Vintage or new turntable


I'd like to upgrade my turntable. I'm fairly new to vinyl, having recently won a nice entry level table. I've found that I really enjoy the whole vinyl process and am now ready for an upgrade. I'm trying to decide between a new, modern table or a restored AR or Thorens (perhaps from VinylNirvana) Budget would be approx. $1500, with cartridge. I like the looks of both the modern and vintage tables, so I'm wondering which would give me the best sound. Can anyone, with knowledge of both, offer advice on the sonic differences? I'm unable to hear a vintage table, so asking the forum. Thanks for any advice.
giantsfreak
A used modern table would give you the most for the money but a carefully chosen older table can be good also. A Micro Seki BL-91 or 51 would also be a good choice. A Linn LP 12 is both vintage and modern and offers many upgrade paths. There is really no way to compare older tables as a group and newer ones as a group; it has to be table A vs table B. Furthermore, the differences would not be entirely due to age. I have had both Logic 101s and VPI Scoutmasters [neither right now] but I couldn't really say how they compare; just because one is older does not make it worse. The standards of turntable performance have risen but the cost has risen faster. Choose a good table of either vintage and you will be fine.
I don't have any model to recommend, but be careful about spending money on an old one that says restored, refurbished, or something in that order. Some will just shine and polish them, clean and re-oil them. A polish job and new oil doesn't fix a tired turntable, nor does a new belt. If they're asking a high dollar, look for new bearings for the platter, not just cleaned and oiled, and polished/refinished wood. A lot are low priced tables made to look good, and sold for high prices. These originally low priced Japanese turntables weren't the best, when brand new. You could oil them yourself. A truly clean original in nice shape will probably give you a lot more in return.
Giantsfreak, congrats on winning the TT. I've been in both places - old vintage and modern. My first reintroduction to vinyl was about a year or so ago. On a whim, I had my old Thorens TD 160 serviced and slapped a Grado Sonata on it. My intro phono pre was a cheapy SS which cost me about $150 and away I flew. Take a look at my current system to find out where I landed.

IMO and IME, I think I'm doing better with my current set-up: a MODERN VPI Classic and Sound Smith VPI Zephyr cartridge. The entire chain of my phono set up was purchased pre-owned from A'gon members. The rest you can see by looking at my system.

A couple of observations. If you pull my TT/carty thread history, you will see that I had a lot of false starts and stops and hit a lot of dead ends before getting to where I am. I think you'll learn a lot from my mistakes.

Another observation is that when folks ask for similar type equipment recommendations (whatever the equipment might be), they're going to hear "experienced" audiophiles list every make a model out there. You're also going to hear "absolute unequivocal" opinions about vintage versus modern. It's all damn confusing.

Here's my advice. Go for pre-owned. That will do best to stretch your $1500 budget. But be careful. Check the member's feedback. That's very important. Turntables, tone arms and carties can get really expensive and fast!

As to modern versus vintage, I personally favor the modern equipment - but that's me. Also, carties can get quite expensive too, like $5000 for a Benz LPS moving coil. I recommend a quality used moving magnet (MM) such as a Clear Audio MM or something from the Ortofon 2M series. One of the members, Raul (something) is a real carty expert. If he catches this thread, maybe he can make some good recommendations. Lewm, Stringreen and Almarg are also very helpful and knowledgeable. Of course there are many others, but these guys come to mind first.

The hard part is the TT. As the recommendations start rolling in, you'll start to see the same names coming up, older VPIs (like the HR-19 series), Clear Audio and so forth. Keep track of the more frequently recommended names and check the Forum threads. The members offer their opinions and experiences often.

Last point, it will be helpful to know what's behind your TT: that is, your current preamp, amp, integrated, CDP and speakers.

Good luck and let us know how you make out.

My resonse is somewhat jaded as I readily admit I have a preference for suspension tables in the below $1500 price range. That being said my table for the for the past 25 years has been a modded AR-the turntable- with an Audioquest PT5 arm. I have over the years upgraded cartidges and currently have an Ortofon Cadenza Red which is fantastic. All the mods were done by George Merrill, Dave's mentor and the father of the AR mods. Many people have not heard these tables and think they absolutely could not compete with newer technology. Not true. I would put my TT up against any $1500 table. I have had several amps and preamps pass through my system but I have not had the yen to upgrade my turntable. I have upgraded speakers, rolled tubes ad infinitum, changed cables and added tuning fuses, etc. My TT is still here. I can get upgraditis with the best of them. My digital front end is a McCormack UDP1 Deluxe (I have had a good half dozen CD players too!) that most people who hear my system agree the TT sounds better.

I also have a Thorens TD160 Super stock in a second system which is a much better TT than a TD160 (which I also own currently unplugged) with a modest Linn Basik arm and a Goldring 1042 cartridge (last cartridge in the AR before the aformentioned Ortofon). It sounds pretty darn good. It may be a candidate for Dave's mods at some point.

One advantage the Thorens has on the AR is the ability to switch from 33 to 45 with the flip of a knob. With the AR you have to take the platter off and change the belt on the pulley. Minor deal maybe but if you invest in a lot of 45 LPs it may matter.

All that being said, if I were looking at new tables in the $1500 range, the Clearaudio Emotion looks interesting at least and can be had with cartridge new for $1500. I would try to hear one if I were you. Used, the basic VPI Scout or a tricked out VPI HW 19 come up for sale used in your price range from time to time. Nice Sotas also come up now and then.

I personally have been happy with my modded AR. Dave's upgrades/mods are even improved from GMs having taken them to another level via Anthony Scallia's upgrades of the mod parts, Thorens or AR. I do not think you can make a bad choice one way or the other. As always, if you can audition your options, preferably A-B, it would help your decision making process.
I own, and have owned, both vintage and modern tables. If considering vintage, you will need an appropriate skill set to keep your turntable in proper operating order. A Thorens 124 or Garrard 301/401 would be nice, but if you don't feel comfortable working on a table, new would be best.
Thank you all for your thorough responses. I've contacted Dave at VinylNirvana and am leaning that direction. Having said that, I will get out and audition Clearaudio and hopefully others. I've been watching the VPI and SOTAs here on Agon, so it sounds like I'm looking at the right things.

bifwynne - I will check out your system and history. Thanks
A Sota Star or Sapphire, series III and above, can usually be found in your budget and is a great deal on a vintage table that can be upgraded as your budget allows.
Vintage is the way to go but only if you can do a pick up and the unit demo'd before purchase.
The good old ARXA is the most musical and satisfying vintage table. It is also very forgiving of mediocre recordings. You do need to couple it with a good modern arm for best sound. Not so easy unless you are a capable doer, but certainly worth the effort. Their later versions, like the ES1 are easier in this regard. I had non audiophiles begging me to play more records at the Christmas party. My young and lovely wife was trying to turn it down as they all booed her. Live Doors, Live Allman Bro's, Cannonball Adderly, Satchmo, Dizzy, Willy...we rocked! They could not believe A: that this was vinyl, and B: that I have been using this same turntable since the early seventies. One guy was one of my roommates back then and couldn't believe this was the same table we all used to listen to. I have a pricey Well Tempered, but, still, the AR always puts a smile on my face.
Three cheers to that...

The good old ARXA is the most musical and satisfying vintage table. It is also very forgiving of mediocre recordings. You do need to couple it with a good modern arm for best sound. Not so easy unless you are a capable doer, but certainly worth the effort. Their later versions, like the ES1 are easier in this regard. I had non audiophiles begging me to play more records at the Christmas party. My young and lovely wife was trying to turn it down as they all booed her. Live Doors, Live Allman Bro's, Cannonball Adderly, Satchmo, Dizzy, Willy...we rocked! They could not believe A: that this was vinyl, and B: that I have been using this same turntable since the early seventies. One guy was one of my roommates back then and couldn't believe this was the same table we all used to listen to. I have a pricey Well Tempered, but, still, the AR always puts a smile on my face.
I also like vintage Thorens - TD160 Supers are cool, but still need a little work if purchased stock, I like the Linn LP12 too soundwise but they are just way too tweaky and fussy for me. Artisan used to convert TD160 Mk1 to "Super" level with a total rehaul and different plinth but I am not sure if they still work with the TD160, that was awhile ago that I saw one. If you could stretch your budget just a little, you could grab a restored and decked out Thorens TD125 from Artisan Fidelity, they even get rid of the old sloppy suspension. From what I gather, they offer another version not shown on the website with a one inch plinth for way under 2 grand. With arm and cart you would be pushing the budget a bit I know, but one heck of a beautiful classic vintage table you would have. I know they offer new motors for them also, in addition but that would probably really break the bank...gotta leave something for a good tonearm and cartridge!
Find a Technics 1200 and look up KAB for an upgrade path. I will guarantee you these tables will go up in value. Check the KAB websight for a little history of the 1200 pretty eye opening understanding that the technology behind the drive system makes the modern audio jewelry look like something from the stone age. I have SP-25 on a custom plinth coupled with a Black Widow arm. I am currently running an Empire 2000E III and have a Shure V15 III and a Grado coming. The Empire performs way above expectations in a real low mass arm. I have less that $1,400 invested in my setup including all three cartridges.
Within this budget I would consider for myself either Nottingham or Technics. For you - I don't know.
And I actually got five years old Nottingham Spacedeck/Spacearm last year for $1350 without cartridge. Good cartridge would cost you $300-$400 new or used, many choices.
I respect the 1200 and 1210 Technics but its for the reliability more than anything. Sound wise and looks wise they just never did a thing for me, I'd take a good vintage belt drive any day. I know they have a really faithful dj following but for home hifi use I could not see ever using one personally even with the great dj "pro" appeal. An Sp10mkii now is a different story.... :)
For a newbie, I would suggest stay with the products of companies that are still in the turntable business, old or new, and that can be serviced by those companies, unless you are into advanced DIY or have a very trusted and knowledgeable repair person available to you. This is coming from an avowed and confirmed user of three turntables that no longer exist.
Lewm, of course they still exist.....otherwise you couldn't play records on them!
If you decide to go vintage, read up thoroughly and do your homework first. The Thorens TD150 has served me well for two decades. Simple, and high quality, and the stock tonearm is surprisingly good, especially compared to the Thorens TD160's which you'll see more often. I also have an Empire 208 with an SME arm that is quite lovely, especially on my large collection of mono records from the 50's and 60's.

My recommendation, however, would be a recent VPI Scout. Easy to set up, easy to own, easy to re-sell later. Lots of upgrade potential if you choose to go that route, altho the basic Scout just boogies, and not all the upgrades serve the music. I've had one of these for a number of years, and it delivers most of the audiophile goods, altho without the refinement of the big boys.

If you are reaching for the stars, for a little more money, there's the VPI Classic, often seen for around $2 grand here on Audogon. I've never owned one, but my best audio buddy has one, and I've enjoyed our late-night listening sessions. It's 10-1/2" tonearm is good enough to service very good phono cartridges, so you have a lot of upside potential, as with most VPI's.

Hope this helps!
Thanks for correcting my syntax, Viridian. I should have written that the turntables in question (that I own and use) are no longer supported by their respective manufacturers, and among those manufacturers, one (Lenco) no longer exists. This obligates me to have some DIY skills AND the support of an experienced technician (Bill Thalmann, in my case).