While streaming services are still the most popular way to listen to music, vinyl records—which can provide warmer, more authentic audio—are more popular now than at any point since the mid-1980s. Whether you’re looking to invest in an entry-level turntable or want to upgrade the aging relic that you’ve spun your vinyl collection on for years, we've tested some of the best record players on the market to help you choose. The mid-ranged options you’ll find in this guide not only provide a great listening experience but are also priced to leave enough cash in your wallet for some new records.
After months of research and testing, the Fluance RT82(available at Amazon) proved to be the best record player for most people, due to its combination of great sound, excellent build quality, and solid value. If the RT82 is outside of your budget, the Crosley C6 (available on Amazon) is a good option. While it can't compete with the sound quality offered by our main pick, it comes packing a number of desirable features at a more affordable price.
Here are the best record players and turntables we tested ranked, in order:
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC
U-Turn Orbit Plus
Music Hall mmf-1.3
During testing, the Fluance RT82 performed like turntables that cost considerably more. It takes its design cues from vintage stereo hardware: its large, cone-shaped feet and smooth opening, heavy, tinted plastic lid, provides the RT82 with a suggestion of quality and luxury.
Like most turntables, the RT82 requires a small amount of assembly and setup, when it’s first unpacked from its box—calibrating the tonearm (the arm that holds the cartridge/stylus as they move across the record you’re listening to) was a little bit difficult—but Fluance provides instructions for the setup process that’ll have most users up and running in no time. Fluance even includes a bubble level with the turntable, making it easy to dial in the RT82’s adjustable feet, just right.
I found the RT82’s sound to be rich and full, thanks in no small part to the well-regarded Ortofon OM10 cartridge (which transforms the movement of the stylus into an electronic signal which is translated into audio) that comes standard with the RT82. The cartridge comes pre-installed on a removable headshell, which will make upgrading the cartridge, in the future, relatively easy. That Fluance also offers an acrylic platter (which comes standard on the company’s higher-end RT85 turntable) as an upgrade, provides plenty of options to improve upon the RT82’s sound, down the road.
One issue that could be a shortcoming for some is that there is no built-in preamp option available. This means that the electronic signal that carries audio from your turntable to your sound system will be exceptionally quiet and, in some cases, not heard at all. To get around this, you’ll need a receiver or amplifier equipped with a phono input. Alternatively, you could use an external phono preamp to amplify your music. If you don’t already own this equipment, Buying this hardware increases the total cost of owning an RT82.
Excellent build quality
Removable headshell makes for easier cartridge upgrades
Crosley is best known for its budget-minded, retro-styled record player, which can look neat but seldom sound very good and can potentially damage your records in the long run. The company has been working to change this reputation in recent years, however, resulting in the C6. At $180 (or even less on sale),you get a fair bit for your money, including a solid MDF (manufactured wood) plinth with a nice veneer, an adjustable tonearm (albeit one without anti-skate) (a feature that keeps the turntable's stylus from skipping across a record as it plays,) an upgradeable cartridge, and a built-in preamp.
The included cartridge (a component containing the turntable's stylus and magnets that transform the stylus's movement over a record into an electronic signal) is a basic Audio-Technica Moving Magnet cartridge that offers decent sound but lacks some of the fidelity and openness you can get from some higher-end options. Apart from its built-in preamp, this is a barebones turntable. As with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, you’ll have to remove the C6’s platter and move its belt to a different position in order to change speeds.
It's possible to upgrade the C6's cartridge, should you have the money to do so and want to give this turntable a considerable boost in audio quality.
Good build quality
Sound quality isn’t impressive with included cartridge
I’m Don Melanson, a longtime technology journalist, and vinyl enthusiast. While I grew up with cassettes and CDs, I’ve been making up for lost time, and have spent the past decade building up a record collection and piecing together a home audio setup that mostly consists of vintage gear, including turntables and amplifiers, that I have repaired and restored myself.
How We Chose What to Test
If you have already been shopping for turntables, you’ve probably quickly realized that there are a lot of options out there. To arrive at a manageable number of turntables to test for this guide, I set a price range of between $150 and $500. With this budget, it’s possible to find a solid mid-range turntable that’ll make most people happy and might even please some fledgling audiophiles. Aside from relying on my years of experience testing and using audio gear, I also looked to trusted publications like Wirecutter, CNET, and The Master Switch, as well as a number of enthusiast forums, to steer me in the direction of which consistently well-reviewed turntables I should call in for testing.
Some of the turntables in this guide place an emphasis on ease of setup and ease of use. Others boast additional features like USB and Bluetooth, while others focus solely on sound quality at the expense of any extraneous features. I looked to include budget-priced turntables in this guide—hardware that can be had for around $150. At lower prices, however, you can expect significant tradeoffs in features, audio quality and construction, often making a cheap turntable difficult to recommend. If you are looking to buy something on the cheap, you can get far more for your money with a used vintage turntable if you’re willing to put a bit of research into it.
I set up each turntable as I would have if I had bought it for myself, placing it in the same position and connected to the same equipment that I use with my current personal turntable, including a Sansui AU-777 amplifier and Pioneer CS-88 speakers (both vintage but fully functioning). During testing, I played the same three records representing a range of genres on each turntable: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Johnny Marr’s The Messenger, and Emmylou Harris’ Profile. Additionally, I also used each turntable to play a variety of other records over the course of hours of day-to-day listening.
Beyond sound quality, I judged how easy the turntables were to set up out of the box, how clear their instructions were, evaluated their overall build quality, and tested any additional features the turntables had, such as Bluetooth or USB recording. I also measured the speed of each turntable by eye with a printed strobe disc and with the RPM Speed & Wow app for Android. After performing these tests, I also placed each turntable close to a source of vibration (a speaker) to see if there were any major issues with using it in a less-than-ideal setup.
What You Should Know About Record Players
The overall quality of a turntable is determined by the sum of its parts. Each component significantly affects how a turntable sounds:
The tone arm is a key part of the chain from the record to your speakers, and a good one that is properly set up is essential to ensure proper playback. They can be made of different materials like aluminum or carbon fiber, and can either house the cartridge directly or use a removable headshell that makes cartridge upgrades easier.
The cartridge and stylus are what make direct contact with the record, and can have the biggest effect on sound of any component in your record player. You can replace the stylus on all turntables (and will have to occasionally), but not all turntables have upgradeable cartridges, which is something to consider if you think you might want a boost in sound quality in the future.
The platter and plinth—the surface you rest your record on to play it and the base of your record player, respectively, affect how a turntable sounds. In both cases, heavier is generally better. In the case of the plinth, a base made of solid wood, or an engineered wood like MDF (as opposed to plastic), can better absorb vibrations, while a heavier platter can not only help with vibrations as well but provide more inertia for better speed consistency.
If you’re buying a new record player, upgrading it probably isn’t the first thing on your mind. This could change, however, a few years down the road if you start upgrading the rest of your stereo system. As such, choosing one with an upgradeable high-quality cartridge can be a good idea.
A turntable with a removable headshell makes cartridge upgrades easier, and will also let you easily switch back and forth between different cartridges to explore different sound signatures.
Depending on the turntable, you might also be able to upgrade the platter—usually from a metal to an acrylic one—which can improve sound as well, although to less of a degree than the cartridge.
Belt Drive or Direct Drive: Does it Matter?
Currently, two different turntable drives (the hardware that makes your platter and record spin around on the plinth) are used: Belt-Drive and Direct-Drive. Both get the job done, but their unique characteristics mean that you should put some thought into which technology best suits your needs before investing in a new turntable:
Belt Drive Turntable: The majority of new turntables are belt-driven, which means they rely on a rubber belt that’s attached to a motor to spin the platter. That’s generally considered to give them an edge in sound quality over direct-drive models, as the belt can absorb some of the vibrations from the turntable’s motor, which itself is isolated from the platter.
Direct-Drive Turntable: A direct-drive system, on the other hand simply means that the turntable’s platter is directly attached to the motor via the center spindle. That gives it more torque, so it can start up more quickly, and it also offers better speed accuracy and speed control, which is why they’re popular with DJs plying their trade-in clubs around the world. The trade-off is that the motor is less isolated as a result, which can lead to more noise and vibrations that can potentially be picked up by the cartridge and affect the sound.
Manual or Automatic (or Semi-Automatic): Both belt and direct drive can come in manual and automatic (or semi-automatic) varieties. Manual turntables are the most common and require that you position the needle at the start of a record yourself and pick it up once the side of the record you’re listening to plays through. Automatic turntables tend to be more common among lower-end models than in the mid-range or high-end ones. That’s because the added mechanism required for fully-automatic operation not only makes for more things that can fail but more things that can introduce noise and vibrations, which means that good automatic system that doesn’t make significant trade-offs will come with a steep price tag. A semi-automatic system will lift the tonearm at the end of a record but not position it at the beginning, which is a far simpler mechanism, and which can make for a good compromise if you’re looking for a bit more convenience without too much of an added cost.
Other Record Players We Tested
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC
Pro-Ject’s turntables have long been among the most often recommended turntables for anyone taking their first steps towards becoming an audiophile. It’s not hard to see why: while the Debut Carbon is short on features, to my ears, the Debut Carbon offered the best sound of the eight turntables I tested.
The Debut Carbon's carbon fiber tonearm and Ortofon 2M Red cartridge help to deliver a clear, dynamic sound that’ll complement a wide range of music. As with our best overall pick, this turntable’s platter and cartridge can be upgraded. However, cartridge upgrades could prove difficult as Debut Carbon’s tonearm doesn’t have a removable headshell (a removable part of the tonearm the turntable’s cartridge is attached to). This forces the user to contort themselves in order to mount a new cartridge to the turntable’s tonearm-attached headshell, which can be a stressful pain.
The Debut Carbon’s focus on excellent sound above all else required sacrifices in its design in order to make it available to music aficionados at a reasonable price. The built-in anti-skate feature—which keeps the Debut Carbon’s tonearm from ‘skating’ across the record you're playing, instead of soundly following its grooves—found on most turntables is also replaced with a separate hanging anti-skate weight that adds a small extra step to the Debut Carbon’s initial setup. You’ll find no controls on this turntable beyond an on/off switch and, to change speeds, you’ll need to take the platter completely off and move the belt to a different position—something that could quickly become annoying if you listen to a lot of 45 rpm (rotations per minute) records. Finally, its overall build quality might not match what many would expect from a turntable in its price range (the lid’s hinges, in particular, are noticeably creaky). Once you hear the Debut Carbon playing, however, these issues are easy to forget.
Ortofon 2M Red cartridge provides great, detailed sound
The Denon DP-400 comes in right at the top end of our price range and is a solid option. It can cost more than our main pick, but it is among the best-sounding turntables I tested, right up there with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. The DP-400 offers more in the way of convenience than many of the other turntables featured in this guide, including a semi-automatic function that automatically lifts the tonearm at the end of a record (but doesn’t return it), a speed selector that includes a 78 rpm setting, and a built-in preamp.
It’s also one of the most striking turntables I tested in terms of appearance, with a sleek design and an unusual lid that doubles as a record stand. Unfortunately, that also turned out to be one of its biggest drawbacks. While it’s generally recommended that you remove a turntable’s lid or leave it open while playing a record to get the best sound, that’s not always practical. With the DP-400 you have to remove it completely and find a place to put it. This is less than ideal for anyone living in tight quarters or who have small children or pets in their home. This, combined with its high price, makes it difficult to recommend. That said, if price and having to find a place to set its lid aren’t a problem for you, the DP-400 is a great turntable that can perform even better with a cartridge upgrade.
Semi-automatic function lifts tonearm at the end of a record Built-in preamp
With its single page of setup instructions, the U-Turn Orbit Plus was one of the easiest turntables to get up and running of any I tested for this guide. Its tonearm comes balanced and calibrated, right out of the box. It was also the only turntable I tested that ships with an acrylic platter as a standard feature—a rarity for a turntable in its price range. The Orbit Plus comes equipped with a very respectable Ortofon OM5E cartridge (which can be removed and upgraded), which is one step below the OM10 cartridge found on the Fluance RT82. The model I tested didn’t have a built-in preamp, but U-Turn offers a version of the Orbit Plus with either built-in or external preamp, as upgrade options. The customization options when ordering this turntable are one of the Orbit’s biggest advantages. All of this adds up to some excellent audio. However, there are a few drawbacks to owning this turntable.
As with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, you have to move the Orbit Plus’ belt in order to change speeds (although you don’t have to remove the platter). You’ll have to make do without a cueing lever unless you opt to pay for an upgrade. I found that changing the cartridge is more difficult than it is with other turntables in this guide, as the tonearm doesn’t have a standard counterweight with tracking force markings on it: You’ll instead need to buy a separate stylus force gauge to dial in the tracking force for a new cartridge.
This Audio Technica turntable was the only direct-drive model I tested and one of the most feature-packed. It’s a modest update to Audio-Technica’s long well-regarded AT-LP120USB, which itself took a lot of cues from Technics’ legendary SL-1200 turntable (a popular option with DJs and audiophiles alike). If you aren’t doing any DJing, that means you’ll get some features like pitch control with the AT-LP120XUSB that you probably won’t use, but it’s still a great option.
While the AT-LP120XUSB is made using more plastic than some other turntables I tested, it still feels substantial thanks to its aluminum platter, and it sounds great with the standard AT-VM95E cartridge (which is mounted on a removable headshell). You also get a built-in preamp, and a USB port that lets you connect the turntable to a computer to make digital copies of your records. Audio-Technica doesn’t provide any software of its own for this purpose, however. Instead, the company suggests downloading Audacity and offers some videos to guide you through the recording process on its website.
If you don’t want the extra features that the AT-LP120XUSB offers, the Fluance RT82 is a better choice.
USB port for making digital copies of records
Great sound from AT-VM95E cartridge
Construction is solid but largely plastic
Less streamlined appearance may not be to everyone’s taste
Music Hall’s mmf-1.3 turntable bears a few similarities to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon—both are made at the same factory. However, the mmf-1.3 places more emphasis on convenience, fit and finish. It’s easy to set up, comes standard with a built-in preamp, and it has a speed selector (including a 78 rpm setting), so you don’t have to worry about manually moving the belt as you do with the Debut Carbon.
It sounds good, although I found the entry-level Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge that comes with it to be a bit lacking in clarity and detail compared to what the Ortofon cartridge on the Fluance RT82 or the higher-end Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge on the AT-LP120XUSB can provide.
Great build quality
Included cartridge lacking, compared to the rest of the turntable
The Sony PS-LX310BT turntable is the least expensive, easiest to set up and most straightforward to use of the eight turntables I tested. You don’t have to worry about calibrating the tonearm or installing the headshell—it’s ready to go right out of the box—and it’s fully automatic: just put a record on the platter, press the start button, and the tonearm automatically positions itself at the start of the record and begins playing (and returns itself at the end of the side).
It’s also loaded with features, including Bluetooth connectivity that is simple to use, a USB port for making digital copies of your records, and a built-in preamp. Given its low price, all of these features mean that inevitably corners needed to be cut elsewhere. For example, while the turntable has a fairly high-end look, with a unique tonearm and a matte black finish, it is made almost entirely of plastic, making it significantly lighter than any of the other turntables I tested.
The PS-LX310BT’s sound quality is underwhelming, lacking in the depth and warmth that attract people to vinyl in the first place. This might not be a deal-breaker if you plan on using it with a small Bluetooth speaker or basic stereo system, but, unlike the similarly-priced Crosley C6, there’s no way to upgrade this turntable’s cartridge if you’re looking to get better sound quality without buying a whole new turntable in the future.
Fully automatic operation
Bluetooth and USB connectivity
Very little setup required out of the box
Sound quality is lackluster and can’t be improved with a better cartridge
Don Melanson is a freelance writer and journalist based on Canada's East Coast. His work has appeared in a range of publications including Popular Mechanics, Motherboard, The Globe & Mail, and Engadget, where he also served a long stint as a senior editor.
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