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Vinyl is more popular than ever, and it continues to be the preferred listening medium for audiophile, and delivery method for artists. Large artwork, easy to read liner notes, and analog sound are just some of the advantages vinyl has over digital files. Yes, your albums can wear, warp, and scratch, but they’ll last a lifetime if you take care of them correctly.
A number of current pop artists have released vinyl versions of their latest records, from Harry Styles to Billie Eilish. Classic albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners have been reissued, so you can hear them the way the musicians intended. This trend proves vinyl isn’t going away anytime soon.
Whether you’re new to records, or have built up a solid collection over time, you’ll want to invest in a reliable turntable that can fill the room with clear, full, sound. We’ve selected the best ones we could find for budding audiophiles who want to hear their favorite songs in high fidelity.
What Are the Best Turntables?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right budget turntable for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Upgradability: One major knock against many beginner turntables is that you can’t upgrade their needle. This poses a couple of problems: If your needle gets bent or damaged, you’re out of luck, and you can’t upgrade it later to improve the audio quality of your turntable. The turntables we recommend are modular, so you have the option to swap out or replace their needle whenever you’d like.
Speed Modes: All of our turntable recommendations can spin at 33/3RPM (rotations per minute) and 45RPM, so you can play full sized albums and singles.
Preamp: A preamp amplifies the audio produced by a record player to an acceptable volume for music listening. Some turntables have one built inside, others require you to hook them up to an external preamp before connecting them to a stereo receiver or active (powered) speakers.
Having a built-in preamp is convenient and takes up less space, but an external one is purpose built to do one job, and can be replaced or upgraded over time. Our guide feature a mix of turntables with and without a built-in preamps.
USB: If you want to digitize your vinyl, you’ll want a turntable with a USB port. This allows you to easily connect the record player to your computer, where you can rip (read: convert) your physical albums into digital files, making them easy to access on your computer or phone.
1. Sony PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Turntable
Sony’s PS-LX310BT is a step up from our entry-level pick, but keeps almost all of the same convenience features.
It has the same cartridge and stylus as the Audio-Technica turntable we recommended earlier (the ATN3600), which you can easily replace if it gets worn or damaged.
The record player’s speed settings (labeled 33 and 45) can be changed by moving a switch on the top of the turntable. Another switch, located above it lets you change between 12″ and 7″ size settings, so the record player knows where to drop the needle if you hit the start button on the front of the record player. There are also buttons to stop playback, or lift and lower the needle, so you can’t accidentally drop it on the wrong spot.
Sony’s turntable has a preamp built into it, but you can turn it off and opt to use the external amp of your choice by flipping a small switch on the back. This flexibility is great because it allows you to build your system up over time instead of having to get a lot of gear at once. You can also control the gain (volume) of the built in preamp by switching between low, medium, and high settings to compensate for a weak or extra sensitive stereo receiver.
You can connect the PS-LX310BT to your computer via USB to convert your record into digital files for archival purposes, or pair it with a set of wireless speakers by pressing the Bluetooth button on top of the turntable. None of the other record players we’re recommending give you this many connectivity options, which makes this a great pick if you want a turntable with a lot of versatility.
2. Crosley C100 Belt-Drive Turntable
Crosley’s C100 is a true audiophile turntable with a striking design that’s equal parts stylish and modern. My starter turntable was a portable vintage Crosley, and they’re my go-to recommendation for friends and family who want to get into vinyl, but might feel a little intimidated by all the offerings currently on the market.
As the trendsetters of the vinyl resurgence over the past 10 years, Crosley took a step back from minimalist “suitcase”-style replications, designing some turntables with more customizable features. The C100 Plus is a good reflection of that. You have complete control over your vinyl with their handy manual stop/start controls, and with the adjustable strobe pitch, you can change pitch settings on the fly to get the best possible sound.
The company made the C100’s platter out of damped die-cast aluminum, which can improve speed consistency, and it designed its S-shape tonearm to allow the needle to move more easily, reducing skipping and distortion. There are also adjustable counterweight controls, but reviews say that depending on how much damage you have on your records and how clean the grooves are, you may need to apply a little more weight toward stylus to keep it tracking.
The turntable is fitted with preamp & detachable RCA output cables, which makes it immediately ready for you to plug in and rock out to. You can always, of course, bypass the preamp and use your own, as it can be connected to virtually any stereo system. Having tested Crosley’s record players for myself, I can vouch for their top notch performance, and excellent aesthetics. Every piece of this turntable was chosen and designed to make the best sound possible.
3. Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO
Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon EVO is the audio company’s biggest step up, borrowing a lot of features from its previous offerings (the Debut Carbon DC and the Essential III) while expanding upon them in some major ways.
A TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) ring was added on the inside of the platter (the circular piece the record rests and spin on) for a less noisy and fluttery operating sound. The dampening techniques they use reduces the amount the turntable vibrates when music is playing. Vibrations can cause distortion that becomes audible when listening to music on better gear. Most notably, Pro-Ject updated the Debut Carbon EVO’s motor suspension to reduce the amount of vibrations that reach the needle.
The Debut Carbon EVO’s tonearm is made out of a single piece of (you guessed it) carbon, which is light and doesn’t put additional weight on the needle. Speaking of, the Debut Carbon EVO is equipped with an Sumiko Rainier cartridge, but you can swap it out with a different one at any time. Pro-Ject doesn’t have a version of the Debut Carbon EVO with a built-in preamp, but you can get one separately if your A/V receiver doesn’t have a Phono input.
Pro-Ject designed the Debut Carbon EVO to be a great turntable for those just getting into more serious gear. That meant shedding conveniences like automatic start and stop buttons (though you can switch speeds with a rocker switch on the bottom), or having to manually adjust the tone arm with some awkwardness in the lifting system. It may take a little extra work to use the Debut Carbon EVO, but the difference in audio quality will make up for it.
If you’d like a higher-end turntable you can likely use for the rest of your life, Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon EVO is a fine pick.
4. Fluance RT81
Fluance says its RT81 turntable provides a “pure, uncompressed” listening experience, and its feature set backs up that claim.
By using solid wood for the plinth, aluminum for the platter, and sound isolation feet, Fluance greatly reduced the amount of vibrations that will reach the RT81’s needle. The’ve also upgraded their elliptical stylus, which helps keep distortion low, and clarity on musical peaks high.
Fluance says this record player’s curved tonearm allows it to track your music more accurately. This means the needle is in the middle of the record’s groove and won’t move around, which can reduce its audio quality. Fluance paired its RT81 with an Audio Technica AT95E cartridge, but you can upgrade to the needle of your choice whenever you’d like.
Although the RT81 isn’t fully automatic, it delivers simple functionality at its best. One useful feature is the turntable’s switch to engage or disengage the auto-stop once the needle reached the end of the record. However once playback on the record is complete, there is no auto-return for the tonearm, which some users found frustrating.
Fluance’s RT81 includes a built-in “Texas Instruments” preamp, with ground terminal and gold-plated RCA line outputs that ensures high-quality sound. If you’d like a really nice turntable, but don’t feel like it’s necessary to get ultra high-end audio gear, you’ll find a lot to like with Fluance’s RT81.
From Rolling Stone US