Choosing one of the best record players to get the most out of your growing vinyl collection isn't an easy decision given the sheer amount of quality turntables available.
After all, the market has been steadily growing in recently years thanks to the resurgence in vinyl sales, and that means companies including Sony, Technics, Rega, Audio Technica are all vying for your attention.
If you’re considering upgrading your gear from a cheaper deck, you might well be wondering what you get for that extra cash. And when you throw in extras like phono preamps, Bluetooth technology and direct-drive vs belt-drive turntables, the process can initially seem a little bewildering.
Well don’t worry, as we’ve dropped the needle on some of the best turntables out there and explained exactly what they’re all about. Not only that, but below you’ll also find buying advice and the best prices on record players from all the leading brands.
You might spot a record player or two that may be a little older compared to some of the younger models, but we've decided to keep them in our best record players list because they sound amazing and offer great vinyl appeal for the cash.
Best record players: The Louder Choice
Let's get straight to the point – my top choice for the best record player is the Rega Planar 3 (opens in new tab). To call Rega dominant in the world of record players would be something of an understatement. After all, this is a company with almost 50 years of turntable building experience behind them, and yet they refuse to rest on their laurels, releasing quality product after quality product. And the Planar 3 is without doubt the pick of the bunch.
While it may look a tad expensive in a world awash with cheaper turntables, the Planar 3 is worth its weight in gold. It'll go toe-to-toe with record players that cost a whole lot more. The only caveat is that currently it's hard to get hold of. However, we're sure stock will start filtering through soon given its popularity.
There are also two other options if you have less to spend but still want to invest in a brand with pedigree. First up is the Audio Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB (opens in new tab) – a sure bet from a respected brand. And, if you have slightly less to play with the Sony PS-HX500 (opens in new tab) is another brilliant option.
Best record players: Product guide
The original Planar 3 is now over 40 years old. Yet, amazingly, if I were to put it and this current version side-by-side, I think most people would be hard-pressed to spot any differences beyond the smarter plinth and updated tonearm.
Under the skin, almost every part had been revised since the last iteration – the P3-24 of 2007. And yet the core character remains. This Rega turntable is an unbelievably clean and clear performer that doesn’t impart its own character on your records. Everything you throw at it will sound just as it should – packed with detail, punch, rhythm and impeccable tonality.
You can also buy the Rega Planar 3 with added Elys 2 moving magnet cartridge, which will add a handful of cash to the purchase, but the extra outlay is worth it if you're looking for top-drawer performance and crystal clear audio.
If you want to hear your vinyl as intended – and why else would you be embarking on this analogue adventure? – this is how you should do it. The best record player around right now, bar none.
Read the full Rega Planar 3 review
Taking some visual cues from the legendary Technics SL1200/SL1210, the AT-LP120XBT-USB might be a mouthful, but that doesn’t detract from what’s lurking under the hood.
For starters you get pitch control and a high-performance direct drive motor and an integrated and switchable phono stage. But two of the coolest features include a USB output so you can convert your records into audio files, plus wireless aptX Bluetooth connectivity, so you can beam your sounds to your vinyl headphones or the nearest and loudest Bluetooth speaker.
This deck is easy to set up and has a built-in phono stage, meaning you’re ready to plug and play straight from the box.
If you’re serious about getting the best from your vinyl, but don’t have a huge budget, this is a wallet-friendly record player that will last you years.
Read the full Audio-Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB review
On paper, the Sony PS-HX500 record player’s big selling point is that you can use it to rip your vinyl records – in hi-res, no less. Of course with our digital set-ups, that’s incredibly useful, but the best reasons to buy it are that it’s exceedingly simple to set up, has a built-in phono preamp and that it sounds great.
This Sony turntable will make the most of your cherished vinyl by playing and even recording it – just plug in your Mac or PC and download Sony’s bespoke software – with all of its detail, clarity and texture intact.
But it doesn’t require a degree in audio engineering to set-up and you don’t need to buy a phono stage on top. It’s the perfect choice for the first-timer determined to take vinyl seriously.
Read the full Sony PS-HX500 review
The price of £899 might not scream 'entry-level' to most people, but the modern iteration of Technics is best known for its £3000 SL-1210 and lauded for its £14,000 SL-1000R. So this SL-1500C is decidedly entry-level by comparison.
This Technics turntable is a thoroughly modern unit with direct drive, so there's no belt to mess about with, a built-in cartridge and integrated phono preamp. It’s also semi-automatic, so while you have to place the stylus in the groove to begin with, the tonearm will lift from the record at the end without you needing to lift a finger.
But what’s most impressive about this next-gen turntable is how amazing the SL-1500C sounds. Clean, organised and dynamic, it takes a digital approach that digs up all of the detail on that big, black slab, but it’s not cold and unfeeling in the way of a hi-res music player.
In short, it’s as straightforward as vinyl gets and it sounds amazing. If you’ve got a grand to drop on your analogue habit, this is the best record player to spend it on.
Read the full Technics SL-1500C review
The first of three entries in our list with a Pro-Ject slant – and with good reason as the Debut Carbon EVO really made me sit up and take notice. It’s priced in a similar bracket to the Pro-Ject Juke Box E turntable, so what do you get for your hard-earned cash by choosing this particular model?
Perhaps the biggest difference is the inclusion of a rocker switch at the bottom of the unit which allows you to change speeds from 33/45/78 RPM with the simple push of a button – no need to for a manual kerfuffle. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo also boasts improved suspension for more solid playback. And let’s face it, it looks he part too thanks to its stylish and sleek design.
Read the full Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO review
If you are after fancy features such as Bluetooth and USB recording, the Rega Planar 1 isn’t for you. Heck, it’s one of the only turntables in its bracket that doesn’t have a built-in phono preamp, which means you’ll need an amplifier that’s got one or will need to factor in the cost of an external unit.
What it is, though, is the best-sounding turntable available at this sort of money. If you want to hear your just-bought or much-cherished records just as intended, the Rega is how you do it.
And don’t go thinking this is a cold, complicated deck. On the contrary, it produces a really fun sound and is pretty straightforward to set-up. If you’re prepared to be just a bit adventurous, this is the deck to buy.
Read the full Rega Planar 1 review
If you’re not familiar with the Clearaudio Concept turntable by now, the idea is essentially getting the most exceptional sound you can from your records at this price. Simplicity is a big part of this package’s charm: unlike some rival designs, which require patience, a steady hand and a passable grasp of mathematics to get working, the Concept is a 'plug and play' product straight from the box.
This is a fabulously finished deck. Speed (33.3, 45 and 78rpm) is controlled by a hefty rotary dial, and the whole thing operates with the sort of solidity more readily associated with outside water closets.
I really can’t see anyone turning down the Clearaudio Concept for a lack of talent. It is as clean, rhythmic, detailed and spacious as you’ll find for the money, not to mention engaging and entertaining. A Conceptual masterpiece, you could say... and it comes with a cost to match.
Those suitcase-style turntables you see almost everywhere you look these days are designed to bridge the gap between vinyl enthusiasm and analogue actuality by building everything in and making it as hands-off as possible.
But let's not beat around the bush: some (but not all) of those suitcase turntables sound less than stellar, and unless you’re boarding the vinyl train for entirely hipster reasons – as a Louder reader we certainly hope that’s not the case – you simply must do better.
Better is the Audio-Technica AT-LP3, which has a completely automatic action – start the record at the touch of a button and finish it without lifting a finger – but sounds downright excellent for the money, with a balanced, natural sound that doesn’t mask your tune of choice. If you're looking for a great Audio Technica turntable, this is the one to go for.
Read the full Audio-Technica AT-LP3 review
Now for something a little different – a Bluetooth turntable that not only allows you to spin your favourite albums, but also lets you stream music through it too. This is made possible on the Pro-Ject Juke Box E Bluetooth because of RCA inputs and outputs, its own amplification and a receiver. It's a neat and versatile twist on the other turntables on our list.
Vinyl sounds great, offering a balance of dynamic space and warmth, while the mid-range price makes this a serious contender for your next purchase. To borrow a phrase from baseball, this is a multi-tool player.
Read the full Pro-Ject Juke Box E review
It looks like a kid’s toy, and is almost as cheap, but the Lenco L-85 is actually a semi-automatic, belt-driven turntable with a built-in phono stage and the ability to record via USB. It’s as plug-and-play as vinyl gets.
It's old school enough – it comes with a pair of RCA cables so you can plug the L-85 into your stereo amplifier and get started straight away – but it's 21st century enough too: a USB port means you can convert your vinyl into MP3 files.
A great starting point for anyone who's just getting into vinyl or digging out their old records from the garage.
Read the full Lenco L-85 review
If you’re looking to marry old-school hi-fi with new-school cool, this Sony spinner is the best record player for you. The big draw is Bluetooth support, which you can use to send that rich, analogue audio via the digital, wireless domain to a pair of Bluetooth headphones or a wireless speaker.
On top of that, the tonearm action is automatic, so the needle will find your record’s groove via a button-press and will extricate itself at the end with no intervention necessary.
Crucially, the PS-LX310BT record player also sounds great. Detailed, punchy and direct, this is a deck that reveals the details lurking in the depths of those vinyl grooves and brings them to the surface in fun, bubbly fashion.
Read the full Sony PS-LX310BT review
If you want your affordable record player to have a premium look and feel then Pro-Ject turntables are definitely worth your consideration, and specifically the Pro-ject T1. This entirely plastic-free deck is completely solid and weighty, and it comes more or less ready to rock straight out of the box – you need only place the platter and belt yourself.
It should be noted that the T1 is light on fancy features – there’s no Bluetooth or USB recording, and you’ll need to add a phono preamp – but that’s simply because sound quality has been prioritised.
While the Rega Planar 1 is the no-frills record player to choose for sheer clarity and detail, this Pro-ject counters with a smoother, weightier, bassier sound that will suit a lot of your vinyl collection.
Read the full Pro-Ject T1 review
Best record players: Buying advice
How to choose the best record player for you
So, you've decided to pull the trigger and purchase a shiny new record player, but what are the key elements to consider before laying down your hard-earned cash?
It might sound obvious but sound quality is the biggest priority by far. While no audio firm has a completely perfect record in this area, sticking to the established and well respected brands is a great place to start.
While our pick for best record player overall is made by Rega, don't forget about Austrian brand Pro-Ject which also boasts an accomplished range, while Technics and Clearaudio dominate the high-end record player sector. Sony and Audio-Technica, meanwhile, are particularly good at pairing true hi-fi audio quality with modern features such as Bluetooth and USB recording.
It's also important to put some thought into whether you’ll actually use those kinds of features. While it’s nice to have lots of options at your fingertips, don’t splash out on tech you'll never use, as you could save yourself a bit of cash. If in doubt, remember this: the techiest turntable is almost never the one that sounds the best.
Are record players easy to set up?
It's worth bearing in mind that setting up a turntable for the first time can be a fiddly business, with components that need fitting and carefully adjusted. However, some are simpler than others. Many of the best record players on the market have automatic functionality, which means you only have to press a button for the tonearm to move into place and drop the needle into the groove at the start of the record.
Fully automatic and semi-automatic turntables lift the needle from the groove at the end, too. For many people, though, especially those who have been in the vinyl game for a while, a little initial tweaking and manual operation are keys to the charm of turntable ownership, and the simplest record players are often the best-sounding. Ultimately, only you can decide what type of vinyl listener you want to be.
Do I need speakers for my record player?
While some record players do come with built-in speakers - mostly at the budget end of the spectrum - these can be functional at best. If you’re going down the portable record player route, then this may well be enough for mobile listening of your vinyl. However, if you’re planning on spending a bit of cash on your turntable and want to get the best from your vinyl, then we do recommend purchasing a dedicated set of hi-fi speakers. You may need a separate phono preamp for that, but more on that below.
Do I need a phono preamp for my record player?
If you’re boarding the vinyl bandwagon for the first time or getting back into the hobby, start by familiarising yourself with some key components, particularly the phono stage. This is essentially a step-up amplifier – they’re often referred to as phono preamps – that increase the tiny output of a record player to a level that a standard stereo amplifier can work with.
Many turntables have a phono stage built-in, as do some stereo amplifiers. Generally speaking, though, a phono-less turntable that goes through an external phono stage before getting to the amplifier will sound best, so consider going down that route if you’re serious about good audio quality from your record player.
So, the question is, does your new record player come with one built-in? If it’s a yes, then you should be able to hook your speakers/amp up directly to your deck. If not, you’ll need to factor in additional budget for one of the best phono preamps. Without a preamp, your vinyl will sound incredibly quiet and weedy, and who wants that?
How much should I spend on a record player?
This all depends on whether you’re looking for a budget turntable, or something a little higher up the budget scale. If you’re going truly budget then you can pick something up for up to around the $/£150 mark. Drop anywhere from £/$200-400 and you’ll be comfortably into territory where the components are better, the sound starts to improve and you’ll get an extra dollop of style. This is a hugely popular area with the record player space, so you’re spoiled for choice. Don’t forgot you’ll need to pay a little extra if you also want features such as Bluetooth and USB-connectivity.
Now, you could spend absolutely thousands on a new record player, but set a budget of $/$500+ and you’ll be in the realms of a deck that delivers a premium cartridge and needle, luxe components for the platter and tonearm and an overall better quality product that’s designed to last.
What are the best record player brands?
Technics and Audio-Technica are respected brands with a particularly big following in the DJ and hip-hop worlds. Then you have other mainstream brands like Sony who have built a strong reputation in the hi-fi world over decades.
At the budget end of the spectrum you can’t go wrong with brands including Lenco, ION and House Of Marley.
Rega has been making turntables and components in England for almost 5 decades now, so if you buy a deck bearing the Rega logo you know you’re in safe hands. Pro-Ject is another brand to look out for, offering everything from pocket-friendly slabs, to artist collaborations (with the likes of The Beatles), as well as beautifully engineered showstoppers.
How we test record players
We’re music fans first and foremost here at Louder so, while we are certainly interested in the spec sheet of any record player we test, we’re less focused on the nitty gritty detail of a deck that will deliver marginal gains. For us, we’re all about how the turntable sounds. We listen to music around the clock, so we know how albums are meant to sound. For our tests, we hook each turntable up to our home systems and spin an eclectic variety of genres, and albums from classic to modern, to really put the gear through its paces. That means we can test if the deck delivers the fullness of modern metal, the low-end of hip-hop, the richness of classical, the lo-fi grit of punk etc. We’ll often call on the ears of a colleague or family member to give us a second opinion, too.
To cap it all off, we also test how easy the record player is to set up and operate. Anything that makes it harder to get on with listening to our favourite albums gets marked down.
Finally, we take a look under the hood of any other features a turntable offers, such as computer-connectivity for digitising our records, an automatic tonearm or built-in preamp.
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