Vinyl records have made a huge resurgence in the past few years, with sales continuing to skyrocket year on year. Is it novelty? Nostalgia? The warm, crackling audio? Regardless, vinyl is back and it’s big. Whether you’re looking to ride the wave – or are already knee-deep in records – we’ve picked out five turntables that’ll help put you in a spin.
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If you’re just getting started with record players, you should read Gizmodo’s guide to getting started first. That’ll give you a good indication of what you should be looking for. You can also go top to bottom on Turntable Lab’s extensive explainer to familiarise yourself with terms like preamp, drive and cartridge.
An ideal beginner’s turntable, the compact AT-LP60 is perfect if you’ve suddenly found yourself interested in vinyl but really have no idea what you’re doing. It’s a couple of years old now, but the LP60 is such a sturdy, simple unit that it’s hard to look past it. When I worked in retail, it was one of the most consistent sellers because of its low price point and ease of use.
With a built-in phono preamp – allowing you to plug in to devices with an audio-in port – this tiny square of vinyl joy requires little tinkering with. You can simply buy, unbox, set up (with the super simple included manual) and plug into a speaker system. The LP60 will play at both 33 and 45 RPM and is basically plug and play. Once you’ve set up and put your vinyl on the platter, you can hit the start button and you’re on your way.
A no-brainer for vinyl amateurs.
If you were looking to go one better, the next model up – the AT-LP120 – is another solid entry for Audio Technica, but it requires a little more manual work. It’s also a direct-drive turntable, as opposed to the belt-driven LP60.
House of Marley’s entry-level turntable is stylish and easy to use, a combination that will please beginner vinyl users and enthusiasts alike.
Similar to the LP60, the Stir It Up comes with a built in phono pre-amp that you can use (or not) with the flick of a switch. If you were more inclined to have the warm, rich sounds of vinyl fill your ear holes only, then the headphone jack at the front will suit you well. The unit’s bamboo finish elevates it above other entry-level models and the inclusion of a USB out allows you to move your vinyls to a PC, should you so desire.
Vinyl enthusiasts take note – if you’re not keen on the cartridge or stylus supplied in the box, you can remove and replace with something more to your liking. The combination of style plus malleability makes the Stir It Up a winner.
Pro-Ject have a solid range of turntables from the budget to the more high-end and the Essential Digital sits somewhere smack in the middle, great for advanced users who want a little more flexibility. It’s not quite a plug-and-play option, but it doesn’t take long to get started. It comes with a built-in phono pre-amp and is ready to play at both 33 and 45 RPM with a simple tweak of its pulley.
The major benefit – and the reason it has the ‘digital’ in its title – is because this turntable comes with an optical output, meaning it can plug in to more recently released home audio systems. Soundbars, home cinema, multiroom audio devices, TVs and Bluetooth speakers are all fair game for the Essential Digital, meaning you don’t have to go through the process of buying additional speaker systems if you’ve already got something you enjoy at home.
Is it pretty? It has a simple elegance about it and doesn’t feel overly cheap. The aluminium tone arm is solid and a convenient finger-lift that protrudes out from its end that doesn’t initially seem like it’s a big deal but is an excellent ease-of-use addition.
UK-based Rega are one of the most well respected names in turntables, with good reason. They’ve been churning out both turntables and turntable parts since 1973. The Planar 3 is one of their most highly-commended, but it doesn’t come cheap.
It doesn’t look dramatically different to the Pro-Ject Essential Digital, but the much higher price point is due to the excellent sound reproduction and high-quality build. It’s aimed at the more experience vinyl users – you can purchase it without a cartridge if you desire – who like to fiddle around with as many settings as they can before placing a record down.
Swapping between 33 and 45 RPM isn’t as easy on the Planar though, because the pulley exists underneath the platter. Changing speeds means lifting the platter. It’s a little thing, but makes a difference if you’re switching speeds regularly.
The Planar 3 will put off inexperienced users because of its price point, but for those looking for phenomenal sound quality and malleability, the Planar 3 is all you’ll need.
The Concept is a high-price pick that provides users with sophisticated sound and design. Importantly, the Concept’s four digit price tag doesn’t make it exceptionally hard to use. In fact, you’re still only a drive belt install away from a straight plug and play option that will play at 33, 45 and 78 RPM.
Depending on the cartridge and finish, you could be paying upwards of $3000 for the Concept but what you get at that price is unmatched clarity, space and an award-winning design. Many reviews speak highly of the turntable’s tonearm, not just because of its elegant finish but because of its smooth operation. Clearaudio perform all the pre-unboxing adjustments to ensure optimal performance out of the box in regards to tracking weight and anti-skating. It may seem like the Concept, with its higher price tag, is completely beyond a vinyl beginner, but these small touches mean that if vinyl newbies are willing to spend bigger – their ears will be rewarded.
If you’re looking for the kind of sound quality you get with five-figure turntables but don’t want to remortgage your house to fully invest in vinyl, then take a look at the Concept.