Audio

Best turntables: Our favourite budget, USB and audiophile record players, from £100


Vinyl is back – and in a big way. But if you’re keen to switch off Spotify and get the best from your record collection, then there’s no two ways around it: you’ll need to buy the best turntable you can afford. Ther vinyl resurgence means that there’s no shortage of choice, either. From dirt-cheap record-player-in-a-suitcase all-in-ones to eye-poppingly expensive audiophile options (Technics whipped the covers off its £14k SL-1000R not so long ago), and from old-school fully manual turntables to sleek wireless Bluetooth alternatives, there are plenty of great options out there.

In this list you’ll find a selection of the best record players you can buy across a wide range of prices. We’ve included fully manual models, models with built-in phono stages (so they are ready to play into any amplifier whatsoever), models with USB connections (so you can archive your rare and precious vinyl to your computer), Bluetooth-equipped models than can stream wirelessly, and audiophile models that will tempt you into a lifetime’s investigation of tonearm and cartridge tweakery in the pursuit of perfect sound.

Not sure which turntable is best for you? Then scroll past the reviews below and read our buying guide where we’ll run through the key questions you need to ask before you splash out.

Which is the best turntable to buy?

1. Best turntable under £200: Pro-Ject Primary E (£149)

Speed (rpm): 33.3, 45 Drive type: Belt
Tonearm: fitted Cartridge included?: Yes 
Integrated phono stage?: No  Size (HWD): 11 x 42 x 33cm; Weight: 4kg 

Even at this relatively modest price, you have plenty of options to choose from. You could buy an all-in-one turntable complete with amplification and speakers; you could buy a whistles-and-bells wireless streamer with digital output and integrated phono stage. But if £150 is your budget, you should really consider buying a proper record player that’s been built to do just one thing. Pro-Ject has been at the forefront of affordable ‘proper’ turntables for years, and the Primary E has had the money spent in all the right places. Yes, it’s ‘just’ a record player, with a manual speed change and no auto-stop, let alone Bluetooth or a USB output – but what is does have is an excellent aluminium tonearm, a very decent Ortofon cartridge pre-fitted, and a well-specified motor. As a result, the Primary E absolutely nails the broad strokes of vinyl playback – it sounds stable, insightful, handles tempos and rhythms well and, basically, is the perfect gateway drug into a lifetime’s vinyl habit.

2. Best Bluetooth turntable: Sony PS-LX310BT (£199)

Speed (rpm): 33.3, 45 Drive type: Belt
Tonearm: fitted Cartridge included?: Yes 
Integrated phono stage?: Yes  Size (HWD): 11 x 43 x 37cm; Weight: 3.5kg

Here’s the cheapest way to take almost all the hassle out of vinyl ownership and still enjoy lovely sound. Here’s Sony’s brilliant PS-LX310BT. ‘Convenience’ is the name of the game here – as well as being equipped with Bluetooth wireless transmission (so you can enjoy your records without the spaghetti explosion of cables that all too often accompanies turntables), the PS-LX310BT has an integrated phono stage – so if you want to wire your turntable to an amplifier (which, we have to say, gives better audio results than doing things wirelessly), your amp doesn’t need a phono stage of its own. There’s also a USB-B output for digitising your vinyl. Complete adaptability, in other words – and, no matter whether you use a wired or wireless connection, the Sony sounds full-bodied and entertaining. It’s got all of that lush vinyl warmth and weight that’s so celebrated, but it doesn’t make you jump through hoops to get at it. Which is why it’s so easy to recommend.

3. Best USB turntable: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB (£249)

Speed (rpm): 33.3, 45 Drive type: Direct
Tonearm: fitted Cartridge included?: Yes 
Integrated phono stage?: Yes Size (HWD): 14 x 45 x 35cm; Weight: 8kg

Having spent quite a lot of time banging on about avoiding record players with unnecessary features, here’s where we recommend a record player that’s virtually groaning under the weight of them. Audio Technica has a long and proud tradition where turntables, tonearms and cartridges are concerned – so you can trust the brand to know what it’s doing. Nevertheless, the AT-LP120XUSB has a lot of DJ-related facilities (like pitch control, stroboscope and target light) that the home user will never need. Happily, the stuff that matters to the domestic listener is all here too, and it’s all of a higher quality than the price might suggest. The Audio Technica is direct-drive, for starters, so it has impeccable pitch stability and auto stop/start too. It’s got a USB output for archiving your records to the digital domain. It’s got a really good Audio Technica cartridge pre-fitted to its S-shaped tonearm. If anything, it’s overspecified at this price – so it’s just as well its sound is precise, detailed and energetic enough to live up to that specification.

4. Best turntable under £500: Rega Planar 2 (£399)

Speed (rpm): 33.3, 45 Drive type: Belt
Tonearm: fitted Cartridge included?: Yes
Integrated phono stage?: No Size (HWD): 12 x 45 x 36cm; Weight: 5.5kg

Rega, like Pro-Ject further up this list, has been banging the drum for the format long before vinyl received its umpteenth lease of life at the start of this century. And, like Pro-Ject, Rega prefers to chuck the research and development budget at the fundamentals of its turntables rather than try to pile on the features. So far, it’s a policy that’s served the company well – and the Planar 2 might just be the best pound-for-pound record player Rega’s ever delivered, which is saying something. Nothing about the way the Planar 2 looks will prepare you for the extraordinary fidelity and straightforward musicality of its sound. Everything about the way the Planar 2 and its Rega Carbon cartridge delivers music – the effortless management of rhythms and tempos, the amazing retrieval of even the tiniest details, nuances and variations, the way it reveals all the character in a singer’s voice – sounds so natural and unforced it can initially sound all a bit matter-of-fact. But listen on: that’s the sound of a master at work.

5. Best audiophile turntable: Technics SL-1500C (£899)

Speed (rpm): 33.3, 45, 78 Drive type: Belt
Tonearm: fitted Cartridge included?: Yes
Integrated phono stage?: Yes Size (HWD): 17 x 45 x 37cm; Weight: 10kg

Technics is one of the most emotive and resonant brands in all of vinyl-land, and that’s for one reason: its SL-1210 turntable is the default choice for every DJ who ever dropped the needle on the record. Of course, what’s good for a DJ isn’t necessarily good for the domestic listener – but there are some aspects of the SL-1210 that suit the home user just fine. And they’re all incorporated into the SL-1500C: the bank-vault build quality, the hefty suspension, direct drive and a high-quality tonearm, for starters. To this the SL-1500C adds an integrated phono stage, a superb Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and, most important of all, absolutely exquisite sound quality. Hooked into a system of appropriate standard, the Technics simply sings – it digs deep and hits hard in the bass, allows singers all the space they need to express themselves, and lets the top of the frequency range shine without any hint of coarseness. Yes, £899 is a lot of money to spend on a record player – but in this instance it’s worth every penny.


How to pick the best turntable for you

First things first: be aware that the audio signal from a record player is pitifully weak – it’s so low as to be virtually non-existent. It takes a great deal more amplification to make it audible than any other format requires, so it needs to be boosted considerably before it’s ready to be plugged into an amplifier or a pair of powered speakers. This requires a phono stage, sometimes also known as a phono pre-amp, and it’s this which amplifies the quiet signal picked up by the record player’s needle and cartridge to make it louder.

If your amplifier or speakers don’t have a built-in phono stage, you either need to buy a record player with an integrated one, or purchase a stand-alone phono stage to go between your record player and your amplifier. These cost around £25 for a basic model so you don’t have to spend a fortune, but turntables with an integrated phono stage will definitely help cut down on cable clutter – and you’ll need one less mains socket, too. 

What types of turntable are there?
  • USB turntables are an ideal way to convert your record collection into digital files. Record players with USB outputs can be connected to your PC or laptop – making digital copies is a simple as pressing ‘record’ on the supplied software and lowering the needle onto the record. Voila! Your vinyl is duplicated as digital audio files which you can download onto all your devices.
  • Bluetooth turntables are another brilliantly convenient innovation. A record player equipped with the necessary hardware can be wirelessly linked to an amplifier, or a powered speaker, in the same way you’d link your smartphone. And that’s all there is to it: a record player than doesn’t need connecting to anything except mains power.
  • Traditional turntables, though, don’t hold with any of this ‘convenience’ nonsense – vinyl was always a ‘hands-on’ format and some turntables still see this as a virtue. Admittedly, a record player that needs you to move a belt from one pulley to another in order to change from 33.3rpm to 45rpm, and that doesn’t have an auto-stop function (where the tonearm returns to rest when it reaches the end of the record) might well have had the money spent in other, more critical areas. But that doesn’t mean you should be pleased about the hassle.

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