Turntable upgrade recommendations: SME vs AMG vs Technics vs other


I've recently upgraded most of my system, but I still have a Rega P8, with Linn Krystal cartridge, which I like, but I've heard that there may be better options.

I have Sound Lab electrostatic speakers, Ypsilon Hyperior amplifiers, an Ypsilon PST-100 Mk2 pre-amplifier, and am thinking about an Ypsilon phono stage to match with my system, and a turntable/cartridge.  I listen to almost entirely classical, acoustic music. 

Based on my very limited knowledge, and simple research, I've been looking at three brands, each of which is a different type of turntable: SME (suspension), AMG (mass), and Technics (direct drive).  
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of turntables, and of those in particular?

Thanks.   

drbond

You are in for a treat with any of the upgrade ideas vs the current Rega. You will find, however, that it is tough to correlate design ideals with reality. For example suspension *should* always be a good idea and direct drive has better measured performance most of the time. Yet it comes down to implementation

 

All three brands you are looking at have accolades and good history of performance ( AMG being the newest ).

 

You did not mention the models/ budget you are considering- this alone can sway the answers. Is the SP10R in the mix ?

 

Did you know there is a current production direct drive also with suspension? It is the Motus DQII made by STST. I sell this brand so won’t say more since I have a bias, but you should be aware of it :)

@solypsa 

I am looking at the top end of the manufacturers:  so I was considering the Technics SP10R or SL1000R, the AMG Viella V12 (or similar), or the SME 30/2 or similar.  

If all the turntables are as good as another, then I suppose I would go with the Technics, due to ease of moving/fewer parts.  If that's the case, then I suppose it just comes down to the tonearm/cartridge, and less so for the turntable?

All three are good, this does not mean they sound the same of course. The SP10R offers you the chance to pick the plinth ( one with two arm mounts might be nice...since you are a classical music buff there are a lot of old mono records you might wish to try) as well as tonearm making some personal choices. Have you heard any of these yet?

No. The problem is that there are no audio shops within 2 hours of where I live. It’s an audiophile desert here, so I was hoping to get some idea of the differences in sound between the different turntables, if any. . .

To give you an idea of what it's like in Florida, I called about 3 shops, all 2+ hours away when I needed a turntable repair on my Rega P8.  None of them were willing to step up, so I shipped my turntable to NY for a new cartridge installation.  So, essentially, I will probably end up buying a used one unheard. 

I would add Brinkmann to your list also. With the mass TT you should IMO run them on a base like HRS ( there are other brands also but Brinkmann work directly w HRS. Any of the three TT you mentioned are great, just different. Hopefully you can get some Florida help although at the level you seek you should travel to hear the gear.

best to you

jim

Makes sense. Will you setup the cart on your own?

No, I don't think I'll set up the cartridge on my own.  

@tomic601 

Could you please elucidate how you would expect the TT to sound differently.  Which of the three would be the most transparent in presentation? 

Thanks. 

There are a lot of really good TT's available at your budget. Basis makes some superb models, as an example. TW Acoustic another. The top of the line Linn LP12 Klimax should also be in contention if you want a superb suspended table. 

Unfortunately, the best way to truly know what works best in your system, is to listen to the candidate under consideration...preferably in your system and room. All else is going to be someone else's taste and could easily lead to your disappointment. 

If you will want setup expertise onsite I would think that finding a seller ( dealer or otherwise) that is capable of such and willing may also sway the end decision.

You should consider only tables that accept at least 2 tonearm easily.  When I bought my TW Acustic Raven with a 4 arms possibility, I never thought I would need a second tonearm. But as I realized, a few years later that a good part of my library was old mono recordings, I bought a second arm and a mono cart. It is the best idea I ever had. 

@senza 

Thanks for that recommendation for two tonearms. . . I generally have tried to stay away from mono recordings, for the most part, but there are many historically important recordings from the pre-stereo (pre-1958) era that I might change my mind on in the future. 

Few people on the planet will have heard your three tables w same arm, cartridge and phono preamp, so it would be wrong of me to try to spotlight just the table’s contribution - I have heard the Technics and the Brinkmann w Triplaner arm but different cartridges… the SME w yet another combo of cartridge and phono pre. As others mentioned, Basis builds a great table as do SOTA. I have both a SOTA and Brinkmann. A good trusted dealer is a search worth considering. Jim

I've got a Technics 1200G and it is an excellent turntable in my system...

I have the AMG Viella 12JT.  I use a soundsmith strain gauge cart.  The combination is extremely articulate, with tight, well defined bass and a treble that is not "bright".  Midrange is solid and the soundstage is very wide and deep when encoded such on the LP.  Definitely can distinguish the LP label/recording method and quality of the pressing.  The turbo version of the arm makes alignment extremely easy (my local dealer felt it was one of the easiest and most accurate he has encountered).  I use Nordost Valhalla cabling, Rogue RP9 preamp (but NOT the integral phono stage, since the strain gauge has its own "preamp") and Rogue Apollo Dark Mono amps.  The speakers are Sonus Faber Amati tradition.  I mention this because obviously, the quality of the sound derived from the AMG will depend on the "downstream" components-- but it will certainly feed them an outstanding signal.  I am not sure my system would/could benefit from a higher resolution turntable/cart and I suspect if I t tried, I would be in the 6 digit price range to surpass the AMG (which is NOT happening!).

You may want to consider the Pure Fidelity Harmony. I’ve had mine for a few months now outfitted with an Origin Live Conqueror MK 4 and am really happy with the build and SQ of this combo. You have a top flight system so may be considering a higher priced setup but you will not be disappointed in what the PF table will do when paired with a quality arm like the OL and a similarly capable cartridge. Good luck with your search! 

I would see if a few of the closer shops would consider taking care of the installation, which I think they should in your price range.

I have heard the AMG and Technics with the same cartridge (DS Audio optical cartridge) and I prefer the AMG. The background is blacker and it sounds more dynamic.

I have not heard the SME

 

At your price point you might want to look into Galibier Design turntables, with an Ikeda tonearm.

@drbond Among the 3 top TT you have selected, SME is the best and that too by a considerable margin. The most neutral, the quietest and the most dynamic among the three. 

You have some compelling options - VPI and Linn may be appropriate to add to the list. 
 

What are you looking for in regards to sound versus your P8?  And is P10 a consideration?

You are in a very good space. I suggest that for $2500 more you can avoid making a costly mistake and find audio Nirvana.

Take a listening holiday to NY and hear some turntables. Find what YOU like, not what someone else likes.

Also, suggest being clear about your needs as well as your likes. Do you need a suspended table? I don't; I live on bedrock, far from a highway. So I didn't pay for a suspension which I do not need.

What are your tastes? Do you like CD-like crystal brilliance (I hate it), or do you prefer a smooth, sweet, mellifluous journey? When tuning my air bearing turntable and tonearm, I found that most real improvements enhanced the latter.

How much hassle are you prepared for? How much quirkiness? If you are ready for even a modest amount of these, you can save a bunch of money AND improve a bunch on the sound.

Three basic technologies, each of which has adherents. Belt drive (technologically easiest, and IMO quietest), idler drive, and direct drive (every electronic twitch delivered faithfully to your ESL's). Get an air bearing if you can afford it - once exposed, there is no going back. Air in all 3 dimensions is friction-free and noise free, but costly.

Make sure that your choice of tonearm is compatible with your choice of cartridge. 

As for brands, consider some which do not advertise heavily, like Nottingham Analogue. Bit quirky but a wonderful sound - almost as good as my air bearing.

My system is all analogue, mostly DIY, with heavily modified Quad ESL's. Cartridge is Koetsu with diamond cantilever, tonearm is based on a Trans-Fi Terminator air bearing, heavily modified to accommodate the Koetsu.

Good luck!

I agree with adding brinkmann. I looked a a lot of turntables this past year and ended up with a Brinkmann Bardo. It's direct drive but with a magnetic system that is incredibly smooth. The bearing is amazing. The platter which is definitely massive spins for more than a full minute after turning it off. As the other user said, I have it on an HRS platform. It's an incredible piece of engineering but more than that, it sounds stupendous 

I have the AMG Viella Forte with a Lyra Atlas Lambda Mono and am in love with it

I had SME and have AMG and love it, I could not live without being able to adjust Azimuth...

To each his own, YMMV, etc etc.  But if you’re asking for ideas:  strongly recommend looking at the TechDAS Air Force 5.  With a Graham Phantom tonearm.  And a very good tonearm cable.  
 

When you get that Yip phono — and you should — you’ll need to find an SUT+cartridge match.  Not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but that’s a rabbit hole unto itself and worth budgeting for.  

If you are looking at SME, I would suggest either the 20/12 or the 30/12 with the 12" tonearm. SME no longer supply tonearms to other turntable manufacturers and the only way to acquire the arms (other than secondhand) is to buy a SME turntable. Since the change in ownership prices have increased markedly. Have a look at Techdas with a Graham tonearm.

SME is a very good choice. Products are well conceived and reliable. But their arms like model IV and V, as good as they are, have no way to adjust azimuth and this is a pity for such expensive products.
If you want to adjust that you have to use Wally shims, but it is not normal that such a top manufacturer can’t adapt itself to what analog audiophiles are looking for :  best way to finely adjust all the parameters that help you to realize the full potential of your big investment. But that’s my own way of seeing things.

The new technics 1200 mk7 is a nice turntable @ $999. I was not a Technics guy, but I bought one and it seems very well built. Two turntables come to mind at the higher end, one being the Vertere DG-1, the other would be the Origin Live Aurora MK4 with the Onyx or Silver tonearm.

'"I could not live without being able to adjust Azimuth." First world problem.

Everything discussed here involves first world problems!

Many top dealers will come to you and set it up, given the price range you're looking at. If you're spending $20K+ the cost of install shouldn't be an obstacle and will get you the sound quality and confidence you're after. Cheers,

Spencer

Technics, not even close!

 

 Own 3, 2 from,early,80’s, still start,stop, play great.

no belts,, o BS!

 

reliable,”!”!

 

hook up your cart to the headshell, easy swap, etc. 

@craig The Sound Smith Strain Gauge sounds intriguing.  Looks like @millercarbon  has one also.  With my Sound Labs and Ypsilons, clarity and transparency seem to be what I appreciate most, but not a sterile, flat transparency, just a musical clarity, I suppose.  

The Ortofon Anna Diamond cartridge has also been recommended. . . 

Thanks for everyone else's recommendations to look at a few other TT.  Brinkmann is an option.  I didn't bother with TechDAS because I didn't want a $200k TT that looks like a space ship, although that's probably an oversight on my part, and perhaps I should look down the line in TechDAS.  

But overall, perhaps the cartridge is more important than the TT, in which case any of the above would be great choices. . .

The question came up a while back and as I recall virtually every single one of us with a lot of experience agreed the turntable and arm are more important than the cartridge.

The main reason being that no matter how good the cartridge is all it can do is output a signal that comes from wiggling back and forth. The better cartridges simply do a much better job of turning even the slightest wiggles into signal. But the cartridge has no freaking clue which wiggles are coming from the groove, and which ones are coming from the arm chattering around, the bearing rumbling, the motor speeding up and slowing down, etc etc. It dutifully turns all these into signal.

So your wonderful expensive cartridge will indeed sound better. Anyone and everyone who goes from budget to Koetsu will be floored. But what they will never know because they spent the money on the cartridge is how great their same old current one would sound on a really fine table and arm. 

That is where the experience comes in and that is where knowing the table matters more comes from.

OMG, I agree with MC. Anyone know a good shrink?

The thing is with you budget, you can get the big 5 taken care of with extraordinary engineering and execution across all the important elements. table, arm, isolation, cartridge, phono pre. So for example in any of the TT mentioned this thread so far w exception of the low end Technics, you are going to get a world class bearing and speed control. Ditto w most of the arms mentioned, nobody at this level is using shoddy bearings, etc… my advice on the strain gauge is listen in your system before you buy, ditto the DS optical. Fortunately for me, this is easy as cultivating long term dealer relationships have been an enjoyable part of my journey. Hopefully you are enjoying yours. Finally, i would call Yip directly….hear what they think….

best

Jim

i am a record flipping robot fueled by Rye

How about ANY Kuzma table/arm combo?

I highly recommend that you call Steve at High Performance Stereo in Miami.  He is honest and knowledgeable.  He is an advertiser here at Audiogon.  I have dealt with him for years and can't say enough good about him.

Bill

@billstevenson 

Thanks for the recommendation, but Miami is 5 hours away from me, and, as has been mentioned, dealers will peddle their own goods.  (It may as well be NYC.)  

I was hoping a user had heard a couple of these turntables and could recommend what the strengths of one vs the other are, but I suppose not many have listened to these TT.  

Thanks.

If your looking at turntables in that price range you might also consider Reed this last one is a modern idler drive. 

@drbond , I have Sound Labs Speakers. If you are talking about the SME 30/2 or 30/12 it is a no brainer. I would take the SME 12A over any Technics Table. It is isolated and has a much better arm than any Technics ever made. I do not think genre means anything when it comes to tables and arms. Cartridges are another issue. I would consider a transimpedance phono stage like the Sutherland Loco or Channel D Lino C and a really low impedance moving coil like the My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent EX

It sounds like you want a set it and forget it table? Look into the VPI HW 40. It is direct drive and high mass. I am a set it and forget it person and this table is that and phenomenal sound. I couldn't believe how big of a step up it was. Sorry to muddy the waters.

 

@mrklas 

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the Rega, I think I'll move to a different brand, just out of curiosity, if nothing else.  The Rega P8 sounds great to my ears, but I've found that you don't think the sound can get any better, and then you upgrade some component, and it does sound better. . .until a point, and I think I'm at that point with my speakers, amplifiers, and pre-amplifiers, but have a bit to improve on the sources.

 

@terry9 

I live on a concrete slab, so I suppose there would be no need for suspension, but you say you also live on a slab, but have an air bearing, which sounds like just a different type of suspension.  Is the TechDAS the only type of air bearing out there, and how often does something like that malfunction?  (I can only imagine dust getting in the compressor every year, and causing obstruction.)  As for the presentation, I like it just to feel "real", whatever that is:  hearing the detailed transients, the bow striking on the strings, the breathing, so I suppose in a word, it would be clarity, but not sounding overly analytical. 

 

@jrw1971 

TechDAS is one I wasn't considering, but now that several have mentioned it, I think I should entertain it.  How glitchy are the air devices?  Are there any longer term problems with the compressor and air flow? 

 

Yes, perhaps I should look at VPI, as @bubba12  also suggested.

 

 

Air bearing tables are many and various - but all of them are expensive.

Mine is a DIY with air in all three dimensions. I did this with porous graphite bearing surfaces from the US company New Way, using the larger of their so-called thrust bushings. The best compressors for this purpose do not use oil (e.g. Juno) but are noisy, and should be placed in a utility room.

The air cushion is stiff and not a substitute for a suspension.

But the SOUND - quiet to the point of blackness. No noise at all. So clear!

I, too, have a VPI HW-40, but it is the last thing I would do is recommend it or any other specific turntable to you.  One thing to be very wary of, and this forum is a prime example, the correspondent who has a component they love and as far as they are concerned it is incomparable.  That is nonsense.  You need options and time to listen to differences.  There are a number of very good turntables available, you named some of them in your OP.  The hard part is to get a chance to experience them.  You ruled out Steve at High Performance Stereo out of hand without knowing anything about him.  I suggest you give him a phone call.  He is not a normal dealer.  He may be able to help you.  Call him. 917-208-4750.

Don't know what your budget is, but I love my Bergmann turntable and its linear tracking tonearm.  Makes beautiful sound and reduces issues with anti-skating, and other cartridge set up issues.

Contrary to what has be said earlier, I watched several Soundsmith videos this weekend and it was stated that the cartridge is the most important piece of your record playing pleasure.  Obviously you can't match very disparate pieces - arm, table, cartridge.  But it makes sense that that which has contact with the vinyl is essentially important.

No glitches to the air system for me.  Smooth, quiet, idiot-proof.  I see some reference to price in some comments, but your OP suggests you are looking at some pretty expensive options, and the Air Force V is something like $22k, then you have the cost of the tonearm.

To complete my thoughts, bearing noise in a turntable is not always recognizable. In a quality turntable, it can manifest as high frequency distortion on top of the signal, which appears to be clarity in the triangle or the harpsichord. But this is artificial, and becomes wearing.

When you hear an air bearing, preferably three dimensions of air, you hear an absence of this HF distortion, and the result may sound 'dull' - that is, until you realize that 4 hours have passed and you still want to listen. And you just don't listen to the other turntable with the conventional bearing. At all.

In a phrase: clear, but not analytical.

No maintenance problems with my setup. Several stages of air filtration solved that. 

But there's more to the initial setup than for a conventional turntable, so be prepared for that. I suggest that you listen to some turntables, including at least one high end like Walker or Techdas, and decide if it's worth it. If not now, perhaps in 5 years. Whatever. It's your money and it's your enjoyment that counts.

Good luck - and tell us how it works out!

My suggestion is to find out when the next big audio show is going to be held and book a flight. When spending this kind of money you want to be able to get hands on the product. Any of these top flight tables should provide what you want, you need to see how easy it is to live with. A TT that is fiddly to operate may well get on your nerves and suck the enjoyment out of listening to your collection.

 

BillWojo

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@rauliruegas :  Thanks for taking interest in my musical dilemma.  May I please ask why you suggest those over the higher end SME, or air bearing turntables?  Is that the sweet spot in pricing? 

Thanks.