Record Player and Turntable Buyer's Guide

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If we were to claim that listening to music on vinyl records is more popular than ever, we wouldn't be historically accurate. However, the sustained popularity of record players continues to impress us here at B&H. Many people are rediscovering their fondness for the sound and feel of vinyl records, and droves of new people are encountering it for the first time. Whether you're interested in purchasing your first record player, or if you're ready to upgrade from the one your uncle handed down to you in 1973, this guide is for you.

We've arranged the following record players based on price. If you're on a tight budget, obviously you should stick to the beginning of the list. However, investing a little bit more into your player will give you years and years and years of enjoyment. Keep an eye out for players with the ability to play 33, 45, and 78 RPM records. This way, all of those polka classics on 10" 78 RPM discs won't be lost to you. Some record players are not sold with a needle. We've clearly labeled which players don't come with a needle and which ones do. The players that don't have a needle will have links to the needles you need to purchase in order to operate each player.

The stereo receiver icon requires a bit more of an explanation. Some of the turntables available today feature line-level outputs, but many only have phono-level outputs. Additionally, many modern digital receivers don’t have a dedicated phono input, but offer only line-level inputs. To convert a phono-level signal to line level, a phono preamp, or phono stage, is necessary. This preamp utilizes the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) equalization curve. The process of creating vinyl records or “cutting vinyl” employs the RIAA EQ curve to reduce low frequencies and boosts high frequencies in order to prevent distortion and skipping. The phono preamp uses an inverse of the RIAA EQ to decode the audio coming from the vinyl, generating full-frequency, line-level audio. When you see the stereo receiver icon, it means that the record player only has a "phono level" output, so you will need to use a stereo receiver or DJ mixer with a dedicated "phono input," or a phono preamp.

 

Phono Preamps

As we stated above, modern-day stereo equipment will often not feature a dedicated phono input. That's why many of today's turntables have "line level" outputs. When a turntable features a "line level" output, that means that it has a built-in phono preamp.

Helpful hints for better sound!

One surefire way to greatly improve your sound is to upgrade the needle that comes with the turntable. While the included needles usually sound pretty decent, a more carefully designed needle cartridge will really open up the beauty of sound and detail that these turntables are capable of (re)producing. Also, if you have a turntable with a line level output, and you also happen to have a stereo that features a phono level input, you should audition it using both the phono level input on your stereo with the phono level output on your turntable, and then try the line level input on your stereo (such as CD, Tape, or AUX) while using the line level output on your turntable. It's likely that one method may sound better than the other. All phono preamps are not created equal, and sound quality will improve with a nicer preamp.

What am I paying for?

The quality of a preamp is one of the many factors that drive the price of turntables from $50 to over $4,000. It's beneficial for a record player to be heavy. Additional mass helps to deter vibration. Vibration can cause a record to skip, and it can interfere with the tonal quality of the sound. Better-quality turntables will usually have metallic and rubber components that add to the overall girth of the unit. The design of the tonearm and the care put into the circuitry all adds up to higher sound quality. Like most electronic equipment, with turntables you get what you pay for.

Okay! Let's get to it!

Portable Turntables

Numark PT01USB Portable Vinyl-Archiving Turntable

The PT01USB is a battery-powered manual turntable that offers you the freedom and portability to listen to records anywhere you travel. Preview vinyl at the thrift store and take home only what you want. Featuring tone, gain, and pitch control with the ability to play 33, 45, and 78 RPM records, you'll have everything you need to play vinyl on the go. This turntable has a line level output, so you can connect it to a stereo system that doesn't feature a dedicated phono input. The class-compliant USB output is compatible with Mac or Windows and provides a direct connection to computers for archiving vinyl. It also features a built-in speaker, so you don't need to plug it into anything. It comes complete with a needle, dust cover, carrying handle, and an AC power adapter. It's the same size as a 12" record, so you can file it away with your collection when not in use.

ION Audio Digital Conversion Turntable with Cassette Deck  

The Ion Audio Duo Deck plays records and cassettes, and also works as a USB computer interface for converting analog vinyl and tape into digital MP3s. The turntable can play 33-1/3 and 45 RPM records with the included adapter, as well as regular and chrome cassette tapes. The turntable features a retractable tone arm for records, a built-in speaker, and a headphone output with volume control to enable playback wherever you are. The device can be powered by four AA batteries, USB connection, or the included AC power adapter.

Crosley Radio Nomad Portable Turntable with USB and Recording Software (Brown)  

The belt-driven Nomad includes a diamond stylus and offers the ability to play 7, 10, and 12" records at speeds of 33-1/3, 45, and 78 RPM. A USB port is provided for computer recording with the included software suite. A connection for a portable audio player is provided via 3.5mm jack and the included auxiliary audio cable. The stereo RCA output can be connected to a sound system, while a headphone output is provided for personal listening enjoyment. The vinyl-wrapped wooden enclosure features a chrome snap closure, woven cloth exterior, and a handle for ease in transportation. The Nomad ships with a USB cable, DC power supply, and a 45 RPM adapter.

Home Audio

Pioneer PL-990 Automatic Stereo Turntable

The strengths of the PL-990 from Pioneer are that it's easy to set up and operate. It features a line level output so you can just plug it into a regular input on your stereo system. Its platter is belt driven and it features fully automatic, push-button operation. This attractive-looking record player can play 33-1/3 and 45 RPM vinyl and comes with a dust cover. The built-in preamp cannot be bypassed, so if your stereo system has a dedicated "phono input," you should skip it and plug the PL-990 into a CD, Tape, or AUX input instead. Needle is included.

Audio-Technica AT-LP60 Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Turntable  

The AT-LP60 is straightforward and completely automatic, for vinyl enthusiasts in need of a turntable to complement their existing home-theater and stereo systems. Its fully automatic operation starts the platter when the tone arm is lifted, and brakes when the needle is positioned on its mount. The turntable features phono (turntable level) outputs; however, a built-in preamplifier features line-level outputs for connecting to amplifiers without dedicated phono inputs. The ATLP60 can spin your vinyl at 33-1/3 and 45 RPM speeds.

Teac TN-300 Turntable with Phono EQ and USB (Black)  

TheTN-300 is a two-speed analog turntable with a built-in MM (Moving Magnet cartridge) phono equalizer and USB output. Switchable between phono and line levels, the analog output allows the unit to be connected to a receiver or amplifier with no phono inputs. The USB output digitizes your vinyl records to either a Mac or PC for archiving or playing on your favorite mobile device. The TN-300 offers excellent-quality sound with clarity and detail and features a heavy-duty MDF enclosure that minimizes unfavorable resonances, while the high inertia aluminum die-cast platter is belt driven by a high-torque DC motor with durable neoprene rubber for stable, accurate rotations.

Music Hall mmf-2.2 (Black) Turntable

The mmf-2.2 is an entry-level audiophile turntable with a two-speed, belt-driven platter that supports 33-1/3 and 45 rpm. It features a high-gloss black finish, alloy platter, and felt mat. The turntable is equipped with a one-piece tone arm and special vibration-damping feet. The construction of the mmf-2.2 has been simplified to focus on critical music-making components, including stainless steel and bronze bearings for fluid operation, a low-noise fully manual belt-drive design, and a separately isolated asynchronous motor. Other features include a properly aligned and installed Music Hall tracker, moving magnet phono cartridge, gold-plated connectors, and a user-replaceable elliptical stylus.

Music Hall mmf-11.1 - Two-Speed Audiophile Turntable (No Cartridge)  

If you are looking for the best of the best, check out the Rolls Royce of audiophile turntables. The mmf-1.1 is a belt-driven turntable utilizing quadruple-plinth construction. The tone arm is mounted on the upper plinth, and the inverted ceramic main bearing is mounted on the second plinth, allowing the partially sunken, 1.5" thick acrylic platter to spin freely. Attaching the bearing to the second plinth improves cartridge tracking and significantly lowers background noise. The adjustable magnetic-levitation isolation feet, microprocessor speed control, motors, flywheel, and wiring are all mounted on the bottom plinth. The motors, flywheel, and speed control are further isolated on their own vibration-damped, dual-plinth platform, which is separately isolated from the upper three main plinths. Recommended cartridges for the mmf-1.1 include the Music Hall Magic 3Mojo, and the Denon DL-301 MKII.

DJ Performance Turntables

Numark TTUSB Belt-drive Turntable with USB Output

The TTUSB simplifies the process of capturing vinyl recordings with a computer. With a dedicated USB output and PC and Mac software included for audio recording and sweetening (you can remove pops and clicks), you'll have everything you need to digitize your record collection properly. It even has a 1/8" input so you can connect the outputs of a cassette player to it and capture cassettes with a computer, as well. It's a manual turntable that plays 33 and 45 rpm vinyl, has a built-in preamp with line level output, and comes with the needle and necessary cables. Dust cover not included.

Numark TTXUSB Ultra High-Torque Turntable USB Output

The TTXUSB is a manual vinyl turntable with powerful high-tech capabilities. It features an adjustable ultra-high-torque motor, as well as adjustable startup and brake times. It has a Key Lock feature, which allows you to change the tempo of the record without affecting pitch. It comes complete with a USB output and vinyl-converting software that allows you to transfer your records to a computer easily. It plays 33, 45, and 78 rpm vinyl, its output is switchable between phono and line level, and it includes EZ Vinyl Converter software for digitizing records. It comes with a slipmat, cue light, and cables. Dust cover not included. For a choice of needles for the TTXUSB, click this link.

Reloop RP-8000 Advanced Hybrid Torque Turntable 

The RP-8000 is high-performance direct quartz-driven turntable with digital correction, designed for live performance DJing at a party or in a club. Offering USB and playback speeds of 33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm, the turntable also features a bank of eight user-programmable MIDI buttons with Serato Scratch live mappings and a trax encoder for browsing your library and loading digital tracks onto the decks. The MIDI buttons can be set to four combinable performance modes for hot cueing, beat juggling, drum-pad playing, and loop triggering. For a choice of needles for the RP8000, click this link.

Stanton STR8.150 Professional DJ Turntable 

The STR8.150 is another high-performance DJ turntable with a digital output for connecting directly to sound cards.  The turntable features a high-torque brushless direct drive motor, steel construction, aluminum platter, 33-1/3 and 45 rpm speeds, and adjustable rubber feet. The inclusion of phono/line switchable audio output, S/PDIF digital output, variable pitch control, key correction, and reverse mode keep the STR8.150 in line with today's digital standards. The STR8.150's tough exterior and motor match its performance and sound, and the turntable ships with a cable, headshell, and cartridge for immediate results right out of the box.

 

Technics SL-1210M5G Professional Turntable

The manual-control SL-1210M5G incorporates all of the classic characteristics that have made the 1200 the standard for DJs worldwide, while adding a few more useful improvements to the original. The pitch is controlled digitally, insuring accuracy from deck to deck. The brake speed is adjustable, the cue lamps have been replaced with long-life blue LEDs, and the black brushed-steel body is easy on the eyes. The tone arm and cables produce a higher quality of sound, and if you wear out the pitch fader, it's easy to replace. An easily removable hinge-free dust cover is included. For a choice of cartridges and needles for the SL-1210M5G, click this link.

If you have any more questions about turntables, or if you need more information about recording vinyl into a computer/MP3 player, we encourage you to contact us on the phone at 1-800-606-6969, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.

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Great guide and kudos on mentioning the preamp as it is so important to the sound! I have included a link here to an article about replacing the needle as it is something the readers of this will definitely need at some point!