The music industry has gone a long way since the days of vinyl records, and so have the devices we use to store and play our favorite tunes. So why is everyone suddenly talking about the best record players also known as turntables?
As it turns out, vinyl records never went away. They are such amazing mediums for recording high-fidelity music that the audiophile community kept them alive, and now, they are making a powerful comeback.
But, to listen to vinyl records, you need a turntable or a record player. Furthermore, to enjoy the warmth and richness of these records, the proper way, you need a turntable that can talk to digital devices (speakers, headphones, computers, phones, and so on) the same way a DAC does (but in reverse).
Luckily, there are plenty of options for anyone and any budget, but which one would you choose? If you’re not sure, peek at our reviews and guidelines, to show you the way.
Last update on 2022-01-11 // The links above are affiliate // Images from Amazon
How to Choose the Best Record Player?
If you’re new to the world of turntables, it can get confusing. They work differently than most devices we know and have different settings, elements, and even terms.
To make it less scary, we designed a list of important notions and features, to keep you up to date.
Yes, this time we’re starting with the budget.
At first glance, you’ll notice that turntables are available at almost any price category. Furthermore, some are incredibly expensive, which makes them untouchables for the regular folks.
While it’s true that the sound quality is influenced by the materials and elements used to make the device, it’s also important to understand that high-priced record players are mostly designed for audiophiles (medium to advanced levels).
So, if you’re not used to telling the difference between mids and highs, and you don’t usually analyze music, you’ll probably be just fine with an entry-level turntable. On the other side, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
As such, it’s best to set up a budget and stick to it. Usually, a record player that’s between $200 and $500 is perfect for most listeners.
Belt Drive vs. Direct Drive
In our reviews, you’ll notice that some devices are belt-drive, while others are not.
This refers to the way the motor is mounted in relation to the platter, which can be directly underneath (direct) or off to the side (belt).
Audiophiles seem to favor belt-drive systems because it absorbs any vibrations that could be generated by the motor, thus preserving the true quality of the sound. On the other hand, direct-drive systems maintain a consistent speed and can be used to get cool audio effects by rotating the platter backward.
Manual vs. Automatic
We consider this to be more a matter of convenience than sound quality, but audiophiles consider that a manual turntable is best because it has fewer parts that can cause vibrations.
The manual vs. automatic battle refers to the way the vinyl record is played. There are devices where you need to place the tonearm onto the spinning record manually, and devices where you simply push a button and the record player does its thing.
In most cases, automatic turntables are recommended to novice users, who don’t feel quite comfortable to handle a delicate tonearm.
If the tonearm holds and guides the stylus (which tracks the grooves and reads the record), the cartridge is the element that connects the two. Its job is more complex than we can describe here, but in layman’s terms, it turns the mechanical movement of the record into an electric signal, which is turned into music.
However, if the cartridge is not high-quality, it can damage your records and, in time, can stifle your efforts to enjoy high-fi music. Luckily, these elements can be replaced and upgraded, so make sure your turntable offers this option.
Best Record Players
Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB Direct-Drive Turntable
The Best Turntable Under $300
The AT-LP120XUSB is a direct-drive turntable with DC servo motor that supports both analog & USB connections (which allows you to connect it directly to a computer). It also comes with a detachable dual RCA output cable, adjustable dynamic anti-skate control, and selectable phono preamp. This means you can easily connect it to your home stereo or any other audio systems without the need for adapters.
As a fully manual record player, it gives users the option to select the speed (33/45/78 RPM) and achieve that amazing high-fidelity audio of vinyl. Furthermore, using a recording software of your choice (Audio-Technica recommends Audacity’s free software), you can use this turntable to convert your records to digital audio files.
The turntable’s stroboscopic platter is made out of die-cast aluminum and covered with a felt mat, to recreate the feel and look of vintage record players. You also get variable pitch control with quartz speed lock, a dust cover, and all the fun you can get with a modern record player.
- Gorgeous aesthetics
- Transparent dust cover
- Easy to use and understand controls
- Setup is simple
- No motor noise
- Impressive sound quality
- Cartridge is replaceable
- Documentation is a bit low
- No reverse playing
- The included cartridge is a bit bland
Fluance Elite High Fidelity Vinyl Turntable (RT81T)
The Absolute Best at an Affordable Price
To recreate the pure analog listening experience, the RT81T record player uses a belt-driven motor and a high-performance cartridge (the Audio Technica AT95E, featuring a diamond elliptical tipped stylus). As a result, the tip can follow the groove on each record with higher precision, which results in a better audio representation and a warmer sound.
The sound is also helped by the balanced and adjustable counterweight of the S-Type tonearm and the advanced anti-skating system that prevents scratching.
In term of design, the Fluance Elite record player features a more vintage look, with its solid engineered (MDF) wood base with a black matte finish. It also comes with isolation feet and a rubber slip mat that protects the turntable from unwanted vibrations.
To make sure the sound is clear and booming, the turntable also includes a Texas Instruments preamp and uses a ground terminal and gold-plated RCA line outputs. As a result, you can listen to traditional EP and LP vinyl records using your headphones or audio system without losing quality. Furthermore, if you have a headphone AMP around, the experience will be incredible!
- Vintage-looking design
- Works with LP and EP records
- High-performance cartridge
- Belt-driver motor
- S-Type tonearm
- Advanced anti-skating system
- Impressive audio clarity & quality
- Speed is not highly accurate
- RPM adjustment control is difficult to reach
- No automatic return
Sony PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Turntable
The Best Turntable Under $200
Featuring a minimalistic design, the Sony PS-LX310BT is a joy to experience! This is a belt-drive turntable, with a fully automatic system that uses Bluetooth connectivity to play those amazing vinyl records on wireless headphones or speakers.
The player works with LP vinyl records and supports two speeds: 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm. Furthermore, it comes with a built-in phono output and a line out phono preamp (you can switch in between the two). There are also three gain settings, which makes it perfect for those who like to customize their tunes.
The wireless connection is stable, as long as you remain in the range, which is why many consider it to be the best Bluetooth turntable on an entry-level scale. Of course, there’s also a wired connection that uses RCA cables.
Since this is an automatic record player, you don’t have to deal with the aluminum tonearm. This will automatically find the groove and start playing the sound and return to resting position once the record reaches the end.
Finally, to increase stability and reduce vibrations, the turntable is equipped with an aluminum die-cast platter that delivers clear hi-fi sound.
- Minimalistic design
- Impressive hi-fi sound
- Supports two speeds
- Fully automatic system
- Bluetooth, USB, and wired connections
- Three gain settings
- Thick dust cover
- Materials are mostly plastic
- No adjustment for tracking for anti-skating
- The motor is a bit noisy
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO
An Audio Nerd’s Dream
With a retail price of less than $600, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO can be best described as an audio nerd’s dream, making for an audiophile-grade turntable with electronic speed selection, carbon fiber tonearm and pre-mounted Sumiko Rainier phono cartridge.
Basically, if you want to be entertained in the classic and inimitable vinyl fashion, this is the turntable you were looking for all your life.
So here’s what a few hundred bucks will buy you: first, we must mention the very capable Sumika cartridge, then there’s a new motor design, damped and adjustable feet, plus automatic speed selection (we already mentioned some of these), everything designed to improve performance and ergonomics.
Setting up the thing is fairly easy: all you have to do is attach the drive belt, put on the platter, and attach counter- and antiskate weights to that single-piece tonearm, then connect the turntable to your audio setup with the included high-quality phono leads, plug them into the mains, and that’s about it.
The turntable will not disappoint, regardless of what type of music you’re into, offering a detailed and revealing listening experience, and offering the classic warmth and weight the vinyl format is famous for.
- Minimalist design
- Stellar build quality
- Audiophile grade SQ
- Well damped steel platter
- No auto-return or auto-off
The Best Audiophile Turntable
Marantz is not new in the turntable industry; in fact, they launched their first audiophile record player 50 years ago and have been improving upon it ever since.
The Reference Series TT-15S1 is a belt-drive design, with a solid plinth and a platter made from dense glass cast PMMA acrylic composite. This creates the perfect combination between vinyl records, high-performance MM cartridges (Clearaudio Virtuoso), and the precision AC synchronous motor. Furthermore, the result is pure analog sound, with its warmth, musicality, and acoustical realism.
To prevent any slipping or scratching, the TT-15S1 features an advanced anti-skating system with magnetic compensation (not a weighted system) and precision adjustment. This is a fully manual turntable, supports two different speeds (33 1/3 and 45 rpm), and has two line output channels.
The heavy platter sits on three aluminum feet (height adjustable) and comes with a floating motor mount construction. This build ensures stability during playtime and keeps vibrations and distortions at a minimum.
Overall, the TT-15S1 is a technological jewelry, designed with increased attention to details and created to impress audiophiles everywhere!
- Gorgeous minimalistic design
- Incredible analog sound quality
- High-quality materials
- Two speeds
- Heavy platter for increased stability
- Quite expensive
- Doesn’t have a user-replaceable stylus
- The belt is a bit difficult to set
A Semi-Automatic Turntable with a Minimalistic Design
If you combine the best record player with speakers, you have the chance to enjoy a fantastic audio experience, with warm tonalities and rich sounds that’s not easily achievable with modern technology. This is possible due to vinyl records that have the capacity to store incredible sound details within their grooves.
Still, to discover their secrets, vinyl records must be played by a high-end device, such as the Denon DP-400. This is a minimalistic record player, with an S-Shaped tonearm that optimizes the tracking angle, auto-lift when the record ends, and playback stop features.
It can play at 33 1/3, 45, 78 RPM (vintage) speeds, which can be adjusted using the available selector knob placed on the base. Furthermore, the player comes with a built-in phono equalizer that lets you enjoy those gorgeous sounds using modern devices (headphones, speakers, and so on).
Finally, the turntable is solid, designed with a weighted platter to reduce vibrations. It’s easy to set up and use and delivers one of the best home audio performances you’ll even get to listen to.
- Simple & clean design
- S-Shaped tonearm that protects the disks
- Auto-lift when the record ends
- Supports three speeds
- Built-in phono equalizer
- Ideal for vinyl-passionate
- Dust cover is a bit flimsy
- The included cartridge is mediocre
- A bit on the expensive side
The Best Record Player Under $100
We consider the AT-LP60X from Audi-Technica to be the best budget record player on the market right now. It features a fully automatic belt-drive stereo system, can play 33 -1/3 and 45 RPM records, and works with a wide array of audio devices such as bookshelf speakers, headphones, computer, and more.
The built-in switchable phono preamp and Integral Dual Magnet phono cartridge with replaceable diamond stylus are fantastic elements to include, especially when we consider the price! Also, the turntable is set to reduce resonance and vibrations due to the tonearm base and headshell.
Finally, the turntable is equipped with a DC servo-controlled motor that keeps noises to a minimum. If you couple this with the die-cast aluminum platter and elegant design, you get a great deal for this product!
- Elegant design
- Fully-automatic belt-drive system
- Two speeds
- Die-cast aluminum platter
- Fantastic value for the money
- Lots of plastic elements
- Entry-level turntable
- Not latching system for the tonearm when it’s being transported
U-Turn Audio – Orbit Plus
Ideal for Audiophiles on a Budget
Available in a variety of base colors, the U-turn Orbit turntable is a joy for the eyes and the ears!
It comes with a built-in Pluto preamp that can be connected to powered speakers or amps and delivers sound in its best quality directly to your digital devices. It also has a precision tonearm and an Ortofon OM5E cartridge, which already amps the value.
The turntable works on a belt-drive system, with an acrylic platter and adjustable counterweight. Combined with the stabilizing feet and shock mount for the motor, this sums up to an incredible sound experience without any unwanted vibrations or noises.
Overall, this is a high-end turntable that will allow audiophiles to appreciate the hidden nuances of a song without spending a ton of money on a high-end product.
- Belt-drive system
- Acrylic platter
- Easy to setup
- All the parts can be upgraded
- Good customer service
- The optional tonearm lever is necessary to protect the stylus and records
- The Pluto preamp is a bit dull
- No adjustable anti-skate
Rega Planar 2
The Best Turntable Under $1000
Rega is well-known on the audio market, so it won’t be a mistake to tell you that the Planar 2 is a turntable for audiophiles who know their music.
Equipped with an RB220 tonearm, a pre-Installed Carbon MM cartridge, and 11mm self-securing brass bearing, this device is both elegant and advanced. Furthermore, the turntable is designed with a new auto-biasing system that allows users to replace the cartridge with anything they want.
The Planar 2 record player is easy to install (plug-and-play system) and works with a wide variety of LP records. Furthermore, it features a solid build, a stable high-gloss acrylic laminated plinth, vibration-reducing feet, and glass platter.
We consider the Planar 2 one of the most interesting designs on the market, due to its minimalistic but elegant design and wonderful sound quality.
- RB220 tonearm with glass platter
- Carbon MM Cartridge
- Possibility to replace/update the cartridge
- 11mm self-securing brass bearing
- Incredible sound quality
- RCA cable is a bit short
- A bit more expensive than the average mid-level turntables
Whether you’re looking for the best USB turntable or you’re just interested in listening to those old vinyl records one more time, there are plenty of options. The secret is to be patient, do your research, and understand the difference between hi-fi audiophile quality and entry-level devices.
This way, you’ll know which record player is best for your preferences and your budget.