Vinyl newbie - have a few questions

Ok, I'm fairly new to vinyl. I have a few items I'd like some advice on.

My vinyl system is a small collection of hand-me-downs:
MacIntosh Mac1700 receiver
A/D/S L500 2-ways
and the recent addition, Denon DP-52F w/ Ortofon OM-3e

I realy like the over-all sound, and am really impressed with how dynamic instruments are compared to CD. I love how the brushes on drums sound like brushes instead of static like on most CD remasters. However, I have a couple gripes and need some direction in working them out.

I suppose I should mention that a majority of my listening is jazz, mixed with classic rock. Right now my personal collection is probably only 30 discs, but with my father's neglected collection I have three or four hundred within a couple minutes drive from my house.

First of all, is the background noise. I just can't seem to get it completely black behind the music. I must say, it's not much noise, but I notice it; even when other's don't.

Second, on some stereo recordings the mid-range seems a little "compressed" to me. Even my wife has noticed that it just isn't as dynamic in the mids as the rest of the range. However, this seems to only occur on stereo discs, when I play mono's I get a really sweet full-range.

Third, I just need advise on cleaning albums. I'm just using my discwasher from 1980-whatever while hunting through boxes at my dad's for his Zerostat. Any suggestions for cleaning regimens that don't include dropping a thousand dollars for a RCM would be appreciated.

So I guess the crux of my inquiry would be; where am I going to get the most bang for my buck in improvements?

I appreciate any input you can give me.

Cleaning- I too recently got back into vinyl. Was using the old Discwasher pad until I started researching and found numerous recommendations for Disc Doctor products. I purchased 2 of their brushes along with a quart of their Miracle Record Cleaner. The results are outstanding. Other people will disagree but in my regimen I can get the LP as clean as if I used an RCM. It will also lower the noise.

Next I would look into a phono stage. This might help the compressed sound you refer to. Can also help with backgroung noise.

If you're real ambitious, get aftermarket sleeves to put the nice clean LPs into.

Some LPs just won't be completely quiet, even after rigorous cleaning.

For me it's worth the time and effort, I listen to more vinyl now than CD, and enjoy the music that much more.
If you don't use an RCM you're just leaving much of the grunge on the record.

RCMs don't have to cost thousands. Nitty Gritty has one for $325.
You don't say what kind of noise you hear. If it is a general hiss it can be on the original tape from which the records were pressed. OR it can be a poor quality phono stage, OR the phono stage might have inadequate gain to amplify the signal from the cartridge. If the noise to which you refer is dirt on the record, you need a record cleaning machine and a good record cleaning fluid. You mention that the mids seem too layed back. You also say that you like the sound of cymbals on vinyl. It is possible that the cartridge is not set properly for vertical tracking angle. Too much angle between the cartridge and the record surface will yield very lively highs but less than present mids. If you do not have an adjustment for VTA on your tonearm, sometimes you can use a shim between the cartridge and the headshell to change VTA. Having fun yet? It is confusing at first, but if you get into it enough, vinyl is a glorious mystery that is never quite resolved but yields the best audio sound available.
I had the same issue with noise when I rediscovered vinyl...and to some extent still do. Some records are clean and amazingly quiet, while others, even brand new have some crackle and pop.

To some extent I have learned to live with it. The noise was greatly reduced when I changed cartridges - I went from a benz mc20e2 to a benz micro ACE high output. The earlier cartridge was too detailed and crisp for it's own good and really accentuated the ticks and crackling on a record. Unfortunately I can't recommend a cartridge, because I haven't really listenend to much outside my 2 benz cartridges. I CAN say that the cartridge made a difference. Purchasingn a Record Cleaning Machine also helped.
9-2-4 : I strongly suspect that deep record cleaning such as Steam Cleaning as outlined in a thread below may be a real assistance. A Record Cleaning Machine (RCM) is also something to consider.

Since you are using used vinyl, I also suspect former owner abuse that can increase vinyl noise that is discouraging to a newbie or and 'ol hand like me. Remember, LPs are not CDs and that great record care certianly reduces noise. Read up a-bit and steam clean , drying with a micro fiber cloth . Use a good record cleaner home brew or commerical and a very good scrubing brush ( like VPI). If that process impoves the noise for you , all to the good. From that point you can read on and start to make some decisions about those "treasures" up the road at Pop's place. All the best.
Unfortunetly, once a record is scratched it can not be repaired. Noise can also be caused by dust or grunge in the grooves of the disc. I use a Nitty Gritty Record Doctor III. $299.00 at Audio Advisor. You need to get that stuff off the disc, not just smear it around. It is the least expensive of the effective machines. I have owned it for a few years and it works great. As far as solvent,save your money for music and use Windex Glass Plus or mix one part alcohol (clear, no additives) and one part mineral water, and a few drops of Joy. This will give you a clean disc,but won't help with scratches. Seperate your quiet discs from your noisy ones. Some day you may want to go back and listen to the noiser discs for one reason or another. What makes records better than CDs is the soundstage, dynamics, and the removal of those cloudy vails that seem to cover the music on our CDs. Records are more trouble to play but for serious listening a scratch free quiet record is the best. I hope this helps. Enjoy!
Alcohol will do nothing in regards to cleaning vinyl records.

It accelerates drying time.

Regarding Windex, that's simply bad information.

Joy will loosen oils, grease, gunk, etc. due to the surfactant in the formula. I would, however, be wary of the dye and perfume it contains. They serve no purpose in vinyl cleaning and can have no positive effect.
Yes Windex Glass Plus. It does a graet job. Also I meant to write distilled water not mineral water. Miniral water would leave deposits.
Oops, I checked the label and glass plus is not made by Windex. But regular Windex works as well. You don't have to spend a fortune on solvents. As long as it is a gentle cleaner that does not leave deposits.
As for bad information. I am 62 years old and have been cleaning records for about 40 years and still play my very old records (which still sound good). Don't buy in to some of the baloney thats floating around. Surfactant..... thats a good one!
Victor, you might be surprised to discover that the 'Joy' you recommended in your mix does, indeed, contain surfactants and surface tension modifiers. Windex like products also contain ammonia and dyes which are not necessarily good for vinyl surfaces. The methanol serves not purpose than to accelerate the rate at which the liquids evaporate, without leaving a residue, it is hoped.
I might be tempted to modify your formula to a bit of 'Joy' added to distilled water and then a good steam and rinse with distilled water.
Most good cleaning agents have surfactants in them and rinse agents have surface tension modifiers in them.

respectfully, Bob P.
Ok. I picked up the steam cleaner from Walgreens and am whipping up some cleaning solution in the lab this afternoon. I'll clean several of the old albums before I head out to the caucus tonight. Also grabbed a magic eraser to clean the stylus.

We'll see how that works; maybe that alone will open up the sound a bit. That being at least addressed for now, if not resolved; I'd really like to see about my less than stellar mid-range response.

I'll check the VTA tonight and see if shimming it improves things at all.

Looking around it appears that the cartridge I have is definitely on the budget end of the spectrum. Getting a bit ahead of things; does anyone have some suggestions for reasonably priced (~$100) MM cartridges that would fit my set-up/music tastes? Would this be the best place to start in improving things?

I have seen mention of record clamps and upgraded pads, which seem to be in the same neighborhood as far as cost. How are those items going to compare as far as improvement vs. cost?
Use Disc Doctor, follow the directions and you WILL NOT leave grunge on the LPs. IMHO, RCMs are a waste of money.

If you've got a few truly grungy LP use a steamer to loosen the crud, rinse real good and then do the Disc Doctor thang.

9-2-4 : Be mindful that water is important ,distilled is very important but Peak Battery Water is better. Find a gentle scrub brush. I've noted a few inexpensive back brushes @ the Dollar Store that show promice for the buget minded. Scrub is circles and allow your cleaning solution to "soak" in the groves a few moments before steaming off. Wipe off, repeat and steam off ALL record cleaning solution. Wipe off with a micro cloth in a circular motion and allow to air dry in a plastic dish rack. De-mag if you have a zero-stat or just let the Lps rest for an hour(optional). Best to you
The speakers you have are a bit laid back in the midrange and are clean on the top but a hair bright.