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The world of vinyl records, like any niche hobby, can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Terms like preamp, platter, and cartridge can make listening to vinyl seem like an overly complicated pastime (especially since turntables and records aren’t exactly cheap). But that’s 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 don’t need more than a turntable with a preamp, a few records, and speakers to get started.
Each of our experts recommended different turntables for beginners, but they all advised avoiding one very popular all-in-one record player that comes in a suitcase: “Whatever you do, don’t get a Crosley,” says DJ Prestige of the DJ-focused website Fleamarket Funk, who claims that if you’re serious about your new hobby, you should look for machines with better sound quality — and with needles that won’t “eventually ruin your records.” In practice, that means avoiding not just a Crosley, but most if not all record players. While a record player is self-contained and will play vinyl without any other equipment, the sound quality is typically poor; a turntable and speakers (like Audioengine’s A2+) will give you a purer sounding analog home-audio system.
All of the turntables below are great entry-level options that contain quality parts and will last for some time with regular care. Most of them also contain a built-in preamp — more on what that means below — because our experts say that’s the easiest and most straightforward setup 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 City’s Academy Records. Here, the best turntables you can buy online.
Price: A top-of-the-line turntable can easily carry a thousand-dollar price tag. But the cheapest options raise instant red flags for our specialists because they can damage your records. To get an entry-level turntable that won’t damage your records and has good sound quality, expect to spend between $250 and $500. While there are definitely some decent options below $250 that won’t damage your records, they typically won’t sound as great as more expensive models. Our experts also recommend sticking to familiar, reputable brands.
We’ve labeled the price range of each turntable below with one, two, or three $’s. Turntables under $250 have a single $. The sweet spot for between $250 and $500 is marked with $$. Any turntable that costs more than $501 is marked with $$$ and will tend to have more features and higher quality sound.
Ease of use: Many novice record collectors just want to hit that play button, watch the tonearm swing over a spinning record like a crane in a cityscape, and hear sound fill up a room. Most of the turntables below provide that experience and require just a power outlet and speakers that can connect via Bluetooth or audio cables. The simpler the setup process, the more enjoyable your introduction to vinyl is likely to be. Fully automatic turntables will start at the beginning of the record and then stop and lift the tonearm at the end of the record. A manual turntable gives you more control because it allows you to choose where to drop the tonearm and stylus, picking which song you want to hear — which is what enthusiasts love. Some turntables also come with USB outputs that allow you to connect them to your computer and archive physical records in a digital format.
Built-in preamp: A turntable produces a “phono” signal and a preamp converts that to a “line” signal, which is what allows it to work with other audio equipment, like speakers. Without a phono preamp, your turntable won’t be able to produce sound. Most modern turntables come with a built-in phono preamp. You can also buy a preamp separately, which is how turntables used to work — a typical setup would have included the turntable connected to a preamp connected to the speakers. With built-in preamps, you can skip the middleman, so a more common setup today is simply a turntable and speakers. This is a streamlined setup perfect for a beginner. (As your interest and record collection grows, you can always buy separate phono preamps, which start around $100 or go as high as $500.) With most turntables, the setup can be adjusted and improved over time.
Terms to know: The platter is the rotating part of the turntable that holds the vinyl record in place. The tonearm hangs over the record and houses one of the turntable’s most important parts, the cartridge. The cartridge contains wire coils and a magnet that use the physical movement of the stylus, or the needle that follows the grooves of a record, to create an electric current that is amplified as sound. The quality of the cartridge and stylus can greatly affect the sound produced by your turntable.
$ | Fully automatic | Built-in preamp | Bluetooth-enabled | No USB output
Audio-Technica’s LP60X is “the bread-and-butter piece for most people. It will get the job done really, really well,” says Mark Steinberg, the chief technologist and turntable specialist at B&H Photo and Video. Audio-Technica has a great reputation in the industry, and the LP60X is a perennial best seller at B&H — Steinberg says it’s the first one he shows to customers who come in to browse. It has a built-in preamp as well as Bluetooth capability that will let you connect to a standard Bluetooth speaker for wireless, vinyl-powered sound. Steinberg describes it as “an entry-level serious turntable,” explaining, “It’s not a toy. It’s not going to damage your records.” If you’re willing to spend about $20 more for an upgraded model, you can get one that is USB-equipped for archiving and recording.
DJ Prestige, who recently tried the LP60X for the first time, agrees that it’s a good option for anyone. It “sounded great,” he told us of his first spin. Note that the LP60X does not have a replaceable cartridge (the part of the turntable that holds the needle), which means you won’t be able to upgrade that component if you get more serious about vinyl down the line. Steinberg also points out that it is fully automatic, meaning the push of a button moves the tonearm into place to start the record, and that the arm lifts off on its own when the record is finished playing. This feature, he explains, could be great if you’re new to vinyl and want to make things a little easier, but purists will likely prefer the feel and ritual of manual operation.
$$ | Manual operation | Built-in preamp | Bluetooth-enabled | USB output
The Audio-Technica LP120X is modeled — not so subtly — after what is probably the most iconic turntable of all time, the discontinued Technics 1200. Steinberg says he’ll recommend it to any customer — but he especially suggests it to those newer to vinyl who want something a little nicer than an entry-level option.
This turntable’s key feature is the magnet-powered “direct drive,” which is usually only found in professional-grade turntables or other, more expensive units. DJ Prestige explains that 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. According to Prestige, it can handle records of all sizes without any fiddling under the hood. “If I were starting over right now, I’d probably get this” because of the quality you get for the price, says the DJ of 20 years. And although Davis has never used the LP120X or its very similar predecessor, the LP120, “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 turntable checks other appealing boxes too. It comes from a reputable maker; 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 if you want to archive your vinyl. It’s also fully manual, so you have much more control and a more tactile experience when playing records.
According to Steinberg, the LP120X has a more efficient motor than the earlier LP120, “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, boasting a lower profile, a stronger preamp, and a power supply that’s built into the charging cord instead of the turntable itself.
$ | Fully automatic | Built-in preamp | Bluetooth-enabled | USB output
I’ve been using the Sony Bluetooth Stereo Turntable for about four years now. It’s one of the easiest turntables to use — you hit the power button in the back, place a record on the platter, hit play, and the tonearm will automatically find the record’s groove. It might not have the je ne sais quoi spirit of a manual turntable, but I enjoy its simplicity. The Bluetooth connection is equally simple to use: You hold the Bluetooth button and then you connect your closest speaker, and voila, sound. If you don’t want to think too hard about your turntable, this one is convenient and straightforward, especially for a novice record collector.
Music journalist Jessica Lipsky also likes Sony, though she uses an earlier model that she says is still going strong after ten years. “I’ve stuck with this because it’s simple,” she says. She’s a fan of the handy dust cover, and she likes that it will be easy to plug into any system she wants to use it with in the future. Steinberg says this newer model is one of his favorites for the price because Sony is a trustworthy brand and the turntable is so straightforward.
$$ | Manual operation | Built-in preamp | No Bluetooth | No USB output
If you’re looking for something a little sleeker and don’t care about Bluetooth connectivity or USB output, this minimalist Music Hall turntable comes recommended by both Davis and Steinberg. The brand’s roots are in the audiophile-grade market, according to Davis, who says this entry-level manual turntable from the brand is very well-regarded. “This would be a great place to start if you’re looking for something more serious,” Steinberg says, noting that a lot of people love Music Hall for its “stripped-down” and “bare-bones” approach. This model is powered by a belt drive, includes a built-in preamp, and can play much rarer and older 78 records, which stopped being widely produced in the late 1950s, while most belt-driven turntables (including all the others on this list) can only handle newer 33s and 45s. “For a better turntable, that’s a rarity,” explains Steinberg. Even though it lacks Bluetooth and a USB output, for someone looking to upgrade from a more automated and novice setup, this is a great option.
$$$ | Manual operation | Built-in preamp | Bluetooth-enabled | No USB output
Pro-Ject “pretty much only makes turntables,” says Steinberg, who notes that many of the brand’s models are priced “in the thousands,” making the T1 a great choice for someone who wants to dip their toes into the higher-end market. Davis and DJ Prestige agree that Pro-Ject turntables are known for their minimalist build, streamlined look, and high-quality materials, like a cartridge made by Ortofon, a company that Steinberg says “has a long history” of producing audiophile-approved components. The T1 comes with a built-in preamp, Bluetooth connectivity, and a manual tonearm, making it accessible to both novice users and more experienced collectors. It also has a sleek and beautiful design that would compliment any interior-design enthusiast’s space.
$$$ | Manual operation | External preamp required | No Bluetooth | No USB output
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 it’s been the standard ever since,” says Davis. DJ Prestige is a longtime fan too. “I’ve been DJ-ing for 20 years, and all I’ve had are Technics,” he says. Eilon Paz — a photographer and the author of Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting — called the Technics 1200 a “workhorse” and told us that after it was discontinued, there was a big outcry in the record-collecting community. According to Paz, this newer model is Technics’ attempt at appeasement. Like other high-end turntables, it’s a manual turntable that doesn’t have a built-in preamp or Bluetooth connectivity or a USB output. This is Technic’s ode to a classic turntable.
• Mike Davis, owner of New York City’s Academy Records
• Jessica Lipsky, music journalist
• Eilon Paz, photographer and the author of Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting
• DJ Prestige of Fleamarket Funk
• Mark Steinberg, chief technologist and turntable specialist at B&H Photo and Video
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