So, here's my story in a nutshell. About seven years ago my wife (still girlfriend at the time) presented me with a Pro-Ject Essential Phono USB turntable. I had a modest collection of records at the time, mostly hip-hop and electronica coming out on independent labels, which I bought mainly to support the community, with a view of owning a turntable one day, and to listen to while visiting friends who actually had equipment to play them. For me personally, it was, and still is, the first turntable I owned. I hooked it up to some active desktop speakers, started expanding my collection with re-issues of Blue Note classics, and was pretty happy at the time. Then I started moving around: plain traveling the world first, settling in a new country, new city next. In a new city, with all the cares and worries of setting up a home, and my re-discovered passion for classical menswear I never quit got to the records, and both them and the turntable were just gathering dust in a storage room for more than five years. Up until a month or so back. I don't know if it was due to the isolation or something else, but one day a switch flipped in my head, and ever since then it's been videos of headphone amps and audiophile forums on a daily basis.
So, I took the turntable out of storage, bought a used Harman/Kardon HK620 amp, ordered a pair of Klipsch RP-600Ms, and since the dealer for the speakers suddenly hit a supply block and informed me that the Klipsches would arrive by mid of June at best, I bought a pair of Polk Audio T50s just to get going (one would assume that having waited for more than five years I would take another month of waiting without a murmur, but no, as soon as the switch flipped I needed instant gratification, I needed to hear them records play). I was disappointed with the sound of first few records I played - it was noisy and sounded sort of flat if it makes any sense. I bought deep cleaning stuffs, cleaned the records, re-positioned the amp and turntable to avoid potential interference, re-checked the turntable grounding, put the hockey pucks under it to ward off potential vibration, levelled it, changed the matt to acryl, re-ajusted the tonearm pressure. The sound improved significantly, but the noise in the highs remained. I have also learned that there are different quality records out there, different pressings, and indeed, as I was going through my collection I noticed that some of my records sounded much better than the others, there was no lack of weight and broadness. What remained was that aforementioned popping and 'sandy' kind of noise in the highs, which is not the surface noise of the record, but something else, as it seems to correlate with what is playing. When I run digital, through the 3.5 of my MacBook (DAC is on the way), there is no such noise, the sound is clear, I am actually pretty impressed (true, I myself have been listening mostly on sub-par gear, but I am no stranger to hi-fi sound). So I suspect the problem lies somewhere in the direction of the turntable. I suspect it's either a cartridge, or a built-in phono stage. I mean, it's only to be expected from an old piece of gear which survived a number of long-haul relocations and was sitting unattended for a number of years.
So, with this long preamble out of the way, I finally arrive at my question. I guess I'd like a clean slate as far as the turntable is concerned. The turntables in the subject can all be had for around 500 EUR new, the Music Hall and Thorens sometimes even for 400 EUR. The audiophile community seems to hold that this is a 'sorry ass no man's land of turntables' price range and recommends going for used Rega P3 or Music Hall mmf-5.3. I have two reservations here. First of all, I am weary of buying a used turntable. As I mentioned, I'd like a clean slate. Should I be somehow unsatisfied, I will not be able to shake the feeling that it may be something wrong with the device, something the previous owner had done. I just don't want this in the equation. Secondly, and this is only related to Music Hall 5.3, that nuclear-waste coloured level which they melted into the plinth is a deal-breaker for me. It just looks plain ugly. Music Hall 2.3, on the other hand, looks pretty slick. But Fluance RT84 seems to be of superior value for the money, with 2M Blue cartridge (of course, here too the opinions are divided, I read both praising and lukewarm reviews online). Thorens has just recently caught my eye.
What do you think?