirement to start purchasing Vinyl Media, create a collection of your five 'go to' Albums and use these for your TT Auditions.

It should be possible to to get the same Vinyl LP's on CD at a fair price.

The Streamer set up in use can then be used to create a refresher
familiarisation with your Vinyl LP's for any further TT Demonstrations you may choose to experience.

The demonstrations can be set up so that your Vinyl Choices are Streamed or Replayed on a CDP and compared to your Vinyl LP's.

If spending $30K it is really worth fully understanding what is on offer.       
That's good. You got lucky, go for it. I hope that you will get full warranty coverage, just 
in case

yes I got full warranty as if I bought it new. Paid booking fee already and now squeezing me brain on how to not upset my wife too much. Easier to ask for forgiveness than asking permission LOL!! 

Are you returning to final after a period
being without a Vinyl Set Up ?
As I said upthread this is my first Vinyl rodeo ever. I swore long time ago to not drag myself into analog world but we all know how it ends. BTW most vinyl are around $25-$35 range here, very very affordable. 
Congrats on scoring a deal, especially because it is something you have heard and know you will like. I assume the dealer will deliver set up etc. So that is also a huge plus.

You should also enjoy assembling a record collection.

Check out some threads here on record cleaning. You will probably want to buy a record cleaner of some sort, a stylus cleaner and a record brush.

I hope you have a great time on your music journey.
@uwiikz,

Congratulations on your purchase. Would you mind confirming which Miyajima cartridge you were listening to? 
It seems like the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Good for you, @uwiikz. I’d recommend that you pay to have the dealer do the initial set up for you. Yes, it is good to know how to do this yourself, but your first go round with this table (or lacking recent experience with TT set up generally) really mandates that. And, I say offer to pay only b/c he’s selling the unit to you without making much if anything. Be sure you have the warranty. Franc Kuzma is a stand up guy but it is still important to have a local contact--
The only aspect of this that I question is how much mileage is on the cartridge- without undermining the offer the dealer made, I’d prefer something fresh since a used demo cartridge is going to be a question mark. Obviously, that can be replaced if it already has mileage on it, at a cost, but these do not last forever and in fact, wear more quickly than claimed by many manufacturers, assuming no damage by use. Otherwise (and I’m not trying to rob you of the pleasure of your deal, I think you’ll enjoy the XL), congratulations.
One last thing that goes less to the transaction and more to set up is isolation, which I mentioned upthread. The XL is metal, and very heavy. You need to situate it on a sturdy platform that can not only support the weight but is unaffected by footfalls, vibration, etc. and is ergonomically sensible for your system. I’d give a little thought to that because before I bought the Minus K for mine (which isn’t cheap), I had to resort to a few tricks to mass load and isolate the platform on which my table sat when I first got it. It was tricky.
+ @ferrari275 for your comments and user name- one of my favorite body designs, apart from the ’50s cars. I had quite a few of the little red cars from Modena, but none that early. I got to see Sergio Scaglietti dribble cigarette ash into some of the cars he built at a show where he was the honored guest, watching the owners of the cars cringe, but say nothing, having the man who fabricated the body (or in many cases design and fabricate) sit in their respective cars for photo shoots.
@whart 

Your system is incredible...wOw!!! Avant-garde DUO with additional dual subs, you must love the ‘bass’ among other things those DUO’s are capable of :-) 
-@lalitk I’ve had this system, in roughly this form, sans those woofers, for a long time. The Lamms I’ll probably never part with; the Avantgarde is not cost effective these days and if I have to replace, I may go another route. Yes, the big woofers made a difference, but believe it or not, those Koetsus really made a difference in the bass. Previously, I had (in order) a Lyra Titan I, an Airtight PC-1 and Airtight Supreme with this system (at the time I set it up I had the original Parnassus with the platinum magnets but it was dated).
All were "good" cartridges, but the Koetsu really gave me something the others didn’t-- fully fleshed out bass with tonality and a 3d quality that wasn’t boomy or bloated but taut and articulate with the same kind of holographic quality their cartridges are known for in the midrange.
I think this, too, is a system variable with arm and the rest of the system that can exceed expectations or disappoint, depending on the system as a whole. In my case, they worked synergistically and make the woofers sing. Thanks for the nice words about the system. I spend most of my time, money and effort on records rather than gear these past several years and get a lot of enjoyment from listening.
@uwiikz
I believe that a Technics SP 10R complete with arm and plinth is the best of the year 2021 in terms of sound and technology under 30K
@whart 

Thank you for your very helpful feedback on Koetsu. They have been on my wish list along with Miyajima’s. I guess that’s what you get or should expect from a $11K cart. I have been enjoying Hana Umami Red for little over 3 months...it’s a well balanced cart that doesn’t draw much attention except make wonderful music. 
There are just way too many amazing choices in carts...just like my pack of M&M’s :-) 
Congratulations on your purchase. Would
you mind confirming which Miyajima
cartridge you were listening to?
@lalitk
Thanks a lot! Yes I have been wondering about the same too. My apology for nit making it clear, I will ask the dealer about it on Monday and let you know.
Koetsu - I have the least expensive diamond cantilever cartridge. It is phenomenal: clarity without edge. I've never heard a cartridge close to it.

On another thread, a connoisseur of Koetsu cartridges opined that the diamond cantilever option was the most important feature, much more important than the stone body (of which he has several).

After two hours' playing, the K just sings, can't seem to play a sour note. IMO. YMMV.

Good for you, @uwiikz. I’d recommend that you pay to have the dealer do the initial set up for you. Yes, it is good to know how to do this yourself, but your first go round with this table (or lacking recent experience with TT set up generally) really mandates that. And, I say offer to pay only b/c he’s selling the unit to you without making
much if anything.

@whart

thank you very much for the tips and suggestions. I will off course ask for full help and guidance from the dealer which I became familiar with and I will get the necessary “must haves” maintenance items you mentioned. Typically no dealer will ask for setup fee when we buy the item from them, because of the way economy works in this country (low GDP) even if we insist to pay for setup fee the dealer won’t dare/be able to charge more than $100 which means nothing in term of actual profit, but it is customary for most of us here to tips the helpers very handsomely because usually they are the one who’s doing the heavy liftings. I will also pay special attention to learn as much as I can about the condition of the consumable cartridge.
Again, many thanks and appreciation for everyone chipping in their knowledge!
My pleasure. Enjoy it. I think you will be happy and will not need to upgrade anything for a long time on that front. Hi, @terry9 ! (uwiikz, Terry9 is a very good contributor here who I haven't spoken to in a while). 
Bill Hart