At this level it is always a matter of diminishing returns. You have a great front end. You can change the sound but, not necessarily, better it for your stated budget. If you like the VPI sound I believe you would need to go to the HR6 or HRX to get better sound. If you want different sound there are lots of choices in your price range (Oracle, Basis, Teres, etc.).
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If you like sound of speakers 1) how they interact with amp you may want to experiment with pre the one product most of us with we could get rid of in chain.Why not a Plaette ACTIVE pre.Not cheap tweaks.Heavy stands (bases for floor standers) from Sound Anchor under your speakers.I am wire skeptic so leave that to rest of denizens.
Even with excellent pneumatic stand cheap money ad's Gingko.Remember table is important and there is constant debate among us about how important deck is.I tilt towards cartridge and phono section being more of equation so might think of putting resources their.I have VPI /12.5 an am thinking of staying in family and downsizing but multi arm for stereo LO and mono HO (many pre's stages have dual inputs) like Acoustic Signature or Teres/Scheur. without it becoming nuts cash wise.But even with Pneumatic rack of that quality a wall mount with a Gingko cloud could really change things or just on top of your rack.With tubes if you can swing it EAR 324 is great because with extra tubes you can get Cart's like the Grado's I used to sell that come in .5,1.5,4.5 in stereo or mono if you listen to lot's of jazz.You have nice MC but maybe a $2K Lyra Helikon would make your neck hair stand on end.Just ike to swap of VPI and it's cheper than two arm rig.Btter cables between TT and pre maybe through out rig.If going for a TT go away from suspension-less designs.LP's have bad rap for contanting needing adjustment and mate wonderfully with Graham and then you can still swap tubes.Read about new $500 Thorens .Not sure if has traditional 4 point gimbal suspension but supposedly Fremmer whacked table and deck and didn't hear anything through speakers.But as was mentioned in VPI lines they really scored with 9" arm and it's diminishing returns when you go up in line.I don't like light acrylic platter so might mount a TNT5 platter on a Scout/master for cheap money.Many folks went with inferior ligh acrylic platter o use ring clamp.If you want both and don't think VTA "on fly" is that important (only real neurotics change it all the time get an Aries Blackknight with (obscenely) expensive HRX 22 lp composite platter for $2K and it will whoop ass and on what you have without going ino z$8-10K land.But get Gingko Cloud now to experiment and sell with Scoutmaster if that's what your going to do.Just divots in acrylic and lacrosse balls but saw it's almost as good as accelerometer on scope in tests as $2500 active Vibraplane.
Bryan (Bhoage), from my experience with the Scoutmaster in a friend's system, you can go a long ways upmarket before you will materially improve on it's strengths. It's a good, well balanced table design and the arm is better than many detractors give it credit. Of course, my listening priorities match to many of those things the Scoutmaster does well.
My friend ultimately moved on to a Walker Audio turntable (muttering under his breath that it was all my fault, of course :-) ), and that was a WOW! difference for his system. A Galibrier or a Teres or a VPI TNT will bring a very noticeable improvement over the Scoutmaster, but at a higher price point than you've set for yourself.
The point is that the Scoutmaster is a great overachiever and can be even better with a motor controller (VPI SDS or, better, Walker) and it will comfortably complement an even better cartridge. For the budget range you've set, you might get more enjoyment out of a cartridge upgrade and a motor controller. On the flip side, wait another year and try to increase the budget you're working with in order to make a really impactful improvement.
You're premature in swapping out the Scout before resolving the problems of the sprung floors & the tall multishelf rack by putting the TT on a proper footing. A few $ spent to improve the platform will take the Scout to a much higher level & position you for any future TT upgrade.
Love those Merlins & ARS amp.
Thanks for the response guys. While I'd love to follow your advice, that room in the photo is actually the corner of our living room and while my wife is understanding, I know that treatments are out of the question. One day I'd like a house with a dedicated room but for now that's the compromise, (and I'm OK with that). Anyway, that helps me contain my upgrade desires for now I suppose. I might stick to a VPI SDS or something smaller and save any big upgrade aspirations for when I have a room to fully appreciate it in. Thanks again for the input.
Dean_fuller, thanks for the compliment on the system and the small light is just a simple battery powered reading light that I've clipped to one of the interconnects coming out the back of the turntable. Works like a charm, cheap batteries last and, (for those who are wondering), no impact on sound.