What’s the best turntable to get for your level?
For many, turntables, are the way to play back music in the home. There’s something in analogue sound that can’t be replicated in digital formats. And of course, physical records look a lot cooler. For whatever reason, turntables are firmly back in the spotlight.
If you’ve cash to burn and want a no compromise turntable then the Pro-Ject 6 Perspex SB is our current recommended best all-round turntable. If you’re on a budget, but don’t want to sacrifice audio quality, the Rega Planar 1 is the best value turntable on the market.
Pro-Ject 6 Perspex SB
- Striking looks
- Deep, controlled bass
- Immense soundstage
- Great value
- Annoying screw-down clamp
The Pro-Ject 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.
Rega Planar 1
- Dynamic, detailed sound
- Exceptional timing
- Classy look and feel for the money
- Fiddly speed changes
For simplicity of set-up and hi-fi audio quality on a budget, no other turntable can touch the Rega Planar 1.
The cartridge is pre-fitted and 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.
Oh, and it sounds great – exciting and detailed, with great timing and agility, just as we’ve come to expect from Rega turntables. Just add a decent phono stage.
For a little extra resolution, the £375 Rega Planar 2 uses the same plinth and motor, but adds a glass platter and the excellent RB220 tonearm.
- Not just another boring rectangle
- Wonderfully warm, full sound
- Simple setup
- No dust cover
Want to step into the world of hi-fi vinyl spinning? This is the cheapest way. The Pro-Ject 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.
- Superbly well-rounded sound
- Looks gorgeous
- Good value
- Not the easiest for changing speed
For plug-and-play simplicity combined with style, there isn’t a better option than the Crosley C20. Not without spending a small fortune, that is.
Don’t be put off by the brand name – Crosley designed this in partnership with turntable specialist Pro-Ject, who also builds it. The result is a stunner, with a Zebrano wood plinth, an acrylic platter, an S-shaped aluminium tonearm, a prealigned Ortofon OM10 cartridge, and a built-in phono stage for hooking directly to a line input.
The sound quality is wonderfully full and detailed, with decent timing. The only downsides are that it’s a little fiddly to change between 33 and 45 rpm, and that availability is an issue outside of the USA. If you can find one, snap it up.
Rega Planar 3
- Sounds incredible for the money
- Dust cover included
- Superb tonearm
- Lovely build quality
- Speed change requires platter removal
For many people, this will be the only turntable they ever need. The legendary Rega 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.
Clearaudio Concept MM
- Awesome build quality
- Simple speed switching
- Easy setup
- Superb timing and attack
- Plays 78s
- Not the best with vocals
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.
Technics SL-1200GR / SL-1210GR
- Unparalleled timing and grip
- Seismic bass
- Fantastic build quality
- Incredibly versatile
- High asking price
- Slight lack of resolution
The iconic Technics deck is back – and it’s multiplying. First in the resurrected line-up were the high-end Technics SL-1200G and limited-edition SL-1200GAE, and now there are these slightly more modest Technics SL-1200GR / SL-1210GR models.
The 1200 and 1210 are so synonymous with DJing that most people don’t realise they were originally designed as hi-fi turntables. And these new versions have been upgraded to improve sound quality even further, with a dampened platter, improved motor with digital speed control, and a low-noise power supply.
The result is a record player with phenomenal timing and grip, as well as the ability to dig prodigious bass from those vinyl grooves. Throw away your preconceptions and give it a try.
- Stunning treble and mid-range clarity
- Great timing and attack
- Tight, controlled bass
- Not the most immersive soundstage
- Skeleton plinth looks unfinished
The Rega RP8 is just shy of the top of Rega’s turntable tree, below the flagship RP10, but shares much in common with that high-end model.
For a start, there’s a skeleton plinth with a space-age sandwich construction for extreme stiffness with light weight – Rega doesn’t believe in high-mass turntables. Then there’s the excellent RB808 tonearm, and the TT-PSU external power supply for push-button speed changes. An outer plinth with removeable dust cover completes the package.
And what a package it is. Bought with the Apheta 2 MC cartridge for an overall saving, the combo serves up extremely detailed sonics with incredible timing and attack, as well as deep, controlled bass. Only a slick lack of soundstage width, and an unfinished feel to that innovative plinth, stop it from achieving full marks.
How we test turntables
Our audio experts use every turntable they test as their primary home music player for weeks while testing. During that time they A-B test against competitors in the same price range, using a variety of partnering hi-fi components and different genres of music, from classical to dance. Where appropriate, turntables are also tested with a variety of different cartridges.
Ratings are based mostly on sonic performance, but also take into consideration build quality, ease of setup, and features. For tips on what to look for when buying a record player, scroll down for our buying guide.
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.
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.