Nostalgia has its price
I have a used Technics SL-10 direct-drive linear-tracking moving-coil turntable with no appreciable stylus wear, that I replaced the tonearm drive belt on a decade ago. There is one SL-10 advertised on Ebay for $500 (ridiculous price IMO). I also have an Akai el-cheapo belt-drive turntable that I use for severely warped and/or scratched/dusty/skipping LP's. The Technics linear tracking tonearm has a servo control that cannot cope with large horizontal or vertical excursions and is hopeless on skipping LPs. With the Akai I can adjust the tracking force and twiddle the anti-skate dynamically or even blow air on the tonearm to navigate warped/skipping LPs and get a clean copy.
I transcribed most of my analog to digital already using a 24 bit converter with 120+dB s/n (E-mu 1212 sound card). I can hear no difference between the analog and digital copy even using single-ended cabling (the turntable and receiver are single-ended anyway).
The waveforms show a marked difference between the Akai and the Technics. The peaks are pointy on the Akai and there is less definition in the high frequencies, probably due mostly to the difference in cartridge architecture. Sorry, I own no instrumentation to analyze with. Maybe some day I will load up an FFT algorithm and run an analysis on the data files. I am hard pressed to hear the difference even though I can see it in the waveform.
I find no compelling argument to favor analog reproduction on a mass-produced vinyl mechanical pressing of an analog tape recording that was transcribed to a master disc from which a casting mold was created. I find no compelling argument in favor of direct-to-disc LP masters either. The capability of A/D and D/A is so far advanced it leaves analog recordings in the dust.
I have a rack of vinyl halfway to the ceiling in my bedroom. I have been meaning to finish transcribing it and toss it for years. Some of it may be worth something but the truth is that old LPs are everywhere and only a few have collector value. (Does my picture LP of Dreamboat Annie count? How about the cracked triangular mini-LP picture disc from Asia's 'Heat of the Moment'? I have no 'original releases' that I know of.) I also have a box of commercial and personal cassettes I already transcribed with a used Yamaha 3-head deck that needed a motor when I bought it from the local thrift for $15.
I also transcribed some old reel tapes and I have a library of VHS that I am working on. Four old VHS decks already died in that process and I am down to one.
I found that the biggest improvement in my experience was replacing stereo with 7.1 and then replacing 7.1 with 11.1. The advanced Dolby Pro Logic IIx algorithm with Audyssey DSX running on top lends 3-d realism even to stereo recordings. There is no need to 'imagine' the imaging from two megaspeakers or depend on meticulous placement and expensive room treatments to bring the recording to life. Modern algorithms lend a realism that is like live.
I installed Sapphire/TSC towers and sattelites because I could find them used locally and on Ebay for approximately $100 per channel and they sound better than my ears can hear anyway even if some audiophiles look down upon them. I also installed two SVS PB10-NSD subwoofers that I found used, locally, for half price.
The front high speakers are SBL, small light bookshelf units with plastic economy cone/dome, horizontally mounted to the wall at ceiling height. The front wide speakers are SB, somewhat larger bookshelf units with metal woofers and plastic dome, half a center channel each, hanging at standing-up head level in basketball nets that are suspended from a ceiling-mounted custom aluminum tube and shelf bracket assembly, spanning from the top front corners of the room and out 4' into the listening room along the side wall. The aluminum tubes are anchored to the front and side walls with bookshelf brackets and all my hanging speakers require only 2 screws in the wall per speaker.
The front main speakers are ST2 towers, with metal midrange cones and plastic dome tweeter in D'Appolito array, and plastic woofers on the side. The center channel is the same D'Appolito array in a two-way configuration, with my sock stuck into the port to tame the mid-bass boominess. The four rear speakers are all ST3 with matching D'Appolito to the rest of the system (except the front high) and dual metal woofers on the side.
I have never heard a system that sounds like mine does now. I placed and tuned everything meticulously. When I engage the 11.1 algorithm, the room fills with a sweeping and precise sound stage, with individual instruments solidly placed and represented, and the ambiance clearly distinct from the actual performers. When I revert to stereo, the result is mush (relatively speaking).
Even 2-channel movies and TV programs sound like surround in 11.1. The algorithms that extract ambiance and random sounds to the front high and rear surround channels, isolate stereo (or surround) sources to individual instruments that localize to one speaker individually or the closest two neighbors in the sound stage, and decorrelate simultaneous output from separate speakers using time delays and piecewise FFTs to improve imaging and localization, are just amazing. The Dolby Pro Logic IIx with Audyssey DSX algorithm is the most satisfying. The ambiance of the DTS-x algorithm is muddy and distracting and the midrange is too forward.
I paid $850 for my $1200 TX-NR929 9.1 (11.1 pre out) receiver refurbished and it seems to have no more than the usual uncorrected firmware bugs. It is available for even less now.
Even with what today would be considered a 'budget' system composed of used pieces, I feel confident anyone (except perhaps the most finicky or delusional) would be happy with the result I achieved, at least until something breaks or wears out.
My recommendation to those looking to play LPs is to buy one of the inexpensive commercially available transcription turntables from your local Best Buy, or on-line, and save your LPs directly to digital. Do not buy an expensive 'vintage' audiophile turntable with analog output just so you can dance to Staying Alive on a skipping LP as the floor shakes. You will get far better results playing the digitally transcribed recording back from your PC through your multichannel receiver using SPDIF. Any advantages of an audiophile turntable will be swamped by the lousy s/n dust clicks static pops grain whoosh flutter wow rumble and distortion of the entire electromechanical chain (did I mention the tape hiss of the master?).