Also, my budget should stay under 2k. The amp is actually a VAC 70/70 Signature Mk III. Thanks!
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I also have a Champ II. Latest Champ II has ceramic bearing, but Music Surroundings wants $100 for that ball. I presume you can buy standard ceramic bearing for $2 each and try, should have no ill effect long term. I also improved mine with better grease, some Superlube teflon based grease that is super wear resistant and less thick than stock grease. When I spin my platter without belt manually, it will spin free much longer than stock grease.
I am using a SME IV.Vi which is very nice. Clearaudio, like most Teutonic audio gears, are sterile and analytical. Adding a neutral arm or cartridge, IMHO, is the wrong way to go. SME is on the darker and thicker side of spectrum which mates the table well.
I was speaking in very general terms. It's simply a pecking order of where the investment should go first. A person buys the best table they can afford with the best bearing offered. That's the heart of the entire assembly and is key to quiet operation. Speed control is ultra critical. The more close to perfect the better. Incorrect or unstable speed will kill all the enjoyment you should experience. A great tonearm will make a lesser cartridge sing to it's potential (vs. a lesser tonearm compromising a great cartridge). An excellent phono stage is required to allow the signal to pass at it's best and is therefor required prior to the best cartridge you can afford.
I don't mean to say one cannot do things out of order. And, I really want to say that this need not be taken as expensive either. Everyone has a budget and I think you should live in it. In my own case I have a much lesser table combination than many. It works for me because the rest of my system isn't resolving enough to reward me with what a much more expensive turntable combination could give. I've lived by these rules and found it's the cheapest way because you only buy things one time. BTW, I'm not responsible for inventing this list. I just followed advice given a long time ago and have been rewarded with major satisfaction at each step.
I second Lugnut's priority schedule -- with an extra note re, the phono. I'd put the phono separately.
A phono is very important BUT most available phonos are very average. A good -- not necessarily very expensive -- cartridge will often outperform its price equivalent phono. HOWEVER when one has a well performing TT it's easy to improve the phono (usually throwing money at it, unfortunately).