Your old Stanton cartridge, while good in its day, is probably due for replacement since it is very likely that the rubber components in the cantilever suspension are deteriorated due to age. It's possible that you can find someone that can rebuilt the 681EEE, but I doubt it makes much sense financially.
The tonearm on your Garrard turntable is not a very sophisticated model, so it does not make much sense to buy a top-end cartridge for it. Something like your Stanton should be fine, as would a Shure M95ED, or one of the less expensive Grados.
I think you'd be best advised to contact either Jerry Raskin's Needle Doctor, or Garage-a-Records (which is often cheaper than the Needle Doctor), to get their suggestions on a good moderately-priced cartridge that will work well with your TT/tonearm setup. Here are the Web links:
1. Needle Doctor: http://www.needledoctor.com/
2. Garage-a-Records: http://www.garage-a-records.com/
I agree with Sdcampell, and since you're not going to spend anything on a new TT now - and since your TT won't justify a pricey cart - if I were you, I would probably take this cost-savings as an opportunity to not totally cheap out on the phono preamp while you're having to get one, just in case you get hooked and want to go for a better TT/cart later on (and somehow, I doubt this will take very long - but if you don't get hooked, who's gonna want to buy a used RS unit?). If you get one of the inexpensive Grado Prestige carts, you might look into their own battery-powered phonostage (presumably optimized for Grado MI carts, but should also work well with Shure's high-output MM's), which is not terrribly expensive, and should still do a good job for you if you move up to one of their wood-bodied models in the future. But if you decide not to go the battery route, Mikey Fremer seemed to like the Gram Amp the best of the inexpensive phonostages he's rated recently.
You'd be surprised how good a Stanton 520 SK cartridge will sound. For less than $40, it comes with an extra stylus. You can find them at a Guitar World store, or check around online. They're readily available and well worth the price for performance.
While I haven't hear one, the RS battery phono-preamp is highly spoken of on several forums. For less then $25.00 your not out a lot if it is not your cup of tea.
I don't think you can go wrong for the price with a lower cost Grado cartridge.
what is the rest of your electronics?
if you want to have an analogue along with your today's digital you might come to the conclusion spending at least $600 to bring up the sound to the descent level.
You can get Thorens TD160/SME3010/Shure V15vxmr setup for approximately $450 used and Creek OBH8 mm phono for arrround $125...150 used.
This is not an endorsement, but to find/buy the "Little Rat" RS phono preamp you need to go to radioshack.com. You can search for "phono preamp" or I believe the catalog number is 970-1018. For $25, it isnt bad - I don't know of anything better for the price, except, maybe, the phono section of any old receiver or integrated amp that you might find in your garage, or your neighbor's garage, or a local thrift store.
The lower priced Stanton or an inexpensive Grado are good recommendations. Your Stanton may have been a little too compliant for your tonearm and the less expensive cartridges may be better matches. I think one reason a lot of people jumped on the cd bandwagon early on (before cd players sounded good, which I think they do now), is that they were trying to use the wrong cartridges for their tonearms, and especially over-hyped low mass high compliance cartridges with inexpensive medium to high mass tonearms. They then compounded the problem by trying to track them at the lowest ratings for their cartridges and ended up damaging their records. Stay with an inexpensive cartridge and, unless you have a test record and an oscilliscope, set the tracking weight at the maximum recommended for the cartridge.
I also kept my old Garrard so that I would have something to play 78s on. It's OK for that, but only that. Not going to suggest you buy an expensive TT, as that is out of the question. But you might consider an inexpensive one, such as the Dual CS503-1 w/Grado ZF3E available on Audiogon for $150. In terms of tracking old records, stylus wear, record wear, cartridge compatibility, system compatibility and sonics, I think you are going to be more satisfied if you replace the Garrard.
Several good cartridges have already been mentioned. It looks like most of them are MM but a good MC would work also. Take a look at the Sumiko Blue Point, or the Blue Point Special if you can justify the difference. I have used and liked both of them. The BPS is better and doesn't cost that much more. Reviews are available for both of them if you want to check magazine archives. Stereophile and The Absolute Sound covered each of them.
Good luck, and have fun!
Though I don't anything about the Stanton model mentioned in particular, I would be wary of buying any phono cart from a guitar chain store. The models these stores carry are usually intended to be used for "scratching" by hip-hoppers, or for portable TT rigs that are slip-cued by DJ's under party and club conditions, and as such are built much more heavily than is optimal for home high fidelity listening.
The "Rat" (if a single unit is used in stereo mode) requires two 9V batteries and a charger (figure $30 for this @ Target, or a lot more @ RS). Other than decent sound it is dead quiet (no mains hum). To me it sounds better than the NAD stand alone unit and it easily beats any vintage budget receiver phono section that I have heard (the exception being the phono preamp in the Advent 300 receiver).
The downside is that the battery needs to be recharged every 3-5 days and it needs to be left on 7/24 for it to sound good (you will require two batteries, charging one while using the other).
So figure $60 plus the hassle.
If you want to save a few $ I do know where some of the units may be left for $16 (plus shipping) VS $25 @ RS.
For an inexpensive "plug in" phono preamp look on Ebay for a vintage Realistic/Radio Shack 42-2101. I suspect that this unit may have been designed by J. Curl (or @ least based on one of his early designs). My Rats run as dual mono's are better, but the vintage model is still a good performer and it is without the hassle of battery power. Figure $20-$25 for one of these, plus shipping (I would not pay more). I used the vintage units as dual mono's as well (my cheap/easy way of beefing up the power supply in order to increase dynamics), but one, in stereo, still sounded good.
I thank all of you for taking the time to respond. The rest of my equipment is, Creek 5350SE integ amp, Vandersteen 2C speakers, Kimber 8VS speaker wire, Zu Oxyfuel interconnects, I have other stuff, but not pertinent to this discussion. As a quick note, my Yamaha home theater receiver has a phone input, so I was able to at least hook it up and see if it was still working. I know the cartridge is shot, and the Yamaha is poor, but one thing that I remembered very well is still there. TICKS and POPS. This may be smoother, although hard to tell, but this wrecks any improvment what so ever. I think I'll stick with digital until someone figures a way to get rid of these ticks. There was, at one time a device that was supposed to do just that. It hooked between the TT and amp and somehow knew which was music and which was noise. Is that how you vinyl folks deal with this? Thanks again for the help
David, Elmuncy, the Little Rat I bought from Radio Shack only requires one nine volt battery, and it lasts a long time. No charger needed, just buy another battery. Honestly, it isnt very good compared to, for examples, the phono section of an old Mission Cyrus One integrated that I have around or an Adcom 565 preamp that I tried, or any of the receivers or integrated amps I used to have. But, it's ok.
Elmuncy, try a new cartridge with your record player, an inexpensive one, and use something to remove dust and reduce the static. Btw, they're putting ticks and pops into some cds to make them sound more like vinyl.
Unless you are in love with the technology of vinyl record playing and want to spend more money than you appear to, the chief reasons to have a turntable nowadays are 1) to play your old records and 2) to go scavenger hunting in thrift shops and garage sales like DK does and find stuff cheap that may not be available on cd. I keep one for the first purpose because there's enough on cd to interest me.
Vinyl is a delecate medium. Poorly treated vinyl will sound, well...poor. If the vinyl has been abused, then there really isn't anything that I know of that can be done. If it's just dirty, the look into the cleaning supplies from http://www.discdoc.com.
My system isn't going to make any 2-channel purest green with envy (Music Hall MMF-5 turntable, Rotel RQ-970 phono pre-amp, Rotel RSP-1066 [with the turntable run through the multi-channel L/R analog passthroughs], RMB-1095 amp, and B&W Nautilus 805 speakers). However, put on a virgin piece of vinyl that has been cleaned using the Disc Doctor method, and I hear magic. No clicks. No pops.
I don't know what you'd consider to be an "expensive new TT", but for under $500 new, I've been really happy with the Music Hall MMF-5. Quite frankly, until I can justify a Teres, I probably won't upgrade to an "intermediate" table. The Music Hall is a great way to see if the sound, the romance, and the experience of vinyl is something you want to (re-)commit to.
You have some nice hardware. I'd hate to see yourself soured on the vinyl experience because of your table.
Elmuncy, noise reduction processing is generally only used for transcription purposes of material old enough not feature a full frequency range, and rare enough and in bad enough shape for the inevitable trade-offs not to outweigh the benefits. (Although these days, most such processing is done in the digital domain.) Audiophiles don't use "de-clickers" for ordinary listening, and you won't need it for records in good shape. If your vinyl is in bad enough shape that cleaning it won't make it listenable to you (not only due to dirty surfaces, but maybe to being played on a poorly tracking cart/arm for many years, or improper handling or storage), then you will probably only be content with newly bought records. But you might also view not being able to happily listen to your existing collection as an end to your reason for wanting to get back into vinyl in the first place. Records can be fantastic, but only you can judge whether your records can be that for you.
From your comments you do not leave the preamp powered up 7/24 which is very much needed to improve the sound (it also requires a minimum of 100 hours, 150 is more like it, of running a signal in order to sound its best). The most a battery can last (@ complete idle w/o a signal being processed is 8 days in any of my units) and I cannot imagine buying and tossing non rechargeable batteries within this amount of time being that I leave them powered up all the time.
This is not meant as a rebuttal of your specific findings and is just to point out that these budget preamps can sound quite good when operated in the manner that I describe (hassles and all, which also includes using a high output cartridge due to the gain).
As far as the rest of your post you have my MO down to a "T" (being that I am a music junkie on a budget) and I also heartily agree with what you point out as being the main reason for most anyone to own a TT (regardless of its status) in decent operating condition (this being in regard to expanding ones music library).
If you wish possibly scratched and dirty LP's (from your hay days) to be without crackles and pops, then it's not going to happen. I will purchase rare LP's in poor condition (just to hear them for the first time), but the ticket is to learn how to inspect and judge LP's, as far as playing condition goes, if purchasing them in person on the used market.
Just to drive you nuts (LOL) me and my wife have purchased 1200, or so, used CD's in the past 3.5 years for maybe $2.5K tops. In the past year we have purchased around 1500 LP's, 99% of them being in mint playing condition, also on the used market, for well under $1K. I do however realize that this depends on ones local.
I also collect reel to reel tapes and 78's even though I have not owned a R2R or a 78 player for 20 years as someday I may have this source gear again.
Dekay, you're definitely a man after my own heart!
I don't know if this thread is dead or not, but I'll say more. I've got my old Garrard hooked up to my Yamaha and from that to my Creek. This would have to be a worst case scenario, as this is not the way to hook things up, my TT is crappy, the cartridge is 20 years old, and da## does it sound nice! I can see the pontential. I've been looking at used stuff, and from what I can find by looking at threads, the old ones to get are Dual, and Thorens, although some say the Technics 1200 is good. Give me some advice without breaking the bank.
I own a Technics SL-1200, and while I like it fine and it might well be better than what you've got now, I'm not going to tell you that you should get one. But I will say that you can probably do a lot better, for not a lot of money, than getting involved with the majority of old TT's such as the ones you mention. There are decent new options out there for audiophiles, without having to go down a disappointing or excessively mod'n'tweaky path of trying to restore an old machine and reduce its inherent flaws. It won't be worth what might initially seem like the savings you think it, and most of these tables are inferior to what you could get in a nice new, clean, moderately-priced TT today.
I'd go for a nice new inexpensive belt drive with an inexpensive cartridge. Don't overspend on the cartridge. Try a local dealer if you are near one. That way you can get some hands-on help if you need it. Or give the guys at the mail-order and online places a call; Music Direct and Jerry Raskin sell inexpensive tables - I don't konw if they discount. Smaller, but probably less bewildering selection and a discount can be found through Reference Audio Video in Torrance Cal. RAV has been in business for a long long time, mail order by telephone before the internet, and are very helpful really good guys. www.reference-av.com, or call them at 1-800-947-4434.
I've really enjoyed my Dynavectors they sound great.
Did you get the Radio Shack Little Rat Yet?
Vinyl is worth the hassle, CD does make for a good warm up though. A sort of foreplay :)
The Rat Shack is on the way. I'm looking at thinking at this point, because in the past it seems that I've always jumped too fast. For once in my life I'd like to make an "informed decision"
That's what I would do. Like I said before it took me a year to secure my current TT/arm combo @ a price that I feel comfortable with. Hopefully you will run across a good used deck @ a local dealer, pawn or thrift shop, but in the meantime just get a new cartridge for your current TT and have some fun.
The phono input arrived today at noon. I hooked it up right away to make sure that it worked. I've made at least four trips down my basement for records. I had to make myself stop half an hour ago. I listened for almost five hours! I have to keep reminding myself that this is the same crappy TT that I almost threw away, but stuck in the basement instead. I started this thread with the statement that I was willing to be proved wrong. I am wrong. I take back all the sarcastic things that I said about you analog people. I will now get a decent TT. Thank you all for the help, especially Dekay, who held my hand through this whole thing. This is the best site I've ever found!
We tried to stop you. This is not our fault. Now I know how Dr Frankenstein felt!