Denon 47F, with a 103 cartridge. No fuss, great sound, great value.
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Technics SL1200 mk2 or greater. While not my favorite, it is a set and forget system that has decent sound and can be improved in the future if you so desire. there are literally thousands for sale every day, so pick a nice one and then concentrate on your cartridge.
If not, then the thorens and luxman you mention are fine. I wouldnt pay more than about $300 for either, without cartridge and in decent condition.
I have 2 vintage tables acquired for very little money.
Sony Biotracer PS-X500, and a PS-X600. To me they are real keepers. They are complex in design but easy to set up and use. The PS-X600 I purchased from the original owner for $90 shipped to my door. I can not imagine doing much better for that price. These direct drive Sony tables were not nearly as popular as the Denon and Luxman types but were well made in the day and offer respectable performance with a good cart. Assuming you can find one outside of eBay you can usually get them much cheaper versus the Denon or Luxman tables. Depends on just how budget you want to go.
Sonographe SG-3; AR ES-1; an early LP 12; Planar 3; VPI HW 19;
I recently had the pleasure of starting to restore a friend's SG-3. In terms of its drive system, it is very similar to the AR, and it almost appears that the entire design brief was to make the best AR possible.
What I ppreciated is that the table can be balanced directly from the top of the plinth.
All the tables I mentioned are solid designs which can be bought these days very reasonably. The least fiddly one is probably the Planar 3.
Jean, You have a decided idler bias. EMTs are stratospherically high in price these days, even for examples in really nasty condition.
For much less money than Jean's #1,2, 4, and 5 choices, and for a direct-drive option, I suggest Denon DP75 or DP80. Although they have gained a lot of recognition in the last few years, the prices are still way below $1000 for the chassis'. I slightly preferred my fully serviced and updated DP80 to a fully serviced SP10 Mk2, so I sold the latter, kept the Denon. I don't necessarily endorse the lesser Denons in that series.
Well, the best vintage Turntable is that one which works. When you find a
Denon in top condition, think about it. The old Seiki from Japan normally run
like a swiss watch, but the prices are rising from year to year.
Most vintage turntables are grossly overrated (sonically), all I listened to never
moved my impression to the better, the only exception are some Micro Seiki
(but not all). Why not a modern Well Tempered Amadeus? There is definitely
worse out there (sonically) ...
Or you can try to find a Technics SP-10, they are dirt cheap normally and you
can build your own Plinth for it...
Syntax is right on.
Vintage.. anything that works well and is not overpriced.
Lenco, garrard 301, 401, Mirco Sieki.. an]ll way overpriced.
Decent Technics 1200, Denon 47F or 59L, Dual 5000
Skip most cheap Japanese with plastic plinth. they are all just mediocre.
Other great Rega P3
Stay away from ANY Turntable which needs a part, or a little fix. They never just need an easy part or fix.
Used to be one could find a $30 or less Dual which would be great. Not anymore.
If you want a good easy to use TT which will last forever, Tecchnics 1200 series.. Or a Denon 47f 59L 60L These are in the $400 range.. (or should be, with the demand, the prices are up too)
I don't know the OP's reasoning for a vintage turntable. Is it for the look to go with a vintage rig? Is it to save money? Is it the belief that everything sounded better 30+ years ago? Given that a turntable is a mechanical device, getting an old one guarantees that you'll need it worked over, at least bearing lubrication and in some cases tonearm bearing replacement. On suspended designs it may need new springs and rubber bumpers and grommets that deteriorate over time.
That said, your best bet is probably an '80s direct drive turntable, understanding that it will at least need the bearing lubed with the correct oil.
As the 5-year enthusiastic owner of a Technics SL1210 M5G, I can say that this turntable has smooth operation and long term reliability with a minimum of maintenance, mainly the bearing lubrication. However, out of the box it has great speed accuracy and low noise, but sounds rather murky. Fortunately it can be turned into a very clean, lively and dynamic turntable with a few low cost tweaks:
o Get a real good turntable mat
o Wrap the tonearm with lightweight Teflon pipe thread tape to dampen it
o Get an LPGear ZuPreme (or Sumiko) headshell
o Replace the standard feet with threaded brass cones or Vibracones sitting on Vibrapods
o Set the whole thing on a big thick butcher block cutting board
o Get the tonearm fluid damper from KABUSA.com. Don't overfill the trough.
o Put a nice MM/MI cartridge on it, such as an Audio Technica AT150MLX, Grado Reference Platinum, Goldring 10x2GX series, or Ortofon 2M Blue, Bronze, or Black. Some low output moving coil carts work well on it too, such as the Zu Audio Zu-103, the Audio Technica PV33 and others, or Denon DL-301 series, DL-304, or DL-S1.
This summaraizes what I did to mine and it takes a pretty expensive turntable to hear a difference. If you do all this you will have a compelling, quiet, dynamic turntable with good frequency extension for a few hundred dollars.
In that case, your best price/performance approach would be neither vintage nor new, but rather a recent used model in good condition that's about half what a new one would be. Such a 'table would be too new to have the issues I mentioned before. It *might* need a new belt and a spindle bearing lube, but not necessarily. Currently there are a couple of Rega Planar 3 turntables with dustcover and cartridge in the A-gon classifieds for around $450.
There's also a lightly used Rega P2 with dustcover and cartridge for just $121 over there. That would be a pretty satisfying starting rig with a minimum of fuss. The tonearm on it is worth more than that. You could put a nice cartridge and speed controller on it and still be close to your budget.
I have owned several entry-level tables in the course of my fifty plus years as a music lover. My opinion is that the VPI HW-19 III or IV is hands down the very best "entry level" table (especially the IV!) and it outperforms many more costly offerings in today's market. With a good arm and cart and careful set-up, it is a marvelous performer. VPI still supports it (important) and all the performance mods and "DIY upgrades" are well-documented.
In addition, parts from the current line-up of VPI tables can be retro-fitted into the HW-19 in many cases. This provides and incremental upgrade path to near (if not equal or better) the level of performance of today's top VPI tables.
I have to say that while I love the TD160 that I bought for a dear friend, when he bought an RP1 for a second system (same identical components,) he really fell more in love with vinyl. Not sure if it was a setup issue and the TD 160 was in great condition. I just think those Regas are great. An RP3 is a great place to start or a used P3 if that's more in the budget range.
I went thru the entire process you are currently doing. Check out Vinyl Nirvana website, they completely refurbish Thoren & AR turntables. I ordered a Thorens 125TD with a SME arm all at a reasonable price. I decided on a vintage turntable that wouldn't break the bank. I have 2 watts amps and single driver speakers. All old school and it all sounds wonderful. Check out Vinyl Nirvana
"I'm only doing this once...". I've heard that before. IMO, unless you're an expert, if you want vinyl to be as grief-free as possible, I would stick with a modern turntable, purchased from a dealer who can help you with issues that inevitably arise. I didn't read every post, so I don't know what your budget is, but I can recommend anything from Linn or Basis. If you want to spend less, the Music Hall MMF 5/7 are nice tables, but I wouldn't go any lower. I'm not a big Rega fan, but they are also very good trouble-free tables.