Audio / Buying Guide

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 a high-performance direct quartz-driven turntable with digital correction and high-torque motor, designed for live performance DJing at a party or in a club. Offering MIDI-USB, Phono-PreAmp, and playback speeds of 33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm, the turntable also features a bank of eight user-programmable MIDI buttons 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, which all comes plug 'n' play with Serato DJ. 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.

18 Comments

I have been playing with various analog and digital equipment for 60 years - and own both Lp,s and CD's of the same artists and the same music-

also own cassette band reel to reel equipment - solid state as well as tube and like different types of music -

BOTTOM LINE - I believe spec wise, digital is better than analog ,BUT WHICH SOUNDS BETTER TO YOU - is that not what matters ?

the same holds true with speakers

Having sold stereo equipment as well as recorded music for a large retail store, I have learned this -

IF THE POTENTIAL CUSTOMER DOES NOT LIKE THE TYPE OF MUSIC ,WHETHER ANALOG OR DIGITAL,COMING FROM THE
THE EQUIPMENT.HE CALLS IT  A PIECE OF ______ -SO WHATEVER IS MORE PLEASING TO "YOUR EARS" BUY IT !!!

AFTER ALL, WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO PLEASE ?

By the way ,I use Conrad Johnson, Audio Research,Reference 3A speakers as well as Linn, Musical Fidelity, Vecteur as well as a whole

lot of other equipment - I enjoy it and really don't  care if you do - unless I am setting up a system for you, to your liking and to the

Thickness of your wallet.
 

The fact that people are free to spend their money as they see fit, and to purchase equipment and recordings that please them, doesn't change the fact that there is such a thing as a reference standard -- the live sound of acoustic instruments in an appropriate space.

My opinions about sound reproduction might be ill-considered or even wrong. But they're based on whether I think the reproduction sounds like the original -- not whether I "like" it.

Anonymous wrote:

I have been playing with various analog and digital equipment for 60 years - and own both Lp,s and CD's of the same artists and the same music-

also own cassette band reel to reel equipment - solid state as well as tube and like different types of music -

BOTTOM LINE - I believe spec wise, digital is better than analog ,BUT WHICH SOUNDS BETTER TO YOU - is that not what matters ?

the same holds true with speakers

Having sold stereo equipment as well as recorded music for a large retail store, I have learned this -

IF THE POTENTIAL CUSTOMER DOES NOT LIKE THE TYPE OF MUSIC ,WHETHER ANALOG OR DIGITAL,COMING FROM THE
THE EQUIPMENT.HE CALLS IT  A PIECE OF ______ -SO WHATEVER IS MORE PLEASING TO "YOUR EARS" BUY IT !!!

AFTER ALL, WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO PLEASE ?

By the way ,I use Conrad Johnson, Audio Research,Reference 3A speakers as well as Linn, Musical Fidelity, Vecteur as well as a whole

lot of other equipment - I enjoy it and really don't  care if you do - unless I am setting up a system for you, to your liking and to the

Thickness of your wallet.
 

The recent popularity of vinyl records tell you one thing. Sell all your old 70'2 and 80's gear now on Criagslist to hipsters falling for this latest "trend".

I just sold 11 old 70's classic rock albums for $73 that were taking up space in my closet, and my old Technics SL-D202 for $200 with a Shure M95HE stylus, $50 more than I paid for it in 1979!

Sold a bunch of old Pioneer, Technics, Dynaco, Yamaha, Klipsch, Kenwood and Onkyo gear as well the last year. All sitting on the shelf with their capacitors & pinch rollers drying out and slowly failing in other ways.  This so called trend is not as big a whirlwind as the media would have you believe, so capitalize now!

This is a last gasp by baby boomers to grasp at some nostalgic life boat and thier hipster kids and grand kids buying into the media hype.

Good luck!

Might I add a few dispeptic remarks?

The phonograph record is dead -- both technologically and sonically. It has regained a semblance of life because most listeners aren't interested in true high-fidelity sound. Unlike FM broadcasts, analog tape recording (even cassette), and digital recording, LPs don't come very close to rendering the original sound with a high degree of accuracy. I state this as fact, having made live recordings of acoustic music, as well as reviewing for a famous audiophile publication.

There's also the fact that your expensive LPs will eventually wear out. Washing them before every play only accelerates the wear.

If you understand these things, and avoid spending more than $500 to $750 on 'table, pickup, and preamp, you'll be all right. Just remember that you're buying this stuff because you enjoy LP colorations -- and there's nothing wrong with that.

William,

I will concede that CD quality can be on a par with or even superior to some LP's and turntable-cartridge combinations but that is not commonly the case. Just because a particular CD can outperform a vinyl sample of the same performance does not mean that we should not be able to play vinyl. There are thousands of great recordings which are available only as 33's and it makes little sense to deprive oneself of a great recording because of a refusal to use an older technology. I have a few recordings which sound better on CD but must say that that is not the rule. There are also bad LP pressings and rotten vinyl mastering jobs which sound putrid compared with a CD remastering of the same original tape. I think that there is room in the world (and in my rack) for both systems. But it has to be stressed that for a CD player to rival a good turntable it has to be a really good player. I have such a player (Line Magnetic 502ca) and it gives my Linn/Grado turntable a run for its money, but not always. It should be mentioned that the turntables listed in this article are not even close to being the state of the art. I wish that they had included some even acceptably good equipment. Oddly, the main deficiency of CD players is in the area of pacing, timing and rhythm. Even a player with good specs can ruin a musical experience by essentially taking the "swing" and "groove" out of a recording. Syncopation can be ruined by a bad CD Player.  This is not generally the case with a cheap record player which will not butcher the time structure of a recording. You are more likely to tap your feet to vinyl than to a CD. For a serious listener having both is the only option. 

John B. , NYC

There is some confusion on both sides, here.

No one can obejct to anyone owning LP-playback equipment, if that's the only way to listen to recordings that haven't been transferred to newer mediums. But many people -- such as yourself -- actually believe that the long-playing record provides a higher degree of fidelity than CD or SACD. To anyone accustomed to hearing acoustic music, this is patently untrue.

When I claim that digital is superior to LP, it's not because the former has better specs. Who cares what the specs are? All that matters is what we hear. Of all uncompressed media (including analog tape and FM radio), the phonograph record lags far, far behind.

Many listeners (yourself included) are seduced by the errors of the phonograph record. It has a warm, pleasing sound -- the sound many of us grew up with. Unfortunately, once you hear a higher quality of reproduction //of live sound// from better media (including analog tape), it becomes obvious how dishonest phonograph records are. All you know is reproduced sound -- ergo, the more pleasing it is, the more accurate it must be. "Danger, danger Will Robinson! Extreme error of logic!"

A digital transfer of an analog source -- especially of pop/rock music, which rarely has a relationship to any sort of "live" sound -- almost always sounds cold and shallow. Unfortunately, that's what the master tape really sounds like. It's the LP that's the "fake".

The proof of all this -- if any were needed, other than common sense and careful listening -- is that the popularity of LPs is strongest among people who have no interest whatever in accurate sound reproduction. Those who listen to classical music (and jazz, I assume) aren't fooled.

I defy anyone reading this to name an LP whose sound quality even approaches that of a good digital recording. By "sound quality", I mean the only thing that matters -- how natural/realistic is it? As QUAD would say, how closely does it approach the original sound?

By the way, I own very good LP playback equipment -- a Well Tempered arm and 'table, with an Ikeda (FR) direct-coupled MC pickup, and a Vendetta head amp. Not exactly chopped liver.

Having enjoyed my share of quality vinyl. . .and spending years of time in recording studios listening to the 2" masters, I'd have to say my vote leans towards any solution that ports the studio master directly into my hands, and very happy ears. To this end it would seem Neil Young is on the right track with his PONO player and studio sourced originals. It's just too bad we have to repurchase much our music once again to enjoy this solution.

I'd like to see record companies step up to the plate with a high volume, discounted buying solution for audiophiles and other committed lovers of music. Good luck with that one, you say!

Agreed PJ, ultimately it comes down to the quality of the recording source.

Sadly, what you would like to see will not happen, it's all about the bottom line.

Shelby Lynne - Just a Little Lovin', way ahead of CD and SACD

You're making an awful lot of assumptions here. 

I know how good master tapes can sound, having been a recording engineer. And I’ve played analog masters on my home system, but that does not diminish my enjoyment of a good LP. Maybe they are filled with all sorts of artifacts that to you, reduce a sense of reality. Perhaps I don’t mind that. And you must be able to tolerate vinyl or you would not have one of the best turntables made. If I want the sound of live music I’ll listen to live music. At home I don’t need to have the absolute sound to be happy, just sound that gives me a thrill, and at least in my record collection, there are a lot of LP’s that do just that. I listen primarily to jazz and everyday I’m stupid enough to think that records sound good.

By the way, when I want to hear something actually approaching reality I do turn to digital. I use a digital recorder and a binaural dummy head to record frighteningly real soundscapes. I know that digital is good, just please let me have fun with my records too. 

John 

If I may add to William's comment, CDs do not reproduce sound equivalent to a new LP with a great stylus and cartridge: SACDs would! For you that are not familiar with the term, SACD stands for Super Audio Compact Discs and ARE much superior in sound thaan your regular CD. But like some better equipment that failed to sell (like Sony's Betamax versus the lesser quality VHS format in video tapes), SACD is rther rare and does not offer the whole gamut in music selection. But it is outrageously great sounding.

I own both analog and digital equipment and I must admit that even my older tapre recorders and vynil LPs sound better than CDs. You do need to have a tuned ear though, otherwiae stick to your MP3s. Enjoy!

William, I understand and partialy agree with your statement.  The point for me is that nothing is accurate to the original sound because the original sound changes from place to place, instrument, artist, etc.  Let me explain; the sound recorded at a studio will sound different from a hall concert, a stage, a park, etc.  Which of these avenues are correct?  You also know that as a recording engineer the sound that is recorded is up to the person who is doing the recording.  Does the engineer like more bass or more high notes?  He would project his own sound taste.

FM brodcast is one of the worst with compresion done to the music to be able to transmit and cutting the dynamic of the music (the lows and highs) and notes frequenzy from a 20 hz to 13,000 hz.  Good cassette recording can go to 15,000 hz and digital recording can go the full frequenzy spectrum from 20 hz to 20,000 hz or more but the dynamic are lost due to compression,  making it sound dull or without life.  Viny recording also have its own limitation, but good recording and quality vinly allows to limit the limitations where dynamic it's not affected as digital recording.  Actually, let me correct myself, the recording company (CD, MP3, AFF, etc) limit the dynamic to be able to fit the sound on the CD or MP3.  That is why the large the sound file the better quality it is.  A MP3 recorded at 96 bits or 128 bits sound worse than one recorded at 256 bits or higher.  Is a compromise they always made.  Very few allow to have full dynamic of sound.

I've made live recordings. It is possible to closely approach what you hear //at the microphone position//, especially with Ambisonic recording and playback. "It's all a matter of taste" is a poor excuse for not making the effort. I invite you to listen to the best multi-ch SACDs, and state, with a straight face, that the sound of an LP even approximates that. (Ironically, Linn -- an anti-digital company if there ever was one -- makes some of the the most-natural sounding, realistic SACD recordings. I use them as demos of how good a recording can be.)

FM broadcasting does not require any form of compression. A good FM broadcast will knock the pants off any phonograph record.

I'm curious as to where you learned that "the dynamic[s of digital recordings] are lost due to compression, making it sound dull or without life". The CD, SACD, BD Audio, etc, formats do not use compression of any sort. You simply don't know what you're talking about, technically or aesthetically.

I still have my Garrard SP-25 turntable from 1965. It plays 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpm records. I have two other slightly later turntables from the 1980s. I regret dumping my tube amps, with their pairs of KT66s. Also used a conguration of five speakers with two front, two rear and a center all driven from stereo left and right outputs.

I cringed when I saw the word Needle used in the article. Needles started life with windup cylinder gramophones and died with the end of magnetic pickups. Otherwise the article was informative.

good article for the beginner! be advised that the more you look ( and listen) the further you see you can go with this. you will notice right offr the bat that sound costs money- buy good playback gear to begin with, and you will be happier longer. if you came up on only compact digital sound reproduction, you will be amazed at what you have been missing.

Something has changed.  In the mid-1970's I was a bit of an audiophile, using a Sure V-15 type III on my Harman Kardon Rabco ST-7, and one thing I remember for certain is that we never, ever, would've called it a "needle."  A needle was a crude, unrefined device used on gramophones, possessing all the flair of a rusty nail hammered through a two by four.

No, it was a stylus, a miraculous diamond-tipped tiny cantilever that negotiated the endless miles of record grooves by applying downforce of perhaps half-a-gram.  The entire assembly to which the stylus attached was a phono cartridge.

A great article, and it's fantastic to see the resurgence in vinyl.  Although I buy CDs, I've never moved far from the 12" LP record.  One small note:  in the article above you say "... if you're ready to upgrade from the one your uncle handed down to you in 1973, this guide is for you."  If you are lucky enough to have the turntable your uncle handed down to you in 1973, have it serviced (a clean, a new stylus and the belts replaced is all they ususlly need) and use it.  I still have the turntable, amplifier and speakers that I received for my 21st birthday in 1977, and use them almost daily!

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