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Best Turntable 2017: Choose the best record player for you

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Vinyl is back! People have been saying it for a while now, but the evidence this year has been stronger than ever, with profits from vinyl sales outstripping those of free streaming services. We're here to help find the best record player for you...

It isn't just old-timers and hipsters enjoying their grooved black discs, and the variety of vinyl-spinning hardware on the market right now is immense compared to only a few years ago. But which turntable should you buy?

Beware of cheap, retro-styled record players such as the Crosley Cruiser and Dansette Bermuda. They look chic, but they really won’t do your records justice and could even damage them in the long term. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune to get started, though.

If you have a rough idea of what you need and want to delve straight into the best options, click on the dropdown menu above and start browsing. But if you’re not totally clued up on the intricacies of vinyl playback, you should probably read on. First, let’s get some technical terms out of the way…

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Jargon Buster

Stylus – The needle. It’s usually tipped with a tiny diamond, but that diamond can be shaped in various ways. More exotic, costlier shapes track better around the record grooves, increasing the detail retrieved and reducing wear. This is the most delicate point on the turntable, so keep it away from prying fingers.

Cartridge – This is the little box that houses the stylus and the magnets, which produce the audio signal that’s sent back to your amplification. There are two main types of cartridge: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). The latter tends to offer better sound quality, but costs more and requires greater care with setup to get the best from it.

Tonearm – This is the wand that the cartridge is attached to, pivoting around to enable the stylus to track across the record. Tonearms come in a few different shapes, sizes, weights and pivoting styles. It’s vital that your cartridge has decent synergy with your tonearm. Some cheap turntables put too much pressure on the record, which will absolutely wreck your collection.

Platter – The round area upon which your record sits and spins, held in place by the spindle. These can be made of metal, resin, glass, acrylic, ceramic or vinyl-coated MDF, and often come with a rubber or wool mat.

Belt drive/Direct drive – Most modern hi-fi turntables are belt-driven, with a rubber band running around the motor pulley and the platter or sub-platter. This approach helps to stop vibrations from the motor being picked up by the stylus. With direct drive the motor is connected to the spindle, right under the platter, and has the advantage of ensuring more consistent rotational speed.

Phono stage/pre-amp – The audio signal that comes direct from the cartridge is very faint, so a phono pre-amp is required to amplify that signal before sending it to a line input. Cheaper standalone phono stages will often only work with MM cartridges, while more expensive MC-compatible models can offer a bewildering number of options for perfectly matching with a particular cartridge. Plug-and-play turntables have a phono pre-amp built in.

T%2BA G 2000 R 8

Where to start

If you’re totally new to the vinyl waters, or just dipping your toe back in, you might be safest looking for a plug-and-play turntable. These not only have a tonearm and cartridge pre-fitted, but they also have their own phono stage so they can be hooked up directly to your hi-fi or speaker system. Some even have a USB output for connecting to your computer and ripping records to digital files.

Fancy stepping it up a little? Many mid-price decks are available as a package with a suitable cartridge, so all you need to do is add a phono stage. That freedom to upgrade your phono stage also brings greater freedom to upgrade your cartridge, and suddenly you could be looking at a whole new level of sound.

For the proper tinkerers (and those with cash to spare), there’s the rather more high-end option of picking the turntable, tonearm, cartridge and phono pre-amp separately in an effort to create a combination that sounds best to you. High-end doesn’t have to mean mix-and-match, though – there are plenty of flagship record players offered with complementary arms and carts.

What else do you need?

There’s a huge variety of accessories available to vinyl addicts. Some are invaluable, while others you may use only once for setup and never need again.

Personally, I’d ensure you at least have a stylus brush and some form of record cleaner. Oh, and an adapter for 45rpm record centres, if you intend to play a load of ex-jukebox discs.

A tracking-force gauge will be necessary if you intend upgrading cartridges, or if your tonearm doesn’t have some kind of useful scale for setting the force. A mechanical gauge and combined cartridge-alignment tool costs less than a tenner.

Many record players these days are supplied with a record clamp, which not only helps reduce resonance but can also flatten warped vinyl. If your turntable doesn’t have one, you can always buy one separately.

You can seriously be as obsessive as your budget allows (cartridge energiser, anyone?), but ultimately your best friend may be a spirit level, yours for a fiver from your local hardware shop. The most important element in any turntable set up is a properly level and stable surface for your turntable to sit on. It doesn't matter what accessories you have if your vinyl spinning on a beanbag.

This Week's Best Turntable Deals

Flexson VinylPlay at Amazon.co.uk | Was £329 | Now £199

Flexson VinylPlay at Amazon.com | Was $289 | Now $249

Pro-Ject Elemental 5
Best budget turntable

Key features:

  • Ortofon OM5e MM cartridge
  • Available in red, silver or white

Want to step into the world of hi-fi vinyl spinning? This is the cheapest way. The Elemental is a belt-driven turntable with an impressive Ortofon cartridge pre-fitted and pre-aligned, and it sounds superb.

Warm, detailed sonics combine with distinctive, curvaceous looks to make this an unbeatable entry-level package. Remember, you’ll need to budget a little extra for a phono stage if your amplifier doesn’t have one built in, but you’re still looking at a total outlay of only around £200. Bargain.

At time of review the Pro-Ject Elemental was available for £159.
Audio-Technica ATH-LP60BT 5
Best for streamaholics

Key features:
  • Bluetooth
  • Auto-start and auto-return
  • Built-in phono stage

It may look like the kind of plastic-fantastic turntable monstrosity that sat on your midi-system in the 1980s, but the AT-LP60BT is hiding modern-day tech beneath that dull exterior: Bluetooth.

What better way of encapsulating the current passion for retro-futurism than wirelessly streaming your vinyl? Your original mono pressing of Highway 61 Revisited has been digitised and is flying through the air to your Bluetooth speaker on the other side of the room. If you could successfully Instagram that moment and add a retro filter, you would.

Thankfully, the AT-LP60BT isn’t just a one-trick pony; it features auto-start and auto-return so that you can keep your hands free to tweet about which rare groove record you’re streaming today, and it sounds surprisingly warm and musical. It doesn’t offer the detail and subtlety to worry proper hi-fi turntables, though.

At time of review the
Audio-Technica AT-LP60BT was available for £169.
Flexson VinylPlay 5
Plug-and-play on a budget

Key features:
  • Built-in phono stage
  • USB output for ripping vinyl
  • Removable dust cover

When it comes to plug-and-play simplicity, no other hi-fi turntable can touch the Flexson VinylPlay, made in the UK by Rega.

The cartridge is pre-fitted, the tonearm has a guide ring on it so that the counterweight can be set for exactly the correct tracking force without the need for any special tools, and there’s a phono stage built in, so it can be plugged straight into a line input on any hi-fi or speaker system.

To top off a fantastic package, the VinylPlay even has a USB output, so you can rip your vinyl to digital files on your computer.

Oh, and it sounds great – exciting and detailed, with great timing and agility, just as we’ve come to expect from Rega turntables.

At time of review the Flexson VinylPlay was available for £228.
Rega Planar 3 2016 5
Best turntable under £1,000

Key features:
  • Elys 2 MM cartridge
  • RB330 9-inch tonearm
  • Removable dust cover

For many people, this will be the only turntable they ever need. The legendary Planar 3 name has returned, having gone through a few years as the P3 and then RP3 – and that’s because this is a whole new record player for 2016.

The RB330 tonearm is an evolution of the old RB303 with a stiffer bearing housing and new cabling, the plinth has been re-engineered, the main bearing has been made to tighter tolerances, and the bracing is stronger.

And the result is the finest turntable for less than £1,000. The timing and imaging are spot-on, it creates a wonderfully wide soundstage, and bass is bouncy yet controlled.

Even if you end up buying the optional £200 TT-PSU power supply to add button-controllable speed switching, this is a bargain.

At time of review the Rega Planar 3 was available for £625.
Pro-Ject 6 Perspex SB 5
Best turntable under £2,000

Key features:
  • 9cc Evolution 9-inch tonearm
  • Button speed switching
  • Dust cover

The 6 Perspex SB looks and sounds immense. The thick Perspex plinth that gives it its name combines with a suspended sub-chassis and carbon-fibre tonearm to create a truly imposing turntable.

Its tight, deep bass and wide soundstaging offer a taste – no, more like a ravenous bite – of high-end hi-fi, without a high-end price tag to match.

Throw in the fact that it has a dust cover and button-controlled speed switching and, well, what more could you ask for? All that’s left is to add a suitable cartridge and phono stage, then you’re on the road to audio nirvana.

At time of review the Pro-Ject 6 Perspex SB was available for £1,300.
T+A G 2000 R 1
Ultimate plug-and-play solution

Key features:
  • 9-inch carbon-fibre tonearm
  • T+A MC-2 cartridge
  • Built-in phono stage

Who says high-end has to be super-nerdy and complicated? Not T+A, which has built a plug-and-play turntable with top-notch Clearaudio components.

A moving-coil cartridge is pre-fitted to a gorgeous carbon-fibre tonearm and connected to an MC phono stage built into the mammoth plinth, so it’s ready for plugging straight into your amp’s line input. There’s a crystal-controlled synchronous motor keeping the machined-aluminium platter spinning perfectly in time, and the G 2000 R even comes with a neat Perspex dust cover.

The audio quality is truly awesome, with wonderful pace and power. It can create an intricately textured soundstage as well as bouncing bass with the best of them. Only a very slightly reserved treble stops it from achieving sonic perfection.

Buy Now at AudioEmotion.co.uk from £3,432

At time of review the T+A G 2000 R MC was available for £4,719.
Clearaudio Concept 6
Best for playing 78s

Key features:

  • 33/45/78rpm
  • 9-inch tonearm with magnetic bearing
  • Clearaudio Concept MM cartridge

Given the faultless build quality and super-slick styling, you’d be forgiven for thinking this turntable costs as much as an around-the-world cruise. But no. You’d be lucky to get a week self-catering in the worst part of Tenerife for the price of the Concept MM.

As well as looking amazing, there’s some awesome engineering going on here, too. The tonearm has a magnetic bearing, which means it floats in the bearing housing, making no contact with the rest of the deck at all.

Speed changing is easily achieved via a large knob on the plinth, and fans of old-time records will be pleased to know it can even handle 78rpm.

Corners really haven’t been cut with sound quality, either. It has superb timing and attack, as well as retrieving far greater detail, and with more subtlety, than you should expect at this price or from a moving-magnet cartridge. Only a slightly unnatural quality to vocals stops it from being utterly perfect.

At time of review the Clearaudio Concept MM was available for £995.

RonRoyce

August 1, 2016, 7:04 pm

The only "turntable" that doesn't deserve to be on that list is the Audio Technica. It's a glorified spud plougher, nothing else. With a tracking weight around 3-3.5g on a crude conical diamond I wouldn't put my vinyl within a mile of it because it will cause premature wear. Couldn't care less for the option of bluetooth, if you want to do that get a Project Elemental Phono USB and port that to a laptop. It'll sound far better and it won't wreck your vinyl.

However, the other turntables are definitely worth owning. Always been a fan of the Project budget range, I bought my partner the Debut II 5 years ago and she is well happy with it. I would recommend anybody starting out to get either the elemental or the essentials, they are probably the best sounding turntables in their price sectors.

David French

September 6, 2016, 9:13 pm

I still have my original Linn Axis turntable - superb machine!

Richard Dixon

September 19, 2016, 4:32 pm

I still have my SME 3009 Series II Improved non-detachable headshell pickup arm, a Shure N95ED cartridge and Garrard 401 turntable, all fitted inside a SME 2000 teak plinth system, purchased from Francis of Streatham in 1970. Superb sound quality !!

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