Best Turntables

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

10 Models Considered
27 Hours Researched
5 Experts Interviewed
26 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

Buying guide for best turntables

Last Updated October 2019

The most profitable sector of the music industry isn’t streaming or concert tickets — it’s vinyl records. Believe it or not, music on LP is back with a vengeance, as a new generation of listeners has fallen in love with the ritual and warm sounds that only vinyl can bring. And if you’re ready to see what all the fuss is about, you’ll need a good turntable.

While our tastes may be retro, modern turntables are anything but. New turntable models practically perfect the art of bringing out the best in vinyl, and add new, convenient features, like Bluetooth connectivity, built-in preamps, and even USB compatibility for making digital audio files from your favorite records.

Here’s everything you need to know to pick out the perfect turntable: The classic features that have been perfect since the beginning, the new innovations that change everything, and the models that stand above all the rest.

 

Today, you have the choice of being the proud owner of a turntable that either looks vintage or as modern as you want.

To better understand this recent trend, we consulted turntable enthusiast Jonathan Pacella for some advice.

It turns out that you could spend as little as $50 on a turntable, or as much as $20,000. There is a veritable smorgasbord of options in the market that cater to both these prices as well as everything in between!

Jonathan advised that before you buy a turntable, you should research the topic thoroughly. Indeed, that is what we at BestReviews have done, and we'd like to share our findings with you.

Hands On: Best Turntables

Anatomy of a turntable

Given the electronic advances of today, it's surprising that a design Thomas Edison tinkered with in 1877 would steal the hearts of audiophiles in 2016. And yet, that's exactly what has happened.

Here's a look at the integral parts of the almighty turntable.

EXPERT TIP

Be patient and gentle with your turntable. Your records will thank you 20 years from now.


Staff  | BestReviews

Plinth

The base of the turntable is called a plinth. Modern plinths are noticeably dense or heavy in order to dampen as much external vibration as possible.

Platter and motor

Sitting atop the plinth is, among other things, the device's padded platter. The platter holds the record and rotates via the motor. Some motors operate on a centralized gear system; others connect to a belt drive. In general, belt drive systems produce fewer vibrations than gear systems.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sound is generated by the needle moving along the grooves of the rotating vinyl record.

Tonearm

Situated beside the platter is the tonearm. The tonearm guides the stylus and cartridge (see below) as they trace the record’s grooves. An unbalanced tonearm could drag the stylus across the record’s surface and damage it. For this reason, some high-end turntables include adjustable counterbalance weights that help prevent the stylus from skidding and scratching.

Stylus and cartridge

The stylus, also known as the needle, emits a slight vibration while following subtle nuances in the record’s sound grooves. The cartridge picks up this vibration and amplifies it. Electric impulses feed into a powerful preamp before reaching the main audio speakers.

Some turntables — especially those with cables marked “phono” — come with factory-installed preamps. Others require a separate preamp purchase.

EXPERT TIP

To keep sound distortion to a minimum, place your turntable and your speakers as far away from each other as possible


Staff  | BestReviews

Choosing a turntable

Finding a turntable with the features you want is key. We’ll discuss two big feature options here: digital recording, and manual vs automatic playback.

Digital recording

Using a USB cable and some software, you can save vinyl tracks as digital files to a computer via a turntable with a digital recording option.

Trade magazines and professional reviewers routinely give high marks to USB-equipped turntables for their ability to preserve vintage analog-recorded music. Critics warn that manufacturers who make USB-equipped machines may cut corners in other areas, reducing overall audio quality.

If you plan to use a USB-enabled turntable to make audio files, bear in mind that any pops or background crackle on the original vinyl will be amplified on an MP3 file. This is especially true for listeners wearing headphones.

Manual vs. automatic

Some turntables require manual effort to operate; others play multiple records automatically.

Automatic turntables hearken back to “old-school” days when you could stack several records at a time on a centralized spindle. The machine released the records onto the platter one at a time, and a mechanism lifted the tonearm and needle to playing position.

Automatic pros:

  • This system is convenient.
  • It's less nerve-wracking for those who aren't proficient at manual record cuing.   
     

Automatic cons:     

  • The balance between tonearm, stylus, and platter is delicate and complicated. A disruption of this balance could damage all three pieces.
  • A decent automatic system is expensive.
DID YOU KNOW?

Most modern turntables come with audio jacks and USB features to record as well as use external devices for sound output.

While the automatic system worked well for sock hops and pajama parties, it didn't quite survive the original collapse of the vinyl record industry. Modern turntables — especially those in the mid- and high-end price ranges — favor the manual method.

If you own a manual turntable, you must lift a single disk onto the platter, select your preferred speed, and place the tonearm/needle carefully on the edge of the disk. When the needle reaches the inside groove, the record is finished, and you must return the tonearm to its cradle.

Manual pros:

  • Manual enthusiasts believe the balance between the tonearm, stylus, and platter far surpasses that of an automatic system.
     

Manual cons:

  • Damage could occur with careless handling. Owners should cultivate a light touch.

Manual turntables often come equipped with a cueing lever which aids in raising or lowering the stylus gently on and from the record so as not to cause scratches or other damage.

Evaluating the specs

Shopping for a new turntable can be tricky. To the untrained eye, little visible difference exists between a $100 entry-level model and a $2,500 audiophile's dream. To make a long story short, the extra money you'd pay for a high-end turntable goes toward craftsmanship and performance.

But what if you're deliberating between several turntables in the same price range? In such a case, it helps to read the manufacturer’s spec sheet. For example:

  • The specs for wow and flutter (average speed deviations) should hover as close to zero as possible. A turntable with lower wow and flutter specs is a better purchase.
  • The opposite is true for a spec called signal-to-noise. This spec represents the decibel ratio between the signal for the music and ambient background noise. The higher the ratio, the better the machine.

Essential accessories

Make sure you’ve got the right equipment to fully enjoy your LP collection and keep it clean over time. Here’s the gear to start with.

LP cleaning kit: Big Fudge Record Cleaner Kit

Keeping your records clean is critical for avoiding clicks and pops as you listen. There are a lot of complex, electronic record-cleaning systems available, but we like to stick with the classics, so we recommend the Big Fudge Record Cleaner Kit. It includes a velvet brush, custom-made cleaning fluid, and brushes for keeping your turntable needle clean. Keep your LPs in top condition with Big Fudge—and relive some nostalgia while you’re at it.

HiFi headphones: GRADO SR125e Prestige Series Wired Open-Back Stereo Headphones

GRADO has long been a legendary name in audiophile communities, primarily based on their handmade, high-end headphones. Their Prestige series shows off how they earned their reputation: with incredible sound quality, luxury comfort, and good looks to boot. The SR125e’s are open-backed, so they’re lighter and produce better sound. 

LP storage: ZonsWorld Vinyl Record Storage

You’re going to need somewhere to put all of your records, so why not display them as well? The ZonsWorld storage unit holds more than 50 LPs, and makes it easy to flip through them the same way you would at a record store. That’s a big deal when it comes to picking out the perfect record—but our favorite part is that it comes in multiple finishes, so you can easily find one that perfectly matches your decor.

Calibrating a turntable for the machine's best sound output takes some experience, and a whole lot of knowledge.

FAQ

Q. I’m thinking of buying a turntable. Is any special maintenance required?
A.
 Dust and dirt can harm both your stylus and your records. Carefully remove unwanted particles from the needle with a stylus brush made of carbon fiber and a dab of cleaning solution. Dust your vinyl with the same type of brush, and gently wipe the records with a mixture of distilled water (never tap water!) and record-cleaning solution. Always store vinyl records vertically in a protective paper or plastic sleeve.

Q. My friend said I need to buy a separate preamp in order to play my turntable. Is this true?
A.
 That depends on what kind of turntable you have. When Nathan purchased his first turntable, he plugged it into his receiver and wondered why no sound came out. He eventually realized that he needed to buy a separate preamp.

Some turntable packages include a preamp; others don't. If your turntable has a USB connection, it should include a preamp booster for an aux input into the audio system. If the RCA outputs are marked phono, however, a separate preamp is required. The phono vs. aux rule exists at all price points. Said Nathan, “This is where doing your research becomes important.”

Q. In an age of advanced digital technology, why should I get a turntable?
A.
 It's true that vinyl fizzled out when CDs and electronic music files burst onto the scene. But digital music relies on a series of binary ons and offs which some audiophiles find to be sterile and soulless. Analog music recordings, on the other hand, are reproduced in sound waves. As such, you can hear subtle nuances in dynamics and tonality.

A die-hard enthusiast would tell you that investing in a turntable and listening to a favorite album from the 1960s is not just about audio quality. It's also about hearing the songs the way the original artists intended them to sound.

Q. Where can I buy vinyl records?
A.
 Vinyl is all the rage right now, and you're likely to find it at a record store near you. Online stores like Amazon.com and eBay also carry a wide range of vinyl recordings.

The team that worked on this review
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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