After just getting into vinyl about a year ago I had initially decided to proceed slowly. I bought the lowest priced new belt driven turtable I could find a Stanton T50 for $115 with cart. Having played around with this for a while I decided rather that upgrade the turntable my initial upgrage was buying a VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine. Although expensive at $500 after hearing some of my garage/yard sale finds cleaned on a VPI I think bang for my buck that was the best sound improvement that could be made. Anyway it is now time to upgrade the turntable and I have been doing some research any thoughts on the matter would be helpful. Also at this point I do not have the money to buy a seperate phono preamp. I will continue to use the phono stage in my Sony 915 circa 1998 for now it seems to work well with the Stanton. Initially it was toss between the Music Hall 2.1 and the Pro-Ject Debut III. But from what I have read the Cart, that they ship with need instant upgrading. I then looked into the next level up, the Pro-ject Xpression and the Music Hall MMF-5. I also beleive that the Rega P2 is in this range I also beleive that there are at least 2 models of Goldring in this range. It appears that the Music Hall MMF-5 with its dual plinth, glass platter, and Goldring G1012GX cartridge is the best deal out there. I have seen it as low as $566 at Music Direct. Thanks Alex
I had access to all of those turntables and chose the ProJect 1Xpression. Primarily due to the carbon fiber tone arm. One caveat is exactly what you said. I changed the cartridge to a Grado Blue. Still comes in under the price of the Music Hall. The Music Hall is prettier but I believe the next step up in sound is the Rega P3 and it's a toss up for sound with the ProJect.
The things about the Rega P3 is that apart from being a fine deck which can take anything up to a Dynavector 10x5 cartridge happily, you can also upgrade the arm with the Incognito rewire which does awesome things for the resolution, transparency and timing of the deck. You can also buya Michell counterweight stub which brings about yet more improvements in the dynamics and solidity of the music. Another thing you can upgrade with is the Michell VTA adjuster for extra fine calibration. All of these changes make the already-good P3 into a remarkably fine performer.
I don't think there are after-market add-ons for the ProJect, although it is a fine deck.