A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
If you’re in the market for a turntable, you’ll soon learn that what is best for some people might not be best for others. For example, you might be looking for something stylish to decorate a nook in your living room or for something technical to make the most of your limited-edition CRASH vinyl. Maybe you’re wondering whether or not to buy a Bluetooth-enabled option in the Richer Sounds sale. Whatever your needs, or your budget, if you are a beginner to the world of turntables, the terminology — automatic versus semi-automatic, preamp or no preamp — can be confusing.
We spoke to eight experts, including DJs, producers, and other audio professionals, to find out the best options for beginners. One word of advice: All our experts advised avoiding one very popular all-in-one record player that comes in a suitcase. “Whatever you do, don’t get a Crosley,” said DJ Prestige of the blog Flea Market Funk. Dan Alani, a DJ at Reprezent radio, agreed that “bargain-priced retro-styled players” like Crosley “have been known to damage records, potentially ruining your collection.”
What we’re looking for
Connectivity: We’re looking for turntables that connect to speakers with ease, including USB, Bluetooth, and aux. USB ports will allow users to digitise their vinyls, while Bluetooth-compatible models can link up to wireless speakers. A wired output, such as a built-in phono amp (also known as a phono stage), allows for connectivity via aux cords and is considered standard for turntables. These are all important, as our experts stressed the importance of external speakers for your turntables — internal vibrations will damage the vinyl over time.
Automation: This refers to how you get the turntable’s stylus (the technical term for the needlelike tip at the end of the arm) on and off the record. Automatic turntables will lift the stylus and gently lower it onto the right spot. When the record is finished, the arm will move back in place. Semi-automatic turntables will lift the arm off the record but will not lower it down, while manual ones require you to do this yourself. While automatic options were once considered more expensive, we’ve noticed them becoming much more common, typically with push-button functionality. They are also better for beginners, as they prevent unnecessary damage to your vinyl (for example, if you drop the stylus too aggressively).
Drive: A turntable’s surface is called a platter, where the motor can be found, and there are two kinds of drives that are used to spin the record. A belt drive connects the vinyl to the motor via a thin belt, while a direct drive is where the vinyl is placed directly on top of the motor. Our experts told us this is less of a deciding factor when choosing a turntable — sound quality, connectivity, and design and construction are all more important — but it will have a notable impact on the price. We only feature one direct drive here, and it’s the most expensive model. Compared to belt drives, direct drives feature more control over the record speed, making them more popular with DJs.
Best overall turntable
Belt drive | Bluetooth connectivity | Automatic | Built-in phono amp
This Sony turntable came recommended by four experts we spoke to, including Alex Bean, a DJ and senior marketing manager at RCA; Declan McGlynn, digital tech editor at DJ Mag; and music journalist Jessica Lipsky. Bean said it was a “good entry-level turntable,” while McGlynn considered it a good all-rounder at a good price. This is the most recent iteration of the PS-LX turntable, which has been updated to include Bluetooth functionality and a USB output, and it is powered by a belt-driven turntable. Mark Steinberg, chief technologist and turntable specialist at B&H Photo Video, said it’s one of his favourites for the price because Sony is such a trustworthy brand. We were also impressed with both its popularity and availability — it was the best-rated turntable according to customers at Currys and John Lewis and came highly rated on Amazon as well. McGlynn says that while it has stylish features, such as the tonearm, the audio options should also suit most listeners. “The Bluetooth audio might not be suitable for high-end audio needs, [but] it’s a useful feature for headphones or cable-free obsessives. It also features a built-in phono amp for immediate plug-and-play.”
Best (less expensive) turntable
Belt drive | Automatic | USB connectivity
Audio-Technica is one of the most respected turntable-makers, and their inexpensive LP60 model is a good model if you’re looking for something a little more basic. Like the Sony PS-LX, it features a belt drive, which is more common with less expensive models. According to Alani, “The LP60X has everything you need for your first player: The automatic operation allows for hassle-free playing, it features a range of connection options, and it has a dust cover to keep your vinyl looking and sounding sharp.” Though it lacks Bluetooth connectivity, it does have a USB port (a Bluetooth-enabled model, appropriately named the LP60XBT, is out of stock everywhere we looked). Audio-Technica has a great reputation in the record-player industry and comes endorsed by three of our experts: DJ Prestige, Steinberg, and Mike Davis, owner of New York City’s Academy Records.
Best turntable for absolute beginners
Belt drive | USB connectivity | Preamp | Semi-automatic
We wanted to find a turntable that was close to £100 but still had some notable features, and this Lenco model is just the thing for beginners, according to DJ and producer Lauren Andrews, who performs under the name La La: “This is a great entry-level product. I’d recommend this for someone looking to explore listening to music on vinyl. They’re so easy to use, and they come in tons of different colours.” It includes features such as USB connectivity, auto return, and a dust cover, and while the sound quality won’t be as impressive as more expensive models, it can connect to external speakers via RCA cables, which come included with the turntable. It also features a preamp, reducing the need to buy an amplifier. On Amazon, it has 277 reviews, with many buyers upgrading to this model after initially buying the much-maligned Crosley turntable. It was also popular with teens and elderly customers — one woman said that she opted for the Lenco after trading in a more technical model, and this was easy to use with good sound quality. Another noted that while the platter and arm are a bit lightweight, for the price, it still does an excellent job, with the USB connectivity helping them digitise over 200 records. This might not last as long as other options on our list, but we’re confident it’s a great place to start.
Best direct-drive turntable
Direct drive | Preamp | Bluetooth and USB connectivity | Manual
Consider this a more technical, upgraded version of the LP60 we featured above. The Audio-Technica LP120X is modelled — not so subtly — after what is perhaps the most iconic turntable of all time: the discontinued Technics 1200.
This record player’s key feature is the magnet-powered direct drive, which is usually found in only professional-grade turntables or other more expensive units. Unlike the belt drive, a direct drive will rarely, if ever, need service, explains Prestige, who says it can handle records of all sizes without any fiddling under the hood. “If I were starting over right now, I’d probably get this,” he says, due to the quality you get for the price. Although Davis says he has never used the 120X, “I bought a 120 for my nephew, and he loves it. And he bought one for his friend, who loves it too.”
For Steinberg, Prestige, and Davis, this record player checks other appealing boxes: It has a built-in preamp, so the only other thing you need in order to use it is a powered speaker, and it features a USB output that allows you to connect it to your computer in case you want to archive your vinyl. According to Steinberg, the 120X “has a more efficient motor, so it needs less energy and gets up to speed faster.” Audio-Technica does a great job of listening to customer feedback, Steinberg says, and the 120X reflects that with its lower profile, stronger preamp, and a power supply that is built into the charging cord instead of the turntable itself.
Dan Alani, Reprezent radio
Lauren Andrews, a.k.a. La La, DJ and producer
Alex Bean, DJ and senior marketing manager at RCA
Mike Davis, owner of New York City’s Academy Records
Declan McGlynn, digital tech editor at DJ Mag
Jessica Lipsky, music journalist
Mark Steinberg, chief technologist and turntable specialist at B&H Photo Video
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