If you had $12k / £10k to upgrade your analogue front-end...

Hi all,

I am upgrading my system in my listening room bit-by-bit. This room is for focused listening of music only. No movies. In the future I will be looking looking to upgrade my analogue front-end and am thinking of a budget of around $12k / £10k for a turntable, tonearm, cart and phono stage/pre-amp. I listen to all sorts of music from electronic, bass-heavy vinyl, jazz, hip-hop, rock (new and old), ambient (Cinematic Orchestra, Nils Frahm etc...) and lots of soul/funk type tracks. So quite varied.

If you had $12k/£10k to spend, what combination of turntable, tonearm, cart and phone stage/pre-amp would you go for? I'm looking for suggestions to help with my research. I'm unsure what the balance should be between them. For example, should I go for a Rega Planar 10 with Aphelion 2 cart (£6,840) and give myself just over £3k to spend on a phono stage. Or spend less on the cart (Rega Planar 10 with Apheta 3 is £4,950) and get a more expensive phono stage.

Turntable brands I've been thinking of are Rega, Clearaudio, Technics, VPI, AVID, Thorens, Michell Engineering, VPI, SME etc... but don't really know where to start.

Any help would be much appreciated.



There are so many choices. I think my initial comment is that I would recommend close to a 50 - 50 split between phono stage and TT / cartridge. Personally I would find the highest level used Audio Research or CJ and spend 40% of my budget on that. Outstanding tubed phonostages have been available for a while.


Then for TT… my way of looking at it is sprung or massive. They tend to have a different sound, lively vs solid (I just don’t have a better generalization, and it is a generality) respectively.


that's a lot of money, good start. AVID or Rega for sure for both TT and amp within the same brand as they can fine tune them to death 

what speakers do you have?

Thanks Grislybutter. I have FyneAudio F501SP floorstanders. I will also have an Arendal 1961 1S subwoofer. I currently have a Moon Ace All-in-one but will be upgrading that with a Moon 303a Power Amp and Moon 390. I don't know much about AVID. But I thought a Rega Planar 10 + Apheta cart + Rega Aura phono stage could be a good combo.

And thanks Ghdpretence. I'll look at Audio Research and CJ too. 

I did exactly this in 2022. I went with a Technics 1200G/Hana ML and Sutherland 20/20 with LPS. The turntable cartridge were good, but I can’t say the same for the Sutherland in my system. After 40-50 hours of use I returned the Sutherland and upgraded my analog. The turntable/arm/cartridge retail for $5200 or so. My upgraded turntable/arm/cartridge retail around 20K. The phono preamp $16K, but purchased phono stage used for much less. First, the phono stage selection was critical. My Audionet is very musical with lots of detail. It sounds like a fast balanced tube phono stage. I’m less certain that the table arm were an upgrade, but the new table/arm was more than twice the cost of the Technics. The Hana ML is quite musical and the upgraded cartridge was a bit less than your budget. For this difference in price the MSL cartridge is very fast and detailed compared to the Hana, but the Hana is a much better value. So, I believe that the Sutherland was what I disliked about my initial setup, but I will be selling or trading the Technics/Hana.  Some great suggestions above from members with much more experience than myself.

Vonhelmholtz. Do you have a Pam G2? That blows my budget. 

Others have recommended the Technics 1200G but I'd anticipated having a belt drive. But open to all options.

nice speakers!
PS: I am a big Rega fan, you can't go wrong with it. AVID is the opposite philosophy, heavy as a rock, probably more fun to look at but I only know it from reviews.

Actually the phono section in the 390 is quite excellent. You could live with it for a good while. Save some money and put it into the TT and Cart. Thorens 1600 and what ever cart floats your boat. A Goldring Ethos works very nice with the TD1600 or 1601.

I love Thorens and have a I have a 44 year old TD145 that just perfect and sounds as good as my ClearAudio Concept Innovation. Both have MP 500 carts love higher end MP/MI over MC. 

Just my 2c worth but you should audition a lot of tables with that much cash to burn. 

One name missing from your list, TW-Acustic. They make great sounding TT’s and phono-stage. AVID /SME is just as good. With Analog sky is the limit, both in terms of options and $$$$. I would focus on buying the highest quality TT / Tonearm combo your budget allows..once you have the foundation (TT) squared away, tailoring the sound to your preferences by trying phono's and carts becomes relatively easy. Seek a dealer in your area that carry some of the aforementioned brands….a dealer support is vital in putting together a great sounding analog system.

Thanks @jerryg123 ​​​​​​. I don't yet have the 390 but I will test the phono in that..I live in London but there is a place called Analogue Seduction about 2 hours away. Perhaps I'll go and spend a day or two up there.

And thanks @lalitk I'll check out TW-Acustic. I'll head up to Analogue Seduction and do some listening to as many combos as I can.


"Rega Planar 10 with Aphelion 2 cart (£6,840) and give myself just over £3k to spend on a phono stage"

You’re on the right track. Naturally, there are dozens of other combinations.

Rega for no fuss. Max the budget on phono stage.

Scheu Premier with Mørch tonearm, Cartridgeman Musicmaker cartridge and Zyx Artisan phonostage. Off the beaten track but all the better for it. Alternatively SCHEU TONEARMS AND mC Scheu cartridges are nice as well. Aqvox 2ci phono stage is a good alternative as well.

@antigrunge2 This is off the beaten track. Amazing. Thanks. That's certainly a rabbit hole to explore and will keep me busy.

My advice is to find the best phono stage you can.  You can easily get a nice TT and cartridge for decent money.  We use a modified Lenco, and a Lady Bug cartridge.  Denon also makes a nice cartridge and there is a guy on eBay who makes the wood body for it.  Much less that spending thousands.  Since we are manufacturers of audio components including phono stages, we have the opportunity to try many TTs, etc.   To us the phono stage is critical and most important contrary to what others may say.


Happy Listening.

Rega 10 with Aphelion.  Pass Labs XP17.  Keep the change for cables and miscellaneous expenses.  Enjoy the music.

If it has to be new - the decks you cite have a great variation in sound style and quality.

The Rega's are a bit of a Lotus Elise to the Avid Mercedes SL. 

Do you want to buy new or second hand? For instance second hand would allow you to buy a very good 70's DD deck and then you can go to town on the cartridge and phono stage. I bought a Townshend Rock Elite for £300 and a JVC QL0 for about the same price. 

@cainullah I currently own Moon 390 and M400s and use a Rega P8 with the Ania cartridge and the internal phono stage for the 390.  In my environment I view the digital and analog sources to be very equivalent.  Some recordings are better on vinyl others are better on digital.   

If I was in your place, I'd buy the P10 with Ania pro or Aphelion and invest in an Isolation platform (I have HRS) and live with it for a few months.  This allows you to option to upgrade if you like or simply buy more records because you enjoy the sound.

Good luck in your journey and let us know how it goes.

What are you running now?

Having used Thorens/SME combos my entire adult life I would start by comparing their new 1600/1601 decks to some of the non-suspended models you list.

The 1601 has automatic lift and platter stop @ the end of play, but I do not completely understand its cuing mechanism (the 1600 is completely manual).




I’m not going to recommend a brand-- there is loyalty among those satisfied with what they arrived at- but instead, suggest some considerations:

1. Can you change arms. How good is the arm that comes with the table (if so) and what is its range of utility -most will accommodate a range of what are considered fairly high compliance cartridges- the cantilever motion is easily triggered- but there are cartridges that like more mass and a few (though largely out of vogue) that want to see less mass.

2. What is the turnable’s ability to self isolate. I have a few tables, one is massive but it could not be isolated effectively without extremely costly add-ons. How does the turntable, as delivered, isolate (both self-noise and environment).

3. I tend to break down tables into their component parts- the turnable with motor and controller; the arm (or arms) and the cartridge (leaving aside the phono stage which is an integral part of the phono front end).

4. Your budget could get you some bigger league stuff if used. There are enthusiasts who shy away from TT in particular as used items because they are more mechanical and wear, misuse or damage can be a real issue. So who you buy from, on what terms, is important.

5. it is really hard to demo (evaluate) turntables, tonearms and cartridges. Like almost impossible. But it may still be of value to get eyes if not hands on with various tables (and arms) to better understand what they are doing. Living with a unit is a whole different thing and depends a lot on very precise set up as well as voicing that makes the system sound better. (I’ve heard profound differences by changes in cartridge or the rectifier tube in my phono stage).

Where you are, geographically, may also be a factor in terms of availability, price and support.

Can you listen to several of the Moon phono pre's? Since you mention a pending Moon upgrade I am guessing you can. Even if you end up preferring another brand, you can get a sense of what happens as phono pre improves.

If you see a second hand STST Motus DQ grab it!

Also look into PTP Audio

Rega P8 (I prefer it to the P10)

Rega Aura phono stage (among the best I have heard at any price)

Ortofon Cadenza Bronze





If your not adverse to used, a SOTA refurbished table from the company is a great buy and will hold its own for quite a while. I have a Star Sapphire with vacuum hold down, an SME V arm and Kiseki cart all for about $7500. Added a Fosgate Signature tube phono stage and I’m done. To me a very fine sounding analog setup.

+1 @lalitk

Find the best tt/arm and then the road is easier.

I assume that you live in the UK, just to add one for your nice headache, you can check Bauer Audio DPS 3. Could be your end of the road tt.

"Rega P8 (I prefer it to the P10)"

"why? I am curious"

I'm also curious as I had the P8 and P10 side-by-side with the Apheta 3 and the P10 was clearly better, more resolving but not etched, better defined bass, more engaging, you name it. Don't get me wrong, the P8 is a great table for the price, but I can't disagree more after what I heard

So many amazing suggestions in here. Thank you all. I've got lots of new turntables, carts and phono stages to research and lots of potential directions I can go in. I think I will likely go down the new rather than used route. But apart from that, all is currently open.

@dekay I'm currently running a Clearaudio Concept with Performance V2 MM cart into the MM phono stage of the Moon Ace All-in-one. It sounds a bit flat. I'm keen to move to MC. The current Moon I have doesn't support this. So I either upgrade my analogue front-end first and buy a separate phono stage or I upgrade my Moon to the 330a + 390 next and then upgrade my TT etc... afterwards and can trial the 390 MC phono stage.

@whart Thanks for your detailed response. Would you recommend I update the tonearm and cart on my current Clearaudio table then? 

@rossb Have you tried the upgraded Planar 8 and Planar 10. I think the P8 and P10 are discontinued now?

@petg60 Will check out the Bauer Audio DPS 3. I am in the UK yes. Thanks!

@k600r Fantastic. Thanks. I am in the UK though so I think SOTA might difficult for me to get.

@overthemoon Do you rate the 390 phono stage? No desire to upgrade to a separate phono stage?

@bigkidz Have you listened to the Rega Aura MC? Would you rate that as a phono stage?

@liamowen Pass Labs XP17 added to the list. I'm reading an article in The Absolute Sound as we speak. I'll find somewhere to go and listen to it.

@tablejockey Would yo say the Aphelion is worth the extra cash over the Apheta 3?

 Would yo say the Aphelion is worth the extra cash over the Apheta 3?

cainullah-in this hobby-wrong question to ask!

I say if you're getting the P10, why not get the "best' of Rega's offerings? 

The Aphelion is purportedly made with extra care/tolerances which justifies the extra ca$h.

Rega Aphelion 2 | The Ear (the-ear.net)

The Apheta 1 was an awful cartridge.  I find the Apheta 2 fully satisfactory.

Stands to reason that the Apheta 3 would be even better.  I don't have any experience with the Aphelion.  So, you're "safe" as long as you go Apheta 2 or beyond, in my view.  And, the Pass Labs is a sleeper phono stage.  I don't know why, either.


@cainullah btw I have an AVID pricelist which can be helpful as the web site is not the easiest to figure out

With what you have maybe start by simply trying another cartridge with enough output to mate with your current Moon?

Based upon reviews the Performance V2 can easily be bettered (the Ace/Concept have stellar reviews).

If this does it then good (you could alway add a step-up/MC later or go with the Moon separates) and there is no downside if you choose the higher output cartridge wisely.

See what your current deck is capable of before moving on.

Take a look (reviews) at the Nagaoka MP-500.



Since you're obviously in the UK, I would absolutely demo two or three Nottingham Analogue (Dais or better).

@whart  is right - it is very difficult to demo the analogue front end, because it's not always clear what you are hearing (cartridge, arm, table, and especially how well they have been set up, not to mention phono) but, and it's a big but, sometimes you get lucky and find a combination that's head and shoulders above the competition. That's how I ended up with Nottingham.

How good was it? Until I built my DIY air bearing table, it was the best I had heard at sane prices. But you can definitely improve on the arm, at least you can if those of 20 years ago are still representative. The most important things in an arm are rigidity, low resonance, and adjustability.

Remember, no setup without adjustability, preferably adjustability on the fly.

Pair that with a Dais and then you have a table upon which even a big Koetsu is not wasted. Then you can ask to home demo a phono stage to suit.

At least, that is how I would proceed. YMMV. Good luck!

@cainullah Is the internal phono stage good - I think so. I used to own McIntosh C2600 with an internal tube phono stage and preferred the 390. 

I don’t feel the need to upgrade the phono stage at this point - I appreciate the simplicity. 

reading some of the comments, I really started to wonder how much difference the phono stage will make. My understanding from what I am reading is that it yields the littlest gain in the chain (say: 5K on a phone stage, 5K on a TT vs. 2K phono stage, 8K TT - the latter being a much better allocation)

But that seems the opposite to what commenters say here.

Then, I am also clueless about the best allocation of the TT components and I don’t care as I have no plans to mess with them. Rega’s choices are fine for me (but it seems to be arm/cartridge/plinth, platter?)

I think what I am trying to say: it's not an Olympic event where winning is everything and pouring millions into Michael Phelps' diet will pay off by that .1 seconds at the end.

It's just a bunch of decent components that will (should) do their part for 1000s and not 10s of 1000s (unless you have a giant concert hall to work with).

I guess that goes against 98% of what's being argued here :)

"Rega P8 (I prefer it to the P10)"

why? I am curious


If you heard the P8 and P10 compared in a store demo you would almost certainly prefer the P10. It sounds bigger, more dramatic, more detailed and more dynamic. But if you live with the two for a while, it is another matter.

I owned both the RP8 and the RP10 at the same time, and then the P8 and P10. I ended up selling the RP10 and the P10 for the same reason. The ceramic platter gives the P10 a slightly brittle, slightly bright sound, and notes seem to be fore-shortened. There is a sense in which musical notes do not develop the full range of harmonics, and it sounds oddly artificial and fatiguing. This was with a range of cartridges, using the same phono stage. The P8 sounds smaller, less dramatic, less detailed - but more "normal", IMO more musical and engaging in the long term.

The arm on the P10 is better. I ended up putting a Cardas re-wired RB2000 on my P8, and with an external PSU instead of the Rega wall wart, and this to my ears sounds excellent.

But I should add that the P8 is not my main turntable, which is a Lenco-based PTP Solid 9 with Audio Origami PU7 arm.


i was once of the thought that a phono stage requires less of the budget. However - especially with MC’s they actually have the most difficult job in the amplification chain having to keep noise low and amplify the signal the most. I think that once you get to a certain level (transcription I’d say such as Linn LP12 - Roksan Xerxus - Rega RP 8 or 10) you really see a greater benefit. My analogy being that an average driver won’t make the best off an F1 car and won’t be much slower than an F1 driver - put them in an F1 car and the normal driver won’t even be able to get the brakes up to temperature. It’s a bit of an exponential ratio that can’t really be calculated in simple numbers. An average cartridge with a great phono stage would be far better than a great cartridge and an average phono stage

I generally run two turntables in my main setup. The one that has not moved in a decade is a Pro-Ject Extension 10. It’s a fantastic rig that does not get a ton of press. It’s a bit of a beast. I just upgraded to the Pro-Ject RS2 phono stage and have a Hana ML on it. Those all work incredibly well together. The Hana replace a low output Blackbird. I’m about to replace the Hana with one of the nicer Sumiko cartridges. 

My second turntable is (now) a 1200G. I had a heavily modded 1200 mk2 before it that is in my office. The 1200 is nice if you want to easily swap cartridges - which I do. I’m moving the Hana to it, but I also run a Soundsmith Carmen MKI, the Blackbird, and a Grado (can’t remember which one). I’m about to get the Pro-Ject RS2 for it as my other phono pre uses dip switches and I need to make frequent enough adjustments when I change cartridges. 

I had the P8 in the system for a while. My first ‘real’ turntable was a Planar2, and I had always wanted a nicer Rega. In my system and room, I did not love it. Although I find myself looking at the 10 pretty frequently. 

As others have said, you can get a really nice analog setup with that budget. Enjoy! 

@dekay Upgrading the tonearm and cart on my Clearaudio is a compelling option. However, if I don't upgrade my Moon Ace or buy a 390, I am stuck with MM carts. I'm a little afraid of upgrading the tonearm and cart on the Clearaudio and then doing another upgrade later down the line to MC. I might see if I can do a home trial of a cart/tonearm but I'm not sure that's possible.

@tjnindc Thanks for your advice. Out of interest, why do you swap out cartridges often? Do you have particular cartridges for specific genres of music? I'll add the Project to my list.

@cainullah ​if I don't upgrade my Moon Ace or buy a 390, I am stuck with MM carts.

As was mentioned you may choose to use an external step up transformer and MC carts with your MM stage. ​​( although input capacitance of your MM input may be a touch high , not sure ).

I am just a tinkerer. I have two amps (one solid state, one tube), a few sets of speakers, and two turntables (and three cartridges for the 1200). I have some pretty different cartridges now - the Sumiko, Soundsmith, and Grado do not sound alike at all. My brain clearly needs things to work on and do. :) I'll live with one set up for a while and then swap a few or a bunch of things out. Thank god I don't have a bigger room! 

RE: NA Dais

I think so too. It does have a quirk, which is really a feature which contributes to its excellent sound. The motor is very, very, weak, about 1.8 W. You have to spin the table with your hand to start the platter moving - the motor is just strong enough to maintain rotation against bearing friction and stylus friction.

That's good news, for many reasons. It's cheaper to build a low power, high precision AC motor. It's easier to build a high precision motor controller for a weak AC motor. So you don't have to pay a big bill for R&D as well as manufacturing. And there's little power left over to vibrate the platter.

Also, the sub-platter is metal (for mass - actually moment of inertia) and the top platter is a thick slice of of  graphite, which NA calls a mat. Graphite is one of the best mates to vinyl, because its speed of sound is virtually the same as speed of sound for vinyl. So vibration in the record is transmitted optimally into the thick graphite and thence sunk into the massive metal subplatter, with little reflection or resonance.

These are empirical facts. Some here may dispute them on the grounds that their physics intuition says otherwise. Well, physics is a science, and science is based on experiment. This was an experiment, an experiment that worked.

Also, if you ever decide to DIY, the base is the weakest point of the turntable. An obvious way to improve the sound is to replace the base with one made of Panzerholz, preferably B25. The nice thing about that is that it's easily reversible if you don't like it. Also, it's best to place the Dais on a board of Panzerholz.

Good luck with it!

Rega, Thorens and Michell are great places to start. I am not sold on the Apheta cartridge. You certainly do not want to go cheaper. All three companies use very acceptable tonearms which will support any level of cartridge you care to think of accept perhaps Koetsu which requires a heavier arm. Something like the Ortofon Windfeld Ti,  the Lyra Kleos or the Soundsmith Sussurro would be nice. Go with a Sutherland phono stage. I would hope they would be less expensive across the pond.


I was suggesting starting with a new/different cartridge (only) fo a start.

A cartridge with a bit more detail and jump factor may be all you need.

Your TT is reviewed as being slightly smoother than typical non-suspended decks in its price range and above (not a bad thing) and your cartridge is reviewed as being somewhat "static" sounding (probably not a great match as you are looking for a more exciting sound).

It’s easier (less confusing) to change one thing @ a time and sometimes that one thing is all that’s needed.

Years ago I was looking @ new TT’s and CD decks because I was not happy with the bass/mid-bass of the one’s I’m still using.

The Thorens/SME had a hollow/reverb quality and the CAL (CD) was a bit thick/mushy.

During the course of the search I added a couple of after market custom shelves (ordered months before) to my rack for the source gear.

Doing so remedied what I disliked about the sound of both and I ended up keeping them (the improvement was so great on the CD deck that I ended up selling the DAC I was using as I discovered that with the new shelf I preferred the sound of the internal DAC).

Changing one thing (the shelf) was all that was necessary.








@dekay Gotcha. This makes perfect sense and could actually be a really good interim solution. Any advice on a cart I should look at that would go with my table, tonearm and the Moon Ace?

Sorry no...

The last time I listened to newer cartridges was around 2010 and they were a couple of inexpensive Denon MC's popular @ the time.

I have 20 year old Grado Prestige Silver/Gold bodies, an old lackluster Ortofon 15 something which sounds similar to the Shure V15 MkIV mistake and an excellent sounding (but ancient) Pickering V15.

I require very high output due to the way my line/phono preamps and power amps are configured.

I have an old EAR 834 hi-gain phono preamp which would remedy such, but it needs some work that I've never gotten around to.

I've found pro reviews of the MP-500 interesting (in regard to breaching the MM/MI/MC barriers), but there are many choices out their.

The MP-500 is "said" to have some of the attributes of better MC's, but it also has a user replaceable stylus for approx. half the price of the full monty.