Need help with analog system choices

I have recently become curious about exploring the realm of analog as my sister has a collection of LP's and I can always purchase new and used albums. There are always good sources around for LP's if I go that route. I have not yet committed and here is my problem.

I have been poking around the analog discussion forum and reading up on turntables such as the rega line,Mitchell Engineering Gyro SE, and SME products.

People speak highly about the Rega and Mitchell products, but I am confused about all the adjustments/mods people talk about. VTA ,skating,various mounting adjustments, cartridges, balance,wiring, drive motors,etc.

Is it really that difficult now a days to set up a turntable? My sisters turntable is an old Denon and she says its fairly easy to adjust parameters on her table. You just dial them in.

Any advice on a turntable that won't brake the bank and can be configured with a tonearm that provides all these adjustments in a user friendly fashion. Am I dreaming here?

Also, would it not make sense to invest in a better cartridge then put more money into the tonearm? The cartrigde is what is hitting the album?

Can you really hear a noticeable difference when you upgrade tonearms assuming the remainder of the system stays the same? For example, there is a forum on comparisons between rega tonearms and the SME V arm. Most say that the SME is the real thing and far superior to the Rega arms. Also the rega cannot be easliy adjusted. How true this is is a mystery at this point.

Are cartridges only designed for specific types of tonearms?

I am overwelmed. Is this really worth it? Do albums really sound better than CD's at this point?

Perhaps I need a drink.

Any advice would greatly be appreciated.
Taz, a drink is never a bad idea. Cheers. Yes, LP's are far more musically satisfying than any digital front end I've heard. LP's is making love, digital is having sex. Good analogy, have another drink and read on.
There are many good turntables in the market: some swear by Linn, others my Rega, and people like me just love their Oracle 'tables. Suspension, motor accuracy, platter material, bearings... there are all kinds of variables that go into the 'table itself. The majority of the quality analog rigs are belt-driven models, try to avoid direct-drive motors as they tend to be somewhat less accurate and a little more noisy. I generalize, but most direct drive 'tables are mid-fi at best.
Cartridges to me are much like tubes. There are many quality cartridges, each with their own character. It's relatively easy to swap out cartridges so don't get too hung up about what to start with. If you're clumsy like I am, try to buy a cartridge with female threads built into the body, the higher end Grados fit the bill. Have another drink.
Tonearms are critical to the set up and sound of your analog front end. All those set up variables are provided to allow you to dial in your 'table to get the most from it. Again, bearings play a big part in being able to track accurately. Vibration is evil. Tone arm leads are probably the most important part of the arm, they take the delicate signal from the cartridge and feed it to your pre-preamplifier.
The quality of your analog set up is dependent on your 'table, arm, cartridge, and the set up. One last drink..atta boy
Why would you want to fool with all those settings when you can have a competent, experienced tech do it for you? They know the in's and out's of turntable set up and will get the most of out your setup. They generally work by the hour and won't set you back a ton of coin. And yes, it's well worth the trouble. If you could let us know your budget for the complete set up ('table, arm, cartridge) as well as your associated equipment (amp, preamp, CDP, speakers, etc) we'd be happy to give you some suggestions. It's all about the music, Jeff
There's definitely no need to get neurotic. You can drop $1k or so on a Rega P3 and a decent Rega cartridge and will get a vast amoung of satisfaction with this setup with no trouble whatsoever, then later, you can worry about changing cartridges, arms, etc.
But even $500 will get you in the ballpark (excluding phono section). I bought a NAD 533, Rega clone, several years ago, was blown away by the performance (like a lot of people, I was having a tough time getting good CD sound on a budget) and still have that table, tough I have tried a couple of relatively $$ cartridges - Audio Technica, Grado - both sound great tho different.
Rega even makes an inexpensive phono preamp that retails for $175 and has been reviewed favorably.
And records are cheap and plentiful!
taz, have a drink and calm the analog frayed nerves
i've recently gone through the same. in my case i was just as overwhelmed with all the tech about analog playback. i debated dropping about $2k into a table/arm/cart from basis/rega/benz. after coming to my senses at this stage of my vinyl life, i settled on a music hall-5 from a local dealer. my decision went like this: why have a rig that exceeds the value of my vinyl library. so i decided to put the $1.5k or so i saved and devote that to a steady acquisition of software for the next year. if, and only if, i'm still devouring all the good vinyl i can find at that point will i fork out the cash for a better rig. the audiophile in me asures me we will be picking up a new table come the holidays this year.
at that point i wouldn't hesitate at moving further up the basis line than i would have of late.
i'm not singling out the music hall, but it does seem to have what you're looking for, split plinth, belt drive, arm, decent mm cartridge, dust cover, record clamp(not SOTA but many tables it is an option altogether, also nice for older lps that may have a slight warp). there's the music hall 7 at $1k (can be had $900 on web) nicer acrylic split plinth, totally isolated motor, nicer mc cartridge, nicer arm, adjustable spiked feet but according to my dealer not twice the table the model 5 is. and that's $500 for a nicer phono stage or software in my situation, maybe yours too.
oh by the way have a drink, then have another for good measure.
for $500 you can get everything you need from the music hall-5. i'm not about to say you'll get as much performance out of this table as you would some of the regas, mitchell gyro, well tempered, vpis, linns, etc however, if you find you like vinyl, but never make the true commitment to the medium, do you really want to know you have a $2-3k rig?
although i might assume you have something already, have you set aside any of your budget for a phono stage? this will be important given the amplification needs of phono versus line level sources. a slightly less, but equally pernicious neurosis, can be developed when choosing phono amplification.
if it helps, i believe someone told me to prioritize in this order: table, arm, cartridge/amp
hope this helps, i'm no analog expert, but this has been my experience so far.
oh yeah, how about vinyl care? that could be anywhere from another $100 on up. i'd stear clear of vacuum machines in the beginning, they seem to be a bigger pain in the arse than help. disc doctor sells an alcohol free cleaning solution, stylus cleaner, wet/dry brushes, replacement pads for brush and a 100% carbon fiber antistatic dry brush for about $100. maybe pick up some gruv-glide also for post cleaning treatment. many i've talked to swear by the disc doctor/gruv glide combo. decide for yourself. visit the web site, google search disc doctor, you'll want to make sure you take care of that vinyl and your stylus.
one more drink and you should be fine...
ok, hope this helps somehow, don't rush into anything, compare as much as possible, if at all possible, and don't mortgage the house on something you haven't married or sold your soul to yet.
bartender, one more for the road...
If you have an EXTREMELY ROCK SOLID place to install your TT with minimal vibration transfer, picking a table leaves you with a lot of choices. Suspension won't be as big of a deal so you can look at other areas of performance and design. Otherwise, the table with the best suspension for a suspended floor or if you will be placing it on a less than "gibraltar" type rack or mount is a Sota.

There is a reason that the Sota's are so heavy, as it takes a LOT of suspension and isolation to keep your arm from hopping around when boogie-ing on a floor that flexes or really like to crank the volume. A heavier platter is also "usually" a good thing too, so that also adds weight. The Sota's also have a truly excellent bearing in the Sapphire version, one which is only bettered by the newer VPI IV's ( according to "reliable sources" ). Keep in mind that these comments are based on a "working class" budget and not a "skies the limit" all out assault on analogue reproduction. I'm sure that there are better bearings available if you are willing to pay for them.

A used Sota Sapphire can set you back by about $300 - $500 without an arm, depending on shape, condition, options, etc... If you can find one with a decent arm for that price, you would be way ahead of the game and have something that a comparably priced Rega, Music Hall, etc... could not hold a candle to.

If you REALLY get into vinyl, you can upgrade the unit to a Sota Star Sapphire, which gives you vacuum hold down to minimize the influence of warps and airborne vibrations. This type of set-up gets pretty involved, as you need an external vacuum pump, a vacuum canister, hoses, etc... Not for the faint of heart or those willing to deal with somewhat of a mess in order to obtain the best results possible.

If you do find a table without an arm, you can pick up a simple yet universal arm like an Audioquest. This is more versatile than the stock yet highly respected Rega since it has VTA adjustments from the factory. On top of this, it would set you back LESS than the Rega, as i've seen these sell for about $200 used.

At the most, you know have $700 tied up in this rig. This leaves you with at least $300 to play with for a cartridge and "accessories". You will have to find out if your preamp has an MC ( moving coil aka "low output cartridge" ) or MM ( moving magnet aka "high output cartridge" ) input or both. If it is a "standard" phono section, it is probably geared for a MM type cartridge or a HIGH output MC type cartridge. If you shop around, there are several very respectable cartridges that are available in this price range.

I would also try to shoot for a record clamp and a minimalist record cleaning brush. As far as clamps go, you could get by with a used Sota or Michell clamp. These can be had for about $30 - $60 or so. A good basic carbon fiber brush will be a good start. You can check the usual sources on the web like Audio Advisor, Music Direct ( talk to Bes ), etc.. for a small variety of these. We prefer these as they do not shed ( or at least not nearly as bad ) as a Discwasher or other soft velvet type brush. Another good phono source is Kevin at KAB Electro-Acoustics. He's "straight up" and will talk "english" to you so that you can understand where he's coming from. Figure about $20 - $30 for a new brush.

This would give a very well versed yet basic system to work with. If you wanted to REALLY go the "inexpensive" route, i would suggest looking for an AR Turntable. While quite similar in design, the later models were called "The Turntable", ES-1, EB-101, etc... This is a good but basic design that has a very moderate suspension. It is highly upgradable, but you might be better off putting your money into something more upscale if you want to upgrade. These can be had for anywhere between $125 and $450, depending on shape, condition, with or without arm, etc...

Keep in mind that these are strictly my opinions and mean nothing in the real world. If i have offended anyone, belittled their gear, robbed them of their manhood ( or womanhood ) by disagreeing with their point of view, i appologize. After that modified Pioneer DVD thread, i think that i'll have to put this type of disclaimer on every post. You might not believe some of the emails that poured in off of that one.... Sean
Also, Sean, SOTAs are (as far as I know) currently being manufactured in Chicago Metro. Upgrading and service is available, as well as rebuilt units. Glad you like SOTA. My pick for belt drives...

Hey, did you receive my reply to your email (again)? I'm waiting for your critique of cable cookers...

Also, I've got a buddy interested in your rack design. I think he'll email you soon.
Tazuser, another tt to put on your short list is the Well Tempered. It comes with it's own arm. Years ago I compared it to many TTs in or around the same price. I have seen the W.T.used from $500 to $800. Remeber, you are getting the tone arm with the table. At that time (mid 80s) the WT competed with the VPI and Oracle and IMO, none of the SOTA tt came close to the WT. I am sure the SOTA's of today are much better. At that time, IMO, the Sota tt was the most over rated tt I had experenced. Once you get used to the WT, it is very easy to set up and tweek. I wish you much success in your search.
Thanks for all of the advice. I feel more comfortable and at ease now. I also want to mention that the reason I did not provide figures for a budget is that I was not sure what was required to set up a TT system. Based on all of the responses, it appears that if I were to invest somewhere around $1500.00 I would have a respectable system. Here is what I have gathered so far from everyone.

There are plenty of choices for good quality TT's and there is no need for me to go broke in order to get high levels of performance.

It seems that the way to go is belt drive over direct drive.

Forget about the vacuum designs. Not for me.

Cartridge considerations will depend on my preamp. Is MM or MC better or does this depend on the arm chosen?

If I choose to go the analog route, I want to make sure that the turntable can be configured with an arm ,assuming it does not already come with one, that comes with the required adjustments.

I have already started checking out some of the recommendations from manufacturers such as Music Hall,SOTA, Michell engineering just to see what the differences are between different turntable designs. The Music Hall is wonderfully priced, but I am not sure if this is up to the quality and value of the slightly more expensive brands I listed above.

I was wondering if anyone has heard anything about Clear Audio. There lower end models tend to compete in price with Michell Procucts, but are more expensive than the Music Hall product line.

I really like the Michell product line. They have been in business for years and seem to build there products to high quality standards all the way through. They can be upgraded and they seem to have an aftermarket value should one decide to sell. The Music Hall that was recommended by someone in this forum and is far less money.

Someone mentioned having a technician set up the equipment so that I would not have to fool with it. In response to this comment I would have to say that if that is what is required in order to get a turntable to perform at it's fullest potential, then my decision will be to stick with CD's.

You see, I am not yet convinced that CD's sound worse that LP. Theoretically the LP should sound better because there is not sampling or conversion involved, but I do not think for me it would be worth it to have to depend on someone else to tune my TT. Besides, what would happen if it were to go out of alignment? What if I wanted to switch to a new cartrigde and needed to make different adjustments? This persons advice was influential in my decision to focus on TT's with belt drives.

I will continue my research as I am in no rush to make any decisions at this time.

Any new comments are welcome. They have helped me more than you can imagine.

Thanks again,

"It seems that the way to go is belt drive over direct drive."

For $650-700 for a modded 1200 you'll get your best performance/price ratio. User friendly, easy to set up, stays tight. Neutral sounding platform...

But, what do I know? I must be loco to be using a "DJ turntable".