The world of record players and vinyl can be intimidating to the uninitiated because the gear that playing records requires (preamps, amps, receivers) can make it seem like an expensive, overly complicated hobby. But that’s not true, according to the experts we spoke with — including DJs, record-store owners, and general vinyl geeks — all of whom assured us that you don’t need more than a turntable and a pair of powered speakers, i.e., speakers with a built-in amplifier, to get started (those by Audioengine, like the A2+ model on this list, are a good brand to start with, according to DJ Prestige of the blog Fleamarket Funk).
When we chatted with experts about the best turntables for people new to the world of playing records, each had their own favourites, but they all advised avoiding one very popular all-in-one record player that comes in a suitcase: “Whatever you do, don’t get a Crosley,” said Prestige, who claims that if you’re serious about your new hobby, you should look for machines with better sound quality (and with needles that won’t “eventually ruin your records”). The turntables below are best suited for those new to playing vinyl, but they aren’t necessarily “entry level,” because even the least expensive of the lot contains quality parts and will last for some time with regular care. Most models on this list contain a built-in preamp, since our experts say that such turntables are the easiest and most straightforward to use. “See how that works, and then if you see yourself wanting something better, you can upgrade slowly down the line,” explains Mike Davis, owner of New York City’s Academy Records.
Best overall turntable
The Audio-Technica LP 120X is modelled — not so subtly — after what is probably the most iconic turntable of all time, the discontinued Technics 1200. It actually replaces our experts’ beloved LP 120 (although discontinued, the 120 is still in stock here), which Mark Steinberg, the chief technologist and turntable specialist at B&H Photo and Video, says he’ll recommend to any customer — but he especially suggests it to those newer to vinyl who want something a little nicer to play their records on.
This record player’s key feature is the magnet-powered “direct drive,” which is usually only found in professional-grade turntables or other, more expensive units. Unlike turntables with a “belt drive” (a motor powered by replaceable belts that wear down with use and may need to be swapped depending on the type of record you play), 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” due to the quality you get for the price, says the DJ of 20 years. Although Davis has never used the 120 or 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 too. Its maker, Audio-Technica, has a great reputation in the industry; it has a built-in preamp, so the only other thing you need 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.
And now it’s even better. 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 pre-amp, and a power supply that’s built into the charging cord instead of the turntable itself.
Best less expensive turntable
For a less expensive option for starter record collectors, music journalist Jessica Lipsky suggests this Sony belt-drive turntable, which she says she received ten years ago and still uses. Like the LP 60 above, it comes in a Bluetooth-equipped model for a higher price, but Lipsky told us she prefers the standard, lower-tech version. “I’ve stuck with this because it’s simple,” she says. She’s a fan of the handy dust cover, and she likes that it will be easy to plug into any system she wants in the future. Steinberg also recommends it, saying it’s one of his favourites for the price because Sony is a trustworthy brand and this model is so straightforward. Like the LP 60, it’s also fully automatic, but unlike that model, this one comes with a USB output at no extra cost.
Steinberg also recommends this Audio-Technica model as a more stylish version of the brand’s LP 60 or LP 120. While it does have a cover, it’s less technical looking than its sister turntables but still includes a built-in preamp. But the LP3 does not feature USB or Bluetooth connectivity.
Best turntable without preamp
Pro-Ject “pretty much only makes turntables,” says Steinberg, who notes that many of its models are priced “in the thousands,” making something like this a great choice for someone who wants to dip their toes into the higher-end market. Davis and Prestige agree that Pro-Ject turntables are known for their minimalist build, streamlined look, and high-quality materials like a cartridge made by Ortofon, a company Steinberg says “has a long history” of producing audiophile-approved components. Listeners who are more particular about their sound systems may prefer it to others on this list because it does not come with a built-in preamp, giving them more flexibility when it comes to the sound system they hook this turntable up to. Nor does this have USB or Bluetooth, which vinyl purists may also appreciate.
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A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist US.