Choosing the right turntable can feel like a harrowing journey. After all, they're a real investment in your listening. Poor quality turntables will hinder your playback, introduce feedback and distortion, and can even damage records over multiple plays. But product descriptions can use plenty of confusing terminology, and it can be hard to tell which details matter and which are flashy distractions.
(If you need a primer on some of these terms, check out our blog post, Turntable Terminology.)
We've collected some of our favorite turntables at various price points below, and we've outlined what factors make them shine. Now you can either upgrade your rig or make your first entry into the world of vinyl with confidence and style!
$279.99 // Order on Amazon
This is the perfect choice for someone who wants a turntable that's high on convenience and low on cost. Bluetooth connectivity makes it perfect for wireless listening setups. It also allows you to digitize your vinyl collection by connecting the playing to your computer via USB. The built-in phono pre-amp means it's ready to plug into speakers as-is, but the built-in pre is bypassable in case you have a standalone pre or a phono pre in your stereo receiver. (If you have either of those, they will likely be the superior choice to the built-in pre-amp).
Rounding out the functionality is the automatic operation - press the Start button and the tonearm will move to the edge of the record and lower all on its own. Once it reaches the end of the side, the tonearm will automatically lift and return to its home position.
Downsides? While the sound quality punches a little above it's weight, the cartridge can't be swapped out, so if you want an upgrade down the line, you'll need to buy a whole new turntable. But a host of modern features and its slick, minimalist design makes this an excellent option for a casual listener on a budget.
For The Tinkerers
U-Turn Orbit Basic Turntable
$179+ // Order at U-Turn Audio
U-Turn Audio has been a leader in the wave of modern audiophile turntables because of their commitment to quality in every component, their sleek sense of design, and their expandability. While the Orbit Basic is their entry-level offering, it offers an excellent foundation that new vinyl lovers can customize and upgrade over time.
So what exactly can you customize? Choose between a selection of subtle & bold color choices for the plinth. Add a built-in phono pre-amp for $70. The included Audio Technica AT91B cartridge is no slouch, but can be upgraded later for better sound. Add a cue level. Adjust the counterweight settings to your heart's content.
The Orbit Basic has few frills, but each component is very high quality - so you can start cheaply and invest more into your turntable as your love for vinyl grows over time. Also check out the Orbit Custom, where you can choose any of their available cartridges, platter, cue level, and phono pre for a completely modular experience.
The Next Step
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO Turntable
$499 // Order on Audio Advice
Pro-Ject's Debut turntable was a game-changer when it was first introduced in the late 1990's. Its redesign as the Debut Carbon featured the addition of the trademark carbon fiber tonearm and managed to set the bar even higher. The Debut Carbon EVO is the third turntable in this proud lineage, building upon its ancestors with better components, improved coupling systems, and great strides in convenience and usability. Bottom line: It's one of the best values available to vinyl lovers today.
So what's new on the EVO? Firstly, the EVO comes equipped with the highly-lauded Sumiko Rainier cartridge, easily the best choice in this price range. Pro-Ject has also upgraded its construction with the addition of anti-resonant thermo-plastic elastomer (TPE). Debut Carbon's heavy steel platter, adjustable metal feet, and motor-decoupling systems all make use of this TPE material to minimize unwanted vibrations, reduce wow & flutter, and improve speed stability.
On the convenience front, switching between 33rpm & 45rpm is a breeze with a new speed-selector rocker button on the bottom of the plinth - easily accessible without cluttering the sleek look. The box also includes a 78rpm belt-drive for the shellac owners out there. Speaking of the plinth, Pro-Ject has added new paint options and wood finishes to optimize its look for your space.
The Debut Carbon EVO is able to maintain its incredibly high quality-to-price ratio by losing a lot of bells and whistles. While it doesn't include a phono pre-amp or any USB or Bluetooth capabilities out-of-the-box, these options can be added with Pro-Ject's line of excellent external electronic components - so you don't have to sacrifice modern conveniences for killer vinyl playback. This turntable was an early quarantine purchase for me, and it's one I haven't regretted since.
The All-In-One Hi-Fi System
THE +RECORD PLAYER
$1,547 // Order on Vinyl Moon
Whether we're talking about shampoo/conditioner combos or hi-fi audio systems, "All-in-one" has long been a phrase that translates to "Does everything, poorly". +AUDIO aims to be an exception to that rule. Their +RECORD PLAYER is a fully integrated high-fidelity system - meaning it contains the turntable, the phono stage, and the speakers in a single unit. You don't need anything else to change a silent room to a listening space for your favorite records.
The turntable on the +RECORD PLAYER is a high-quality belt-drive model from Pro-Ject, and comes equipped with the famous Ortofon OM10 cartridge. Pro-grade phono amplification powers the audio to the 2-way bi-amplified speaker system, consisting of two 1" tweeters and two 3.5" woofers, each with their own dedicated amplifier. Skeptics will be swayed by the 'WIDE' setting, which broadens the soundstage and makes it seem like the sound is emerging from two speakers rather than a single box. And don't worry, it gets LOUD. The system offers 100W of power, a number I'd more often associate with stage-ready guitar amps than speaker systems, while still somehow managing to prevent harmful feedback that would interrupt playback.
However, the +RECORD PLAYER isn't content to simply excel at playing records. It comes equipped with bluetooth compatibility, an aux input, optical input, and line input, and USB input/output. RCA line outputs are offered in case you want to expand your experience with additional speakers.
Priced at just over $1500, the +RECORD PLAYER seems like a tough sell. But once you consider all the purchases you'll no longer have to make - no need for separate speakers, a stereo amplifier, or a phono stage - that price point doesn't seem so bad. And especially when it sounds as good as this.
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