Upgrade: Turntable or Cartridge?

I currently own an early generation of the Clearaudio Emotion turntable (no CMB, spiked feet, aluminum Satisfy tonearm). My cartridge is a Grado Sonata1 (new version) Reference (High Output). I'm trying to decide if I should upgrade the turntable or the cartridge, and between the two, which would provide the greatest benefit. My phono stage is the PS Audio GCPH, which I've found to perform pretty darn well, and don't think I need to upgrade that at the moment.

I do feel that the Emotion turntable could still handle a cart a good deal more expensive than the Sonata1. To my ears, the table is extremely quiet, with fairly decent speed stability. There are a few convenience things that are annoying, such as the decoupled motor which always ends up sitting against the table and needs to be moved. The location of the switch to turn the power on, and also the exposed belt can get annoying. However, I'm still willing to live with those things if upgrading the cartridge will provide much benefit. In the end, I'm in this for the sound, not the convenience, otherwise I wouldn't have a turntable.

For cartridges, I was considering quite a range: Shelter 501 Mk II, Benz Ace or Glider, Clearaudio Concept MC, Ortofon 2M Black, Dynavector 20X2 or Karat, etc. I'd like to try out a decent MC for once, if I do choose to upgrade the cart. I've had trouble getting rid of inner grove distortion with the Sonata1 and Satisfy tonearm, even after very careful alignment. Maybe they aren't a perfect match?

Any ideas here?

Upgrade your cartridge first. When your ready to upgrade your TT put the Clearaudio Ovation at the top of your list.
Take a look at the reviews of the Denon DL-S1. Depending where you acquire one, the price ranges widely. Comet Supply is the least expensive at $600, Galen -Carol $800. After that, prices rise significantly.

I upgraded from a Denon 103R based on recommendations on this site. The DL-S1 is an excellent tracker, retrieving fine nuances of music, with a uniform reproduction of the full range of sonic frequencies.
In researching a cartridge to go with my Performance SE and Carbon Satisfy arm, I ran across DaveW's website. He has sample audio files of a nice variety of cartridges, including some that you are considering. To me, the Denon DL-S1 sounded really good, along with the AT OC9ML/II, Denon DL-304, AT150MLX, Goldring 1042, Ortofon 2M Black, and your Grado Reference Sonata 1 (at 38K load). He lists his equipment and pertinent info, so you could get an idea how all the cartridges compare in his setup.

Here's his site. http://daveyw.edsstuff.org/vinyl/cartridges/

When you upgrade, let us know what you ending up going with.
You wrote, "There are a few convenience things that are annoying, such as the decoupled motor which always ends up sitting against the table and needs to be moved." From this I gather that the tt has a stand-alone motor and that it moves during use such that eventually the pulley is in contact with the platter or the body of the motor comes in contact with the plinth. Either one of these phenomena is BAD news. There ought to be a way to stabilize the motor in one position such that it remains stationary at all times. This is a pre-requisite for speed stability. "Fairly decent" speed stability is not good enough. As to your actual question, it seems you are determined to replace your cartridge first. I don't know enough about your tt to recommend that you replace it, but at least set it up for optimal performance before you buy a new cartridge.
+1 to Lewm's comment.

Nothing in your post suggests any reason to upgrade. The gear you have isn't broken or worn out, but your description certainly makes it seem like it's imperfectly set up. Learn how to optimize what you have before succumbing to the upgrade bug. (N.B., optimizing ANY setup may require thinking outside the box by ignoring or supplementing instructions provided by the manufacturer.)

Throwing money at gear without using it effectively seems like a path to frustration, not to mention financial ruin. If you want to pour money down a bottomless hole, buy a boat! ;-)
I have a Clearaudio Performance with a stand alone motor and Satisfy carbon arm. I also have a boat. the boat cost more to buy and maintain. As for the turntable, my motor does not constantly move towards the plinth. somethingn doesnt seem right there, even if the plinth is cut out in the shape of the motor like mine. I use a Clearaudio Maestro Wood and the sound is excellent, clear, detailed and warm bodied. The speed contol is excellent measured with a strobe disc that never varies from dead on.

However, if you dont have everything set up properly, you are wasting your time. You might want to take it apart, and setup the entire table again from scratch. I try to do that every 6 months or so on all my tables, just to be sure. Its too easy to fall into complacency over time. and its not just an adjustment from where it is. I take the arm and cartridge off, and start over as if I was doing it for the first time. Of course, with some tonearms, the hole and mounting screws dont give you much option as to where to mount the arm unless you want to start drilling new holes.

So, try that and see if you can tell any difference. If not, I would try a different cartridge first.
Lots of great suggestions and help here, much appreciated.

Regarding the decoupled motor, yes it is quite an annoyance. I don't notice it moving while a record is playing, but it mostly seems to move when I have to press the switch on the side of the motor on or off. I normally check to see if this has happened before I play a record by grabbing the tonearm with my thumb, index, and middle finger; if the motor has moved and is touching the plinth, I can feel vibrations coming into the tonearm. I then move the motor so that it's not touching the plinth at all. The old Clearaudio Emotion has a round "cut out" for the motor to fit into, so it's very easy for it to move just enough for any one point of the motor to make contact with the plinth; not a very good design choice. However, the bearing still seems to work very smoothly. I could probably benefit from a new belt though.

I actually ended up ordering a Dynavector 20x2L, which is being delivered today. I'm excited to put it into place, because now I'll be able to hopefully tell which audible limitations are due to the cartridge and/or turntable. Way back when I upgraded to the Emotion from a Music Hall MMF-5.1 about 4.5 years ago (it came with a Virtuoso cart), I do remember noticing less bass compared to the MMF, but can't recall exactly on the depth or quality of it. However, reading recent reviews of the Clearaudio Concept, they all point out that bass is not a particular strength of the unit. So it might be fair to say that historically, Clearaudio has chosen bass as a design compromise in its lower-priced 'tables.
If I were in your position I would change first turntable.
Let me explain.
In vain have the best cartridge in the world, if the cartridge can not show exactly what he can do.
The cartridge is the last to be changed.
I see so sequence change: turntable, arm and cartridge

If the motor is moving because of a side-mounted on/off switch, which I agree is a poor design choice, try holding the motor down firmly with one hand while operating the switch with the other. Simple fixes for simple problems. :-)

If the motor *still* ends up touching the plinth despite this extra care, odds are the belt tension is pulling it there. A fix might involve any or all of:
- a less slippery surface beneath the motor feet
- less slippery motor feet
- lower tension on the belt
Each of these is likely to have audible effects too, but you must do something to prevent motor vibrations from transferring directly to the plinth and thence into the tonearm and cartridge. That's a guarantee of sonic mud and an excessively high sound floor.

As Manitunc stated, few if any vinyl rigs are set-and-forget devices. Their "convenience" resides mostly in a ready response to incessant tweaking!

Good luck and keep at it!

Congrats on the new cartridge. I'm using a karat with the Emotion TT with really nice results. One suggestion, consider the CMB upgrade for the Emotion. For far less than a new table, I found it to be a big jump in perofrmance.

To add a smidgeon to what Doug said, if the motor is however imperceptibly moving toward the platter during play, the speed of the turntable cannot remain constant. Another remedy: double-sided tape to immobilize the motor feet, and if that does not work - duct tape. At all costs, you need to immobilize the motor. Once that is done, check the speed with a reliable device. The best bang for the buck in that department is the KAB strobe. Calibrate speed if possible and you are done, so far as the particular other limitations of your tt will allow.
I had a Benz Gilder with the Emotion. One of the first tables I owned. The Benz sounded good, but when I upgraded to the CMB and Mapleshade brass feet, what a difference in performance.

But honestly, this stuff is all system dependent. Every piece of the puzzle will make a difference, and there really are no shortcuts to a great sounding system.

One of my favorite saying is "it's the journey and discovery that counts in the end."


Dougdeacon: You are right, that is the best way to deal with the problem. In fact, that is what I normally do, but at times I get a bit lazy and try to turn it off with one hand. Sometimes I can get away with not moving the motor, other times I can't. Only way to be sure is the use both hands every time. A definite inconvenience, but oh well. Just to be clear, the motor is definitely not moving during playback. The only time it happens is when I move the motor myself while turning it on or off. However, putting something like a rubber mat or tape underneath may allow turning the motor off with one hand, and even further isolate vibrations coming from the motor.

Sballs: I too thought about the CMB upgrade. It looks like it currently sells for around $400. Would you say it's worth the cost? What types of improvements did you notice? I had been thinking of saving my pennies for a few months, then upgrading to a VPI Classic 1. I've read so many good things about it.

Lewm: Good ideas. I may try the duct tape, but as I said, the movement only really seems to happen from my own hand pushing it to the side while turning the motor on or off.

Hcalland: What types of improvements did you notice with the upgrades? My fear is that I could dump money into an old turntable that already can't sell for much, and that the money spent on those upgrades will get mostly lost during resale.

As for an update on the cartridge, I think it sounds fantastic so far. I probably have about 15 hours on it, so it still needs more break-in time, but man, what a step up in bass control, extension, impact, and dynamics over the Grado. This isn't to say that the Grado is a bad cart, it's just easy to hear how "romantic" it sounds compared to a more honest cart like the Dynavector. The Dyna has an extremely engaging sound, very lively, detailed, lots of inner detail, but never harsh or bright. It's strange to hear a presentation such as this, since often "lively" and "detailed" are accompanied by "bright" and "harsh" to even a small extent. It really has me wondering how much more sound I can extract out of the cartridge with a better turntable.
Nice choice on the Dynavector 20x2L. Should be a very nice match with your setup.

Hcalland: Which model of Mapleshade feet did you use on your Emotion TT, and what are they sitting on?
In fact, that is what I normally do, but at times I get a bit lazy and try to turn it off with one hand.
Lazy moments are for CD's! There are no shortcuts to good analog reproduction. In fact, the more capable the system, the more care the user must take. My vinyl rig retails for about $18K but I still have to pay attention when I turn the motor on. If I move it by mistake it can take 30 minutes of fussing to re-position it correctly (I use a non-elastic drive belt, so there's zero margin for error).

However, putting something like a rubber mat or tape underneath may allow turning the motor off with one hand, and even further isolate vibrations coming from the motor.
Depending on the system, it may also slur transients and dull dynamic response. The more revealing and accurate the rig, the less tolerant it will be of elasticity *anywhere* in its mechanical connections. Putting rubber feet or even a single thickness of Scotch tape beneath my TT motor turns a vibrant and hugely dynamic table into a sludge. By all means try it, but keep an open mind about the effects you hear.

P.S. Your new cart sounds like a huge step up. (I'm not surprised, most Grados are better at smoothing things over than reproducing lifelike music). Enjoy the journey!

Zyx cartridges are very good, they work extremely good with a wide range of Arms and they are also available with different outputs. Personally I think, a Fuji 100 is hard to beat in a price range which doesn't ruin the discriminated Audiophile. One of my friends uses it in a 18k$ Turntable/Arm combination.
P.S. Try some (metal or wood) spike cups beneath your motor spikes. This may increase friction between motor and platform, reducing its tendency to slide, without adding elasticity.

To keep the belt at the same height on the platter you'd have to raise your TT by the same amount. Don't know if that's important on the Emotion, or feasible if so... just something to consider.

I used the HEAVYFOOT V.3, and I had the table sitting on a butcher block at the time. P I later upgraded to a Mapleshade platform.

I see you now have a VPI Classic 1. I am considering this as an upgrade for sometime this winter. How would you describe the differences in sound between the Emotion and the Classic?