Buying one of the best turntables around can be a bewildering process as there are enough options out there to make your head spin faster than vinyl on overdrive.
So where exactly do you start and how do you know what you're getting for your cash? Here at Louder, we've dropped the needle to bring you our expert guide to turntables – and while it's generally true that you get what you pay for, we've found a tasty mix of record players that will suit a range of budgets.
It's interesting to note that sales of vinyl continued to surge in 2020, with the British Phonographic Industry reporting that 4.8 million LPs were purchased in the UK throughout the year.
Chief Executive of the BPI, BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize Geoff Taylor said: “In a year when all our lives have changed, music’s power to inspire has never been more evident. The immediacy and convenience of streaming make it the go-to audio format for most of our listening, but more and more fans choose to get closer to their favourite artists and albums on vinyl.
“It’s remarkable that LP and audio tape sales should have risen at all given the challenges we’ve all faced. The surge in sales despite retail closures demonstrates the timeless appeal of collectable physical formats alongside the seamless connectivity of streaming.”
So it's little wonder, then, that we're seeing such an influx of new record players on to the market, but that doesn't mean all of them are good enough to grace our best turntables guide. We don't let any old riff-raff in here. That's why you may spot a record player or two that may be a little older compared to some of the younger models, but we've kept them in simply because they sound amazing and offer great vinyl appeal for the cash.
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Best turntables: The Louder Choice
Let's cut straight to the chase – our top choice for the best turntable is the Rega Planar Elys 2. To call Rega dominant in the world of record players would be a laughable understatement. This is a company with almost 50 years of turntable building experience, yet refuses to rest on its laurels, releasing banger after banger. And the Planar 3 is without doubt the pick of the bunch right now.
While it may look a tad expensive in a world awash with cheap turntables, the Planar 3 is worth its weight in gold. It'll go toe-to-toe with record players that cost a heap more, making it a bit of bargain with that kind of perspective. Look, just buy it. Your record collection will thank you for it.
The best turntables: The Louder Choice
The original Planar 3 is now over 40 years old. Yet, amazingly, if we put it and this current version side-by-side, we reckon 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.
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 turntable around right now, bar none.
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 stage and that it sounds great.
This Sony turntable makes 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.
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 stage. 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.
If you are after fancy features such as Bluetooth and USB recording, this Rega isn’t for you. Heck, it’s one of the only turntables in its bracket that doesn’t have a built-in phono stage, 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 our Rega Planar 1 review
If you’re not familiar with the Clearaudio Concept turntable by now, the concept 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.
We 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: those suitcase turntables sound bloody awful, 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 our Audio-Technica AT-LP3 review
Now for something a little different – a Bluetooth record player 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.
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 our Lenco L-85 review
If you’re looking to marry old-school hi-fi with new-school cool, this Sony spinner is the best turntable 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.
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 stage – 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.
The best turntables: Buying advice
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 – unlike Bluetooth speakers, for example, a record player is a very specialist bit of kit.
While our pick of best turntable 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.
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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 amps – 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.
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 turntables 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.