There are few things more fun than buying a turntable, but if you’re new to vinyl, the purchase can also come with a lot of questions.
Unless you’ve had quite a few years of experience under your belt or you obsessively research turntables just for fun, the list of features, terms, and options can seem overwhelming. That’s why we decided to make a list of the best beginner turntables, priced from $99 to $500, that offer everything (or almost everything) you will need.
All of the models come with a cartridge pre-installed and most have a built-in phono preamplifier. If anything about that sentence didn’t make any sense to you, read the brief and very basic glossary of definitions at the bottom of this article before exploring the list.
If you’re shopping for a turntable, first of all, good for you. Any of these will do the job so just get the one you like. If you’re shopping but not in a hurry, then definitely consider saving enough money to get into the $300 range, if only because of the better parts and quality control.
But most of all, have fun.
Note that if you are shopping for the holiday season, you may experience shipping delays or out-of-stock messages. As we wrap up 2020, some manufacturers are experiencing gear shortages. We have only included turntables that we believe to the very best within the beginner budget. However, when you purchase something through our affiliate links, Discogs may earn a commission.
Best Beginner Turntables
Audio-Technica sells more entry-level turntables than any other manufacturer and the company’s budget line starts here. The LP60X is largely made of plastic and only marginally outweighs a bag of sugar, but for $99 it will definitely play your records all day long. Even better, AT made several improvements in 2019 but didn’t raise the price.
The tonearm base has been upgraded to better reject vibrations, which can cause skipping. The internal power supply is now external, meaning less electronic noise pollution. And the looks have been significantly spiced up, with a redesigned body and several color options (the red and black is sharp).
This fully automatic, two-speed belt-drive turntable has a built-in phono preamplifier and can be used with powered speakers or with a traditional receiver and passive speakers.
Price: $179 without phono preamp, $249 with preamp
U-Turn made a splash in 2013 with these affordable turntables assembled in the United States that have lifestyle looks, are easy to set up, and have very good sound. They look very much like Rega or Pro-Ject turntables (more on those later) and come in a variety of increasingly insane colors (that purple is really something).
If you’re on a budget and already have a phono preamp, you can’t go wrong with the $179 version, which comes with an Audio-Technica AT91 cartridge. The $249 option with built-in preamp will cost another $70 but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pre for the price. Both are manual and spin at 33.3 and 45 rpm
U-Turn is famous for its customer service, so any problems or questions will be handled quickly.
This sleek Sony is largely minimalist but it does offer Bluetooth connectivity, which is extremely handy if you’re stuck in a small space and using powered Bluetooth speakers, or even a sound bar. If that doesn’t seem very hi-fi, it isn’t; the Sony is an affordable niche turntable that simply does its job well.
Upsides are nice sound, fully-automatic functions and ease of placement (it’s fairly tiny). The downsides are all ones pertaining to adjustability. The tonearm is a one-piece construction designed to be used only with the Sony-branded Audio Technica AT3600 cartridge, which is permanently installed. You can change, and even upgrade, the stylus but that’s it — there’s no counterweight and the anti-skating is preset.
The big brother to the LP60X, the LP120 series of turntables are perhaps the most-owned turntable in the world. It sports a classic DJ design based on the Technics SL-1200 family of turntables and comes in silver or black with a nice AT95E cartridge included. It adds a third speed, 78 rpm.
Everything about the 120XUSB is bigger, better, and more brawny than the LP60X. It weighs 20 lbs, has a direct-drive motor (no belt), a far better tonearm and offers a host of adjustments. It, too, has a built-in phono preamp but is fully manual, which isn’t a big deal for most users.
As you get deeper into the hobby, one cost-effective way to dramatically change the sound of your system is to get a different cartridge. This is where the adjustments are crucial because the ability to change the counterweight or tweak anti-skating is important when you switch cartridges.
Canada’s Fluance makes perhaps the prettiest entry-level turntables. The beefy MDF body of the RT-81, the company’s second least expensive model, is covered in a glossy veneer made of real walnut. It’s legit gorgeous.
The RT-81 offers two speeds, automatic stop, is belt-driven and comes with the ubiquitous AT95E cartridge. The black aluminum tonearm has an adjustable counterweight and adjustable anti-skate control.
All of the Fluance turntables are nice and top out at only $500, but the public has anointed the RT-81 as the most popular model due to its price and features; it’s currently sold out but more are on the way.
Of the budget turntables that I’ve personally spent a lot of time with, this remains my favorite. Something about it is just right. It sounds very good and looks great, with a MDF body that has a faux walnut wood veneer. It’s has two-speeds, is belt-driven and is fully manual with a built-in phono preamp.
It’s probably the carbon fiber tonearm that accounts for the LPW40’s refined sound. It’s an arm that wouldn’t embarrass itself on a more expensive turntable and effortlessly plays well with cartridges that cost twice what the LPW40 costs, so the included AT95E can be easily upgraded.
EISA, which stands for the Expert Imaging and Sound Association, has been handing out awards for achievements in audio since the early 1990s. Based in Europe with a global profile, its annual awards are objects of desire.
At the recent 2020-21 awards. Pro-Ject’s T1 won the EISA Best Value award, noting its “wonderfully weighty and detailed sound” for $329. We’re going with the SB model, which adds a built-in phono stage and electronic speed control for only $70 more. There’s also a glass platter, a one-piece aluminum tonearm designed specifically for the T1, and Ortofon OM 5E cartridge.
Meant to be plug-and-play, the T1 SB gets a lot of things right, as we noted in a 2019 review.
Rega, in business since 1973, is one of the world’s most respected makers of turntables. Co-founder Roy Gandy is still in charge and he was a champion of turntables and vinyl throughout the Dark Years.
The Rega Planar series is the company’s bread and butter, with eight models that top out with the RP10 at $5,700. The RP1 comes with the Rega Carbon cartridge pre-installed and its anti-skating force is preset. All you have to do is slide the counterweight on until it reaches a specified mark and you’re off. Well, almost off. You have to have a phono preamplifier of some sort in order to use it.
The P1 isn’t just an entry-level turntable, but an entry into audiophile gear with its simple construction and excellent sound. It can be upgraded by changing the platter, sub-platter, belt, cartridge and even the motor, so you can drive yourself crazy for years to come.
Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon series of turntables have proven extremely popular and have always offered a lot of bang for the buck at $449. The brand new EVO costs $50 more but every cent is being spent where it matters and reviews have been extraordinarily positive.
The motor, motor suspension, and platter have all been reworked with the intention of reducing resonances, which are the enemy of good vinyl playback. The included cartridge has also been updated to a Sumiko Rainier, a $150 value. This is a belt-driven two-speed that now has electronic speed control, so changing from 33.3 to 45 requires only a touch of a button instead of moving the belt, as on older models.
This does not have a built-in preamp. Repeat: does not. If your receiver or integrated amp already has a phono stage, or if you own a standalone phono stage, you’re good to go.
Yamaha is one of the great names in Japanese audio and its vintage gear is highly collectible. In recent years, the company has gotten back into the game at both the entry level and high end, and the TT-S303 represents great value. This was the first turntable Yamaha brought back to market, and they didn’t skimp on quality.
It could come with a better cartridge — the Audio-Technica AT3600 is fairly low-rent — but damn does this thing’s glossy piano black finish look good, and customer reviews have been stellar. It’s a two-speed, belt-driven model and has a built-in phono preamp.
When a record is playing, the tonearm is naturally pulled toward the center. That’s called skating. An anti-skate control applies a little pressure to pull the arm back toward the outer edge of the record. Cheaper turntables do this automatically, although they can be hit or miss. Nicer ‘tables have a manual adjustment.
As Audio-Technica explains on its website, “Anti-skate is needed in order to maintain good channel balance (obtain equal volume from the left and right channels), minimize distortion, and to minimize stylus and record wear. These goals can be realized if the stylus (needle) tip can remain centered in the record groove as the tonearm travels across the record.”
Belt drive vs. direct drive
Here’s a subject sure to get a bunch of stereo nerds fighting. A belt-drive turntable has a motor that turns a small pulley. You wrap a rubber belt around a 12-inch platter and then around the pulley. The platter spins.
A direct-drive turntable has a powerful motor that directly spins the platter, and its simplicity is why some favor it over belt drives, which direct drive enthusiasts claim are noisy and don’t hold proper speed (they do).
Each approach has its faults so pick whichever one you like, can afford, or sounds best to you. Definitely do not listen to DD fetishists who will tell you that belt-drive ‘tables require constant and complex maintenance. They do not. A belt will need to be changed every three to five years depending on usage, and it takes less than a minute. Of all the maintenance that audio gear can potentially require, changing a belt is by far one of the easiest things to do.
Discogs’ phono cartridge guide really gets into detail about what a cartridge is and does, so check it out. Here’s the short version.
A cartridge is comprised of a body, cantilever, stylus, rubber suspension, and some kind of motor to generate a signal. The cantilever is that long, skinny thing that people incorrectly refer to as a needle. The stylus is the diamond tip at the end of the cantilever. The suspension is what allows the stylus to ride the grooves.
Some cartridges have replaceable stylus assemblies and some don’t. All of the cartridges mentioned in this story do.
This is the round, heavy thing at the tail end of your tonearm. For lots of reasons, it’s best to have one that’s adjustable. The primary reason is that different cartridges like to have different vertical tracking forces (VTF) applied to them; that’s the force, measured in grams, that pushes a stylus into a record’s grooves.
An adjustable counterweight means that you’re in charge of the VTF, so if you switch to a heavier or lighter cartridge, you can adjust the VTF via the counterweight. All of the turntables in this story will have weight in grams printed on the counterweight to make adjustments easy.
Phono preamplifier, or phono stage
There are different implementations of the same function, which is to amplify and equalize the signal coming from your cartridge. If you don’t have some sort of phono preamp, you’re not going to hear any music.
Vinyl is recorded using the RIAA curve and any decent phono stage will equalize the signal from a cartridge to that curve. A lot of starter turntables have a built-in phono preamp, which means you can use them with powered speakers with a receiver that doesn’t have its own phono stage.
But if your receiver or integrated amplifier already has a phono preamp, which in this scenario is often called a phono stage, then use that one. There aren’t many phono preamps built into a turntable that will sound as good as one included with a receiver or integrated.
There are also standalone phono preamplifiers, which range in cost from $20 to $52,000. You’ll probably want to shoot for something in between. If you do use a receiver’s phono stage or a standalone, then be sure and flick the switch on the back of your turntable that says Phono/Line. You want it on Phono.