You know what they say: what goes around, comes around, and we are happy to see that vinyl is making a comeback! Some people firmly believe that turntables produce better audio quality than digital recordings. Regardless of whether you disagree, there is an undeniable pleasure that comes from placing a record on the player with the needle just so. You don't get that same satisfaction by just clicking a tired playlist on your phone.
When choosing a turntable, know that you have a choice between manual and automatic. A manual record player is probably what you envision, which involves you placing the needle on the record yourself. An automatic record player will move the tone arm and set the needle for you. A built-in preamp to amplify the signal for sound quality is convenient, otherwise you'll need an external preamp. You can also choose between belt drive and direct drive turntables. A belt drive turntable has an electric belt attached to a motor which spins the platter, whereas a direct drive turntable features a platter that is directly attached to the motor. Some people believe that belt drive record players produce better quality sound but this is often debated. You also need to think about your budget since turntables are available at a wide range of varying price points. This guide focuses on turntables that cost less than $700.
The Winner: Audio Technica LP120
The Audio Technica LP120 is a direct drive turntable that is manually operated. It measures 17.72 inches by 13.86 inches by 6.1 inches and weighs in at 23.5 pounds. The heavy weight means decreased vibration which could otherwise inhibit sound quality. It features three speeds which can be selected by the push of a button: 33, 45, and 78 RPM. It features a built-in phono preamp and line preamp. Reviewers appreciated the USB output that allows you to digitize your vinyl records using the Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity software. Setup is a cinch so a lot of people note that this a good turntable for beginners. The tone arm can be locked in place when desired. A target light pops up to indicate placement of the diamond needle tip in low-light settings. Reviewers were overwhelmingly pleased with this direct drive turntable.
Runner Up:Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is a belt drive turntable. It measures 16.3 inches by 4.6 inches by 12.6 inches, and it weighs 12.3 pounds. You can manually adjust this turntable to two speeds: 33 and 45. In order to change the speeds, you have to remove the platter and adjust the belt, which can be a bit annoying. It does not include an integrated phono amp, so keep in mind that you will have to provide your own. The straight carbon tonearm can be adjusted with the counterweight. It comes with a dust cover to protect your turntable. It's really important to keep your Pro-Ject Debut Carbon on a stable level surface as reviewers note it can be a little prone to vibration. Reviewers appreciated the rich sound quality this turntable produced. Set up was easy, with the most difficult aspect just being balancing the counterweight on the tonearm. The sleek design of this turntable was also appreciated by testers.
Also Nice: Rega Planar 2
The Rega Planar 2 is a belt drive turntable that is capable of playing at 33 and 45 RPM. It measures 4.6 inches by 17.6 inches by 14.2 inches, and it weighs 12.1 pounds. You will need an external phono amp with this turntable. Changing the speed is not automatic, so you'll have to remove the glass platter and move the drive belt to switch between 33 and 45. Rega says that doing this manually eliminates speed inconsistencies and reduces the potential for damage to the drive belt. A low vibration motor helps to ensure optimal sound quality that you may find in more expensive models. It comes with a hinged dust cover to protect your turntable. The sound quality for the Rega Planar 2 is better than that of the Rega Planar 1. It does a good job of reducing vibration for an impressive auditory experience.
Whether you are just getting into listening to vinyl or you don't want to shell out upwards of $1,000 for a turntable, this guide is for you. Our favorite turntable by far is the Audio Technica LP120. We found that this turntable has a lot to offer for a decent price. Not only is the sound quality good, but it can also play at three different speeds, has an integrated amp so you do not have to purchase a separate one, and USB capability so you can digitize your records if that's important to you. Our runner up pick is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon which also produces nice sound quality and offers a sleep design. Finally, the Rega Planar 2 also produces sound quality that is easily appreciated, though at more than twice the price of our other two picks.