Upgrade cartridge or TT?

Wondering if I should upgrade my TT or keep trying new cartridges?
Right now I'm using a Debut Carbon Esprit w/ Denon DL-110 & Project Tube Box S.
I've done a lot of reading of the other forum posts here, and it seems like upgrading the cartridge would be the easiest financially, considering the jump from a mid-level TT to a high end.  That being said, the amount I will keep spending on different cartridges will end up being the same as a new TT...

The previous cartridges I've used on this turntable, and in order are: Shure M97xE, AT440MLB, Ortofon Red, Ortofon Blue, and now of course the Denon DL-110. I didn't enjoy the Shure or Ortofon Red very much.  I like the Denon a little more than the Blue and AT, but overall, the differences between the three are minute to my ears.

On my watchlist currently:
- Ortofon Bronze
- Denon DL-103R
- Sumiko Blue Point #2
- AT33EV

I don't think I can pull the trigger on a cart costing more than $450, considering the price of the Esprit wasn't much more.  That gets me thinking I should upgrade the TT, and then I can look at higher end cartridges.

Regarding TTs, I've only had the Esprit, and an Audio Technica 1240.  There's no place to audition TT where I live, and most my friends have Crosleys from Barnes & Noble.... So I can only go off your experience, advice, and reviews.

My spending limit is $1300 for net TT + Cart, or the $450 on just a new cart, unless anyone thinks spending more is a wise choice.

Thank you kindly
7bc4daa2 be3e 4e1a 95da 243581b9bbb5robelvick
I really couldn't make any recommendations based on the limited info you provide about your system.  So here are just my comments...

What is it that doesn't sound good to you right now and that your hoping to improve?  A system can only sound as good as its weakest link and right now, your current TT/Cartridge/Phono Stage look very balanced to me. 

Also, you don't mention your downstream electronics and if they are not up to the task, throwing money at the analog from end will not solve anything.

Finally, the Denon DL-103 and AT33EV are very low output MC cartridges, <0.3 mv, and a very good LOMC phono stage becomes critical.  Sorry but I have a Pro-ject Phono Box S I use with my secondary TT and while its great for high output cartridges, its way too noisy (audible hiss) for LOMC's that will require 60db of gain.  So unless you plan on upgrading your phono stage too, stick with MM or HOMC cartridges like the Orto Bronze or BP No. 2.

Look at the website for KAB who specializes in upgrades for the Technics SL1200 mkII and later. Then check out the Techepedia Forum on the British theartofsound.com website. Tremendous number of lessons on how to get a great sounding table with a great upgrade path from the already good beginnings of the SL1200, which has become the most bought turntable in history. This isn't a DJ table at heart, it's an aspiring audiophile table that was adopted by DJs because it's very well built, reliable and durable. Oh it also has one of the most stable motors that holds speed over time. You can find a nice, non-DJ one for around $400-500 maybe less if you patiently comb craigslist & garage sales. Then you can improve it as budget allows with KAB fluid damper, re-wiring the tonearm(or replacing tonearm if you are more ambitous), upgrading feet, mat etc. 
I've heard these tables crush some $3k-$k tables from all the brands commonly touted here. Cheers,
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I have used most of the carts you mentioned, I preferred my Ortofon super OM carts to those when used with a light arm.  Avoid the low compliance MC carts with the Pro-ject arm. If you want detail, AT150MLX, AT-F7, Denon DL301mk2 come to mind.
Your CA integrated is a nice amp and again, should balance nicely with the rest of your system.

So I think you have taken the Pro-ject Esprit as far as it can go with your existing DL-110 which is a good cartridge.  I know many that consider it better than a BP No. 2.  So why bother with a cartridge upgrade?

I think its time for a better TT.  So I would look for a VPI Scout Jr. or Traveler V2 that you should be able to find at your budget.  I bought a V2 a few years ago to replace a Pro-ject RM5.1 SE and the VPI makes the Pro-ject feel like a toy.  I won't go back.

The KAB modified Technics SL-1200 MKII is a good choice too if you want a used TT and want direct drive.  But they getting harder to find at a reasonable price now that Technics has reintroduce this TT with the latest reincarnation being the SL-1200GR unveiled at CES at a price of 2K.  I am very tempted to get one myself as this new TT is built in Japan and will still be spinning 30 years from now.   Just like the original SL-1200 MKII's are now.  This would be the last TT you would ever need.
AT OC9ml/ii is about 425 at lp gear.  Plenty of detail.  But you are starting to reach the audiophile stage where you want more, but you're setting some rigid budgets.  It very often doesn't work that way.  Just a thought - before you buy anything, try a Herbies mat.  I worked wonders on my old Music Hall, which is a Project, actually. Much better sound - more than I would have expected from a mat.  Herbies is money back on everything, so it's only a few bucks shipping you would be out.  
I would with out a doubt upgrade table, I just sold on Audiogon a year ago  a VPI Scoutmaster for $1300.00 so there are some very good tables available for that money also Basis and Clearaudio and the list goes on and once you have that foundation you can run virtually any cart you want with great results, you can upgrade cart as your budget allows.
My experience with the Denon 301 mkii is that it is not overly detailEd but rather romantic and engaging. 

That being said the Denon 110 is a nicely balanced cartridge a more engaging than the BP special ii, which, to my ears, comes across as hard sounding.

Your table would be the next upgrade, IMO, and I would go used. Right now the older Well Tempered Classics are the best value in the used market and go between 750 and 1000. 

Robelvick -

You have already heard some good advice, but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts.

First of all, there's no reason not to upgrade your turntable - I started off with a similar entry-level offering from Pro-Ject and while it's a decent table for the money, there are huge gains to be had but even taking modest steps up their product line.

Most importantly though, you mention that you want more detail/ analytical sound.  That being the case, you might seriously consider swapping out the Project Tube Box.  I have tried one, and seriously wasn't the sound I was looking for.  After trying several preamps, I settled on a budged solid state unit that makes me much happier.

Given your current setup, I would think that you might considering selling off the TT, the tube box and a couple of cartridges to get you into a nicer table/arm and a solid state preamp.  Of your current cart's I would maybe hang on to the DL-110 and 2M-Blue for now.

One thing I will say with 100% confidence is that I WOULD NOT waste any time or $$ on a BP#2 - While "detailed" and "analytical" - it's simply not worth the money - very dry, sterile, anemic in the bass, forward in the midrange and top, and generally unpleasant in every respect - I would submit that the modestly priced 2M blue is better sounding.  For little more money (for a Sumiko) the Blue Point Special Eco III is far superior in every regard.

If you are truly enthusiastic about vinyl and looking for the resolution and detail that you enjoy on your digital side, then I would probably hit the reset button on most of your analog front end.  New phono pre first, new table second and then start trying different cartridges.

Just my $.02

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I’m still considering a new Pro-Ject "The Classic" as soon as I can hear one locally (the nearby "salon" claims to be getting one in soon). I really like the Sumiko Pearl cartridge (a vintage Linn Basik/Akito is my current rig) I currently use as I think it’s a giant killer and may keep it for the Classic if I jump to one of those…also, I use a Pangea p100 power supply (possible to find these used…a great thing but limited to the few preamps it was designed for) hooked up to a Cambridge 640p which works beautifully and sounds wonderful…I had been looking for a phono pre with rumble filtering and they're one of the few offering that feature (I need that…don't like subsonic pumping). The Hana cartridges are tempting me also…decisions decisions…
My dealer kept telling me: table, arm, cartridge. I didn't believe him and upgraded cartridge, arm, table. I was wrong.

Just so you know my preferences, I have owned DD and belt turntables, currently one DD and two belt. I much prefer belt: cleaner and quieter with better inner detail, IMO, and with a big platter, better speed consistency. Yes, going all the way to a Koetsu was a notable improvement, but until I improved my TT, a lot, the K didn't sound that much better.

Doing it again, I would spend on table, arm, and cartridge, in that order. YYMV
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If you keep the carts, I would change out the preamp first, you probably don't like the tubes in the chain. My project phono box S is very nice and I hear plenty of detail. Obviously, the table and arm make a significant difference too, try finding a TT with a Jelco 750 arm.  I love the wide range of carts one can use with it and it's precision.
Wolf garcia,

If your thinking get about the project classic you should contact me. I'm currently building a new table, bit of a retro nuovo that will kill. It will use a thorens td 150 suspension and platter but then it will be elevated well beyond.

I don't want to high jack this thread so contact me outside of here. It should be completed very soon.

Robelvick - I haven't had a chance to listen to the Clearaudio that you mention but looking at the specs versus price, doesn't seem to be anything exceptional.  the highest gain in MC mode, is great for LOMC's but remember there are only a couple of tai settings - You strike me as someone that likes to try out different cartridges so you might eventually want to go with a pre that has a vast array of settings for you to tweak.

One suggestion I would make is that you may simply want to try out a very low cost solid state unit just to see how you like the sound compared to tubes.  If you find that you prefer the SS sound in your system, then you can look into upgrading to a higher-end unit.

I've tried a few budget pre's in the last couple years, (Project, NAD, Emotiva and Schiit) and of these I like the sound of the Mani best - it was a little noisy out of the box but I picked up a nice linear power supply that addressed that issue.  The Mani is only $129 and I see them selling for nearly retail 2nd hand on eBay.

You could try it out in your system and if you decide you don't like it or want to upgrade then you won't be out a lot of $ for the experiment.

One that has caught my interest recently that I'm curious to try is the iFi iPhono 2 - Looks great on paper and the reviews are really positive.  It also has gain setting between 36-72db so should match up with everything you could throw at it.

It's really interesting to see how the sub $1K market for phono stages has exploded with the recent resurgence of vinyl and I would assume that in the coming years we're going to see dozens of new products in this price range that will be exceptional.
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Robelvick -

You are correct that the Marantz is built for them by Clearaudio.

Depending on price, it might be wort pursuing - As packaged for retail, though, it seems that roughly half the price of the package is from the bundled Clearaudio cartridge.

A couple things that would give me pause - the VTA adjustment on the tone arm is fairly rudimentary, and there is no adjustment for Azimuth.  I also think that you would be better off finding something in the same price range that offers some type of suspension, which the Marantz does not.

If you do decide to go for the Marantz, I wonder how long you'll be happy with it and ready to upgrade again.

Lots of people seem to love it based on user reviews I've seen but I'm assuming that many of those folks are new (or returning) to vinyl and/or purchased it for the looks and the decent cartridge that it ships with.

Again - just my own opinion so take it with a grain of salt :)
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Do yourself a favor and wait until an Acouctech ph1 comes up. They sell for around 500 used and kick the pants off the above mentioned.

another great phone preamp for bang for buck is the GRAHAM SLEE stuff they have a few for MM and MC.

Sim Audio moon 110lp MM/MC is another one I hear is good for the money and from a truly high end manufacture.

I think you go some great table rec's already in the above.

I'd say stick with a company that's been around for a while and not one that riding the vinyl resurgence wave.

and there is quite a few quality tables in the sub $1500. in Audiogon right now and if you can stretch it a bit to $2k there is some really nice used tables

Rob, just a word of caution, although it sounds like you don't need it -  all solid state does not sound the same. Many other factors are far more important: resistors, capacitors, topology, and synergy.

Just as tube electronics differ one from the other, so do solid state pieces. I used high priced tube equipment in the past (ARC and boutique), and my current DIY system, based on solid state, gives up nothing to any of them, and is superior in most respects.

I would buy the piece that seems best to you. Period.
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Congratulations and can't wait to hear what you think of it!

Take care

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No experience with Sound Stage Direct but plenty with the VPI Traveler V2.  I bought one to replace a Pro-ject RM 5.1SE that has almost an identical tonearm as the Music Hall 7.3 (Music Halls are rebadged Pro-jects built at the same Czech factory) and the Traveler made the Pro-ject seem like a toy.  There is something reassuring about all that metal and it has a much more precise, machine like feel to.  Right down to the cueing control that lowers slow and smoothly with no wavering like the Pro-ject did.

Finally, the VPI just unleashes the music with drive and attack in a way the Pro-ject could not.  And with the same cartridge that I swapped over.  Needless to say won't go back to a Pro-ject/MH product again now that I have the VPI.   Hope you get some reviews on the Concept and even the MMF 7.3 from actual users. 
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The V1 actually is the more desirable table but did have some problems with the pins coming out of the gimbals of the tonearm.  This was rectified with later tonearms on the V1 and completely eliminated on the V2.  

Hopefully you have one of these later V1's and don't have this problem.  Other than this, it's a huge upgrade from the Esprit.

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..sounds like you're spinning your wheels.  I'd not make any move until you have the wallet to make a real improvement
Here is the one I purchased.  Hoping it doesn't have the tonearm and anti-skate problems I've been reading about.  Not sure how to find out if it's one of the later model V1's
Can't help you there.  Maybe being preowned, it was returned and fitted with the later tonearm that I have on my V2.  Which has performd flawlessly for me.  You might want to call them and ask. 

If it is the later V2 tonearm on a V1, then you have the best that both versions can offer.  Good luck.

I think you should take stringreens advice, and save every penny you can, rather than spend money and get nowhere, but in the meantime, you can;

Enjoy the music.
I hope the "antiskate" feature, ie, tension from the cable doesn't drive you nuts.  It was a bit annoying to me.
You started this post, turntable or cart first and gave a budget, since have purchased a table and a phono stage that if anything has maybe improved your system marginally at best if at all, with that said you need to be patient get a short list of some table carts phonos that are significant improvements do your homework and purchase as you have put in the time and know what you want. The table you purchased, you are hoping that it isn't the model that is having issues, man you should have known about the issues before the purchase. Not trying to bust your bubble but patience is a virtue and it does pay off with dividends. Good luck.

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You're totally welcome, and I couldn't be happier that it worked out for you!!!!

Kick back, listen and enjoy!!!!

Take care

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I am so happy your Traveler arrived safe and with no issues.  See I told you about its build quality.

For a dustcover, I am extremely happy with the one built for me by Stereo Squares...
You can get either a full top or a plinth top.  I chose the Plinth Top to give my Traveler a more traditional look.  And for 10 bucks more, you can have the VPI logo etched into the acrylic.  How could pass that up?
Click on my screen name to see pics of my Traveler with the cover they made for me along with the etched logo.

And enjoy the music!
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robelvick - just a guess here (well, not really) but you really don't want the dust cover on the table when it's playing :)

No one has more experience making VPI dust covers than Vinh Vu at Gingko Audio: http://www.ginkgoaudio.com/dustcovers/
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+1 on gingko - and it's actually on sale right now at musicdirect
Is there a cutout that fits over the tonearm lever? When the lever is in the down position it goes past the edge of the TT.
Yes, there will be a cutout on the plinth top version that will also double as a hand hold for removing the cover. Make sure you tell them you have a Traveler V1.
robelvick - just a guess here (well, not really) but you really don’t want the dust cover on the table when it’s playing :)
I agree with Greg. The Stereo Squares plinth top is not hinged and should be set aside when playing a record.  Just like a full cover would be.

Gingko makes a nice top too but I preferred the Stereo Squares, which is just as nice, because only they could offer the VPI logo etched into the acrylic. But that’s me.
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If your phono and arm are capable you should get the 103r.  It's way better than the 2m black. But your arm has to be massive, which it probably isn't. 
I have a $450 lenco 
a $300 et1
and a $300 103r
that altogether performs like a million bucks!!