Upgrade My Turntable - How Much Do I Need to Spend?

I have recently fallen in love with listening to vinyl on my turntable.  In recent years, I have spent most of my listening time with digital music stored on my server (flac files recorded from CD's), but recently I discovered the beauty of placing an album on the turntable and listening to the entire album.  It's been a wonderful find for me.

My 2-channel room features:

  • McIntosh C260 Tube Preamp
  • McIntosh MC452 Solid State Amp
  • Martin Logan Montis speakers
  • Various upgraded cables and wires
  • Acoustically treated listening room
  • Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable
  • Ortofon Blue Cartridge

My question is:  how big of a step up do I need to make with my turntable to take full advantage of the other components in my system?  I do not intend to do further upgrades with my speakers or amp system, but I would like to step up my game from the introductory level turntable that I bought years ago.  

I've been doing lots of reading and studying, but I would love to hear advice from some of the analog experts on this forum.  (Please don't flame my current system - there are reasons I love my McIntosh and those components are not going anywhere!)  Should I make a move to a $4000 turntable?  Or????  I would love to find a lightly used Rega RP10, and call my search over - but what do others think?

One thing that I believe I value is a simple setup.  I have read horror stories about how much time and frustration can go into getting a turntable setup and then constantly having to tinker for optimal performance.  I don't see myself enjoying that part of the process.



I was in the same position as you.  I had a good turntable but constantly had to fiddle with it.  It took all the enjoyment of listening to vinyl away.  I traded my turntable in on a new Technics SL1200G DD turntable @4K.  This is the least fiddly turntable I have ever owned.  Its like the Showtime oven that the late Ron Popeil was hawking. "Set it and forget it".  I now play a lot more vinyl, and it plays very mice with my McIntosh C2500 tube pre and MC302 amp.

Listen to Jazz?

I'm reading a great Jazz Encyclopedia I was given. SOOO many Jazz greats made their reputations in the 40’s, early 50’s. i.e. MONO LPs. The recording techniques of that era (not the 30’s) were darn good.

Early Classical, so much great stuff is MONO.

Playing MONO LPs with a true MONO Cartridge is definitely better, by a little or a heck of a lot. Lack of Noise, and distinction of individual instruments (not imaging, but clarity from other instruments).

Playing a Stereo Cartridge even if your Preamp has a Mono Mode: the cartridge will pick up any vertical movement: scuffs, surface dust, dirt in the grooves, very slight warps: then the preamp’s Mono Mode will DOUBLE the unwanted noise in both speakers.


Thus, quick change from Stereo Cartridge to Mono Cartridge?

I went thru a few phases until I realized, get a TT with TWO Tonearms, two cartridges ready to go!

In any listening session, play Stereo/Mono/Back to Stereo in seconds.

A single arm, with removable headshells and a few cartridges pre-mounted can work, but tracking force/anti-skate/arm height adjustments/verify azimuth each change is not easy or quick, certainly not instant.

I got too excited and added a 3rd arm, but now I have MC long arm; MC or MM rear arm, removable headshells (swap mine or my friends), and MC Mono 3rd arm left side.


You can find a TT that allows 2 or more Tonearms, start with one, add a second arm if you find the need, at least start with the capability.

And, IF single arm, a removable headshell.

Get a good phono stage, something in line with the TT you get.  My phono stage cost more than my TT.

A used Rega P8/10 would be nice.  RB880 and RB3000 are nice.

I got a used VPI Prime for $3k and am happy.  I think $3-4k is a good range; most of the tables have nice arms.

 "I would love to find a lightly used Rega RP10, and call my search over"

Plan on budget for phonostage as mentioned to fully appreciate whatever you decide to get.

Your setup is ready for "the next level.'

I really hate to ask stupid questions, but I will anyway.... why would I not just use the MM or MC input on my McIntosh tube preamp?  Isn't this a "phonostage"?   

And like I said, my apologies for the question - I am learning this analog as I go!

You ask a good question. I think making a one step up to get the most out of the rest of your equipment makes sense.

If you buy a new turntable, preferably from a dealer, or in the case of VPI diect. You should receive it all ready to go and not need to touch it for at least 2,000 hours. So, what is that 3,000 albums.

To that end, i would look in the $5K range. This gets you into the audiophile range. I find that massive tables like the non-direct drive VPI are dead quiet with awesome bass and have a pretty low cost to sound quality ratio. Tables like Rega and Linn are more lively sounding. One of the advantages of Linn is you can get one in the $4K range fully equipped with cartridge or can upgrade one or two parts when you initially buy it, and then in the future upgrade all the way to their top of the line, one component at a time. But it is best to have a dealer assemble. On the other hand, if the cartridge is already mounted a turntable like VPI Prime and Aries are incredibly simple and are unsprung so there are no adjustments.

I do not fiddle with turntables. I am a klutz and impatient. I buy from dealers. They set it up and make sure it is optimally performing and that is it.

For reference, here were last years recommended turntables from Stereophile. Lots are really expensive, but many of them offer more budget oriented options.




IMO, most onboard phono stages are ok at best.

Phono stages cost from $20 to $20k.  I don't think you have a reference phono stage tucked away in your Mac.

A good phono stage should also have a dedicated power supply, something an onboard stage won't have.

IMO, the phono stage is the most important component in a vinyl set up; everything has to go through it.  You can have the most brilliant TT/cart, and it will only sound as good as your phono stage.

For P8/10, I'd want a phono stage in the $2k range.  If you decide to throw a $2-3k cart on you new TT, at least you know the phono stage isn't a bottleneck.

I like simplicity - so I'd highly recommend a P8/P10 for simplicity.

Remember you have 3 main components in your analog chain 

  1. Turntable (and that can be further delineated into table, power supply and tone arm)
  2. Cartridge
  3. Phono stage.

There's lots of excellent options - I went the P8 route because it was simple to set it and forget it and I could easily upgrade the cartridge/phono stage.

Have fun and good luck in your journey

If I were you I would take a look at $2,000 turntables from Rega, Technics, Pro-Ject and VPI and pick the one you like.  Then get one of the PS Audio phono stages.  They list for $3,000 but go on sale for $2,000.  Or you might find one used.  Your Ortofon Blue can be upgraded to a Bronze by simply changing the stylus and you can hold off on that until you need a new one, but the Bronze is a very worthwhile upgrade and in your situation is your best option for the money.  Back to the turntables for a minute.  All four of the recommended brands are good, are competitive with each other, you can't go wrong.  Trust your heart and pick the one that appeals to you.  Don't let anybody talk you into going against your instinct.

Further thoughts, take a hard look at the new Denon turntable.  I think it lists for about $2,500 and looks like a winner too.

I've been playing in this sandbox since the early '70s. I bought an SP-10 new back in 1973. After restoration (by the late Bill Thalmann, RIP), it runs in my vintage system, replinthed with a Kuzma 9 " arm.

I have a bigger system that started in 2006 with a Kuzma Reference and Triplanar. I eventually upgraded to the XL ( a beoytch to isolate given its weight) and Airline. 

To me, the answer to the question involves the whole analog front end- turntable, arm, phono stage, cartridge, isolation (where necessary). You don't need to do multiple arms, though that gives you more flexibility, for mono, for low compliance cartridges, etc. 

I understand budgets but don't advocate brands. There are some good tables out there- I'd buy one that enables a separately purchasable arm. I can mess with the tube rectifier in the power supply to my phono stage and change the overall voicing of the system. 

So how to pick what's right for you?

Auditioning in dealerships is limited. Home trial is best, but not likely given cartridge damage. 

I've had several good tables over the years- all of it makes a difference. Vinyl is my main and largely definitive source. It takes work to get there. Part of it may depend on geographic location in terms of what is available to you. 

Elliot, You wrote, "Playing a Stereo Cartridge even if your Preamp has a Mono Mode: the cartridge will pick up any vertical movement: scuffs, surface dust, dirt in the grooves, very slight warps: then the preamp’s Mono Mode will DOUBLE the unwanted noise in both speakers." 
This is not the first time you have made that claim.  Can you provide some supporting reference?  What happens in a typical phonopreamp in mono mode is much like what happens in most modern mono cartridges, which are bridged internally to produce a mono signal.  So too are phonoline preamps when in mono mode; R and L channels are bridged.  This does not "double" noise produced by vertical motion of the stylus/cantilever, so far as I know.  I'm willing to learn if you provide a reference.  It also goes against all my direct experience using mono mode in the preamp; the treble is noticeably cleaner compared to playing a mono LP in stereo mode.  That in fact is the major benefit as I perceive it.

You have some good choices in mind.
i've owned the  Rega P6 and Riga turntables are really good. I have a clear audio DC performance and clear Audio makes tables in your price range that are excellent. As Others have said, I would encourage you to invest sufficient money on a separate phono stage to complement your system. In fact, I might concentrate on that first, because once that is covered, the phono stage will pretty much be with you forever as long as you like it. In my experience, the phono stage in your Mac set a pretty low ceiling on the rest of your system. Again, there are going to be lots of choices in any given price range that are good and you're going to get recommendations that match somebody else's personal preference. Personally, I think Sim Audio has a good line at various price points and Rega has some good products as well. Good luck.



How big of a step up do I need to make with my turntable to take full advantage of the other components in my system?

Congrats to your ’find’. I know exactly what you mean 😊

I reckon that you already got some valuable advice from other members.


I for myself can imagine that with the following minimum amounts you should reach your goal.

Turntable 2.5k

Cartridge 1.5k

Phono preamp 1.5k

Of course, sky is the limit.

Regarding a ’simple’ setup: You will need to invest some time to mount the cartridge correctly. No big deal. Just do it relaxed and follow the basic rules. No hush hush.

As elliottbnewcomjr has mentioned this topic in his comment. Otherwise, you will not be able to profit from the hardware update as you really could.

Enjoy the (hopefully) upcoming journey.

@OP. Issues with turntable setup/maintenance are frequently overstated. Non- suspended subchassis turntables need close to zero maintenance apart from an occasional belt change and, possibly, a drop or two of bearing lubricant. Similarly, a cartridge that is properly installed needs nothing until its stylus is worn out.

Taking account of your budget, a Rega Planar 8 would be a good starting point. If you up your budget to above your $4k suggested limit, the Technics SL1200G is excellent and totally bulletproof in terms of reliability - direct drive so effectively maintenance free.

If you want a suspended deck, the Michell Gyrodec a good relatively fuss free choice.


If you have a noise that is say 24 dB down in the left channel and add the noise, 24 dB down, to the right channel, the combined volume will be 21 dB down or double the power, not double the volume. 


Isolation is ALWAYS necessary when it comes to turntables. Turntables are vibration measuring devices and they do not care where the vibration is coming from. The environment is full of extraneous vibration from your refrigerator kicking in to the truck running down the street. People who live in NYC are very familiar with this problem. I call it environmental rumble, it is even a problem if you live in the country, only not as bad. People with turntables that are not suspended. Put your stylus down on a stationary record and turn the volume all the way up. You will see your woofer moving, shaking. The turntable is measuring the rumble in your environment. If I try the same experiment on an SME or Sota you will see nothing, no shaking at all. Any unsuspended turntable needs to be put on a suspension platform. With the weight of the turntable the resonance frequency of the suspension should be below 3 Hz. 

The answer is that when you sum the two channels in phase you cancel signals due to vertical deflection of the cantilever. So Elliot was in error to claim such noise is doubled.

I like Stereo5 recommendation because it is a great tt plus, you have a removable headshell to change out cartridges in the future. 
you have a good tt. I might recommend you upgrade the cartridge to a Hana SL or a cartridge HANA ML. They both come on a high output in case you only have a moving magnet input. Next is the phono stage. There are some killer phono stages out there especially in the used market. Vinyl lovers are nuts. We always want better and better. The one I use now is the Hegel V10. Down the road I will get the ARC Ref 2se. I love a tube phono stage. 
if you can wait a little bit you are going to start seeing Rega P10 tt on the market because the new $12 NAIA  has just hit the US. First hand I know this will be much better than the P10. Also, Ortofon just came out with cartridges that fit Rega without using shims. Most important is the setup of the cartridge. Especially when it comes to Zenith,Azimuth, and Anti-Skate. It is worth it to have it set up professionally. Once you get those three correct it is easy to dial in your turntable to your system and ears yourself. Buy a River Stone VTF scale from Amazon to take care of that yourself. 

You don’t need to spend 4 grand. My friend has the Technics SL-1200 GR and it is an outstanding table for about 2 grand. It also comes in black ( SL-1210 GR). It is a definite upgrade to the table that you are now using!



Mijostyn is correct. The volume is not doubled as you stated.

the combined volume will be 21 dB down or double the power, not double the volume. 

FYI- check your work before posting something that is incorrect. 

my greatest improvement was a phono preamp, $600 from Simaudio. So I don't think you need to spend x and  2x or whatever algorithm on TT vs. cartridge vs. phono stage, but do consider a phono stage for sure.

Goodlistening, I guess you can listen, but I would appreciate it if you would re-read the last several posts about using a mono switch. It was Elliot (not I) who claimed that noise due to vertical deflection of the cantilever (not "volume", the term you used in critique) was doubled if you use the mono mode switch on a preamp to play mono LPs with a stereo cartridge. And I disagree based both on physics (see my post above, please) and my direct experience. Mijostyn may be technically correct but his statement lacking detail and is irrelevant to the issue, which is what happens when you use the mono mode switch to play mono LPs with a stereo cartridge. I have done this hundreds of times, and high frequency noise is always reduced compared to levels that occur when you play a mono LP with a stereo cartridge and use no correction.

Here is a statement I found on another website that is relevant to the mono discussion: "A true mono cartridge has only one coil and is designed to respond to lateral signals only. It does not respond to vertical signals. A stereo cartridge strapped or otherwise manipulated to become a mono cartridge still responds to vertical signals. The introduction of the vertical signal causes distortion and phase anomolies that are not fully canceled by summing the 2 signals. The anomolies are audible. That is why many consider a true mono cartridge (one coil only) to be superior to a stereo cartridge adapted to mono."

So this statement conforms to my own claim that the response in the vertical plane is cancelled.  However, it also mentions that cancellation is imperfect in that it causes "distortion" (without saying what sort of distortion) and phase cancellation (of course it does, that is how the vertical response is cancelled).  But these considerations do support the notion that using a separate "true mono" cartridge may be additionally beneficial, which in part supports Elliot's experience.  But surely the noise resulting from vertical deflection of the cantilever on a mono LP is not doubled.


Is it possible for you simply to admit you made a few innocent but incorrect claims earlier on in this thread? I’m sure you’re a fine person regardless. I only corrected you so as to help others who may be newbies.

Thank you all for your experience on the matter and your advice.  

On a side note, it's always interesting to see how a thread like this goes off course onto a tangent that is far from the original question:  how big of a step up do I need to make with my turntable to take full advantage of the other components in my system?

I do appreciate all of the points above and am considering these factors in my decision.

I don't think price is an indicator of quality and there certainly isn't an "audiophile range." There are many high quality turntables that can be had for much less than $4000 but the question is, would you think they're good enough? Spend as much as you and you only believe you need to in order to get the sound you want. 

Goody, I appreciate the sarcasm but please show me where I was incorrect. Then I’ll apologize. 

@roadcykler I was going to say something similar

an audiophile will want to spend the maximum amount to achieve that best sound - maximum meaning top of his/her budget, an otherwise insane amount for a normal person. That's what addicts do, go to wall to get what they think they need :)

I wouldn’t call myself an analog expert, but I did start on a Pro-ject debut carbon evo. I upgraded to a Sumiko moonstone cartridge, aluminum sub platter, and acrylic platter ; all plaster very minimal sonic improvement . I found a used entry level VPI Cliffwood turntable with an ATvm90ml cartridge for $700 locally and I immediately noticed the sonic difference. More definition, punch, alive… whatever you call it, so more engaging. The plinth, platter (heavier) and tonearm (longer) are also more substantial, so that made me a believer in mass and better tonearms. The cartridge also made a difference, but more so on the better turntable after trying switching it out. If I knew all this then, I would get a VPI prime 21, or better yet, to get more out of my budget, buy used VPI prime super scout or VPI primes that  I’ve seen on sale.

About isolation. Another opinion.

It depends on where you live and where your turntable will go. I live far from main roads, far from rail, my foundation is on granite, and my TT connects directly to the foundation. I don't need isolation - you may not need it either. Good luck !


Just out of curiosity, what is there to prevent you from listening to an entire album that you have ripped to your server?

at any rate, although a starter level table would not be commensurate with the quality of the rest of your system, I would recommend going the entry level route as you are relatively new to analog.  It’s possible that once the reality of short playing times, surface noise, the necessity to clean records, etc, hits, the novelty of vinyl might wear thin and you might be stuck with an expensive piece of gear that is rarely used.  If on the other hand you really enjoy the experience and want to go further it is easier to upgrade 

Unfortunately Energy as endlessly being transferred, the notion that a TT can be placed on typical support structure and not be impacted on by energy transferral is notion that is for myself very hard to take on board.

A TT can be placed upon many surfaces and deliver a sound that many will be impressed by.

A TT can be placed on a surface/surfaces that are being used as part of a specific design to enhance the interface of the Styli in the Groove. It is when the correct combination/permutation of materials are discovered, that work as a betterment for the support method within unique environments, that a TT can present in a manner that creates the perception improvements to the Sound Quality are being generated.  

There has been much discussion on this in various threads, where simplistic and affordable to advanced and very expensive methods to improve a TT in use are made known. 

@hikerneil I suggest that the TT in use at present is kept in use for an extended period and is set up on a support structure that has the design in place to assist with Isolation. The learning is not a one shot experience, the learning comes through trialling and training oneself to discover where the improvements are noticeable.

There may be plenty of discoveries that are influential and may encourage the present TT to be kept on in use.

Alternatively, a New TT, will be a TT mounted on a support that will have the potential to enable it to punch above its weight.   

I appreciate that it might be difficult to accept that isolation does not matter in my case, and so might not matter in other cases - but -

(1) I just made an azimuth adjustment of 5 minutes of arc, and now can hear no reliable difference +/- 2 minutes;

(2) I can hear the teflon bearings in my 1.8 W precision motor - not cogging, but friction.

How could I hear those fine details with sonic interference from the suspension? (or, more precisely, the lack of suspension)

Seems like there is a trade-off, and my turntable is sinking more noise than it's sourcing.

@terry9 I can only stand by my suggestions, as a result of having experiences that are showing strong evidence there is value in creating the certain types of conditions I refer to, as well as not resting but keeping the investigative side alive.

I could have rested on the use of Densified PUR Foam when used as a Support Plinth, it proved itself to be a Wonder Material in a comparison to other available board materials, but then maybe my later discovery of how valuable a Phenolic Resin Impregnated Densified Wood is when used as a Plinth / Sub Plinth and other adaptations, will have been lost to myself. 

Off topic but relevant to the thread, I own several cartridges: stereo, true mono, that is single element single coil, or bridged internally to be mono.  I no longer own it, but did own a preamp with a mono switch.  In spite of what you might have read elsewhere I can assure you that no matter which of these methods is applied, they yield electrically identical results.  There is no difference to be heard using any of these methods to play your mono records. 

Yes, 3-4K for a turntable upgrade is about right. The turntables mentioned by others all are a definite step up.  You might also consider the MoFi Studiodeck or Ultradeck, discount if bundled with a cartridge.


your mac preamp has an excellent phono stage and can support a nice LOMC csrtridge .5mv and above.  A LOMC cartridge is a fantastic upgrade in sound from your 2M Blue cartridge.  I recommend a Lyra Delos if budget allows or an Audio Technica ART 9Xi.  Both sound amazing.  

For a new turntablea Technics SL 1200GR is all you need to get the most out of a decent LOMC cartridge.  An accessory mat like a 4mm Herbies is also recommended.  

After spending over 100 hours studying, shopping, visiting local stores, and researching every source on the matter I finally pulled the trigger and bought a very gently used, 6-month old Technics SL-1200G. The Seller included a Benz Micro Wood L2 cartridge with the sale. The turntable has been set up and dialed in and I have now listened to about twenty albums.

WOW - I love, love, love my new setup for listening to vinyl. I’m really happy that I was patient in my pursuit of finding the right table. The Technics table pairs well with my McIntosh C2600 Tube Preamp, and my MC452 Amp. I’ve listened to lots of Jazz, Female Vocals, as well as my favorite rock artists (Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Dire Straits, and others). At times I considered spending a smaller budget but now I am 100% happy that I went for the Technics SL-1200G.

The SL-1200G is an absolute beast. It’s massive and heavy and beautifully built. Best of all, it looks like it is brand new (it was built last summer).

I’m now in the mode of re-listening to all of my current albums (and I am trying to control my spending on additional new albums).

Lastly, my wife loves the table and was quick to remark how great it sounds. (She doesn’t spend much time in my 2-channel room, but she sure is impressed with the new setup!)

Thank you to everyone who provided input on this thread. I know it can be frustrating to read some of these threads when people fight and argue and go off on crazy tangents, but this forum can certainly be very helpful to a person like me who’s trying to quickly come up to speed on a new subject matter.


@hikerneil , Congrats & welcome to the Club.

I'm lovin my GAE for a few years now. Happy spinning!

 Anything will best the Project table.  I prefer Direct Drive, and the OP didn’t specify a budget, but if he has say, $3K to spend I would get two tables, say a Technics 1500 and an equivalent priced belt drive and go to town

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Love your current setup.  As a former electronics tech and online dj music nut, I highly recommend that no matter what Turntable you get, spend more on the cartridge and needle!! And I Say this as a electronics tech from aviation radios and reproduction of sound.  The needle is the key Brands i liked after my 3 months obsessive looking,  I came down to three brands.  Grado Labs, Ortofon, and Sumiko each have the highest  cartridges specs in their lines, and top end is amazing.  Now i have a relatively cheap TT but i put a cartridge Grado Prestige 3 gold on it and wow!!  I wish i had the budget to go higher in any lines i mentioned. Having been and online dj knowing digital and then going back to my youngers years listening to Errol Garner, Boots Randolph, The 1812 overture, Beethoven's 5, To modern music from 60 to current.,. yep it all about the cartridge needle!!