Three best turntables
It's a fact: CDs are out and records are in! But before you can listen to your old, long-forgotten LPs or check out the new vinyl you just bought at your local record store, you'll need a turntable on which to play them.
Deciding to buy a record player is the easy part. Finding the right one for you is the challenge, especially if you're a first-time buyer. We at BestReviews have compiled this short but sweet buying guide to help you find the best turntable.
Considerations when choosing turntables
How often will you be using your record player?
If you'll probably only bust out something from your vinyl collection a handful of times a year, buying the finest, most expensive turntable is overkill. On the other hand, someone who is likely to play records daily, or at least several times a week, will require a quality turntable that can stand up to regular use.
Do you need digital capabilities?
Some turntables have a USB port or other connectors that allow you to link your record player to your computer. This is handy if you have an old record collection you want to digitize so you can listen to it on your PC or on the go. It's also a great feature if you make music on your computer and would like to be able to sample records.
What's your budget?
Basic record players start at less than $50, but don't expect decent sound quality at this price. We'd suggest spending somewhere in the $100 to $300 range if you want a serviceable record player for regular use or $300 to $600 for a good high-end model. However, if you want a truly exception top-of-the-line turntable, you could spend up to $5,000.
Drive type: Turntables are either direct-drive or belt-drive. Belt-drive models have an independent motor that uses a rubber belt to turn the platter. These models produce less background noise, so most serious audiophiles prefer them. Direct-drive turntables have an internal motor attached to the platter. These models are simpler to set up and suitable for DJing.
Tonearm: The tonearm is what holds the stylus and cartridge in position to get sound from the record. A well-balanced tonearm prevents skipping and scratching. Higher-end models have tonearms with adjustable counterbalance weights to keep the stylus from scratching the vinyl.
Playback speeds: It's not quite as simple as putting your record on the turntable and letting it rip. You need to select the right playback speed. Most modern records play at either 33 1/3 or 45 rpm, but some old records (known as 78s) play at 78 rpm. Generally speaking, 12-inch and 10-inch records play at 33 1/3 rpm and 7-inch records play at 45 rpm, but there are some exceptions. The playback speed should be written somewhere on the record itself or its sleeve. Some record players only play 33 1/3 and 45 rpm, but if you collect vintage vinyl, you'll want a model that can also play 78 rpm.
Q. Will I need separate speakers for my turntable?
A. While you can find some turntables with built-in speakers, they aren't generally the best quality. All other turntables require separate speakers linked to a stereo system with a built-in phono preamp. If your stereo system doesn't have a phono preamp, you can buy one separately and link it up to your stereo system.
Q. Where can I buy records?
A. Vinyl records are extremely popular right now, so you can buy them in most places where you'd find CDs, such as independent record stores, big-box retailers, Amazon, and other online sellers, flea markets, and online auction sites.
Q. Do vinyl records really sound better than CDs?
A. Many collectors believe that you get a certain richness and warmth of sound from vinyl that you can't get from a digitally compressed compact disc. While it's likely that there's some truth to this, the average casual listener probably won't hear much of a difference. There are other benefits to collecting vinyl, however, such as the large size of the artwork and the fact that your record collection may appreciate in value.
Turntables we recommend
Best of the best: Audio-Technica Direct-Drive Professional Turntable
Our take: This direct-drive turntable is simple to use and has a built-in stereo preamp, so it can plug straight into any speakers or stereo system.
What we like: Can play records at 33 1/3, 45, or 78 rpm. We love the pitch change slider control and reverse play capability.
What we dislike: Some people prefer the sound quality of belt-drive turntables.
Best bang for your buck: Jensen 3-Speed Stereo Turntable
Our take: A solid, budget-conscious choice for anyone who wants an affordable turntable but isn't too worried about sound quality.
What we like: The built-in speakers are extremely convenient and you won't need any kind of external speakers or stereo system. Can also play AM/FM radio.
What we dislike: The sound quality isn't all that great.
Our take: This versatile belt-drive turntable has built-in speakers of passable quality, but it can also easily be linked to external speakers or a stereo system.
What we like: Available in a classic natural wood finish or a modern glossy black finish. Three playback speed options.
What we dislike: Belt must be properly aligned for optimum performance, which can be fiddly.
Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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