If you want to spin vinyl records, there are many budget options for building a great sound system. Not only can you find amazing, cheap stereo speakers, but there are also plenty of affordable, high-quality turntables, including current models with Bluetooth connectivity and vintage record player options. Here we’re going to focus on brand-new products, so if you’re a vinyl enthusiast and have at least $100, you can find something decent — the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X, for instance, is a solid selection for a little over $100.
Superior sound often comes with spending more money, but it’s not necessary: Any of our best record player picks should have you spinning vinyl through the ages. This recently updated guide is divided into two sections: the best turntables between $100 and $1,000; and the best turntables at that $300 sweet spot, if you’re in the market for a budget record player. If you’re a music lover, dust off your vinyl collection and keep reading.
The best turntables from $100 to $1,000
The Fluance RT82 offers everything you could want except an onboard preamp, so if you have a receiver or amplifier with a dedicated phono input, this is the model to get. I was mightily impressed by the well thought-out inclusions with the Fluance. Auto-start on/off, adjustable feet and even a little bubble-level were designed with the user in mind. This high-quality turntable had one of the most entertaining sounds of the under $300 turntables, with plenty of insight into recordings as well as a healthy bass kick.
If you’re just starting out in vinyl, or looking for a cheap turntable to give as a gift, the inexpensive Audio-Technica AT-LP60X belt-driven turntable offers that warm sound you’ve heard about. Plus it offers fully automatic operation. It also includes a limited upgrade path with a choice of line or phono output allowing users to add their own preamp. Great value at $120.
Read our Audio Technica AT-LP60X review.
The Pro-Ject may be a little over $300, but it shows how spending a little more can reap benefits. In terms of sound quality it really can bring out the best in your records. It offers refined treble, an expansive, detailed midrange and supple bass. It looks lovely too with its glass platter — second only in appearance to the Audio-Technica (but the Pro-Ject sounds better). The T1’s only “problem” is that it’s ergonomically awkward — the switch is deep on the left-hand side instead of on the front, and you need to apply a bit of upward force to remove the tonearm from the rest. The Pro-Ject T1 is sometimes on sale for under $300 and it’s a great deal at that price.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO offers everything you want in a player for the money: excellent sound quality, ease of setup and use, and striking looks. You would have to spend twice as much on another brand (*cough* Rega) to get better sound.
Read our Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo review.
Rega has made turntables for over 40 years, and was the first to develop the lightweight plinth or base that’s now seen in most modern turntables. Even at $995 the Planar 3 only sits in the middle of the company’s range, but it’s arguably the best value. It’s also a thing of elegance, with a simple to set up design and the beautiful RB330 tonearm (if you’re into that sort of thing). If you’re a tweaker you can customize almost every part with a wide selection of third-party upgrades. With the right cartridge the Rega Planar 3 offers an exciting, fun sound, while also looking great and just being a complete blast to use. It is highly recommended. (Note that the Rega comes in two versions — without a cartridge for $995, or with the Rega Elys installed for $1,245. Get the cheaper one and install whichever cartridge you want. A good dealer will add a new one without charging an installation fee.)
Read our Rega Planar 3 review.
The best of the rest under $300
For this section, I’ve chosen a selection of turntables priced around the $300 mark, and which includes the Fluance RT82 listed above. This price level is a sweet spot as these vinyl record players are no longer simple toys, but can be considered true hi-fi: They offer elevated vinyl record sound quality and high-quality components. With an analog or manual turntable, you’ll be constantly removing a vinyl record, moving the tonearm and spinning up an actual motor — so it’s worth spending a bit more for record players that will last.
I also considered record players from the bigger electronics manufacturers, such as Sony, Denon and Yamaha, but didn’t find any below $300 that beat the quality of the ones listed.
Each of the turntable models I tested for this buyer’s guide has at least something to recommend it, but a couple stood above the rest with solid builds, user-friendly features and excellent sound quality. Let’s dive in and check out the top picks for the best turntable under $300.
Among audiophiles the name Crosley has a bad rap, but it still manages to produce some excellent hi-fi models. The C10A is a case in point: It was engineered with help from Pro-Ject, but it offers even more refinement than you may expect from either company (the T1 below excepted). This vinyl record player sounds good, it looks great, and if you can get it under $300, it’s a bargain. We don’t like it quite as much as the Fluance overall, but it’s a solid-runner-up.
Read our Crosley C10A review.
Arriving in the middle of the pack in terms of both build and sound quality, this is a good turntable at a good price range. It had an even-handed response with all types of music but wasn’t as engaging as the Pro-Ject and Fluance tables.
If you’re looking to plug a modern turntable straight into any receiver (that is, one that lacks a phono preamp or phono stage) then this is the model we’d opt for.
With its carbon-fiber arm and natural wood veneer plinth, the Audio-Technica was my favorite design, but a mixed bag in terms of sound quality for vinyl. The table was the boomiest sounding model when plugged into the same phono preamplifier as the others. When I tested its own preamp it was much less bassy, though also less exciting, and this was presumably due to a better match with the cartridge.
Though the Music Hall’s onboard preamp sounded better, the Audio-Technica could be the one to get if you want an all-in-one package that also looks great.
There’s no denying the U-Turn Orbit Plus looked striking with its red plinth and acrylic platter. I also appreciate that the tonearm has been upgraded from the original Orbit with a new gimbal bearing. While it’s better sounding than I remember from the original, the U-Turn couldn’t compete with the sound of the others. It sounded truncated with a lack of extended high frequencies, and on the hardware side the lack of a cue lever felt like a glaring omission. Note that you can also get this model with a built-in preamp for $70 more.
The best record players compared
|Best overall||Best mainstream||Best step-up||Best plug and play||Best cosmetics||Best for newbies||Best ultra-budget|
|Product||Fluance RT82||Crosley C10A||Pro-Ject T1||Music Hall MMF-1.3||Audio Technica AT-LPW40WN||U-Turn Orbit Plus||Audio Technica AT-LP60X|
|Price||$300 at Fluance||$291 at Amazon||$349 at Turntable Lab||$299 at Amazon||$299 at Amazon||starts at $289 at U-Turn||$119 at Amazon|
|Cartridge||Ortofon OM10||Ortofon OM5E||Ortofon OM5E||Audio Technica AT3600L||Audio Technica VM95||Ortofon OM5E||Audio Technica AT3600L|
|33/45 speed switch||✔||✘||✘||✔||✔||✘||✔|
|Onboard preamp||✘||✘||✘||✔||✔||✘ at $289, ✔ at $359||✔|
Above anything else, sound quality is the main reason to upgrade to a better turntable. Compared to an all-in-one design by the likes of Victrola or the cheaper Crosleys, the lack of integrated speakers means the designers can concentrate on things like better motors and upgraded tone-arms. These are hi-fi components that can stand alongside stereo systems worth many thousands of dollars in a way that a $100 turntable can’t.
There are four main elements to a turntable: the plinth or base, the platter on which the vinyl record sits, the motor and the arm. Both external and internal noise can affect the sound quality of the vinyl, and the idea is to ensure that vibrations don’t travel from one to the other of these components, and the vibrations don’t interfere with sound.
All of the $300-ish vinyl record players offer a belt drive design which helps isolate the rumble of the motor from the pickup or stylus. Each turntable also includes either a removable head shell or a replaceable cartridge which allows you to experiment with a higher-quality cartridge (such as an Ortofon 2M Red).
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Some of the turntables offer upgrade options such as an acrylic plinth, which not only look smarter but may offer a sound quality upgrade too.
It’s worth noting that all of the models I tested had a dust cover, but I used (and photographed) them with the lid off. They both look and sound better that way. While every other aspect of a turntable is damped, the dust cover usually is not. It’s a simple piece of plastic designed to keep dust off your vinyl while not playing music, and it can vibrate and cause feedback if it’s left attached and the volume is up loud enough. It’s best to remove it before playing a record.
How I tested them
All of these turntables offer a phono-level output — an unamplified signal that needs RIAA equalization. I plugged each of them into the phono input on both our reference Rotel RA1592 amplifier and Onkyo TX-NR696 receiver powering a pair of Q Acoustics 3050i tower speakers.
For receivers and amps that lack phono input, you’ll need a phono preamplifier. Our own Audiophiliac recommends the $100 Schiit Mani phono preamp as a quality budget option.
Two of the models offered a switchable line level output — the Music Hall MMF-1.3 and the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN — and this is handy if you don’t have or don’t want an external preamp. You can plug these models into anything that accepts RCA cables. I also plugged these two directly into the amplifier and compared them against each other.
It’s worth noting that only two of the six are available outside North America: the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN and the Pro-Ject T1. Between them, I’d recommend the Pro-Ject T1.
I listened to four different artists from my vinyl collection — Bob Marley, Slint, LCD Soundsystem and Miles Davis — on each turntable and compared notes. I listened for a bass response (was it boomy, or clean?), midrange detail (low-level instruments and echo effects) and high frequencies (were they recessed or too loud?). Skip to the appendix at the end for a deep dive on how the turntables fared with each song.
Two of the turntables — the Crosley C10 and the Pro-Ject T1 — were not tested at the same time as the other models, and the Pro-Ject T1 was added later with a comparison against the Music Hall. As the Crosley C10 was reviewed much earlier it was not possible to test against other models and so the results aren’t listed. It is included in this roundup for reference.
Which one should you buy?
The Fluance RT82 is the over-achiever of the bunch with its polished looks, useful features and involving sound. While most are competent the only ones that fall far behind are the Audio-Technica and the U-Turn — their sound quality can’t match the other three. If you’re able to pay a little more, the Pro-Ject T1 is lovely, if a little awkward to use.
If you’re looking for a more familiar name brand, you’ll need to pay a little more. The Denon 300F is well-regarded at $329 and audiophile favorite the Rega Planar 1 can be had for $450. But it’s arguable whether they would be able to offer sound quality that’s markedly better than the Fluance or Pro-Ject — a test for another day perhaps. In the meantime, happy listening!
If you want to get a greater insight into the performance of each model, below are the notes I took for myself while listening to each turntable with four different songs (each from a different record).
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Full sound quality notes
Bob Marley’s Revolution
This is the first track I tried on all the turntables. The Fluance offered a warm sound with this track with fine control over the deep bass line.
This track was my first signal of the Audio-Technica’s shortcomings. The bass was simply out of control, boomy and unpleasant. However, the midrange offered a good sense of space.
The MMF-1.3 had fuller, less “one note” bass than the Audio-Technica. The ‘table offered more midrange information than some of the others but this also combined with more surface noise.
Vocals were more forward on the U-Turn, which suggested improved detail but also meant the turntable turned up more surface noise. The bass guitar was deep and relatively supple, but at the opposite end of the spectrum the cymbals sounded clipped as if it couldn’t recreate the high frequency (10kHz and over) information at all.
Lastly, the Pro-Ject T1 was smoother and it brought the background singers to the fore in a way others didn’t, and the horns had greater presence too.
Slint’s Breadcrumb Trail
Compared with the other ‘tables the Fluance was better at organizing the sparse scattering of instruments into the space between the speakers. The bass lacked the bloat I heard with the Audio-Technica.
The MMF-1.3 offered good speed stability but lacked the drama of the leaders. There was lots of high-frequency on display but it wasn’t sharp or strident.
The Music Hall was more forward sounding than the Pro-Ject T1 — which again sounded more cultured with this track. The rumbling of the sticks from the drummer at the end of the song was easier to hear on the Music Hall.
The Audio-Technica’s issues with bass continued with this song’s prominent bass. Low-end notes stuck out in a way I hadn’t heard before.
The U-Turn turned that abundant high-frequency energy into something splashy, but detail retrieval was good. Like the Pro-Ject, there was some speed-related waver with the long guitar notes.
LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk Is Playing at my House
The Fluance turned in an enjoyable, toe-tapping performance, with only a shade too much high hat. Meanwhile, the MMF-1.3 was better balanced with this song.
The cowbell sounded more distinct on Pro-Ject T1 with a more pronounced stereo image.
The Audio-Technica offered up bloated bass notes and lots of noise between tracks.
This song was the one that painted the U-Turn in its best light — while there was some faint bass bloat, the vocals were forward of the mix, and the cymbals sounded natural for a change. Maybe this is the DJ turntable for dance-rock fans?
Miles Davis’ So What?
The Fluance could get a little bloomy on bass with more midrange forwardness, but less brightness on the ride. It sounded a lot like what I’d heard at the Sony mastering studio previously.
Again the MMF-1.3 put in a good performance, and the bass sounded balanced with an excellent sense of the performance room. It was a very clean presentation with lots of spatial information on the sax especially.
The Audio-Technica and U-Turn both exposed more surface noise on this recording.
The bottom end was a little more refined on the Pro-Ject T1 and the treble sweeter too. I quickly found that the speed is a pain to change, though, and I somehow got the drive belt stuck on the outer edge making it run too fast. When situated properly it worked fine.
Bob Marley’s Revolution Take 2 (phono preamp models)
Last, I listened to the Bob Marley track again with the built-in phono preamps (line-level outputs) of the MMF-1.3 and the Audio-Technica. The MMF-1.3 had the better preamp, with a more exciting presentation of the song but the bass threatened to become slightly bloated.
In comparison, the Audio-Technica sounded much less exciting, and smaller and less impactful, but at least the bass was not as boomy as it had been through our tests.
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Source from www.cnet.com