If you can stand $2800, then a Pro-ject RM10 with Sumiko Blackbird gets you very near the best possible without going into the mega-sphere. Mine is incredibly revealing, blowing away my SACDs and best CDs.
Pro-ject and VPI have some upgradeable options closer to your price point, but I'd recommend trying to go all the way. For instance, the RM10's heavy platter and 10' carbon fiber arm can't be added to a 9.1 or the model below that. The heavy platter requires the magnetic repulsion system to offset the mass of the heavy platter.
im in the same situation different equipment but i have been looking at the sumiko pro-ject tables
Buy a VPI Scout and a Dynavector 20X cart. Used you should be within a few hundred of your budget ........ Now if you could double that budget? You could get something much better to compliment that fine phono stage that you own!
You don't need a new table/arm.
Put the Denon on a good isolation platform. Add a SDS Isoplatmat to significantly reduce vibration. Add a better cartridge. The Dynavectors are good. I use a Benz Micro Ace.
I agree with Tvad; that TT & arm s/b capable of taking you to the next level with a few tweaks. I do suggest mounting that Dynavector, Benz, or (Sumiko BPS EVO or Blackbird) on a Sumiko or Audio Technica Technihard headshell.
You may want to consider a Herbie's Way Excellent or Iron Audio turtable mat as well.
I agree with Tvad, that would be big bang for the buck to hot rod the Denon.
Another option is the Technics SP 10 Mk2 with a hot arm and cartridge. I recently rebuilt an SP 10, adding a SME arm and Air Tight cartridge and it ranks among the top tables I've owned.
Other tables I've owned include Versa Dynamics, VPI, Oracle, Win Labs, Basis Debut gold Mk 4 and Mk 5 and Walker Proscenium.
The Technics is surprisingly good and I bought mine for $450.00. Granted I put a lot into the arm and cartridge but if I didn't like the table, the arm and cartridge stand alone as a separate investment.
I'll straddle the fence.
Try a better cartidge and some anti-vibration. If no luck, move to the VPI Scout.
1.New-Marantz TT-15! Designed by Marantz and built for them by Clearaudio-$1600, contoured acrylic table with an outboard motor, sophisticated tonearm with an Ebony arm wand. TT-15 comes with an $800 Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony Wood Cartridge. Very good value. Plus, you get a very nice cart. in asking price.
2.VPI - bottom shelve. $1000 used with a nice $500 cart.
3. Lenco - If you have the skills. I think with the right plinth and research it can be a killer. Working on one, right now.
4. Modify what you have right now.
Here is an example of a table that I almost got rid of.
Invested about a $1000 in arm and cart. Plinth is a butcher block that cost me $35 each. One used for plinth and the other for stand. If you have a weekend or two to spare - some tools and basic skills, that might be the way to go.
they are hard to find, but a maplenoll ariadne will take you to the next level but the table and arm will probably cost close to your budget. for the price range you are looking at a michell gyro with a rega 300 arm and denon or grado cartridge would probably be a good choice along with the scout from vpi.
Ziggy and Wwshull,
Go BEYOND the next level.
Consider the Lenco idler wheel. This vintage rebuilt table beats the belt drives. You are in the price range for an excellent DIY project, or one already built, ready to spin vinyl.
With your nice electronics, the Lenco is a fabulous analog source.
Email me for some pics and see the lencolovers.com site.
I second the VPI Scout and a Dynavector 20X cart, used. All else at your price point will disappoint.
the denon can be tweeked to the next level...agree with the above.
Just wanted to say thanks for ALL OF YOUR SUGGESTIONS. Thats why I love this site. With that said, can a $1000 to $2000 TT/arm combo alone really make that much of a difference in overall sound compared to the Denon. I can see a more expensive cartridge getting deep in the grooves and bring out details a cheaper cartridge couldn't do. I'm guess I'm just new to high-end players. When I posted the original question some of you said keep the Denon TT/arm and just add better cart. and other tweaks. Obviously that would save me$$$.
I'm going to do more research on all your thoughts.
Yo need a good platform for the turntable to sit on. Butcher blocks made from Canadian hard maple will do the trick. Make sure it is at least 3" thick.
You can remove the platter mat and replace it with the SDS Isoplat, Boston Mat 1 or better yet, the Harmonix TU-800exi.
Add a record clamp. HRS makes an incredible clamp called the ADL (analog Disc).
Like the others have mentioned, the Dynavector 20X is a great sounding cartidge. I heard one at a friend's store and for that money, you cannot go wrong.
Your TT is a very good base to start messing with. Take it one step at the time and it will reward you significantly.
I also recommend keeping your Denon doing some tweaks and upgrading your cartridge. If you must have a new tt and are considering VPI you may also want to consider a Sota. Ive owned both (super scout master, nova) and still have the Sota.
You don't mention how hands on you want to be, but for that kind of dosh, you can buy a Linn LP-12 in good condition with an Ittok arm and a nice cartridge. It will be very hard to beat.
You can try Rega RB-300, Linn Ittok (used) , Morch up-4 or Advanced Analog MG-1 Linear Arm Tonearm ($650 + $150 for Air pump). Cartidge - Denon DL103-R is great and inexpensive ($350), Audio-Technica OC-9 $450, Benz Micro MC20E2 ($200) also above recommendations of Dynavector 20X cartridge ($650).
I REALY THINK YOU SHOULD KEEP YOUR "TT".
With small adj. in vibration control, upgrade cart. & arm - this TT will be really nice. I would not worry about spending $$$ on new cart & arm. If you decide to get a new TT in the future, you can always use it with new TT.
Improve vib. control.
Easiest way - 4" Butcher block (doesn't matter what species) with cones, spikes or isol-pads (choose what sounds best in your set-up). Good quality mat (like Genesis168 suggested) also helps. Also, you can invest in Cartridge Man isolator ($150) for cartridges $500 & below.
As you can see, sky is the limit. Start small and move up in small steps. Experiment. Change few arms and cartridges, play with different iso. products. It will help you understand better how TT works and what works. That's what I did. However, I am far from expert but I am starting to slowly figuring out what is what and how. I have tree TT in my basement with parts all over the place. Just thinking how can I improve the already good design. LOVE IT.
I have the other high-profile Japanese direct drive turntable (Technics SL1210 M5G) with the same cartridge you have--Denon DL-160.
But I have done so many things over the stock rig, none expensive or intrusive, that I feel that I have moved it up to the next level. It certainly has more linearity, clarity, dynamic range, detail, and frequency extension than the same turntable with stock mat and headshell, sitting on a typical rack.
Here are the tweaks I've performed; most of them you can do too. Each noticeably improved the sound enough for my wife to notice; taken together they have moved its performance "to the next level."
1. Turntable mat: I replaced the stock rubber mat with a used Oracle Groove Isolator. It's sorbothane, but not sorbothane gel. On top of it I have placed another very thin mat made of polypropylene mesh marketed for drawer/shelf liner sold at drug stores and Home Depot. Lower noise floor; more clarity. The poly mat on top adds slam and sharpens leading transients. You might not be able to find a used Groove Isolator. For new products, the Herbie's and Iron Audio are highly regarded by Technics owners on A-gon.
2. Sumiko headshell: far more rigid, has much better wires, and azimuth adjustment. Rigidity and better wires improved clarity and low level detail; adjusting azimuth does wonders for stereo separation, soundstage, and imaging.
3. Placed turntable on an isolation platform. I used a 1.5" thick butcher block cutting board from Ikea for $25. You can get a thicker one by Cuisinart from Lowe's for $50. There are much better, such as the 2" or 4" solid old growth maple slabs available from Mapleshade. Placed shock absorbing feet under the cutting board. I used Vibrapods; Mapleshade's Isoblocks are highly regarded. Resulted in much better inner clarity, overall musicality, dynamics, smoothness, you name it. Wife noticed the difference immediately.
4. Replaced stock turntable feet with brass cones from Parts Express ($20/set of four). If you want better, try Mapleshade brass heavyfeet. Do your stock feet unscrew? If so, there's a good chance the thread size is M6. You can get M6 threaded Heavyfeet. The brass cones from Parts Express also include M6 threads. Another alternative might be the Isonoe footers available from www.kabusa.com. They also have built-in M6 threads.
5. Added KAB's fluid damper. I know this was made specifically for the Technics, but I think it would be worth a call to Kevin there to see if by any chance it would also fit the Denon. Probably not, but worth a call. Lowered noise floor, improved trackability, less hash and more music in the treble.
6. Record clamp. There are many at many prices. I use the cheapest in existence--the rubber scrunch-on clamp fro KAB for $24.95 (without built-in bubble level). It adds bass and weight to thin LPs, lowers overall noise floor and in particular diminishes perception of surface noise.
7. Remember the polypropylene from #1? I took a couple of 1/2" x 1" strips and scotch-taped them as damping rings around the tonearm, one just behind the headshell, and the other about 60% down the long straight part of the tonearm. I purposely didn't put it in the exact middle to break up resonant nodes. This has a similar sonic effect to the fluid damper--lowers noise floor, adds some quiet space around the notes, etc. Originally wound a 12" strip in a spiral around the entire length of the arm, but that overdamped it and made the music sound muted and uninvolving.
If you do all of the above (or all but the fluid damper), it will take your turntable performance to the next level. Move up to one of the highly regarded cartridges on this thread and you'll move up more yet.
And you'll retain the spot-on speed, bulletproof construction, and silky operation that makes the Denon DP-500M so seductive to use.