Originally Posted by The23rdman
You say you've left obvious brands such as Technics, Dual etc of the list cos they don't make many bad decks. Does this go right across the board and ages? I'd like to look at these manufactures too, but don't want to by one of the rare duffers.
As brands these are all a pretty safe buy especially in the low cost catagory.
Dual always specialised in this end of the market so the differences are mainly in build quality with the older ones being more substantial and getting progressively more plasticky into the 1980's.
The older ones also use idler drives like the Lenco decks which are slightly more complex mechanically and usually offer 3 speeds which you only find on the more deluxe models like the CS-5000 later on. The 80's CS-505 is a budget classic and sounds really impressive for such a cheap deck. They are still sold today but the prices have gone crazy ( 500 Euro or something!)
Avoid the really low end ones from the '80s onwards like the CS-514 unless you get them for peanuts.
Thorens budget classic is the TD150/160 and the varients of this design. It was twice the price of all but the most expensive Dual but sold in such great numbers and for so long that they can often be had cheaply 2nd hand. They were made in various designs between the late 1950's and early 1990's so there are a lot of versions. The cheaper ones have more plastic parts like the subplatter and flimsier cases but the essentials remain basically constant so they are always a good buy and eminently upgradeable.
There are lowlier Thorens of simpler design like the TD-110 again dating from the dawn of the dreaded 1980's which are less good but still worthwhile if cheap enough, and more high-end ones like the TD125/126, which can sometimes be found for little more than the good condition late TD160 or later TD320 for under 500USD. At this kind of price level these are a greater bargain as they are so exquisitely engineered.
Thorens new owner has revived the TD160/320 design but as with Dual ( who actually OEM the basic modern ones like the TD-170/180/190) the prices are exorbitant today.
Bang and Olufsen I discounted on the basis of the replacement stylus costing 150 USD but for this reason sometimes the decks are available for 50USD or something and if you can run to it, at this price they are very worthy contenders, being much better made than most of the the Dual's and Thoren's and sounding as good too, with beautiful Danish design into the bargain.
The more basic tables like the 1800 series are not that far from the really top end B&O like the Beogram 8000 in terms of sound quality, the later simply offering greater automation and convenience, a recipe often utilised at the time by the major Japanese manufactuers as well.
There is actually a lot to be said for bespoke carts which are idiot proof to mount (a concept adopted by Rega), and a good upgrade path is still available via The Soundsmith varients. These are pretty reasonably priced compared to similarly exotic transducers on the market today with ruby cantilevers, like the Dynavector Karat.
Technics of course made more of a range of decks than any of the European manufacturers mentioned above, often just changing the model number but altering little of the fundamental designs which are uniformly good.
They do span a wide range of pricepoints from the entry level basic belt drives like the SL-BD22, which you can still get new in some parts of the world, right upto to the classic broadcast SP10/SL1000 which is a serious collectors item.
The series that the ubiquitous SL1200 came from in the 1970s that went from SL1100-SL1900 are all good 2nd hand buys often found fitted with SME tonearms, as are the underated linear trackers like the SL-5/7/10/15.
The reason I omitted all these though is that you can often save yourself a lot of money, which after all was the idea of this thread, by simply buying the lesser known marques from the same period. This is especially true of the Japanese direct drives which are generally driven by the same Matsu****a (Technics) motors anyway.