Best Turntables

Updated July 2020
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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 buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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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.Read more 
How we decided

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

11 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.

Buying guide for best turntables

Last Updated July 2020

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.

What you’ll need to get started

Before you buy a turntable, make sure you have the right gear to connect it to, namely, an amplifier and speakers. If your turntable doesn’t include a built-in preamp, you’ll need to make sure your amplifier has an input marked “phono,” or you’ll need to buy a standalone preamp. Once you’ve got that set up, you’re ready to start shopping!

Hands On: Best Turntables
EXPERT TIP

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


Staff  | BestReviews

Anatomy of a turntable

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. There are two different ways this can happen. Belt-driven systems use an elastic band, which can reduce vibrations. Direct-drive systems are often more expensive, but they don’t wear out and are more consistent. Many audiophiles swear that belt-driven turntables sound better while direct-drive models are more durable; the debate isn’t likely to end any time soon.

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 portability.

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.

Portable turntables

As you shop turntables, you’ll likely notice there are two main categories to choose from: models that are designed to integrate with an existing stereo system, and models that are built as standalone, portable units.

Hi-Fi to go: Pros and cons

If you’re thinking of getting a portable turntable, consider the unique benefits: 

  • You can take it with you easily.

  • They often include built-in speakers for easy listening.

  • Standalone units often include built-in Bluetooth or CD players.

DID YOU KNOW?

If your stereo amplifier doesn’t have a phono input, that’s OK — most modern turntables have built-in preamps so they can work with any amplifier.

Just don’t forget that there are some compromises, like: 

  • Carrying around your record player means taking records with you.
  • Portable turntable speakers often sound good, but not great.
  • Stylus needles on portable turntables are often hard to replace—and in some cases, rely on low quality materials that can damage your LPs.

 

Our bottom line: If you’re a casual listener or you need a turntable you can easily take anywhere, buy a portable model. If you’re buying a turntable for the sound quality, get one that integrates with your existing stereo.

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. Some turntables include a preamp; others don't. If you find a turntable that you like that doesn’t include a built-in preamp, you can always buy a preamp separately.

Q. In an age of advanced digital technology, why should I get a turntable?

A. While it’s true that digital music is more consistent and readily available, the reality is that most streaming services compress audio to conserve bandwidth — so in most cases, the sound quality you’re getting isn’t as good as it could be. Vinyl records offer uncompromising, uncompressed sound and use analog hardware to reproduce it, so while records often have the occasional click or pop, the sound quality in most cases is superior.

Perhaps most important of all: When you buy records, you own the music, so you can sell, trade, or give away your LPs as you see fit. If you stream or download music, you’re really just renting it. Many vinyl enthusiasts prefer the warm sound of records and enjoy listening without any monthly fees from streaming services.

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.

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

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