What Turntable to buy under $600 ?

I am just beginning the search for a quality used TT priced under $600. I have been looking at Sota-saphires, VPI, Dual. My experience in this area is poor; I have B&K ST-202 amp w/Pro 10MC pre-amp and Alon II speakers. I listen to jazz, blues, and some rock. I am looking for a TT that can provide quality sound that doesn't require finicky set-ups.
I'm afraid all turntables require finicky setups, or else you're wasting your money on the cartridge. A well aligned and balanced cartridge will sound way better than one that is simply bolted to the arm.

What varies is that some turntables you setup one (finicky) then listen to again and again with little or no adjustment, where others require more frequent resetting.

My rega planar 3 will go years without adjustments, and I use a moving magnet cartridge with a replaceable stylus, so I don't have to reset the cartridge when the stylus wears out.

So, having got that out of the way I'd recommend a rega p3 with a rega or goldring 1000 series cartridge. The goldrings allow you to move up the range by fitting a more expensive stylus if you ever feel the need and the goldring 1042 (top level) holds its own against anything else I've heard in its price range. I've also heard that Denon Dl110 high output MCs work well in the Rega.

The P3 you'll get used on Agon for around $400. I would then take it to a reputable dealer and have the turntable setup and a cartridge fitted. You should then be good to go. You can do the setup yourself with a protractor, but take time as it makes a world of difference. I'd recommend the mirrored protractor from turntablebasics.com.

If you get a used Rega check the oil level in the bearing and clean and refill if necessary (with hypoid gear oil 80w) as many older regas can run dry.
second P3 for ease of setup although the arm is pedestrian when stock.....

a new technics 1200 by kab is a good alternative at 625 and may outlast you.......
I offer the third vote for a used Rega P3. But I disagree strongly that the RB 300 is a "pedestrian" arm. In fact, considering its price range, it is just the opposite.
Someone is selling an alignment disk here at audiogon for about $10 that looks like all you need for set up. Its listed in analog under 'table' and is called 'once'. Think I will be ordering one myself. Shipping is included which is good because its coming from Australia.
Fiddling with the setup is part of vinyl, but usually once its set you can forget at least for a while.
Agree with postings above about the Rega... and think that the RB300 is definitely a best buy--why else do you see it on other much more expensive tables?

Would probably couple it with something in the Grado line... probably at the low end (new to vinyl might increase the risk of damaging a cartridge until you "get the hang of it")--easy enough to move up later.

The GEODISC is an easy alignment tool that pops up every once in a while used. Put it on the platter, point "line AB" at the pivot point and it provides an overhang and alignment for you that's a good place to start. I'd also take some of that money and invest in a cheap balance (for setting the downforce) and a bubble level (buy it at a hardware store, they break in faster than the audio versions), and some way to clean your vinyl.

Then sit back and enjoy.
A P3 is hard to beat at this price point. For an absolutely no-worries experience, consider using a Rega cartridge. Rega cartridges and tonearms feature a three point mounting system so you don't have to worry about alignment. Granted, there are better sounding cartridges than the Regas for the same money, but the Rega cartridges aren't bad, and if you hate to fiddle, they're the way to go.
Based on the majority, the Rega P3 is a top choice. What about the Sota's or VPI models under $600? If I get these set-up at a dealer do they require frequent adjustments?
stock rb300 is pedestrian....rb300 with silver wire and a quality heavyweight (michell, others) moves it into another category....AND defeating the spring loaded VTF and using dynamic balancing helps, too!

You're right, the rb300 is somewhat pedestrian out of the box, but it's a good value and I thought we were trying to keep to a price point. At $600 for the rig there are tradeoffs that had to be made...and walking instead of riding might be one of them.
DvdGreco. While I agree the P3 is an easy table to set up and offers a no-worries experience, it is at best a 'beginners' table not really as capable as many people claim.

The Rega arms are fair (better than the Rega turntables) but again, vastly over rated and even when rewired and modified, marginal performers at best.

If you can get a nice VPI HW in your price range you should. An HW 19 is IMHO a table that can produce the goods.

What about sota TT? Like SOTA Sapphire with Sumiko Premier FT-3 arm
I'd just like to add a dissenting opinion into the mix: You could consider a KAB modified Technics SL-1200mk2 (or mk3,4,5) with a tonearm damper and external power supply (see www.kabusa.com). You can get a gently used SL-1200mk2 and do the modifications yourself. I am using mine with a high output MC Denon DL-160 cart - reports on the net suggest that a Denon DL-103 is an even better match (but low output and hence not for me). I have owned a Rega Planar 3, but I prefer the Technics. A very nice non-finicky feature is an on-the-fly tonearm height (VTA) adjustment.

Good luck with your search!

- Harald
Dvdgreko. I have not owned a SOTA Sapphire or Sumiko Premier FT-3 arm, but I have heard the combination is good from a number or reputable (?) posters and I have no doubt in my mind it is substantially better than a P3. If you can get said table in good condition for in your price range, go for it.

Note, for the price an OEM P2 or P3 (Moth, Nad etc.) is hard to beat.

Note2. When purchasing used, try and buy from somebody that knows the game. I have bought tables where the seller shipped with the platter in situ, destroying the bearing.

A number of posters like idler wheel and direct drive tables. I have no intention to annoy these folks but I would suggest you stay well away from them. IMHO they are not really suitable for anything other than broadcast and DJ duties.

I agree with Harhau - in this price range nothing OBJECTIVELY beats the specs of a 1200 in regards to speed accuracy/stability, and wow/flutter, nor is anything less finicky. And the KAB modded Ortofon 40 is a killer budget cartridge - with no setup needed - that's right ZERO setup. See here:


The KAB website offers their take on why the 1200 is in a different league than cheaper belt drive tables. You can decide for yourself, but it's worth taking a look at their reasoning.

I have a higher end VPI/SME setup, and I've often considered going back to a DD such as the Technics SP10.
If a table is suitable for broadcast and DJ duties would it not be already some way towards the goal of good sound reproduction? Why? Given that idler-wheel drives were ignored with the rise of the Linn LP 12 and never had great arms developed for them,what if someone decided to put the same amount of R&D into developing good arms on idler wheel turntables.What if belt-drives still can't get any kind of speed stability,even today and are an outmoded form of science for use in a turntable,give me 331/3RPM or nothing? Rega Planar 3's also hardly ever seem to run on speed.
>>If a table is suitable for broadcast and DJ duties would it not be already some way towards the goal of good sound reproduction?<<

Faulty logic. These tables were originally designed for bull work, heavy duty use, and durability not superior sonics. Hope that helps you understand.
Awesome responses thus far! My current TT is a Technics direct drive SL-205 with stock S-shaped tonearm and Audi technica AT 440ML cartridge with no set-up performed. Should I invest in a professional set-up or just bite the bullet and buy a used P3 or SOTA?
Okay, what are your recommendations?
I second Stanhifi. If idler wheels had sonic merit they would be readily available now. It is not mere coincidence that the all audiophile table are belt driven. The best audiophile turntables are belt driven because at our current level of technology belt drives provides better sound than any (and all) other turntable technologies.
Stanhifi,You did not cease listening to the radio because of the logic involved?I believe that you can only get about 17.5Khz top frequency limit in broadcast F.M and so what you would have actually heard was not even up to CD standard.This though is no reflection on the turntables used.
Rega P3's are often known to run about 1% fast. I find it kind of hilarious that the same people who claim they can hear unmeasurable "sonics" and "inner detail" are also the first to explain away that you can't hear a 1% speed difference. Or that this does not represent a lapse in engineering care.

Rega, of course, does not publish any measurements as far as speed, wow and flutter, or rumble for the P3 (or at least they didn't used to.) They want you to trust in "sonics".

Here's a reprint from a 1977 Gramaphone Magazine (UK) review of the Technics SP10:

"Insulation against outside vibrations or acoustic feedback was excellent. I tried repeating the loading demonstrations I had witnessed in Japan and elsewhere with this machine, of pressing down hard on a record with a Watts Preener or similar cleaning pad, and was again astonished to find that the speed remained true. Therefore a Dust Bug or extra heavy pickup would simply have no effect whatsoever on speed. Since the stroboscope in this machine, however superbly designed, is simply giving a reassuring indication that the platter rotation speed is in agreement with the quartz crystal derived drive, I felt it necessary to check with a separate stroboscope and our (hopefully accurate) mains supply. The result was complete agreement.

Measured drift was virtually zero and wow and flutter was so low, about 0.04 % peak weighted DIN, that I became persuaded that I was merely measuring the amount recorded on my test discs. Subsequently Roger Furness, of the UK agents for Technics, was kind enough to let me have a couple of lacquer test records specially cut to contain lower levels of inherent wow and flutter than is normally attainable. With these I found the SP10 Mk II to produce no more than 0.025% peak. Similarly for rumble measurements I tried all the usual test records and, though the lowest reading obtained was -48dB unweighted, this too was at the lowest limit of the discs' capability. As for mechanical noise, this turntable can best be described as silent: even with an ear close to the unit there is no audible running noise. I know of no unit which can beat this one for silent running."

Think a Rega P3 can match this? Or that it's inferior in all MEASURABLE aspects, yet for some mysterious reason sounds better? Then buy one.
Right,I guess I have 2 things to answer.Firstly as far as the Rega speed issue goes,they are aware of it and there is a little published fix for it that is Rega's official response.I have posted it before and it involves cleaning and replacement of the old oil with 2 DROPS ONLY of 80w/90 gear oil.The second cure is the tape fix around the outer edge of the sub-platter-both fixes I have posted before on this forum.I use the second and it works great.Next there is a thread on this forum that is 2,416 posts long about why idler-wheel drives "kill" belts.Please do some reading here as Jean explains it much better than I can.Suffice to say I am going to build a turntable.
Reread the post people. Under $600 (that must include a cartridge, or at least a new stylus if buying used). Not finicky, simple to setup.

I recommended the P3 because I own one, and properly setup it sounds great. I have not heard a KAB1200, but in the price range it would appear to be another contender.

How did we ever get onto idler wheels ? And tables that cost at least $1000 ?
Stefanl wrote:
>>If a table is suitable for broadcast and DJ duties would it not be already some way towards the goal of good sound reproduction?<<

Stanhifi replied:
>> Faulty logic. These tables were originally designed for bull work, heavy duty use, and durability not superior sonics. Hope that helps you understand. >>

The SL-1200mk2 was not initially built for DJing or 'bull work'. The fact that it has become _the_ standard DJ turntable is a testament to the quality and ruggedness of construction. The sonics of a DJ table is largely derived from the special DJ cartrigdes used - those are the ones you want to avoid!

- Harald
Like all threads, which are a form of conversation, the subject strays from the path, which is what makes it interesting. The least finicky and simple good-quality musical turntable for a beginner is the Rega P3, which might indeed be all the turntable anyone ever needs, and assorted similar designs such as the Projects and the MMFs. Also the Technics 1200s DD, which are also painless and easy to use and have an upgrade path provided by KAB, should the buyer ever decide he wants more (upgrades for the P3 are more along the lines of DIY tweaking). However, the Rega tonearms ARE superb, far better than "fair (better than the Rega turntables) but again, vastly over rated and even when rewired and modified, marginal performers at best". These are world-class tonearms with a different set of strengths and weaknesses to other and far more expensive alternatives, barring vintage: I much prefer them to the high-end SME tonearms, for instance. Idler-weel drives were abandoned for reasons which have nothing to do with sound quality and mostly to do with profit: it is FAR more expensive to produce a good-quality idler-wheel drive (or direct-drive for that matter) than to attach a dinky motor to a bearing via a rubber band. Nevertheless, the rubber band approach can yield good reproduction which far surpasses digital media in musically-important ways, and for a beginner wanting simplicity an elegant Rega P3 or Technics SL-1200 is just the ticket.
Rega tonearms are far far far from being "world class". They will not track ANY of the finer Zyx, Shelter, or Dynavector cartridges accurately. That is indisputable.

There's a misconception amoung those who start a foray into vinyl reproduction that comes from thier history in digital electroincs. You CAN buy a good CD-player and then be happy (how else to explain the prevelence of digiophiles out there today?). However, when you get into turntables, the story becomes one of "systematics". While picking a good table is one step, you have to match it with equally-as-good cartridge, arm (upper-priced setups), and phonostage.

When you say "what turntable to buy for under $600?", I say "What vinyl system should you get for $600?".

People here are blantantly recommending the Rega P3, however I feel that the Rega is more considering the cart and stage (if you got the money, get a stage seperately). However, all is not lost. Look at my guidelines, and consider my input as you go forth...and welcome.

1. Music Hall 2.1, Denon DL160, and used Lehman Black Cube

2. Moth Alamo, Goldring Eroica (used). Use the stage you have for now, and then move up to a Ming Xa phono preamp

any thoughts,

Another one to consider, a bit different from either the Technics or the P3, and even cheaper used (at most $350 total for a mint one) is a Dual CS-5000. I had one in my closet that I had never used and set up recently to in order to sell, and I was shocked at how good it sounded. Really good - it's a very balanced, neutral presentation. Also a very good-looking design if that matters - much nicer than the Technics 1200.

It has some quirks (such as a funky headshell with VTA built in and a not-so-great tonearm), but in it's favor is that yes, it's belt drive, but has quartz regulated speed control - a very unusual combination. AND it plays 78rpm! AND it has auto shut-off at the end of the lp (which is really nice for those listening/naps). I was very tempted to keep it but my wife kept the heat on me til it was gone.
A great TT for that money (with a outboard speed control)
is the Pro-Ject 1 Expression.
Lots of good suggestions here, the trouble now with the resurgence of interest in vinyl (the other day in the used shop teenagers were agog at the records - Hey take that Abba!...My God that's early Punk!" - and talking about buying record players, this is a common experience, methinks people are getting tired of convenient but untactile unsatisfactory techno-gadgets, people need hands-on experience like they need air, and remote-control and subatomic physics ain't the way) is there are too many choices, and when one factors in used 'tables and DIY projects the choices become bewildering: get ye to a shop and try to hear/see/touch some alternatives.

Stan, with respect to the Rega tonearms I dispute it: I've used my Rega RB300 with a variety of high-end cartridges over the years, and currently use it with a new Denon DL-103 (reputedly difficult), an Audio Technica OC9, a Supex 900, and a Kiseki Blue and Kiseki Purpleheart Sapphire (roughly equivalent to an upper-end Koetsu, which are also very successfully used on Regas) with no problems, not to mention a host of other cartridges over the years. I have not yet found the MC which my RB300 cannot track and since so many do in fact use the cheaper Dynavectors (10X5, DV20X) and the Benzes (Ace, Glider) of this world on them, I have trouble believing they cannot track the more expensive ones, which are more refined, not more difficult. The Roksan was the first turntable in the mid-Eighties to knock the Linn LP12/Ittok off its pedestal, and this was accomplished in combination with the Rega RB300 tonearm and pretty well every MC available on the market, especially the high-end ones. Roksan was not the only and is not the only high-end turntable manufacturer to sell their 'tables with the Rega tonearms, the upper-end Thorenses are sold with them, the Michells are sold with them, the Basis is sold with them, I had mine mounted on an Audiomeca for a while and it sounded truly excelent here, and so on. Just 'cause they're cheap (the RB250 and RB300) and very common (I know this gets boring) is no reason to underestimate them, they were revolutionary when they were first released, the new Big Bad Boy on the block which embarrassed many expensive items, people have forgotten this now they are ubiquitous and so apparently over-hyped. While various tonearms beat the Rega in various departments, none are so perfectly balanced both in terms of energy (it is more energetic than the big SMEs) and the usual audiophile obssessions with detail, bandwidth and imaging, when an MC is hung on the end of it and it is mounted to a good-quality turntable. Unless quality has gone down (I have not compared a new RB300 to my older tungsten-counterweight one, but it would be interesting), they are truly stellar and are ubiquitous precisely because they offer so much performance for so little money. High-end dealers of course don't like to hear this sort of thing, as there's not much profit in it for them, and so they and their Audio-as-Status cronies disseminate the Rega-as-Overhyped propaganda which seems to be becoming more and more common. I've been planning on buying a Dynavector 17D MKII (one of two classic cartridges remaining I want for my collection, the other being an Ortofon SPU), also reputedly dfficult, and will eventually report on its synergy with the Rega RB300.
None of the pick ups you listed are among the truly high performance cartridges I was alluding to. Those include Zyz Airy, Zyx UNIverse, Benz Micro Ruby, Shelter 90X, Dynavector XX and XV-1, vdH Colibri and Grasshopper, etc. I'm sure the 300 will track the cartridges you list but I maintain, quite accurately, that it will not extract all of the information that a better arm will.
The 250 and 300 are nothing more than entry level to mid-level performing arms. To speak of them in the same breath as world class tonearms such as Wheaton, Schroeder, Graham, etc. is not only disingenuous but bordering on heresy. Nobody but nobody with a high end reference level analog system uses the 250 or 300 simply because they are physically unable to handle elite cartridges. Sorry to hurt your feelings but facts are facts. Good luck.
Heresy is my bread and butter, no disingenuousness here, and "facts" as you say, are not facts, which IS disingenuousness. If the Regas can track upper-level Kisekis, then they can track upper-level Koetsus (as they in fact do). I fail to see how the list of cartridges you list differ physically so much from Kisekis and Koetsus, or indeed Denons and Audio Technicas and so cannot be tracked by a tonearm with excellent bearings and internal damping (i.e. the brilliant variable-thickness wall) and finally, proper mass-matching. Perhaps you can explain this "fact" to me. It's a new one on me that Koetsu, to name a current name, does not manufacture high-end cartridges, but evidently you read the high-end mags stuffed with over-priced new-and-improved goodies, judge by price tag and freshness (newer is better), and perhaps consider the Koetsus "passé". In recent tests/comparisons, the top-of-the-line Koetsu (Hi Fi + magazine) was not as good in some areas as the top-of-the-line Kiseki of the '80s period, there has been change yes, and improvement in some areas, but at a cost in other areas. It's easy to design for and listen for only Detail Uber-Alles, but unfortunately for you and too many misguided audiophiles, music is far more complex than that. I stand by my analysis of the extreme balance of the Rega tonearm (especially the RB300), a quality more elusive and hard to identify than the simple tinkling of bells. In other areas tonearms old and new surpass the Regas, but overall is another story. The reason most (not all) do not mount the list of "elite" cartridges you list on Rega RB250s and RB300s is simple-minded snobbery, Audio-as-Status, nothing else: these tonearms are too cheap, and hence cannot be any good, end of story. Evidently, the controversy over the quality of the Rega tonearms continues even if some are getting bored by their ubiquity: this controversy has everything to do with too high a level of performance for too low a price. And don't worry, you haven't hurt my feelings, you have heartened me to see that the Regas continue to generate some excitement, and confirm me in my opinion that price-tag and its attendant status - the reason for the controversy in the early days of its release - has far too great an impact on perception.
I respect your flawed opinion. We are not using Wheatons, Schroeders, and Grahams because of hype rather their ability to track more accurately than a Rega with an inherently poor bearing design. Again I repeat, no real reference analog system uses Rega tonearms. This is not a vanity issue simply one of performance. Read the threads on Audiogon my friend and see what tonearms are used with the cartridges I mentioned. Time to smell the coffee and live in the 21st century. Indisputable to an informed audiophile. Come join us.
I deliberately did not mention Koetsu, because like the dinosaur, they have outlived their usefulness and purpose to live forever in posterity with the Desoto, Edsel, Lafayette, Heathkit, and Scotts of the automotive and audio world. They have been replaced by Zyx and Shelter. Enough is enough. This is much too easy.
Back to the question at hand, here's a nice possibility-Microseiki
I had a P3 as my first 'phile table, and was pleased even before I knew it was fast. I did buy a used Sota Sapphire and was pleasantly suprised at all the new detail I could extract from a disc. The tonearm is a Rega 250, I got tired of the spring stories and turning the VTF dial to 3 as mentioned here on the 'Gon to eliminate the spring factor. (I just wanted to measure accuratley with a digital scale, by moving the counterweight with nothing else in the equation) The Sota is a good table in the used market, and are studier than the Rega if you happen to bump it. The Rega tonearms are a great buy with all the aftermarket endstubs and counterweights on Ebay and the like. Currently I use a ZYX Yatra on my Rega 250 and have tried a Shelter 901 too, both have made great music on this tonearm. A great tonearm if you don't want to break the bank. The 250 does not have the spring, but has plastic for the endstub and counterweight. I believe there is someone on Ebay that has both machined from copper for $60, not bad considering the Heavyweight and Kerry Audio F2 are both $100 and up.
Stan. Ouch on your remarks of the Koetsu. I really enjoy mine. :-)

I agree fully on the RB tone arms. I have owned a couple over the years in various states of modification and they are no more than junk once a certain level of performance is required.

You mention carts like Zyx but my experience is that even lesser carts like Dynavector 10x5 and Denon DL103 are wasted on an RB. I have run a DL103 on a modified RB250, SME3009 and Scheu Classic. It was evident that the sonics the RB produced was not even close to what the others were capable of.

I think when used on a noisy table like one of the old idler wheel decks or a direct drive an RB will probably work well as its shortcomings will be masked by the noise of deck.

So much ignorance running rampant!!!
Johnnantias. RB250 & Rb300 cannot track Koetsus. I have tried and it sounds like sh*t. I guess it may have sound nice to some, but I am sad to say those individuals would be better off with something from Best Buy. Having run the same cart (Koetsu Rosewood) on arms like an Ittok, Morch, Sheu and SME it is clear that an RB is not suited for quality carts.

I previously said an RB is a good budget arm, but in reality even that is not true. Having compared a modified RB250 against arms that are availably for very cheap like an SME3009 and Mayware Formula 4 the RB is only a good buy for a person with no setup skills.

Lastly, I am not a snob. I spend many hours listening to and a large chunk of my disposable income on music. I could not care less what brand of equipment I use; in fact all my amplification devices (phono, pre, power) are home built. Like most audiophiles I simply want the best possible music reproduction for my money. An RB250/300 fails miserably at that.

Yeah, a Moth table. Go to BritAudio.com and get one of his modded Moth tables. You will get unquestionable service and help. And a great table. I'm not affiliated - just one suggestion.
"but I am sad to say those individuals would be better off with something from Best Buy. "
"I am not a snob."

Funny .. I thought those two statements were contradictory.

Psychic ... what a very ignorant post. Care to enlighten us ?
Sean, taking my statements out of context to satisfy your infantile desire to make asinine remarks brings no value to the discussion.

Why don’t you enlighten us how your post is any less [ignorant] than Psychicanimals?
A lot of recommendations have been cast about. Seems as though vast technical differences exist between each model and set-up. I still ponder the question, do technical specification differences result in significant audible differences, especially with turntables? At this point, I wonder if I where to spend $100 or so to have my existing Techncis SL-205 DD turntable set-up properly that it would sound no different than any of the tables listed above (P3, SOTA, VPI)???????????
1) A P3 is hard to beat at this price point.

2) A number of posters like idler wheel and direct drive tables. I have no intention to annoy these folks but I would suggest you stay well away from them. IMHO they are not really suitable for anything other than broadcast and DJ duties.

3) These tables were originally designed for bull work, heavy duty use, and durability not superior sonics. Hope that helps you understand.

4) If idler wheels had sonic merit they would be readily available now. It is not mere coincidence that the all audiophile table are belt driven. The best audiophile turntables are belt driven because at our current level of technology belt drives provides better sound than any (and all) other turntable technologies.

5) I think when used on a noisy table like one of the old idler wheel decks or a direct drive an RB will probably work well as its shortcomings will be masked by the noise of deck.
What about the cartridge resonance figures Pauly for the comparisons between the Rega,SME 3009 and Mayware.Did you do them?Are you familiar with Paol Ladegaaard's paper on mechanical resonances in turntables?
Greco, take this from the underground: the Creature on Steroids will be at the $5K performance level when fully modded. The modded Groovemaster has the midrange of a $1500 MC cartridge: it has ABSOLUTELY no edge or graininess with superb tracking, bass impact and musicality. Talk to Kevin at KAB Electroacoustics and he'll help you develop a modding plan. A few months ago I got the strobe disabler for my 1200. No other TT has so many options--rock solid construction, reliability, modifications, parts & service-- at this price range.

And yes--when it comes to turntables specs DO matter.

Regarding rim drives, GTT Audio is the Kharma speakers importer in the USA and they demo at shows with vinyl only. Two years ago they won Best of Show at the NY Stereophile show. Their turntable? A noisy rim drive...

With psychic power and primal intensity,
"I've been planning on buying a Dynavector 17D MKII (one of two classic cartridges remaining I want for my collection...)"

Johnnantais, DON'T DO IT. This thing lasted less than an hour on my table - it was truly awful. This is the castrati of cartridges - absolutely and utterly lacking in bass. I have absolutely no idea what reviewers have heard in this cartridge that they liked. You will notice that there are a lot of these that appear for sale with 5 hours or less on them. There is a reason.
"the Creature on Steroids will be at the $5K performance level"?

LOL! Yep, sure it will, and I bet folks will be beating down you door for that no doubt.
Dvdgreco. A $100 could improve your table to a level that may suffice, so you should consider it by all means. As an avid tweaker myself, I know the satisfaction gleaned from improving existing gear. But it would be very naïve to think a $100 can transform your table to sound like a VPI or Sota. That just aint gonna happen.
Now I feel sory for Dvdgreco, he's been cast into a shark-filled tank, but glad to see you haven't been scared off! There are large differences in sound between these various 'tables (and between your Technics and the heavier ones), but in wanting a reliable, simple turntable that doesn't require finicky set-up you pretty well rule out suspended turntables and a variety of others with outboard motors, and so once again the Rega P3 (simple, elegant, musical and easy to get/hear, though a wall-mount and a heavy slab are a good idea for isolation, as for any light unsuspended design) and Technics SL1200 (tons of upgrade potential as Psychicanimal points out and also easy to use) are your best bets. Then there are the Projects, MMFs, and lower-end VPIs. Most audiophiles consider belt-drives the only game in town, and this does make life simpler and reduces your possibilities. But, life isn't so simple, these belt-drivers are wrong, both idler-wheel drives (off your list due to difficulties) and DDs can sound superb, and both beat belt-drives when it comes to bass quality and detail, and in other areas depending on how far you take them. I think you should try to actually hear some of these if possible, see them in the flesh (we do operate on visuals/impressions to a certain extent), and trust your instincts: when one of them brings you into the music better than the others (bring some LPs), then you've found your 'table (of course, then cartridge, phono stage also influences sound, but you can't control every aspect of these auditions). Good luck.

Pauly, there are very large and fundamental physical differences between the Rega RB300 and the RB250 (now I'll have the Rega Brigade after me), in comparisons I have done, as well as magazines, and contrary to findings posted all over the internet, the Rega RB300 is significantly more refined (the bearings and bearing materials different) than the '250, hearing one does not give you an adequate idea of the other, you are making an error in judgment. The '250 is brash and bright compared to the '300 (the comparison done with the same wiring and same metal end-stub/counterweight), and I suspect that its popularity is partly attributable to its synergy with darker systems, or for ears attuned to bright/thin digital media as opposed to ears attuned strictly to analog like mine (though I have a CD player I use for background music and to tape music for the car). Of course, to realize its potential, the RB300 wiring has got to go, a hidden cost and bother. The Mayware and SME 3009 are two of the vintage tonearms I alluded to which surpass the Rega in certain areas, but neither has the gestalt (music of a piece) balance and control (especially in the high frequencies with difficult MCs) of the RB300 when it comes to MCs, though both beat it for speed and detail (assuming metal knife-edge beartings for the SME). On the other hand, the Rega RB300 (re-wired) is in turn far more musically convincing (lively and dynamic) than the SME IV I auditioned at length in my system and in others of finer pedigree/resolution than mine, which is why I adorer the musical balance of the RB300: it walks the fine line between too much control (big SMEs) and not enough, and maintains a beautiful balance from lows (tremendous when mounted on a big, heavy idler-wheel drive) to highs (control of MCs), balancing musical energy and information perfectly, like a cat walking on a beam. It doesn't have the sparkle of some, but is long-temr satisfying.

Thanks for the warning Newmanoc, but perhaps the 17D requires prolonged burn-in as so many MCs do, or do you know someone who has kept one long-term and come to the same conclusion? I confess I am in love with the engineering of this cartridge, and my big idler-wheel drives do a lot to inject bass where there was none before. I'll try to find one to audition before I make the leap.
Well, perhaps I should qualify my invective against the Karat 17D just a little. My system includes JM Labs Electra 926s, and bass is not the strong suit of these otherwise admirable speakers. Also, my Linn equipment is very detailed, but not the most dynamic. So the bass-light, detail heavy 17D probably had no real chance of synergistic success in my system to begin with. But you should also know that several people I have run across have commented on the poor bass in this cartridge. In my system, it sounded worse than poor – it was like my woofers had disappeared. As to burn in, well, I am sure it can make a difference, but I personally don’t know how much. (I didn’t want to listen to it for the requisite hours needed, and also, it was easier to sell with only an hour on it.) If you do buy one of these, I'd advise picking one up used. I have seen them several times with very few hours for considerably less than half of what they cost new.