Was your first cartridge relatively expensive?

I'm thinking seriously about buying my first analog rig. I've never set up a turntable system before and obviously my biggest fear is breaking/damaging the cartridge.

So I've got some questions for you guys. Was your first cartridge relatively expensive? In hindsight would you have bought a cheaper one to "learn" with? Would you recommend a newbie who is sure he likes the sound of vinyl and will stick to it, to start with the best cartridge he can afford?
I think that ham-fistedness breaks cartridges much more frequently than incorrect setup. Incorrect setup might damage the LPs, but only if the tracking weight is grossly incorrect (and tracking weight is the easiest part of setup).

Incorrect alignment and VTA (the hardest parts of setup) will greatly reduce sound quality (end of side distortion and imaging) but are unlikely to result in any damage. You will waste your money on an expensive cartridge if it is not correctly aligned, but I don't think you'll damage it.

One other thing to watch out for is damaging the arm bearings while installing the cartridge and pinching up the mounting bolts. Some arms (Rega) seem relatively immune, where others (Linn) apparently can be easily damaged.

You can learn setup with a $30 cartridge, such as an audio technica AT-95, if you're worried, and have a dealer install an expensive cartridge.

If I were you I'd get the cartridge you want and just be careful, experiment and learn (and budget for a shure balance, and a mirrored protractor at the least).
The Denon DL-103 is a very fairly priced cartridge. It is also capable of giving very satisfactory sonic results. But it is not a beginners cartridge, because it can sound good only with heavy and very heavy arms. These arms are not so common nowadays, so you'll have to get a used one (not cheap) or to pay a higher price for a new one.
Before you jump onto the TT setup, asked youself these questions first:
1.) Do I have enough LPs to appreciate analog setup?
2.) Do I have adequate enviroment to have TT setup?
3.) Am I willing to settle for best quality or better than cheap CD quality?
4.) Am I willing to spend time to change LP vs remote control from CD player?
5.) Am I careful enough not to damage the needle?
6.) Do I have time to setup the TT properly? Do I have to for adjustments every few weeks?
7.) Are the LPs original recording or digital re-mastered?
8.) What LP setup have you heard?
9.) What music you listen?
10.) MC or MM?
11.) What's your budget? How would you go about spending it for cartridge, tonearm, TT, phono preamp, step up device?

It is more complicated to make the decision than you think : (
thanks for the posting...

i'm new bee...

i got a linn lp12 with ekos/arkiv/lingo..etc used.@ usd 5k. .. but never got to set up cos was worry as i might screw up... so i went to purchase a lower end ..just to get familar with the use.

yes.. i hv more than 300 lp before gettting my tt... and now make do with my vtl pre with phono just to start off before setting up my lp12.

hv fun..

Howie don't let S23chang's comments get you down. It's not that big of a deal to get into analog. Sure it's more complex than digital, but it's fun too and the rewards are well worth it.

I would start with something like a Dynavector 10x5 or 20X. Not to expensive, but really good sound and if you love it you can move up later. I jumped into analog with a 10x5 and Nottingham Horizon table and had little trouble mounting the cartridge and getting the table setup right away. I would just stick with a fairly simple setup like the VPI Scout or Nottingham Horizon. You'll find a lot of great help right here on Audiogon to get you through your setup, just don't expect instant glory, it may take a little time and energy to understand what it takes to get your particular rig sounding right.
Dear Howie: +++++ " I'm thinking seriously about buying my first analog rig. " +++++

Ok, take your money for that analog rig and look/find a trusty dealer where you can buy it and where that dealer do the set-up for you. That's all.

Welcome aboard!!!!

Regards and enjoy the music.
I was asking the same question a year ago with little or no vinyl but a passion for the stuff and a need to cleanse myself of that digital grunge! I spent $250 on a Denon 103R and $2000 on a Scoutmaster, and boat loads on records. I guess my personal rule of thumb is spend 10-20% of the cost of the turntable on the cartridge. I'm considering something better now though, a year on. Maybe a Shelter 901, which would be pushing 50% of what I've put into analog this year.

Cheers, Nick.
one thing nobody's mentioned yet: in terms of sound the table is most important, followed by the arm, followed by the cartridge;
so you should spend as much of your budget as possible on the first two - you'll have to replace cartridges regularly anyway down the road (conventional wisdom is that they last about 1500 hours) and you can move up cartridge-wise at those points

and Raul is right, any decent TT dealer will set things up for you for no extra charge when you buy a cartridge. further, dealers will give you generous credit for trading in your used cartridge. I've never messed with my TT a bit, but I sure enjoy it!
I was told by my dealer and others that the list of importance goes. 1.cartridge 2.phono stage 3.arm 4.table

I have recently upgraded from an entry level setup to something that is far more expensive, and while the new rig sounds better, the big jump is going from only having digital to haveing an entry level turntable.
Ejlif, no offense, but I'd find another dealer. I've been playing records for a lot longer than 50 years and the table itself is by far the most important element. People thought Ivor Tiefenbrun (Linn Sondek) was crazy when he propounded this idea in the 70s. He wasn't.
First cartridge after 20 years was a Grado Green @ $60. It ran on an old Sansui table and sounded great. I upgraded modestly to a NAD533 and now use a Denon DL-110 that I got used for $85. Analog doesn't have to cost $$$. For the small ammount of money I am spending I am getting much more enjoyment from my table than from CD ... and now I building a Hagerman Bugle phono pre - never thought I would be doing that! And this is much much fun.
Howie, from what you've described elsewhere about your objectives, I'd encourage you to consider a first cartridge in the $500-$900 price range. Below that, I don't think you'll get a good sense of what your vinyl playback can sound like in your system. And above that an accident will be a really painful experience. As others have pointed out already, the cartridge will wear out and have to be replaced at some point and you can always upgrade at that point (or before).

There is definitely a learning curve with vinyl playback, both as to set up and as to handling the LPs and the hardware. Cartridges are very robust critters, but most of us have destroyed a cantilever by accident somewhere along the line.

In the price range I've suggested there are a number of cartridges that will perform very well, the choice depending on what tonearm you end up getting and with due consideration to your listening priorities.

If budget becomes an issue, I would definitely opt for spending even less on a cartridge in order to spend more on the phono stage. A big mistake many people make is to spend too little on the phono stage. In my experience, the phono stage is critical to a good vinyl front end.
12-29-05: Dazzdax
The Denon DL-103 is a very fairly priced cartridge. It is also capable of giving very satisfactory sonic results. But it is not a beginners cartridge, because it can sound good only with heavy and very heavy arms.
This is not true.
The Denon 103 works very well in most quality medium mass arms. It sounds very good in my Graham (effective mass 11g) and works in just as well in SME, Rega and VPI medium mass arms - to name a few. Denon quotes a very low compliance, but this is dynamic compliance at 100hz. Static compliance at 10hz is significantly higher. In my Graham arm the 103R has lateral/vertical resonant frequencies of 10/12Hz respectively. This is pretty much ideal.
"I was told by my dealer and others that the list of importance goes. 1.cartridge 2.phono stage 3.arm 4.table"

I would list priorities very differently than your dealer:
1) Table 2) arm 3) cartridge 4) phono stage.

Your table and arm determine how well your cartridge can do its job - how much music it can get from the grove. And the phono stage can never give you more music by itself, only relay (and not mess up) what it gets from the table/arm/cartridge.
Howie, I strongly agree with Raul about getting a dealer to mount the cartridge and set up your table. Kids (and newbies), don't try this it home. Sure you can get your table to make sound, but you want it to sound its best. It really takes considerable experience to do this properly. Many here have that experience, probably many more of us think we do but in reality don’t .
Thanks for the comments guys, I hope this thread will help other newbies as well.

I do not plan to buy locally as I do not like the dealer that sell the vinyl products I'm interested in. He'll rip me off enough to buy quite a few cartridges to play around with.

I do plan to spending time learning about things. I'm an avid reader of message boards. :D
It's a bit disheartening to know that a cartridge needs to be replaced about 1500 hours or so. Especially considering the fact that it takes about couple hundred hours of breakin.

So most of you didn't break your first cartridge or damage it because of your newbiness?
My experience with cartridges is very different. I find that I typically use a cartridge for 4 or more years before replacing, and that's listening almost every day. So, that's 3,500 - 4,500 hours for me. I've been doing this for 30 years, and my experience has been pretty consistent over that time. My current cartridge probably has 2,000 hours on it and I can't tell any degradation so far.
Dear Howie: +++++ " It's a bit disheartening to know that a cartridge needs to be replaced about 1500 hours or so. " +++++

Who told you that. Like Rushton post: 4K hours is an average if you take care about. Now, 4K hours playing 2 hours every single day give you around 5.4 years before you have to retip that cartridge, but I'm sure that before that time( a lot before ) you already change that cartridge for a better one. So, you don't have to worried about.

Howie, you are worried how you will finish your analog adventure before you even start it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Erratum: most analog music comes from record GROOVES, comparatively little from groves.
Yes! but so was my foray into analog, I bought an inexpensive setup with a cartridge already installed the MMF-5 from Music Hall. I find it to be quite satisfying, for my needs. I also bought an inexpensive but fabulous sounding phono stage. A Redgum from Australia with surprisingly good results. (One of our Audiogon dealers Quest for Sound carries them) But if your really going to make a serious investment of money and time and all the other commitments that serious analog carries, I would listen to Rushton. I have heard his setup several times and can attest that it is undoubtedly amongst the finest you can get. He knows from what he speaks.
My take.
1.) Do I have enough LPs to appreciate analog setup?
2.) Do I have adequate enviroment to have TT setup?
3.) Am I willing to settle for best quality or better than cheap CD quality?
4.) Am I willing to spend time to change LP vs remote control from CD player?
5.) Am I careful enough not to damage the needle?
6.) Do I have time to setup the TT properly? Do I have to for adjustments every few weeks?
7.) Are the LPs original recording or digital re-mastered?
8.) What LP setup have you heard?
9.) What music you listen?
10.) MC or MM?
11.) What's your budget? How would you go about spending it for cartridge, tonearm, TT, phono preamp, step up device?

Ahhhh, you make it sound like the end of the world bro! It is not as difficult as that. Besides, the rewards are great! As for remote control, is that really an issue? Or laziness? What? Tell me.

6.) Do I have time to setup the TT properly? Do I have to for adjustments every few weeks?

Mmmm, if you have a TT set up and do exactly this at that frequency, all I can say is that I am sorry. Something is really off from your rig.

1.) Do I have enough LPs to appreciate analog setup?
2.) Do I have adequate enviroment to have TT setup?
3.) Am I willing to settle for best quality or better than cheap CD quality?
As for #1, there's a place called Records Store. On line or off line. Take your pick.
As for#2 What is an "adequate" environment to set up a TT? Away from railroad tracks, bus station, earthquake prone areas, boats, moving vehicles, land mines, pedestrian crossings, etc? Bro, this is a matter of common sense isn't it?
As for #3, All I can say is that different strokes for different folks.

I was told by my dealer and others that the list of importance goes. 1.cartridge 2.phono stage 3.arm 4.table

Errrr....not true! If you have a bad table, no matter how much you spend on cartridge and arm, you will not get your money's worth. Why not? Because the ability of the table to provide an accurate speed, immunity to external vibration, and at least some protection from airborne EMI(please insert phono stage here!)and power source interference will play a very big part on how your LP will sound. Ever wonder why most LP lovers prefer DC motors than AC? Or better yet, battery powered?

Please, do your research! You will find that if you correspond to people that really knows analog (Raul who posted above is one!) it is table first. Because the arm and the cartridge can easily be upgraded when the time permits to match and compliment your table of choice.

The bottom line is, do not get sidetrack from negative inputs here. As I said, it is not as hard or complicated to enjoy vinyl. It just depends on how you want to attack setting up your rig from your budget stand point.

In response to Amandarae,
#1) Sure there are record stores and online stores, do they have the music you like? If you are a serious classical listener, searching for the right recording you want is different from just buying a pop music from the store.
#2) Is your stand solid? Is your floor solid? Is your floor leveled? do you have kids? How far is your TT setup away from your speakers? Is your AC power stable? Do you have dust problem?... list can go on. Sure it is common sense, but do you think about it when you setup your first turntable?

#3) Spend your dolloar wisely. It's not able which parts to get, rather, which combo to get that will satisfy you when compared to digital play back.

As for newbies, all these are suggestions for you to enjoy the best TT up possible.

Nothing is the end of the world and you don't need to care and just play the music.

Have a happy new year!
Here is my opinion based on my experiences over the last several years.

I remember a few years back that a similar question was asked. "should a vinyl newbie start with a simpler/cheaper table or not?" I also remember a response from TWL that really changed my thinking on this. His reply was that this particular newbie should buy the best table/arm/cartridge combo that he could because this would give the greatest reward for the work in setting things up. The reasoning was that the basics of turntable/arm/cartridge setup are the same no matter what you start with. If you buy a rig that is really going to give you great performance you will be less likely to go round and round with upgrades latter. I didn't follow his advice but I have different goals than just listening to my LP's. I would also say that some of the lower-end analog components can hinder the process of learning how to set things up because they don't offer the ability to adjust certain parameters. I personally can't understand owning an analog rig without knowing how to set up every part of it, physical limitations aside here.

So that is my advice to Howie. Get the best table you can afford. Then get the best phono stage you can afford. Then get the best arm you can afford. Then, if you have any change left, get the best cartridge you can afford. It is easy to upgrade arms and cartridges latter.

Tables for the most part are straight forward to setup, just depends on if you want suspended or non-suspended. This is the foundation for analog playback. A modest arm and cartridge will sound much better on a well implemented and sited table than on a lesser table.

The phono stage can be the bottle neck that keeps the sound from getting to your speakers. A good one will let you hear the changes in adjustments and also let you hear where you need to focus on changes. Make sure you can play both MM and MC cartridges.

You could start with a fairly inexpensive arm. There are many out there but you'll have to wade through mounting compatability and ease of adjustments. For example, a Rega based arm won't have VTA adjustment but there are some good products that can provide that capability. If you go with a lesser arm I would recommend checking out it's resale value.

While I do like the Denon 103R, I'm not sure if it is a good cartridge to start with depending on your goals. If you just want to set things up and listen then this is a good choice. The issue I have with this cartridge is that it is pretty forgiving as far as setup goes so it can actually block you from learning what small changes in VTA and azimuth make.

Don't forget that good, effective cleaning equipment and techniques is also essential to get the most from your LP's.
Well said, Dan_ed! I like your summary.
Anyone who says that it doesn't take a lot of time and work (not to mention money) to get a vinyl playback system optimally set up is kidding themselves and others. But so what? The work itself can be technically interesting and enjoyable. There is more to life than listening to music.

I am reminded of the story of two technicians who retired from the National Bureau of Standards where they had maintained the very complex mechanical clocks that were used to keep time before atomic decay clocks were adopted. Of course the atomic clocks were much better than the mechanical ones, but these two guys decided, as a hobby, to see how far they could go with the old obsolete technology. They succeded in making clocks that, without needing massive piers for a stable base, were about ten times better than the best clocks that the government ever had. In some respects the development and implementation of vinyl playback hardware is a challenge similar to the clock project, and can be enjoyable rather than a chore.
It is all about care as Eldartford illustrates. Warmth over coldness ... flipping a CD into a drawer is abrubt aka cold whereas brushing a record, carefully placing it on the table, etc, is physicall motion which feedsback ... treating the 'music' as a treasure. For me, it is relaxing to go thru these motions rather than tedious.

This may seems tedious to someone who just wants to 'hear some music' and wants to hear it without pops and clicks, but on second thought there is an urge for caring there as well ... cd stoplight pens, damping pads or rings.

for me, there is no argument that analog sounds better, so who cares about best environment, or dust, etc. these things can be overcome.
Okay, thanks to the advice that you guys gave, I think I am going to pursue this further. This might belong in another thread, but I've been looking at two analog rigs, one based around the VPI Scoutmaster w/Sig arm and other based on a Teres 160 w/Morch DP6. For some reason I couldn't find any comparisons on here, so I assume it might be a dangerous topic or something.

Anyhow, from what I've read, the Teres does seem to be the better table or at least the DP6 is the better arm. But I can basically get the Scoutmaster w/Sig arm, a Sumiko Blackbird, and a $800-1K phono stage for the same price as the Teres 160 w/Morch DP6. So the Teres rig would cost me almost $2K more. And even if I can afford the extra $2K, would I not get better performance by putting it into a better cart or phonostage? Any thoughts?
The Scoutmaster is an excellent choice, just go listen to one for yourself and see if you really enjoy what you are hearing. If I could do it all over again (analog that is) I would just listen to a few systems in some local stores, bring a pile of my LPs and really not one of them should let you down unless the record is worn. If it does than the system isn't worth it period. Start your search again, eventually you'll hit audio nirvana. If it costs you a little more than save your bucks and don't skimp. On the flipside it may not cost you much at all.
A good shop should have plenty of tables to listen to. Start cheap, listen and then move up. Once you hear their "best" then go back and have another listen to the entry level player. You will then hear the differences.
Happy hunting.
Howie, be cautious about what you read: from me or anyone else. We're all victims of what we've had the opportunity to hear (or not hear) and under what conditions. In my case, I've heard the Scoutmaster extensively and in a system that is very well set-up and that I know very well. I've never heard the Teres.

So, I can't offer an informed comparison of the sound of the two tables, all I can offer is a comparison of what I hear with the Scoutmaster with Shelter 510 or Denon 103 cartridges in Slipknot1's system versus what I hear in my own system with Walker Audio Proscenium turntable and Magic Diamond cartridge. I could easily live with the Scoutmaster: what it does well syncs very nicely with my listening priorities.
gee, I dunno guys, I have to give a dissenting opinion here. My advice would be to get the cheapest stuff possible (used) within a given level of decency. No plastic TT, and an arm that at least allows VTA adjustment. For example I started with a Thorens TD165 for $100, stock arm, and a $40 Ortofon cartridge. Oh, and a $15 Radio Shack phono stage about the size of an Altoids box, battery powered.

Damn but that sounded good. Thick, if you take my meaning, compared to my $3000 digital player. Sure it wasn't perfect, but at the price point I didn't expect it to be.

Hence, I was not disappointed, I was intregued. Now, thousands of dollars and many upgrades down the road I am in hog heaven.

On the other hand, I know guys who plunked down serious ching on VPI Scouts, hot rodded arms, carts, and high buck preamps and they went, 'yeah, this is nice' but it didn't infect them like my $200 setup infected me.
Gadfly: to be fair I'm not sure whether analog is better than digital. These are two different modalities so comparing them is like comparing apples with pears. I think both have their strengths and weaknesses. It is also not very logical to strive for an "analog like sound" in digital or an "digital like sound" in analog. But this discussion belongs to another section (of the forum).
I, too, am unable to offer an informed comparison between those two tables, though I believe member Oakiris has the Teres/Mørch combination you've mentioned; perhaps she'll chime in. I just bought a Teres 160 and have it almost running (the motor I received seems to have been damaged during transit, so I'm waiting for a replacement), though I'll be using it with an Origin Live 250 arm. (I can get back to you on how this setup sounds in a month or two.)

I chose the Teres after some dealer auditions (for what that's worth) of both the GyroDec SE and the VPI Scout (*not* the Scoutmaster, which I haven't heard). I thought the Scout, at least in the context of the system I heard it in (which I don't recall at this point except that speakers/electronics were fairly "budget," and that the table included VPI arm and Grado Platinum or Sonata), was underwhelming. The Michell, in a far more expensive setup (including SME V arm) was impressive. I've read a handful of claims that the Teres 150/160 tables sounded much better than the GyroDecs they replaced in their systems. Take all this with the usual grains of salt, of course--my ears, my tastes, my experiences, etc. Rushton's point is a good one.

To answer your original question, I think that, no matter which table you decide on, purchasing a cheap cartridge (e.g., Grado black) to learn how to set it up is a wise move. You won't feel so bad if you bend a $40 cantilever. Such a cartridge won't be as sensitive as some for, say, changes in VTA, but will at least give you the chance to learn how to fiddle with the various settings.

I might take up your idea of getting a Grado Black just to try things out and keep use it when I need to break in analog gear in the future. I would love to hear comments about the Teres 160. I'm still undecided.
Well, here I am chiming in. :-)

I really love my Teres 160/Moerch DP6/Zyx R100H system. I have not heard the VPI Scoutmaster so can make no comparison between the two tables, but have read posts by a lot of happy VPI owners, so I imagine either table would please you. For me, the Teres is a work of art, and having to do some of the finishing seems to make it more of a personal choice and more personally satisfying. Oh, and it sounds wonderful, too!

When I first began researching getting back into vinyl, I found it a bit intimidating - back when I was growing up, you just bought a stereo, plugged it in and threw on the record, there was no adjusting, set up, record cleaning, etc.. But, it really is a lot easier than it sounds and, to me, well worth the effort. My budget changed a lot - first I only wanted to spend $1000 for everything, but then decided to get the best equipment I could afford, so I spent a lot more than that. I have since bought new speakers, a tube amp, etc., etc., but have no plans - or needs - to change my turntable or the related components of my vinyl set up. Someday I am sure I will replace the cartridge, but I am very content now.

I had/have an extensive vinyl collection, since that was what there was when I was growing up, but switched to CDs, like so many others, when they became the software of choice - digital was supposed to be the "be all and end all" for music. I still have lots of CDs and will continue to buy them, but I love vinyl and it is wonderful to have the choice of media.

Also, there may be fellow Audiogon members in your area who have one of the turntables you are interested in and would be willing to have you stop by for an audition. Enjoy the research and I hope you find a vinyl set up that suits your needs and budget. The end result, of course, will be decided by your ears.

I like pears better than apples. I like what I like over things that I like less. I am not universally saying that analog is better ... but for me, I like it better.

I have a DL-110 hanging off a OEM RB250 screwed down to a NAD533. I like the sound of that better than my NAD cdp that also does HDCD.

The CDP is really good, resolves well, very vibrant, but the Table is more enveloping, fun, draws me in much more that the CDP.

I think it is a good thing to strive for that 'analog sound' in digital as this sounds better ... to me. Hey why do they always say they are striving to recreate that analog sound ... could it be ... that it reallys does ... sound better.