Looking at some of the best record players on the market today

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Finding The Best Record Player For Your Vinyl

For a lot of us, listening to music that you love is definitely one of life’s great pleasures. Nowadays, more then ever, it’s so easy to immerse yourself into your favourite music. However, there’s one form of music-playback device that, perhaps above else, makes listening music as an activity in and of itself. And that is, of course, the trusty vinyl record player or turntable (two terms which shall be used interchageably). Vinyl has a way of faithfully capturing songs as they are recorded in the studio ,and delivering them at high and clear quality to your ears. This is why so many people understandably go out and look for the best record player out there which will do just that.

Table Of Contents

Intro

Just as there are a multitude of music-playback devices on the market, there are also many different types of turntables that a music-listener can choose from. In fact, there are so many different types of turntables for sale that finding the best turntable or best record player can often be quite a daunting task. There has recently been quite an increase in demand for USB turntables for example, and for some, these might certainly be a viable option in regards to their music-listening needs. There are also specialised companies that are releasing specific turntable designs, such as Crosley record players, who place modern-built turntable mechanisms into a vintage record player casing (quite literally… the turntable mechanism is housed within a briefcase!).

Then there are also DJ Turntables, specificially designed in mind for those who want to use their turntables not merely as record players, but also to physically interact with the vinyl for spinning, scratching, etc. Other brands such as Audio-Technica turntables are also quite popular due to their fusing together of old-school music consumption methods with modern recording and data transfer technology.

The list goes on and on, and the different brands and styles of turntables are almost as endless as the variety of music that can be listened to through these delightful devices. The aim of this website is therefore to try and ‘clear the clutter’, to give some more information about the different kinds of turntables out there, and also to provide comparisons and record player reviews that will hopefully make your decision as to which record player/turntable to buy a little bit easier. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an audiophile looking to upgrade your current system, or whether you are on the hunt for a budget record player. We hope that you enjoy looking around, and are excited about helping you finding the best record player to transform your music listening experience.

Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB (avg : 4.5/5)

Overview And Sound Quality

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120 is a USB turntable that has proven to be a big hit with experienced vinyl users and turntable newcomers alike. It is based on an old and much loved turntable, the Technics SL-1200, which was discontinued in 2010 but is now back on the market (and which you can check out here). Often, the general consensus amongst some audiophiles seems to be that USB turntables will not necessarily offer the best value in terms of sound quality. The reasoning being that for companies to pack all the extra components required for vinyl to USB transfer into a record player without increasing the price, usually entails a compromise needing to be made in some other component, which will inadvertently affect the sound quality negatively. Not in this case however, because with this product, Audio Technica seem to have struck quite a sweet spot between practicality and audio fidelity, and the technology/quality tradeoff appears to have been handled very well indeed. Let’s start with the most important factors, and the one that will ultimately affect the most important buying decision : price versus sound quality!

These turntables are currently priced at around $300. Although at first glance this might not seem like such a budget-conscious option, it can still be considered somewhat of a budget turntable when one considers that some models/brands of these beautiful contraptions can go for the thousands. However, do not be fooled by this… budget in no way means poor quality, certainly not in this case. Upon placing the stylus onto the record, it is immediately noticeable how balanced and clear the output of this record player is. Now it’s good ot keep in mind that the record player is not the only factor that determines sound quality (there’s also the amp, speakers, condition of the vinyl). However, there is no denying that this particular turntable certainly delivers when it comes to sonic quality. There is a nice balance between lows, mids and highs, with nothing popping out too much or getting hidden in the background. This makes it ideal for pretty much most musical styles you can think of. The AT95E cartridge fitted onto this record player is a reputable and high quality.

Features and Build

The USB capabilities that this turntable has allows you to convert your vinyl records into digital audio on your computer, allowing for easy palyback in your car, on your ipod, or wherever else you desire it. A lot of USB turntables seem to suffer when it comes to this feature, but the  Audio-Technica AT-LP120 does the whole thing very well. Conversion is clear, true and does not seem to have the crackling/noise ot ‘skipping’ that some other products give.

Setting the whole thing up is very easy to do. The chassic is solid and sturdy giving the whole thing a very professional feel. One of the cool things about the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 is that it comes with a built-in phono preamp. This means that all you have to do to get sound pumping out is to connect the turntable either to your computer via USB or to an amplifier input, and then off you go, nice and simple. It has adjustable speeds for 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM, so that you can play any single or LP that you have in your collection (note : to play the ‘older style’ 78 RPM records you will need to buy an additional cartridge as this is not supplied). There is also a reverse playback option, allowing you to play the record in reverse. Great for unlocking all those secrets buried deep in 70s rock records 😉

This record player is direct drive rather than belt drive, which also makes it quite useful as a DJ Turntable. The chassis is very stable and the motor handles scratching and spinning very well without compromising audio quality. The turntable platter is made from anti-resonance die-cast aluminium. This gives the whole thing a nice, solid base, making the record playing process smooth and steady, which is very important to ensure reliable and ‘truthful’ audio playback. There platter is also stroboscopic, which allows you to adjust the playback pitch accordingly to compensate for any ‘speed drift’ that might be occuring and therefore ensure that the record is playing at the right frequencies.

This turntable is also fully manual. This means that to get the music playing, the tonearm is lifted off the arm rest and is placed onto the desired spot on the record by the user. This also means that in order to stop the record from playing, or once the music has stopped playing by itself, the tonearm is lifted off he vinyl and back onto the arm rest manually. A quick side-note about the tonearm… On this model, the tone arm is S-shaped rather than straight. There is no hard-and-fast rule that states that S-shaped tonearms necessarily provide better sound quality as opposed to their straight-shaped counterparts, however there are those who believe that an S-shaped tonearm will give you a somewhat superior tonal quality due to the mechanics at play. In addition to this, the tonearm is fitted with hydraulic damping, which in short means that there will be significantly less bouncing around of the stylus on the record, leading to a smoother play with minimal to no warbling. All this, however, is discussed in more details in the FAQ section.

Summary

Whether you’re buying this as your first turntable or are looking to add to or replace your current setup, and also whether you just want to listen to your favourite music or use it as a DJ, this turntable will make an excellent choice. Definitely one of the best turntables out there at the moment in terms of price to sound quality ratio. Highly recommended.

Project (Pro-ject) Debut Carbon DC   (4.5/5)

Overview and Features

If you like a no-frills, simplicity-based approach to turntable setup and design, without compromising on the sound quality that will come out of your speakers, then the Project Debut Carbon DC might be the record player for you. This Project turntable (or Pro-Ject) is considered for all intents and purposes to be an entry level, budget turntable, with prices ranging around $350. Released in 2014 as an upgrade to the bestselling Project Debut Carbon turntable, the DC model features an upgraded belt-drive motor that ensures steadier playback and less overall power consumption. This leads to smoother and more consistent playback with less distortion and background noise caused by excess vibrations in the motor. The older (non-DC) model is to be found for around $50 cheaper online, however the assumption from this point forward will be that we’re talking about the newer DC model (for such a small added amount, we believe it is well worth having he enhanced and improved capabilities of this turntable). The build is sturdy and robust, the plinth (platter) is large and made of good-quality, 300mm metal.

One of the most notable features of this turntable, apart from the sleek and minimalistic design, is the presence of an 8.6″ one-piece carbon fibre tonearm. This is of note because this particular type of tonearm is stiffer than most of the materials that are usually used for tonearms on similar budget turntables. This means that there is significant reduction in unwanted resonance around the cartridge, leading to a clearer and more balance sound. Speaking of the cartridge, the comes equipped with the Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge, which is a very good quality piece of gear that can be found on higher-priced turntables. The counterweight used in this turntable is also of a very high quality, which also contributes to a further reduction of any excess and unwanted resonance. Signal to noise ratio for this turntable is listed at a respectable 68dB. It comes with two gold plated female RCA phono outputs to allow you to connect the turntable to any suitable amplifier of your choice.

It is also worth noting that this particular Project turntable is also available as a USB turntable. This will allow you to listen to your favourite records and also to convert them into digital format on your computer. This is very useful if you wish to digitise part or all of your record collection, however it does come with an added $100 on top of the price of the regular DC model. It is also worth mentioning that if your intentions are purely to listen to vinyl, without the need for any digital conversion, then it might be best to stick to the non-USB model, since the overall features that determine the actual sound quality seem to be superior.

Sound Quality

The sound itself is very clear and balanced, with good instrument and frequency seperation. The dynamics are wide and pronounced. For the reasons listed earlier, background noise is quite minimal and does not interfere with the sonic quality of the record being played. This turntable can play records at both 33 1/3 and 45 RPM. However it should be noted that switching between speeds needs to be done manually by the user, something which has been pointed out by some as being one of the few weak spots of this particular product. However, espeecially if you intend on lsitening mostly to regular 12” records, this particular feature should not really affect you at all. Another feature that this record player doesn’t have is pitch control, something that might people might want to use, although with the improved motor design on this model, it is quite unlikely that any pitch adjustments would actually need to be made at any point.

Summary

If you’ve got a vinyl collection waiting to be listened to, and you’re looking for something stylish, reliable and which doesn’t break the ban1k, then the  Project Debut Carbon is definitely a good option for you. With a great compromise between price and sound quality, this turntable has components that would usually be featured on ‘higher-end’ turntables that cost two or three times as much, and can be had in this case for a very reasonable price. Highly recommended record player/turntable.

Crosley Cruiser (CR8005A-TU)  (3.5/5)

Overview and Features

If you’re simply looking for something to get you started in the world of vinyl, and you do not wish to spend more than $100, then an option for you might be the Crosley Cruiser. This particular Crosley record player is currently one of the most popular budget turntables out there on the market, and with a cool retro design and priced at a very competitive $70, it’s not very difficult to see why. This turntable comes equipped with its own connected 5 watt speakers, that playback the sound from the vinyl directly. However it is also possible to connect the record player to an external set of speakers if you wish to. The design itself is possibly one of the most attractive qualities of this record player… with the dustcover and chassis taking the form of a briefcase, the whole vintage-vibe aligns itself very well with the old-school nature of vinyl and records.

Let’s start off with the positives. As already mentioned, the desing itself is quite unique and interesting. This belt-driven record player also has 3-speed funcitonality, meaning that you can play records at 33 1/3, 45 and even 78 RPM. It is also an extremely light unit, making it ideal if you need something portable and uncumbersome to carry around. It is also incredibly easy to set up. Actually, truth be told, there is not actually much setting up to do. This is truly a plud-and-play unit, which is ideal for somebody who might be a complete beginner in the world of turntables and is intimidated by or unmotivated to figure out how to set up all the different components that a ‘regular’ turntable would have.

Sound Quality

Now, let’s talk sound quality. It will probably not come as a surprise that for this type of price, the sound quality you’ll get out of this record player is highly unlikely to blow your mind. The stereo field of the record is not really brought out, and when listening back to records they tend to sound somewhat mono and ‘narrow’, due to the nature and build of the stock speakers that it comes with. Frequency response is not as balanced as it would be on a more high-end turntable, although it’s decent enough for background/casual listening.

For this particular turntable, the sound quality perceived will depend greatly on what it’s being used for. Set up in quiet room for some background music, then this record player will indeed do the job. Used in a noisier environment or even perhaps just a larger room, the speakers might not be able to deliver quite enough volume for the sound to be heard evenly and clearly from every position. However as stated before, it is possible to hook the unit up to an external set of speakers. The dynamic response is not the most balanced, however for some casual listening where frequency balance is not of utmost importance, then this nifty little device might just about be able to get away with it. But playback itself does seem to be quite steady, with minimal skipping and warbling occuring. Another thing to note is that the tracking weight for this model does seem to be heavier than usual, which could be detrimental to the records being played in the long run.

Summary

The Crosley record player is an unassuming but pretty sweet looking unit. If you’re a casual music lover, and want something that will not only add a cosmetic edge to your home but that can also be used to put some music on, then this record player could very well be for you. For the price it’s at, the sound quality is doable if you’re not atoo fussy about things like dynamic response and frequency seperation. It is also a great gift to give to somebody who might want to start dabbling in vinyl. So if your aim is to have a high-quality music listening session, then maybe give this one a miss. However if you’re just looking for something to get you or a friend/family member started in the world of records, which looks great and has a decent-enough sound to allow enjoyment of the music being played, then give this one a go.

Pioneer PL-990  (4/5)

Overview

Pioneer are somewhat of a household name when it comes to home audio and hi-fi equipment, and for good reason. For years, this brand has delivered solid, reliable and good quality entertainment systems to homes around the globe, and the Pioneer Pl-990 turntable is no different. Having such a well-known and trusted brand name backing it up definitely helps, but the performance of this Pioneer record player should hold be enough in and of themselves to make this particular turntable a good contendor for entry level purchases.

The PL-990 is a fully automatic turntable, meaning that the low-mass, straight-arm tonearm holding the cartridge and stylus on this particular turntable is both placed onto and taken off the vinyl automatically by the record player’s in-built mechanism. This is quite useful if you like falling asleep to music for example, so that you don’t have to worry about taking the needle off the record once it has stopped playing. This feature hhas no particular bearing on the sound quality, it is merely a question of personal preference. Like many other similar turntables, it features a belt-driven motor that spins the sturdy 290mm metal platter. The fact that it’s a belt-driven turntable makes it more suitable for listening to your favourite records on vinyl than as a DJ turntable. It allows records to be played at eitehr 33 1/3 or 45 RPM speeds, meaning that both full length 12” Lps and single records can be enjoyed on this turntable.

In terms of sound quality, which ultimately is what matters the most, the Pioneer PL-990 does a very good job indeed. With a signal to noise ratio clocking in above 50dB (which while not being the best number in the world, is quite a respectable figure for a record player in this budget range), and with a very balance and equally distributed frequency response, this turntable makes vinyl sound warm and punchy without colouring or distorting the sound too much. The dyamics are pronounced and the instrument seperation very clear, with good resonant bass and smooth highs, making for quite a pleasant listening experience overall. In short, what you hear coming out of the speakers is quite faithful to what actually is on the record, and while the extent to which this replication is accurate also depends on the speakers themselves, the way this record player is built certainly has a lot to do with it as well.

For those who would like to get a bit more technical, this wow and flutter rating for the Pioneer record player, which in a nutshell measures the amount of ‘wobble’ in the playback pitch due to fluctuating speeds, is at around 0.25%. For some people this amount might be high, for others it won’t even be noticeable. If you’re an audiophile looking for the most pristine and ‘true’ listening experience, then you might want to look for something that’s priced a bit higher, since budget turntables at this price range usually do not have figures much lower than that. In that case, you might want to look at some of the higher-range models such as the Pioneer PLX-1000, which only has a wow and flutter rating of around 0.10%. However, if you would simply like something that’s reliable and of good quality to play your vinyl on without needing ‘audiophile standard’ sound, then this is not something that you need to concern yourself with, and the PL-990 will suit you very well indeed.

Setup for this turntable is quick, easy and efficient. There is an in-built phono preamp which allows the listener to connect the record player directly to any aux input or self-power speakers that one chooses. It also comes with pitch control, allowing you to adjust for some pitch fluctuations that might occur during playback. The chassis itself is sturdy yet lightweight and not too space-consuming.

Summary

All in all, the Pioneer PL-990 is a good choice of turntable if you are looking to buy something with good soun quality and that is easy to work without breaking the bank. Sure, if you are an audiophile or are simply looking to upgrade your listening experience after owning your first turntable or two, then maybe you’d want to look elsewhere. Hwoever, if you’re getting started in the world of vinyl and are would like to test the waters and listen to music at good quality without going too deep into your pockets, then this Pioneer record player should most definitely be a contendor for you.

Jensen GTA-230

Overview and Features

The Jensen GTA-230 is a 3-speed budget record player that provides an affordable entry-level option for those looking to dip their toes into the water of vinyl, or maybe those searching for a cool, stylish yet practical gift for somebody else. This Jensen record player is not meant to provide the world’s best experience in terms of pure, pristine high fidelity audio, and for the price it sells as, this will hardly come as a surprise to anybody. What it does provide, however, is a neat, easy to use and practical record player for somebody who might not be comfortable spending too much money on a higher-end turntable yet, but who still wants decent enough audio quality to be able to listen to music on records in the good old fashioned way.

The build of this record player is plastic and not extremely sturdy. The belt-driven plate is smaller than that of a standard turntable, to the point where a standard 12” LP will even stick out slightly over the edge of the plate. It comes equipped with pitch control, which enables the user to compenstae for any pitch shifting that might be occuring due to irregular playing speeds. It also features a tone-control know, which enables the listener to increase or decrease the amount of treble coming through the speakers. The effect is quite subtle and understated, however it does make the highs pop a bit more when needed.

This Jensen record player also comes fully self-contained, meaning that it has in-built preamps, amplifiers and speakers, therefore no extra equipment is needed to listen to vinyl on this record player. It is however possible to connect this turntable to an external set of speakers, should you wish to do so. The Jensen GTA-230 is also a USB tuntable, which basically lets you convert your analog vinyl records to digital files on your computer, which can then be played back on any multemedia system of your choice (laptop, ipod, etc). The external outputs do tend to suffer from a lack of low frequencies, something which should be calibrated for and kept in mind if the turntable is connected to either external speakers or to a computer via USB. Jensen also include Audacity in this purchase. Audacity is a free audio-editing software that you can use to record and save the audio coming from the record onto your computer.

As previously mentioned, the GTA-230 can play records at 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM, although it should be mentioned that in order to play the older shellac records at 78 RPM, a seperate cartridge would need to be purchased. It does however come with a convertor for 45RPM playback. The turntable has an auto-stop mechanism, meaning that the plate stops spinning when the record has reached its end, however the tonearm still needs to be returned back to its resting place manually by the listener. It is worth noting that this Jensen turntable has a ceramic cartridge/pickup, rather than a magnetic one. Ceramic pickups are usually cheaper and less sensitive than their magnetic counterparts, and in this case, this is actually desireable. The reason for this being that since the turntable itself has quite a lot of background noise going on (again, to be expected for this kind of price range), a magnetic pickup would pick up too much of this noise, which would in turn have an adverse effect on the quality of the music coming out of the speakers.

The sound quality itself is actually decent for this level of record player, not too muddy or distorted. The in-built speakers are quite low in volume however, which might actually be an intentional design meant to avoid feedback between the speakers and the stylus. Due to the ceramic stylus, the frequency response of this record player cuts off at around 14kHz, which does mean that some of the high frequencies (treble) don’t really shine through, and it can make the whole thing sound quite tinny and ‘low-fi’. If you’re not too fussy about having extremely high-quality audio, and unless you lean more towards the ‘audiophile’ sound of things, this might not bother you too much. The tone control previously mentioned might help a bit in regaining some of those highs, although once again, the difference it makes is quite subtle. In reality, the in-built speakers are actually quite well-balanced for a device that’s so inexpensive, and might do a good enough job for some casual listening in smaller rooms and spaces. Instrument seperation and dynamics are decent enough, although once again, for a $50 record player, expectations should not be set too high.

Summary

If you’re looking for something that is easy to set up (literally plug and play), something that you can pop a record onto and listen to around the house, without being too fussy about getting very loud volume or wanting to spend too much money, then this might be a good purchase for you to make. Jensen are actually quite a reliable brand, and although this record player is quite cheap, it does deliver quite a good bang for the buck. If you’re somewhat of an audiophile, or if you’re looking to upgrade your vinyl experience to something a bit more high-end, then this is definitely not the turntable for you. However, if you’re simply looking to start your vinyl journey on a budget, and even if you simply need to transform your LPs into digital files without too much hassle, then the Jensen GTA-230 should definitely be a contendor for your purchase.

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Disclosure : Just a heads up for all you beautiful people! I (Daniel Cassar aka The Music Hermit) am a participant in affiliate programs,including (but not limited to) the Amazon Servies LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and other Amazon Stores Worldwide. All this really means is that some (not all) links that you’ll come across are affiliate links… if you buy something after using this link, I get a small commission for driving traffic to the seller. It’s won’t cost you a single extra cent, and will help me keep the lights on :)

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