I prefer the Michell Orbe SE with SME arm over the classic 3. Open, airy, and still has weight to the music. I would add it to your list in $6K table/arm systems. Used will put you in a higher range. I would get a used SME V over a new SME 309 for around the same money. Good luck.
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Check out the Well Tempered Amadeus and the Townshend Rock 7. Both are great tables. See Robert Greene's reviews in The Absolute Sound. I think he captures the flavor of these tables well (though it should be noted that he would have gotten even better performance from the Rock with an arm better than the Rega 301).
Firstcut: I've been in the same boat for several years now. I've got a Scout (with the 300rpm motor upgrade) and have been enjoying it for at least a half dozen years at this point but always with an eye toward replacing it with something markedly better. Since it is an "entry level" table I thought this would be fairly easy with up to $5K to spend. But things have proven more difficult than I anticipated. The first challenge is doing apples to apples comparisons of competing tables. Unlike other components, it is very difficult to compare different table/arm combinations with the same cartridge in the same system/room. Really, an in home demo is the only way to do this and this would require having a duplicate cartridge on hand to plug into the "contender". But this even raises the issue of whether the duplicate cartridge is the best match (weight, compliance, etc) for the arm of the contender since a mismatch would skew the results of the comparison. Sure, I can go listen to other tables at shows and dealers but what is this really telling me about how they compare with my Scout? Or how they will perform in my system? I also think (admittedly without having done the comparative analysis) that the Scout is quite an overachiever and may be pretty tough to beat at even double the price. As such the Scout can also warrant a fairly serious cartridge which can push the sound envelope even further (though I run a "lowly" ATOC9MLII and think this matches up very synergistically with the JMW9 arm and provides remarkably good sound for the money). I'll also add that I don't really understand all the fuss about the VPI Classic. In terms of design it would seem to be a step backward from the Scout in some respects (for example the motor is housed within the plinth rather than isolating these vibrations by stationing outboard like the Scout). Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to hear the Classic and so really have no evidence one way or the other. OK, I'm rambling at this point but I'll just conclude by suggesting that you consider carefully your cartridge and phonostage selection as well as making sure you get the alignment just right and you may find that your "lowly" Scout is pretty tough to beat at better than double the money.
I went from a scout to an aries 3 extended with the outer ring and flywheel.
The primary reason for my switch was to get an arm with an adjustable VTA and the ability to handle more cartridge choices. (10.5 i arm) The ring clamp is great if you have a large collection (many records are not flat but play fine with encouragement) Go to an audio show and hear the classic 3 and you will be impressed. There are endless choices for great tables but the arm is the key for adjusting the play for various cartridges.
@Dodgealum, I posted a thread very similar to your words above wondering how we really can compare analog setups (tables and cartridges) when it is hard enough to locally hear what we think is in our budget. I have an Xpression III with speed box I and hope to upgrade to a VPI Traveler at the end of this month. I cannot even find a Traveler to listen to in the Seattle area. I also wanted to hear an Amadeus to see what all the hype is about but I cannot find one of those local either.
The first part of my analog source upgrade is done going from a Pro-ject phono tube box II to a Jasmine 2.0LP mkII. I hope to be selling all of my Pro-ject gear locally if the Traveler works out (will be demoing the Traveler in house).
MANY THANKS TO ALL WHO RESPONDED!!! I will look for some of the suggested TT for a listen and plan to attend the CES at the Venetian in Jan where I hope to have many to demo however, I'm thinking maybe for now I save and upgrade the speakers...lol - this hobby is neverending!!! But I love chasing that last 5-10%...don't we all...
Many thanks again, AC
My first question would be. What phono pre amp are you do you use? I also have a VPI Scout and I use a Lyra Dorian cart. This combo is not bad but not better then my CEC TL51x CD transport with a Wadia 12 DAC. I think I know the reason for this. I use the phono stage of my integrated amp. Now IMHO my turntable + cart combo could perform a lot better with a proper phono pre amp.
Now compared to most people here I have a very modest audio system not some mega $$$$ system and I do not have years and years of listening experience. But what I did learn a few years ago that the phono stage might be more importand then the turntable and cart.
Some time ago we had a shoot-out between a "cheap turntable +cart" with an expensive phono amp and a more balanced set. Total worth of both sets was about 5000. The Thorens 160 special + decent cart and a very good phono amp was better then the set with the expensive turntable + cart and a cheaper phono amp.
I made a comparison between the classic 1 and classic 3 as soon as I upgraded,everything else was exactly the same,only turntable changed on this thread.
I didn't compare to the Scout,but if you read comparisons with the Classic 1 and the Scout,my comparison gets you to the Classic 3.
Mordante makes a good point--the phono preamp is vital. As is synergy between the arm and cartridge and proper cartridge alignment. I believe that a sound investment of time and money in getting these right is the proper starting point for good analogue sound and should be addressed prior to spending significant dollars on a table/arm upgrade.
Mordante, I agree on the phono upgrade. However, don't dismiss the Jasmine without first upgrading the output capacitors. This elevates the Jasmine to another level.
The proof of good equipment down the sound-reproduction chain is whether you can easily detect subtle changes in the first or preceding links (in this case the TT, cartridge, VTA, azimuth, clamps, tonearm). With my modified Jasmine, I can detect modifications in all of these things.
"Subtle changes" include hearing the plucking of strings of violins, the timber of the voice, the more precise placement of musicians on the stage, the sonic aura of the performance room, the leading strike of the piano key, the pre-echo-bleed from the magnetic mastering tape that precedes the actual note (this is like reverse echo).
I second Mordante's response above. I have the Classic 1 (which I like very much) and was running a PS Audio GCPH, similar in quality and price point to your Jasmine, I think. I thought the phono pre was holding me back and it seemed pretty clear that it was the weak link in my system. I considered trying the Jasmine but it seemed a sideways step at best, and I would lose the balanced connection to the pre. I didn't want to get caught in a circle of upgrades on a 500.00 item. If I was to make a move, it had to be significant enough to make a real difference. Turns out, my hunch was correct. I upgraded significantly to the Pass XP15 because I love the Pass sound and have an XP10 preamp. I had worked with Mark at Reno Hi Fi before and he offered a great deal with his 10 day test. Synergy seemed to be possible, on paper at least, with my existing analog setup and my pre. I needed the high gain because I run a Dyna XX2 mk2. I also wanted true balanced outputs. The XP15, simply put, does everything I want and then some. Right out of the box, after an hour of listening after I set it up, I wrote Mark an email saying it was a keeper. Outstanding low end control and response, a full rich 3D enveloping soundstage, and supremely musical and enjoyable. It sounds great no matter what I throw at it--rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass, anything. Macro and microdynamics to die for. I can hear details I never heard before, along with the natural characteristics of the recording space for each recording. I run the highest gain setting (76 db)loaded at 100 ohm, and the low gain (4 db) on my pre. I realize that this was a significant upgrade that may be out of your budget, but I will say that paying attention to the quality of the components at the heart of the system that handle the lowest level signals is very important. You can tweak cables, power cords, cartridges,even the entire front end, but until the heart is right, nothing else will make it so. I now have a phono pre that should be able to grow with me no matter where I go in the future with turntable, cartridge, arm, etc. There are other good contenders in the 2K-3K range, but that seems to be a sweet spot right now for getting an analog system to a significant next level of performance. I would think that upgrading to a 5K turntable will result in good things, but you may want to spend half that amount first on a good phono pre and then see where you need to go from there. Good luck and let us know what you decide on.
Swanny, you "considered trying the Jasmine?" Did you actually give the Jasmine an extended listen or did you just dismiss it because it lacked balanced connections? Have you heard a Jasmine with upgraded output capacitors?
For a cost of $550 plus $25 for Jantzen Superior z-caps, one has a remarkably good phono that fits admirably in a high-end system.
@Redglobe: No never did hear the Jasmine. As I said in my post, I considered the Jasmine but ruled it out because it lacked balanced outputs and I did not want to get involved in upgrading a 500 item to get the performance upgrade I was after. Again, sure, I could have ordered it from China and tried it out but it seemed a sideways move at best compared to where I was starting from--the GCPH is no slouch. One other important consideration in my decision: I also want to buy American whenever I can and like supporting the guys in Forest Hill, CA so they can keep working their magic. I do agree with you that Firstcut should consider trying the cap upgrade you mention, before anything else, as that could be a very economical upgrade and a path of least resistance.