5 Good, Affordable Vinyl Record Players, Reviewed
Vinyl is not dead. In fact, it’s alive and growing. Listening to a record on a turntable is a transcendent experience, and it’s more accessible than ever.
Finding a good record player on a tight budget can be tricky. There’s a lot of competing information and plenty of conflicting reviews to wade through. Additionally, there’s a whole mess of features features to understand: dual function, MP3 capability, speed controls, etc.
This article is written to guide you towards a smart purchase. We’ll outline a few of our favourite budget turntables (most under $200), reviewing each one and giving a summary of the pros and cons.
We’ll start by talking about price tiers. Or, click here to skip that and jump straight to the reviews.
How Much Should You Budget for a Good Turntable?
“Inexpensive” is a relative term. I always encourage people to look at these sort of purchases as an investment. My father still has the Technics turntable he bought many years ago.
That said, it’s important to decide how much you can spend, and then look for a bargain within that price range. Here are some unfiltered thoughts on price tiers.
What about record players under $100?
In my experience, there’s not much value in this range. If your budget is significantly below $100 it’s better to look at the second hand market. Anything new likely represents a deep compromise on electronics, build quality, or cartridge. That said, there are a few (very few) exceptions.
Some purists will disagree, but I believe there are plenty of great turntables under $200, and it’s a sensible entry point. This range features better build quality, and you’ll start to see handy extra features like vinyl-to-MP3. However, I wouldn’t base your purchase on those add-ons.
If your turntable budget is around $500, that’s ideal. This is the best range to shop in, because many mid-level brands fit nicely within it. Unless you’re a total audiophile, you’ll be thrilled by the quality of sound these systems provide. Expect top-notch fit and finish, and no resonance issues.
1) Audio-Technica AT-LP120: Affordable, entry-level, direct-drive turntable
- Pros: Direct drive, cost is well below $300, feature rich, USB, plays 78s
- Cons: It’s an investment
- Price: $229
Audio-Technica is uber-popular, and their celebrated AT-LP120-USB player is a fantastic, inexpensive, entry-level turntable, with thousands of positive reviews. It’s our top pick.
It incorporates classic elements and high audio fidelity, with modern features like USB, anti-skate, and adjustable RPM (33, 45, 78.)
The powerful direct drive motor doesn’t suffer from the same noise transmission issues that cheap quality direct drive turntables do, thanks to superior construction and quiet motor technology.
What’s more, the LP120 is gorgeous. It comes with a clear plastic headshell, a selectable pre-amp, and digitizing software. This model has legions of fans, and it’s highly informative to skim through user reviews.
2) Fluance RT80: A premium vinyl record player under $200
- Pros: Premium finish, solid cabinet, vibration isolation.
- Cons: Not as feature rich as others on the list.
- Price: $199
Most of the turntables on this list are from well established brands, but Fluance is one you may not recognize. Don’t let that dissuade you.
Meet the RT80. This belt-drive record player is the perfect fit for a purist: simple, restrained, but produces an outstanding audio quality. It’s a bar-raiser.
With a carbon fiber cantilever, an AT-91 cartridge (with just 2 grams of track force), aluminum platter and felt turntable mat, we like everything about the fit, finish and componentry.
So why is it so inexpensive? Lack of features. The belt-driven table is dual function: good for 33 1/3, 45 but not 78s. It also doesn’t come with onboard USB encoding, so if you’re hoping to digitize your collection you’ll need another solution.
3) Crosley C100: Attractive, manual, belt-drive record player
- Pros: Very affordable, great price-to-quality ratio, easy to upgrade
- Cons: No MP3, no 78s
- Price: $126.95
When people with a smaller budget ask about the best turntable for the money, the wallet-friendly Crosley C100 instantly jumps to mind. This beautiful retro-modern vinyl player has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
It’s manual, meaning you position the stylus by hand. That’s not a big deal, and it’s easy to learn. The light, counterweighted tone arm has a nice feel and the included cartridge is a great starting point, sound-wise.
The solid construction and belt-driven motor transmit almost no vibration or unwanted resonance, and the hard shell will keep your player dust-free when not in use.
There’s no built-in MP3 encoding, and you’re limited to 33 1/3 and 45 RPMs. But for just a little over $100 this is a capable, budget-friendly record player that looks stunning.
Audio-Technica AT-LP60: Cheap, fully automatic turntable under $100
- Pros: Fantastically affordable, small and low-profile, great sound
- Cons: Not too many features
- Price: $79
Another Audio Technica? Yes indeed. I wanted to include a sub-$100 option. Unlike the LP120, the simple and impressively affordable AT-LP60 uses a belt drive system. It’s perfect for anyone seeking a truly inexpensive turntable system with good reviews.
They’ve actually recently updated the looks of the AT-LP60, and I’m here for it. It’s attractive, low profile and small, but it hasn’t lost its retro charm.
It comes with a dual-magnet cartridge with a replacement stylus, and a built-in phono pre-amp to connect to your sound system. Playback is fully automatic, and sound quality is beautiful, with negligible resonance and no noticeable vibration, despite the small size and low weight. That speaks to its balance.
As expected, you have 33 & 45 playback. At just $79, it’s one of the best and most affordable turntables and an easy choice for vinyl newbies wanting to get their feet wet.
Terminology and Features Explained
You’ll see a lot of terms thrown around, which can admittedly be confusing. Here are a few things to consider when weighing your options.
– Understanding Cartridges
The cartridge is the bit on the end of the tone arm that contacts the record itself. Cartridge replacement is an easy upgrade. Cartridges are often called ‘needles’, but that little metal bit is just one component (it’s technically named the stylus.)
Do turntables come with a cartridge? A cartridge is usually removable and replaceable, but not every turntable comes with one. Make sure that yours does. If it doesn’t, plan to pick one up.
– How to Take Care of Records
Caring for your vinyl collection is essential and since it’s a fairly in-depth subject, we’ve actually written a whole article on record care and storage.
– Think About Size and Shape
Before you make your choice, consider where your record player will live. They require a solid, flat surface to sit on, otherwise your listening experience may suffer.
With that in mind, think about the size, shape, and weight of the player you’re considering, and how your home can accommodate it.
– Direct Drive or Belt-Driven?
Direct drive turntables are typically stronger. They usually allow you to start the record with the needle down from a standstill. Professional DJs typically prefer direct drive tables. However, they have a bad reputation for resonance issues and noise transmission, (which you’ll only really find with low-cost models.)
Belt drives are generally cheaper, quieter and smoother, but require you to drop the needle while spinning, which involves some practice.
Anti-skate prevents the stylus from skipping grooves and makes sure that the left and right channels have more or less equal strength. The anti-skate mechanism may need to be adjusted occasionally, but this is a nice feature to have.
USB: When a turntable lists itself as USB, that usually refers to digital conversion, where you transfer the record into MP3 format. Many modern turntable systems utilize USB functionality, but it’s not essential.