Being a VPI fan I would recommend a Scout Master since that fits squarely in your budget and I think you can buy it with a pre-mounted cartridge. I spoke with VPI about replacing my HW-19 Mk II and they recommended at least the Scout over an upgrade to the HW-19 Mk IV. The Scout Master would be even better. I'm not really sure where the Aries fits in the equation, it has some advantages compared to the Scout, but it has a removeable armboard. The Scout has the arm hole drilled directly into the plinth and that is where much of it's performance comes from. Haven't figured out why they haven't offered an Aries "Hot Rod" like they did with the TNT. Anyway the Scout and Scout Master are upgradeable to the Super Scout Master which is close to HRX peformance (at least if you believe Harry Pearson!).
Dear friend: According your priorities my advise is that you go for the Acoustic Signature Final Tool TT ( www.acoustic-signature.com ) and Moerch DP-6 or UP-4 tonearm ( any of these tonearms have the advantage that you can mate any cartridge with it because you can choose arm wands with different effective mass. Btw, these are very good tonearms. )
For the cartridge, there are many options: high output MC cartridges or MM cartridges ( this options are for you can work with what you already have ). For the MC you can look to: Dynavector, Sumiko and Ortofon cartridges. For the MM type, you can look to: Clearaudio, Ortofon, Linn, Dynavector, Audiotechnica.
All these companies are a very trusty cartridge manufacturers.
Regards and enjoy the music.
I agree with the recommendation of a VPI Scoutmaster. I've listened to this 'table many times, and I'm always impressed by it. At the price, this 'table and arm combination is awfully difficult to beat. Stay with you current phono stage for now, and add a high output cartridge that will match to your sonic priorities, and you'll have a great combination within your price range to re-explore vinyl.
Cartridge suggestions under $800 that will work well on the Scout or Scoutmaster: Grado Sonata or Master (1.5mv preferred, or 4.0mv), Sumiko Blackbird, Dynavector DV-20XH, Benz Glider High Output H2.
You should have nearly unlimited possibilities in the price range you mention. There are literally thousands of great quality products available to you. The VPI is a quality product, you don't need to worry about get stuck with something. I personally would look at many other products first, but that is just a personal thing.
Wally tools are great for setting up a table. Mobile Fidelity makes a product called the Geodisc that is very helpful too for less money, but also less accuracy. The process is not as difficult as it might seem before doing it yourself.
I have a scout with a dynavector xx-2 cartridge and the dynavector p-75 phono amp. Im 22 and this is my first experience with vinyl. the table cost me 1175 new with warranty, the cart 1300 new (I splurged on it) and the P-75 was 500 new. The sound is absolutely jaw-dropping. wide open soundstage, with mircodynamics for miles. Anyway, shes callin i gotta get back!
You can purchase a new Scheu Premier II turntable with the optional 80mm platter, 12" Scheu Classic arm, and dual arm plinth for 2500 inc shipping. If you go with the basic Premier II with the 50mm platter and single arm plinth that lowers the price about 400. Without an arm removes about another 500. Add a Rega arm with the Scheu and you have a spectacular table with a good arm for less than 2 large. Stick a Dynavector DV20XH or 10x5 and you are off to the races. The Scheu is the table that inspired the Teres project. The Scheu has continued product development over the years and has been improved.
Find a cherry condition Linn Sondek (Valhalla/Cirkus level) table with an Itok LVII arm and mount a Shelter 901. It will be hard to find a more enjoyable sounding configuration for less.
The table and arm are important, but probably the biggest impact on the sonic characteristics you will hear is going to come from the cartridge. The Shelter 901 is a wonderful cartridge: deep, tight, extended bass, beautiful midrange, gorgeous highs, open and airy, great transient attack and decay, and a very good tracker at a decent setting (about 1.6g and certainly no more than 2.0g). The cartridge is going to set you back 900 to 1300 or so. A very good Linn/Linn should fit within the balance of your budget, and the Shelter 901 likes the Linn arm. You will find lots of VPI, Basis, and other fans on Agon, but you will also find a lot of Linn fans; the Linn table has stood the test of time. It is a classic that has done it's share to preserve enthusiasm for LPs. If you ever decide to try something else it shouldn't be difficult to find a buyer for the Linn/Linn - perhaps for near what you will pay for it.
The table came in various wood finishes; go for whatever you like; the dust cover came in a tinted/smoked version and a clear version - go for the clear.
Do yourself a favor: Buy the Scout or Scoutmaster w/ Dynavector 20x cart. and use the phono stage in the C2200 preamp. I had that same amp/pre combo and really enjoyed the phono stage. In fact, I thought it was much better than Stereophile said. I also found the Ginkho Cloud to be a tremendous improvement under the Scout.
Tables such as the Teres and Scheu are in another league from any British sprung table including a Linn LP12. They were pretty good 20 to 30 years back.
im a first time buyer and got a vpi scoutmaster with dyna 10x5 and an ear834p.
ive researched a lot and went with this combo blind .
hope i get satisfied . ill set it up next week wednesday.
You did well. Your table and the EAR will serve you well. For the money, the Dyna 10x5 is a fine cartridge. You should listen for a while and establish a good sense of what your system can do; when and if you decide to upgade, you can go for a bigger investment in the cartridge and the table and EAR should easily hold their own. You have a good system now and a clearly upgradeable path if you choose to put more $ into the cartridge. Happy listening.
Thanks to all for your suggestions. I have listened to several modestly priced tables the past few days (Rega & Project), and was very pleased with what I heard vs CD. I'm looking forward to hearing a few of the higher quality tables/cartridges! I am moving forward slowly but surely...