Turntable/cartridge/tonearm suggestions

My current system:
Linn LP12 with Lyra Argoi cartridge
Art Audio Vinyl reference phono
Aesthetix Calypso signature preamp
Jeff Rowland 501 mono blocks
Wilson Duette speakers

The issue:
I had initially paired the Linn with NAIM audio gear and the fit was fantastic. As I got older, the in-your-face forward NAIM sound was getting a little too faitguing. Accordingly, I switched my gear towards the tube based art audio and aesthetix, and I like them very much. Unfortunately, the Linn looks a little out of place with the rest of the setup. Hard to describe the problem...it seems to have lost its musicality...the sound is very flat, uninvolving and seems to have lost timing.

The solution:
That's what I am hoping some of the analog veterans can come up with. I am ideally looking for a sound that is smooth, lots of separation between instruments and a little on the romantic side. While detail is important, I am willing to not be able to hear the drummer drop his handkerchief if that means the overall sounds is musical and easier on the ears. I do intend to demo as much as I can but some of the brands are not that easy to set up. I was hoping that you all can give me your first hand impressions on the following brands (and any others that I may have missed) and help shortlist the ones that will fit my preferences the best. I am hoping to spend under $10k and can go up to $15k if it makes sense.

VPI Classic
Avid Volvere
Acustic Raven One


One thing you may want to investigate is whether you Linn is properly "tuned". It may be that your disappointment with the table can be cured by having the dealer check the setup, which can go "out" over time. Also, you say that the Linn "looks" out of place which makes me wonder if your feelings toward the Linn have more to do with aesthetics rather than performance--which is fine--but it might be helpful to explore your motives behind the change so you are not disappointed on the other side. Finally, the Linn/Naim setup is a great one--I'm wondering if the "fatiguing" sound has to do with other components in the signal chain--speakers perhaps? As for tables, the one brand that you do not list but which is within your price range and does offer the type of sound you say you want would be the Sota/SME combination perhaps with a Koetsu or Shelter. This might be worth investigating.
the linn should be fine..agree with dodgealum's suggestion. the other tables named are all worthy, but no religious experience over the linn or any other.
Thanks dodgealum and jaybo. Regarding the linn, it is not about the looks. It is more that it doesnt seem to play well with tube gear. I did have an expert look at the table. The outcome was that i need to upgrade my tonearm from the stock project 9cc. It is a valid point but i want to see a couple of other tables before investing more into the linn.

Will add sota to the list. Do you view this as a hi-fi table or more relaxed than that?
Raven One / Graham Phantom / Dynavector XV1s = popular combo
Check out Basis tables with active suspension there're two great deals presently listed on AgoN. The Basis Debut Vacuum with Graham Phantom 1 arm is a great deal @ $8800, I'd buy it but I just bought new speakers, the Basis 2500 Sig with Calibrator base and Phantom ll arm is another great table @ $7472. Either of these tables I think would better the Linn and many others by a good margin.
Go VPI. Their sound is as good as any of the others plus there is in-depth support from the dealer and manufacturer. Did I mention higher resale value and support here on the gon?
I am in a funny position, I am a VPI dealer with a Classic set up currently, have a Basis table also and am in the process of upgrading an LP12. I think you are not getting anything like the full capability of the Linn at present. I don't think your arm is up to the rest of your system. You can go either way, I like both the VPI and Basis, they sound quite different, as does the Raven, which two of my friends have. Or you can get more performance out of your Linn. An extremely cheap upgrade it to get the new, thinner, black mat. Cost me $25 from the Linn shop on Ebay. I have bought a new aluminum subchassy from a small company in England [Sole] for around $500, a new arm board, an external speed control from a company in HK, new springs and a Jelco 750 arm. The cost of all this is under $2K and would make a huge difference in performance according to all the forums. I haven't got mine together yet, my wife has been in the hospital 4 times this summer [much better now] and I haven't had the time or energy. If I had liked the Linn in the past I would be tempted to stay with it but all the tables you mention are very good. But different.
according to your "flat" sound descriptions...you should go with Garrard or EMT TT's ...It will give you back all the drama and fun into the analog!
Thanks for all the responses so far. Glad to see that the Linn still gets the support it deserves!

Out of curiosity, are there any LP12 users with a tube based setup that are happy with the music coming out? If so, can you tell me what the tube set up is and what are you using in terms of a cartridge?
Don't buy anything until you audition a DPS/Ayre turntable. They're about $10K and have similar presentation to a $30K SME rig. The DPS/Ayre (especially with a good Lyra cartridge) always takes my breath away in the demos at my local high end store. This rig is incredibly well balanced with excellent speed consistency while conveying nuance and dynamics. Make sure you audition the new version with the DPS tonearm rather than the modified RB250 of the first version.

Since we're talking about a $10-15K investment, yes, the Ayre is easily worth a half-day's drive (or even an overnight stay) to audition if that's what it takes.
Any other suggestions? Am i asking the wrong questions?
My primary system has the Ayre-DPS TT with Mr. Bauer's new unipivot tonearm and an EMT JSD5 cartridge. That total package retails at ~ $17K and it outperforms everything I have heard except for the Shindo Garrard 301. My Ayre-DPS et al is one heck of a great TT system, admittedly above your stated price limit preference, but there are plenty of other great cartridge options that could bring the total cost down to $15K.

A much less costly but still tremendously enjoyable option is the Well Tempered Amadeus, which I currently run with the standard tonearm and a Dynavector XX2 MKII cartridge. That is a great combo and a great value; it would set you back ~ $4.7K.

The Amadeus is very, very good. The Ayre-DPS is exquisite.
Thanks for the Ayre suggestion. It had not been on my radar and after two ringing endorsements, I should check it out.
First, let me say that I haven't heard your phono stage or preamp, but from your description of events, it appears your system became flat, uninvolving, and lost its timing when you replaced your Naim pieces with tube gear, so I'm wondering why would you conclude that the problem is with the turntable, cartridge, or tonearm.

For what it's worth, in my limited exposure to tube gear, no, I've never heard a tube-based setup that I was happy with, whether using my LP12 or a Well Tempered Record Player. Years ago I tried conrad-johnson and McIntosh tube gear, and found the original Naim Nait far more involving to listen to. I eventually settled on the then-new Linn LK1/LK2 package and enjoyed it for almost 20 years. Recently, I brought home some tube gear that a local audio dealer was excited about and found it far less enjoyable than my much more modestly-priced Audio by Van Alstine solid state equipment.

You may well find a turntable package you like better with your current gear, but it could also be that you need electronics with temporal capabilities a little closer to what you had with Naim. By the way, how long did you use Linn and Naim together? You said your LP12 came stock with the 9CC arm, so I'm thinking you can't be that much older than when you started.

You raise a very valid point. Let me clarify my muddled thinking. The Linn/NAIM combination worked very well but I grew tired of its sonic signature. It was a little too analytical and forward for me. On days when I was looking for an involved listening, it was great. But, on days when I just wanted to relax with music, it was too much.

I switched to tube gear with a view that it will give me a warmer sound with a little sacrifice on the detail retrieval. With my digital sources, thats exactly what I have managed. Listening to CDs/hard drive, the sound is just perfect - smooth, relaxed and almost analog like. I dont mean that it is better than my NAIM gear - it is different and I like it better. My problem is that while my digital music has come closer to my tastes, my analog setup has taken a turn for the worse. The Linn does not sound well with the tube gear and in fact, I think my CDs sound more analog than the Linn!

So, I was interested in hearing suggestions for turntables etc. that the experts might view as a better fit for my preferences - smooth and musical. I am not thinking that the table needs to be better than a Linn but something that better meets my taste.

As of now, the only tables that I seem to be able to audition very easily are
VPI - classic and scoutmaster
Acustic Raven

Other tables that I can audition with a little more effort, which means I would like to have an opinion before I put in the effort are:
Ayre DPS
Avid Volvere

Also check out the Superscoutmaster rim drive. It has everything the Classic has, plus a much more powerful low end. The classic sounds a bit quicker,and lighter because it is missing that powerful low end foundation, especially with the Superplatter.
not for the faint of heart, but the london/decca cartridges are lively as all get-out.
I was also a long term (20+ years) Linnie. I auditioned several of the tables you are considering. I ultimately purchased a Galibier turntable and have been extremely happy with my decision.

In your price range I would suggest the following:

Galibier Serac - $3250
Durand Talea Tonearm - $4500
Dynavector XV1-s cartridge - $5250 (Alternatively Ortofon A90 @ $4250)

The Talea arm is a demo show special from RMAF (http://www.galibierdesign.com/bargain.html)

Thom Mackris is the owner/designer of Galibier and is a terrific resource for optimizing your analogue 'bang for the buck'.

If you are interested in a listen, Thom can often arrange an audition with an owner in your area.