I agree with everything you said. I myself am still in the 4 digit zone with my vinyls, and the suggested 15.000 mark was just a little joke. But I hope to be able to buy records for another few decades... not as a collector, but as a music nerd. We don't even own a TV at home, and spending long evenings with my partner (she is as much of an audio and music nut as myself) and / or friends in front of the stereo, or meeting around certain musical topics with everybody bringing records, files or CDs, is at least as wonderful as watching a great movie with friends. Having a pleasant, pristine system certainly helps to have us all spell bound and glued to the music.
Speaking of expensive carts, I recently put a (pretty vintage) Audio Technica AT-OC30 MC that was retiped by Mr. van den Hul (the rest of my turntable consists of a highly modified Technics 1210 MkII with a Linn Akito arm, and Herbies's Way Excelent II Mat). I was always very sceptical of those carts in the 1000€+x area, but this one blows me away every time I put a record on... I am already dreading the moment when it's time has come, it's one of those items that made such a huge improvement that I would miss it so much.
But still, I can only second your last sentence- it's the music that moves us, and all technology should be forgotten about when listening to a truely unique recording or amazing work. I really like my system because it vanishes behind the music. LS3/5a magic... and I might have mentioned that before, the Floats give me exactly that sensation. I can listen to the music in such a precise way and still forget that I wear head phones. I just moved to another (also temporary) studio and the acoustics of the room are still awful and need a lot of tweaking and dampening, and having the Floats gives me instant means to continue working. Such a simple device, but such musicality.
Another TV free person - at last ! I agree with everything you said.
Regarding carts I : they are quite tough and if treated properly and retipperd regularly, can last decades. ATs seem to age well and if OC30 floats your boat, keep it sending to VdH and you will have a cost effective way of playing vinyl.
Regarding carts II : although I am a rational person and will approach any cart regardless of price through measurements ( worked briefly at Benz Micro Switzerland, etc, etc, etc ) , I would like to share an experience with a particularly good sample of Audio Note Soara cartridge. It is an inexpensive version of the mighty iO cart ( if a cart >2K can be called inexpensive ... ) - and its measurements were nothing to write home about, especially not at the price. HOWEVER - sound was another matter. TT was Voyd Reference, arm Helius Cyalene. This thing COMMUNICATED. Musically, that is. There are some great lieder on http://www.musikhaus-kietz.de/products/de/Klassik/Festkonzert-Schauspielhaus-Berlin-Vinyl-ETERNA-827785-786.html that were so moving on this record player I simply had to invite a friend to have a listen with Floats. On purpose I left the listening room and returned some 5-10 minutes later.
By the tears flowing from the closed eyes on the friend's cheeks it was clear that the musical message has gotten through. This is a great recording by any account - and it does sound good with high quality equipment. But that Soara transended the medium and put you right in front of those musicians.