For new vinyl collectors wondering where to start, from our friends at The Strategist
John Cusack in High Fidelity, appreciating some vinyl.
Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures
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The world of record players and vinyl can be intimidating to the uninitiated because the gear that playing records requires (preamps, amps, receivers) can make it seem like an expensive, overly complicated hobby. But thats not true, according to the experts we spoke with including DJs, record store owners, and general vinyl geeks all of whom assured us that you dont need more than a turntable and a pair of powered speakers, or speakers with a built-in amplifier, to get started (Audioengine powered speakers, like the A2+ model on this list, are a good brand to start with, according to DJ Prestige of Flea Market Funk).
When we chatted with the experts on the best turntables for people new to the world of playing records, each had their own favorites, but they all advised avoiding one very popular, all-in-one record player that comes in a suitcase. Whatever you do, dont get a Crosley, said Prestige,who claims that if youre serious about your new hobby, you should look for machines with better sound quality (and with needles that wont eventually ruin your records). The turntables below are best suited for those new to playing vinyl, but they arent necessarily entry level because even the least expensive of the lot contains quality parts and will last for some time with regular care. Most models on this list contain a built-in preamp, since our experts say that such turntables are the easiest and most straightforward to use. See how that works, and then if you see yourself wanting something better, you can upgrade slowly down the line, explains Mike Davis, owner of New York Citys Academy Records.
The best overall turntable
Audio-Technica AT-LP120X USB Direct Drive Professional USB Turntable
The Audio-Technica LP 120X is modeled not so subtly after what is probably the most iconic turntable of all time, the discontinued Technics 1200. It actually replaces our experts beloved LP 120 (although discontinued, the 120 is still in stock here), which Mark Steinberg, the chief technologist and turntable specialist at B&H Photo and Video, says hell recommend to any customer but he especially suggests it to those newer to vinyl who want something a little nicer to play their records on.
This record players key feature is the magnet-powered direct drive, which is usually only found in professional-grade turntables or other, more expensive units. Unlike turntables with a belt drive (a motor powered by replaceable belts that wear down with use and may need to be swapped depending on the type of record you play), a direct drive will rarely, if ever, need service, explains Prestige. He says it can handle records of all sizes without any fiddling under the hood. If I were starting over right now, Id probably get this due to the quality you get for the price, says the DJ of 20 years. Although Davis has never used the 120 or the 120X, he says, I bought a 120 for my nephew and he loves it. And he bought one for his friend, who loves it too.
For Steinberg, Prestige, and Davis, this record player checks other appealing boxes, too. Its maker, Audio-Technica, has a great reputation in the industry; it has a built-in preamp, so the only other thing you need to use it is a powered speaker;and it features a USB output that allows you to connect it to your computer in case you want to archive your vinyl.
And now its even better. According to Steinberg, the 120X has a more efficient motor, so it needs less energy and gets up to speed faster. Audio-Technica does a great job of listening to customer feedback, Steinberg says, and the 120X reflects that, with its lower profile, stronger preamp, and a power supply thats built into the charging cord instead of the turntable itself. And its $50 cheaper.
Best less expensive turntables
Audio-Technica AT-LP60X Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Stereo Turntable
Steinberg says this lower-priced Audio Technica model, which features a belt drive, is a perennial bestseller at B&H and the first one he shows people. This is the bread-and-butter piece for most people. It will get the job done really, really well, he says, adding that he thinks of it as an entry-level serious turntable. Its not a toy. Its not going to damage your records. The $99 model also has a built-in preamp, and for incrementally higher prices, you can get a USB-equipped model for archiving and recording or even one with Bluetooth capability (which you should be able to connect to a standard Bluetooth speaker for wireless, vinyl-powered sound).
Prestige, who recently tried the LP 60 for the first time, agrees this is a good option for anyone who cant spring for the LP 120. It sounded great, he told us of his first spin with the LP 60. But unlike the LP 120 and most of the other record players on this list, the LP 60 does not feature a replaceable cartridge (the part of the turntable that holds the needle), which means you wont be able to upgrade that part if you get more serious about your hobby down the line. Steinberg notes that this is fully automatic, meaning the push of a button moves the tone arm in place to start the record, and that the arm lifts off on its own at the end. This feature, he explains, could be great if youre new to vinyl and want to make things a little easier, but purists will likely prefer the feel and ritual of manual operation.
Sony PS-LX300USB Fully Automatic USB Stereo Turntable
For another less expensive option for starter record collectors,music journalist Jessica Lipsky suggests this Sony belt-drive turntable, which she says she received ten years ago and still uses. Like the LP 60 above, it comes in a Bluetooth-equipped model for a higher price, but Lipsky told us she prefers the standard, lower-tech version. Ive stuck with this because its simple, she says. Shes a fan of the handy dust cover, and she likes that it will be easy to plug into any system she wants in the future. Steinberg also recommends it, saying its one of his favorites for the price because Sony is a trustworthy brand and this model is so straightforward. Like the LP 60, its also fully automatic,but unlike that model, this one comes with a USB output at no extra cost.
Music Hall MMF-1.3 Stereo Turntable
If youre looking for something a little sleeker, this minimalist Music Hall turntable comes recommended by both Davis and Steinberg. The brands roots are in the audiophile-grade market, according to Davis, who says this entry-level model is very well regarded. This would be a great place to start if youre looking for something more serious, Steinberg says, noting that a lot of people love Music Hall for its more stripped down and bare bones approach. This is powered by a belt drive, includes a built-in preamp, and can play 78s, while most belt-driven turntables (including all the others on this list) can only handle 33s and 45s.For a better turntable, thats a rarity, explains Steinberg.
Audio-Technica AT-LP3 Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Stereo Turntable
Steinberg also recommends this Audio-Technica model as a more stylish version of the brands LP 60 or LP 120. While it does have a cover, its less technical-looking than its sister turntables, but still includes a built-in preamp. The LP3, however, does not feature USB or Bluetooth connectivity.
Best turntable without preamp
Pro-Ject Audio Systems Essential III Turntable
Pro-Ject pretty much only makes turntables, says Steinberg, who notes that many of its models are priced in the thousands, making something like this a great choice for someone who wants to dip their toes into the higher-end market. Davis and Prestige agree that Pro-Ject turntables are known for their minimalist build, streamlined look, and high-quality materials like a cartridge made by Ortofon, a company that Steinberg says has a long history of producing audiophile-approved components. Listeners who are more particular about their sound systems may prefer it to others on this list because it does not come with a preamp built in, giving them more flexibility when it comes to the sound system they connect to this turntable. Nor does this have USB or Bluetooth, which vinyl purists may also appreciate.
Best turntable worth investing in
Technics SL-1200MK7 Direct Drive Turntable System
As all of our experts noted, the discontinued Technics 1200 is something of an icon in the turntable world. The 1200 was the standard when it came out in the 70s, and its been the standard ever since, says Davis. Prestige is a longtime fan, too. Ive been DJ-ing for 20 years and all Ive had are Technics, he says. Eilon Paz a photographer and the author of Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting agrees, calling the Technics 1200 a workhorse. After it was discontinued, there was a big outcry in the record-collecting community, according to Paz, who says the above model which is only available for preorder right now is Technics answer. It features slightly updated parts than those in the original 1200, but not too many changes, according to our experts (none of whom have tried it out due to its limited availability before officially debuting). Because of that and the turntables hefty price tag it landed lower on our list. But we felt it still merited inclusion as each of our experts specifically mentioned it. Like other high-end turntables, this one doesnt have a built-in preamp.
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For new vinyl collectors wondering where to start, from our friends at The Strategist