Best Turntables Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best turntables (also known as record players) you can buy in 2018.
If you’ve been keeping up with the music world at all in 2018, you probably know that the famed vinyl revival is here to stay. Vinyl, believe it or not, has become a true cultural zeitgeist over the last few years, and if anyone is aware of this trend, it’s audio equipment manufacturers. They’ve seen the writing on the wall, and they’ve devoted huge chunks of time and money to building the best turntables that have ever existed.
There are still a ton of people out there who think that turntables are relics of the past, but the turntables in this list aren’t your parents’ record players. There has been a ton of innovation that makes the best turntables compelling modern products. Still, as a result of all of these new products and tricky naming conventions, the market for the best turntables can be a little confusing, so stick with us, and we’ll find the best turntable for you.
With this guide, we will show you through all the little details that go into choosing the best turntable for your listening needs and budget. Do you want to go on the high end with a belt drive? Or how about a more user-friendly direct drive turntable? What about phono preamps? Do you need one? All of these questions will be answered right here, so don’t worry, you’ll be absorbed in all of your favorite albums before you know it.
[Update: Not sure where to start with vinyl? We've just reviewed the beginner-friendly Fluance RT81, a fantastic deck that can be upgraded as you go.]
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is the best introductory turntable for aspiring vinyl enthusiasts. Out of the box, it features the ability to play 33 ⅓, 45 and 78 RPM, this means there will never be an album you can’t play. There’s also a built-in phono preamp so you never have to worry about finding one on your own.
New record collectors will love the easy setup and features while more vetted users will love the option to dial in the vertical tracking angle, tracking force and easily replaceable headshell. Sure, it looks like a Technics SL-1200 ripoff but at a fraction of the price, it’s entirely worth it.
The AT-LP120-USB also comes with a USB output that allows you to record your record collection if you want. To put it simply, this deck strikes the perfect balance of ease of use for beginners while still including some more advanced features for you to grow into.
If you’re not looking to drop a fortune on the best turntable in the world and don’t necessarily care about squeezing every last drop of fidelity from your LPs, the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is a perfect starting point. It’s portable, can play most vinyl and is by far the most inexpensive turntable we have on this list. It’s also totally automatic, meaning it’ll queue a record and return the arm to resting position without requiring a manual lever.
The only caveat with a turntable this cheap is that it won’t grow with you as your vinyl collection expands. The built-in phono preamp means you’re stuck with it, however you can replace the needle once it wears out.
While there are cheaper, poorly engineered turntables on the market, it’s not worth it, as you risk damaging your precious records with poorly aligned and improperly weighted tonearms. Vinyl is expensive so we recommend the AT-LP60 for beginners just looking to get started.
The Denon DP-300F is a gorgeous turntable that sounds just as good as it looks. The included DSN-85 cartridge isn’t the most accurate but it nevertheless manages to make your music sound airy and reasonably detailed, especially for it’s price.You’ll need to spend a lot more cash to hear more detail.
While the DP-300F lacks the USB outputs of some of the turntables listed here, it’s still a great starting turntable for anyone who doesn’t want to manually queue their albums or have a habit of falling asleep while listening to music. The Denon’s automatic start/stop feature means your needle won’t be worn down at the end of the record as the arm immediately returns when an album is done.
Build quality is decent for an all-plastic turntable, but its buttons feel cheap – a minor problem but shouldn't be a deal-breaker for you. If the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB doesn’t fit your aesthetic, consider the Denon DP-300F instead.
Read the full review: Denon DP-300F
The Fluance RT81 is an excellent starter turntable for the enthusiast. It’s simple to set up and use for newbies but you can switch out the cartridge to squeeze out more performance later on. Newbies also won’t have to worry about getting a separate phono preamp, as one is built in. However, you can turn it off if you want to use a better external preamp.
The only downside is that Fluance’s advertised “auto-off” feature simply turns off the platter, preventing excessive needle wear but you’ll still have to return the arm to its resting place yourself. You’ll also have to manually queue records, which isn’t a deal breaker by any means but is something to consider for those looking for a fully automatic turntable. The Denon DP-300F is a great choice for those looking for a fully automated record listening experience.
Read the full review: Fluance RT81
From here on out things start to get a little bit more ‘real’: The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is in the runnings to be the best entry-level hi-fi turntables you can buy.
While vinyl newcomers may cringe at the price, the Debut Carbon is really an incredible bargain. For the money, you get an very well made deck that’s damped properly for fantastic sound quality. The carbon fiber tonearm is lightweight and stiff, and is usually reserved for turntables costing much more.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is for the budding enthusiast that’s committed to the record collecting hobby and because of that commitment, it doesn’t feature niceties like an auto-returning tonearm, buttons for changing speed or an included phono preamp. Newbies may be turned off by the manual changing of the belt position to change speeds and the lack of an included preamp. However, if you want to extract more detail and resolution from your records than the cheaper options on this list, or if you want to get started on the path of being a true vinyl collector, the Debut Carbon is probably your best bet.
Read the full review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
There’s a lot of debate whether the Rega Planar 1 or the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is the best entry-level hi-fi turntable. It’s a close match and there are no clear winners, each providing an excellent starting place for audiophiles on a budget.
While the Rega may lack the fancy carbon tone arm of the Pro-Ject, the Planar 1 still sounds excellent and is well damped with its phenolic resin platter. And for newbies, the Rega Planar 1 is still easy to setup, though you’ll have to provide your own phono preamp.
Ultimately, the Rega Planar 1 just sounds so good that it’s hard to fault it too much. Vocals are revealing and you can hear the texture from instruments like the violin. The included Rega Carbon cartridge isn’t anything special but manages to be a great match for the turntable. It’s a tough choice between the Planar 1 and the Debut Carbon but you can’t go wrong with either.
The Marantz TT-15S1 costs a serious bit of change, but you’re actually getting a killer bargain. The Clearaudio Virtuoso included with the turntable is $1000 when purchased separately. Additionally, you get a killer tonearm and gorgeous turntable at a price that’s definitely an investment, but not unreasonable.
So what does the Marantz TT-15S1 get you over the competition? Attention to detail. Just about every part of the turntable has been poured over to be the best it can be for the price. The fit and finish are excellent and it’s a pleasure to handle the high-quality components. This is a turntable you’ll find yourself admiring its visual and audible qualities.
Newbies should not get this turntable as it requires more knowledge to set up properly than the entry-level turntables on this list. But if you’re ready to take your record collecting and listening to the next level, the Marantz TT-15S1 is the perfect place to start.
Read the full review: Marantz TT-15S1
- This product is only available in the US at the time of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Clearaudio Concept
If the Clearaudio Concept and Marantz TT-15S1 seem familiar, that’s because the Marantz was built by Clearaudio to Marantz’s specifications. This means everything about the excellent build quality of the Marantz carries over to the Clearaudio Concept (i.e. this is a turntable that is as gorgeous as it sounds).
One small but notable difference between the Marantz and the Clearaudio is the ability to play 78 rpm records. While most people will never come across 78s, it’s nice to know that the Clearaudio Concept is capable of playing them. The Concept also has a handy speed dial on the plinth, meaning you don’t have to swap the belt position manually.
As for negatives, the Clearaudio Concept has no notable flaws. Yes, it’s expensive but you’re still getting a bargain in this price range. The included Clearaudio Concept moving-coil cartridge costs $1,000 by itself. Yep!
The Sony PS-HX500 is a great entry-level turntable for those just getting started with record collecting. Its standout feature is its ability to record Hi-Res audio from its USB output in 96kHz/24bit resolution. This is an excellent feature for those looking to digitize their records.
In terms of sound quality, the Sony PS-HX500 sound spacious and provides good detail. However, the included needle sounds a bit harsh and sibilant at times and lacks the resolution of more expensive cartridges.
While some may like the minimalist design of the Sony, it’s utterly forgettable and its plastic build leaves a lot to be desired. Handling the turntable on a daily basis leaves us wanting more premium materials that don’t rattle.
What’s the best turntable?
Now that vinyl is now comfortably back in the mainstream, the best turntables approach this classic music format armed with the latest technologies and aesthetics. The best turntables come in all shapes and sizes, and can vary wildly depending on the type of configuration they feature. So, if you’re looking to pick up the best turntable, you need to consider the motor configuration, building materials and whether or not you need any secondary functionality like USB recording.
On of the most vital components to look for when you’re shopping for the best turntable is how well damped it is. Damping is essentially the method by which manufacturers combat vibrations – whether internal or external. They do this through the use of different motor configurations, and through the use of various components. Most of the time, belt-driven turntables are going to be a lot quieter and offer higher fidelity than their direct drive brethren – as direct drive turntables have a motor that is directly connected to the platter. However, there are some great direct drive turntables out there, so don’t write them off quite yet.
Your own personal needs are important too, though, so don’t forget about them. If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t need to be fooling around with a complex turntable with an adjustable vertical tracking angle, anti-skate and azimuth. Do you want to rip your vinyl to your digital library? If so, look for a turntable with a USB output and reliable software to get the job done.
- Want to listen to digital music instead? Check out our list of the best MP3 players.