You could not go wrong with a VPI Scout, maybe a little out of your price range. You could get a used one with a MM cartridge, and that should hold you just fine. Unless of course you decide to sell me all your LP's!!! LOL!!!
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I would look at A good used Rega P25. It is a great tabl for the money and has a very good arm. The part is there are a tone up upgrades or tweeks that are available. I had one for years and it served me well. Sometimes I kick myself for ever selling it. Hmmm...I think I'll go do that now, thanks for the reminder!
I own a VPI, and have for many years, so I think this says something.
But, for staying within your budget, and finding a Table that has good features, good sound, is reliable, and won't require a tone of expensive upgrades to make you think you're finally there, I have to say the Technics 1210 MKII, or MG5 will be tough to beat.
Years ago, I probably wouldn't have touted such a Table, my thoughts of what was "good" was going in another direction.
With the many features, the reliability, the ease of use, not needing speed controllers, strobe discs, lights, virtually nothing but a Cartridge to add, this Table is tough to beat in this price range. Speed stability with the Technics will be hard to beat at 3 times the price, convenience, no belts to ever change, and the Arm is pretty good as well, with nice features, such as VTA on the fly.
I'd investigate businesses such as KAB, and read about the Technics before settling on any one Table. There are some nice add ons, which many can be easily done by the end user, when money allows. The Cardas Tonearm Wire upgrade I would probably let KAB do, they do this every day, and is a substantial upgrade to an already great Table. Mark
You say that you do not have a preamp. If you tell us what you do have in your system, we can try to fit together what you would need in order to make it all work.
As for auto-return or auto-lift at the end of the record, that was a common feature of many tables, entry level to top-of-the-line, made in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s.
Personally, I think an older or used TT would work fine, along with a bunch of reading on how to set it up. If you eventually need help setting up your TT, a quick post asking for help either on Audiogon or on Audioasylum.com's Vinyl Asylum may get you help from someone in your neighborhood.
If you surf the Web for prices, you should be able to find a Technics SL1210 M5G for around $500, maybe less. This is the most desirable one to start with because it has better tonearm wire than the models below it, and the M5G costs less than buying the lower-priced model and then getting the tonearm rewired. The Technics is a great table for the money but needs better tonearm wire than what comes standard in a Mk II or Mk V. The M5G takes care of that.
The Technics is a particularly good choice for your situation because 1) it is very affordable, 2) it is very well built, much better build quality than anything else near its price range, 3) Sounds pretty good out of the box and can be made to sound very good with a few relatively inexpensive aftermarket upgrades, 4) has outstanding speed accuracy and consistency, 5) sounds particularly good on classic rock and jazz, 6) smooth operation and ease of use makes it easy and enjoyable to use on a day-to-day basis 7) its removable headshell makes cartridge intallation much easier.
Next, for a cartridge in the $100-200 range that matches the Technics arm well, there's the Grado Prestige Blue ($110), Denon DL-110 ($140), Denon DL-160 ($180), Ortofon 2M Red ($99), Ortofon 2M Blue ($199), Sumiko Pearl ($95), Audio Technica AT440MLa ($129)...
The Denons will match better with the LPGear Zupreme headshell.
Oh yeah. For a phono preamp, it's REALLY hard to beat a Cambridge Audio
640P. The Cambridge is a true landmark: Compared to anything that costs
less, the 640P is worth the extra money, and if you want to spend more, you
have to pay $600 for the Musical Surroundings Phonomena II or $750 for the
Dynavector P75 MkII to hear significantly better.
There's a barely used one available here in the Audiogon Classifieds that's about half the list price.
If you score a SL1210 M5G for $450, an Ortofon 2M Blue ($199), and that used 640P ($89), you'll come in at about $730 and you'll hear those records better than you