Vinyl is back in a big way, and chances are the old family record player got tossed sometime around the Clinton presidency. Fortunately, there’s been an absolute deluge of turntables hitting the market over the last decade at nearly every price point. Buying a turntable presents you with a tough decision: They can be difficult to tell apart. They all have tonearms, cartridges, styluses, and platters. It feels like it takes an expert to determine what models are high-quality or junk.
Whether you’re just looking for a cheap player to spin up now and again or an enthusiast-grade model that’ll serve as your gateway into the winding road of hi-fi enthusiasts, we’ve found the best record players to suit your needs.
There are a ton of record players out there that try to emulate the iconic wood finish and curves of the 40s and 50s. Unfortunately, most of these are cheap imitations that look garish and tacky in person. The Electrohome Kingston is one of the few products that offer a genuine wood cabinet and quality modern conveniences.
The Electrohome Kingston is more of an all-in-one device than a dedicated turntable. You get AM/FM radio, a 3-speed turntable, CD player, aux-in, Bluetooth, USB playback, and MP3 recording all in one attractive console. If you want a machine that just plays records, you may want something a bit more compact, but if you want something that does it all and looks good doing it, the Kingston is a great choice.
If you want to let your inner hipster out and take your vinyl on the go, or if space is too tight for a full-sized setup to have a permanent place in your household, a portable record player might be for you. The Victrola Vintage 3-speed turntable has built-in speakers and closes into a handy suitcase-style package when not in use.
This player has more utility than just playing records, though. Its speakers are Bluetooth-capable so that you can stream music from your smartphone as well. The Victrola also has line-in so you can use the speakers for a whole host of devices, like a laptop. All-in-all, an excellent turntable for the price.
When you start looking at enthusiast-grade turntables, things get a bit confusing. One record player looks much the same as any other, and the differences between a $100 turntable and a $500 one are often found below the surface. If you’re serious about vinyl collecting, the Denon DP-300F is a great entry-level player for anyone who wants excellent sound without worrying about switching out styluses or tonearms.
There’s still some setup with the Denon DP-300F, but attaching the included headshell and balancing the tonearm isn’t difficult compared to some other models. The included stylus even sounds good, which is a rarity. It also includes a built-in phono pre-amp, meaning there’s one less thing to worry about for vinyl beginners. The big drawback with this model, and one that vinyl enthusiasts will have to weigh before purchasing, is that it’s only a two-speed. It can play 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records, but not 78s. However, this is a trend with mid-high end turntables, so take that into account if you plan on collecting 78 RPM records.
Audio-Technica is one of the biggest names in vinyl. Its AT-LP5 model is an excellent entry point into the world of enthusiast turntables, and it’s where you’ll start noticing that more expensive players leave out optional features in their quest for vinyl perfection. The AT-LP5 has no autoplay functionality and requires you to set the stylus manually. However, this player still has some conveniences usually seen as frivolous on high-end turntables. The AT-LP5 includes a built-in pre-amp, which makes it more beginner-friendly, and it features a USB output for digitizing vinyl.
The included AT95EX cartridge was specially designed for the AT-LP5 and produces a good sound. However, you can easily swap it out if you have another stylus in mind. Like the Denon above, the AT-LP5 is a 2-speed player, which might not meet your requirements if you’re a big fan of 78s. Despite this weakness, this player is a great taste of what higher-end turntables have to offer and will serve you well if you’re beginning your journey into the world of vinyl.
The Pro-Ject Elemental USB Turntable is about as barebones as you can get. Its only luxury is USB-out for digitizing records. Other than that feature, this unique looking player is entirely manual. Want to switch from 33 1/3 records to 45? You’ll have to move the belt to change speeds manually.
Despite its odd looks and lack of features, the Pro-Ject Elemental is a great turntable. It also includes a high-quality Ortofon OM 5E MM cartridge with an elliptical stylus which plays beautifully. However, you will need a phono pre-amp to connect this player to most audio outputs, so factor that into the purchase price if you don’t already own one.