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The best turntables 2020: top choice record players for every price bracket

The best turntables 2020: top choice record players for every price bracket
(Image credit: Future)

The vinyl revival might look like a bit of a hipster fad but, while there are plenty of hipster-types hopping on the bandwagon, there’s so much more to it than that. Sure, a big part of vinyl’s appeal lies in the owning and collecting of one’s favourite albums in beautiful, tangible form, but the real reason to return to records is the better, warmer, richer sound they offer. And, of course, if you want this fabulous analogue audio to sound its very best, you need to buy the very best turntable you can afford.

But choosing a turntable is no easy task: the vinyl resurgence means the market is flooded with decks of various styles and prices. But fear not, for help is at hand: scroll down and you’ll find a carefully curated list of the very best turntables that are available right now, with prices and feature options to suit everyone.

Best turntables: The Louder Choice

Can’t face scrolling through a list and simply want to know which is the very best sound-per-pound turntable you can buy? That’s easy; it’s the Rega Planar 3.

To call Rega dominant in the world of turntables would be a massive understatement: in the last five years, those nerdy audio experts at What Hi-Fi? have sent precisely half of the 24 turntable Awards they’ve dished out to Rega, leaving every other company to scrabble over the scraps.

This is a company with almost 50 years of turntable building experience, that still designs and manufactures in the UK and refuses to rest on its laurels, releasing banger after banger - sort of like a really polite, warmly analogue Slipknot. The Planar 3 is without doubt the pick of the bunch.

It might look expensive in a world of £100 turntables, but the Planar 3 can go toe-to-toe with turntables costing hundreds more, making it a genuine bargain in absolute terms. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

How to buy the best turntable for you

So, what should you look for in a turntable? It might sound obvious, but sound quality is the biggest priority by far. If you don’t care about sound quality, why on Earth are you considering buying a turntable? It’s not like they’re the convenient way to consume music.

While no company has a perfect record, sticking to the established, well respected brands is a very good start – a record player is a very specialised, precise and delicate bit of kit, after all. The most consistent name in turntables these days has to be Rega, which is based in the UK and hasn’t produced a duff model in as long as we can remember. 

Austrian brand Pro-Ject has a huge and accomplished range, too, while Technics and Clearaudio dominate the high-end. Japanese giants Sony and Audio-Technica, meanwhile, are particularly good at marrying true hi-fi audio quality with more modern features such as Bluetooth and USB recording.

Speaking of which, put a good deal of thought into whether you’ll actually use features such as those. Sure, it’s nice to have options, but you don’t want to pay for tech that you’re not going to use, and the techiest turntable is almost never the one that sounds the best.

If you’re boarding the vinyl bandwagon for the first time you also need to familiarise 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 increases 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 audio quality.

Do bear in mind that setting up a turntable can be a little fiddly, with components that need fitting and careful adjustment, but some are simpler than others. Some also 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 will lift the needle from the groove at the end, too. 

For many people, though, 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.

The best turntables to buy right now

Best turntables: Rega Planar 3

(Image credit: Rega)

1. Rega Planar 3 Elys 2 turntable

The best turntable you can buy for sound quality vs value

Price: £649 | Operation: manual | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: no | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 12x45x36cm

Exceptional sound
Traditional looks and build
Needs a solid support

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.

But, 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.

Best turntables: Sony PS-HX500

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony PS-HX500 turntable

Feature-packed and sonically capable – an ideal first turntable

Price: £299 | Operation: manual | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: yes | USB recording: yes | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 10x43x37cm

Simple set-up but great sound
Built-in phono stage and ripping
Rega Planar 1 sounds better
No Bluetooth

On paper, the Sony PS-HX500’s big selling point is that you can use it to rip your records – in hi-res, no less. That’s useful, sure, but the best reasons to buy it are that it’s exceedingly simple to set-up, has a built-in phono stage and that, for a feature king, 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.

Best turntables: Technics SL-1500C

(Image credit: Technics)

3. Technics SL-1500C turntable

The best turntable for analogue nostalgia and next-gen tech

Price: £899 | Operation: semi-automatic | Drive: direct | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45, 78 | Built-in phono stage: yes | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 12x23x16cm

As straightforward as vinyl gets
Sounds simply amazing
Looks like a posh DJ deck

£899 might not scream “entry-level” to most, but the modern iteration of Technics - which actually has a 50-year history in hi-fi - is best known for its £3,000 SL-1210 and lauded for its £14k SL-1000R. So this SL-1500C is decidedly entry-level by comparison.

This Technics turntable is a thoroughly modern unit with direct drive (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 spend on your analogue habit, this is what you should spend it on.

Best turntables: Rega Planar 1

(Image credit: Rega)

4. Rega Planar 1 turntable

Simply the best turntable under £300 if sound matters most

Price: £249 | Operation: manual | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: no | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 12x45x36cm

Unbeatable sound for the money
Simple set-up
No integrated phono stage
No fancy features

If you want 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 the Rega Planar 1 review

Best turntables: Clearaudio Concept

(Image credit: Clearaudio)

5. Clearaudio Concept turntable

This multi Award-winner is a modern classic

Price: £1,300ish | Operation: manual | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45, 78 | Built-in phono stage: no | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 12.5x42x35cm

Easy to set up
Great build
Excellent all-round audio
There aren’t any

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.

Best turntables: Lenco L-85

(Image credit: Lenco)

6. Lenco L-85 turntable

The best turntable for plug-and-play simplicity at a low price

Price: £100 | Operation: semi-automatic | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: Yes | USB recording: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Dimensions (hwd): 15x42x36cm

As simple as turntables get
Incredibly affordable
Spending more gets better sound
Looks and feels cheap

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 Lenco L-85 review

Best turntables: Audio-Technica AT-LP3

(Image credit: Audio Technica)

7. Audio-Technica AT-LP3 turntable

The best turntable for automatic operation at a low price

Price: £199 | Operation: fully automatic | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: yes | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 13x44x35cm

Fully automatic operation
Authentic sound
No Bluetooth or recording

Those suitcase turntables you see all over Amazon, Argos and even Urban Outfitters 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 here’s the thing: 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 the Audio-Technica AT-LP3 review

Best turntables: Sony PS-LX310BT

(Image credit: Sony)

8. Sony PS-LX310BT turntable

The best Bluetooth turntable if you're on a budget

Price: £179 | Operation: fully automatic | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: yes | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: yes | Dimensions (hwd): 11x43x37cm

Fully automatic operation
Bluetooth built-in
Purist decks sound even better

If you’re looking to marry old-school hi-fi with new-school cool, this Sony is the best turntable for you. The big draw is Bluetooth, 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. Wires? In the bin.

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 also sounds great. Detailed, punchy and direct, this is a deck that reveals the details lurking in the depths of those black disks and brings them to the surface in fun, bubbly fashion.

Best turntables: Pro-Ject T1

(Image credit: Pro-Ject)

9. Pro-Ject T1 turntable

The best turntable for bass

Price: £239 | Operation: manual | Drive: belt | Cartridge: moving magnet | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 | Built-in phono stage: no | USB recording: no | Bluetooth: no | Dimensions (hwd): 10x42x34cm

Weighty, bassy sound
Lovely build quality
Sound isn’t exactly neutral
No integrated phono stage

If you’re keen that your affordable record player has a premium look and feel then Pro-Ject turntables are worth your consideration, and specifically the new Pro-ject T1. This entirely plastic-free deck is brilliantly solid and weighty, and it comes more or less ready to rock - you need only place the platter and belt yourself.

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 because sound quality has been prioritised.

While the Rega Planar 1 is the no-frills deck to choose for sheer clarity and detail, this Pro-ject counters with a smoother, weightier, bassier sound that will suit a lot of the vinyl that will be likely spun by a Louder reader.