The 8 best vintage turntables and what to look out for when buying second hand

The 8 best vintage turntables and what to look out for when buying second hand

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Michell

Why buy new when you can buy old? Having run down the best budget, DJ and home listening turntables, Paul Rigby makes a case for why going vintage can offer great deals and superb performance.


Words: Paul Rigby


Buying a vintage turntable is a great option for vinyl fans. For many, a budget for any sort of hi-fi is a low priority. Once the bills are paid, it can be virtually impossible to purchase a new, top quality hi-fi system. Going vintage can offer quality at a low cost. Others may have spent a bundle on a new deck but have little in reserve for that second system that would be ideal for a study, bedroom or spare room. Some might even want to revisit younger days when the then ‘new’ turntables were objects of desire and now they can afford to purchase one, or even two of these classic designs.

Below, we have listed our Top 8 vintage purchases but, before you run off to your local second-hand store or eBay account, pause for thought.

It is true that you can grab some startling bargains on the vintage circuit with beautifully engineered turntables going cheap but bear in mind a couple of things. Firstly, do some research about the state of current prices. Don’t be conned into paying over the odds. Make sure that turntable that is on offer for £200 isn’t shifting for £50 a pop elsewhere.

There may be, however, a good reason why any particular vintage turntable is for sale for a relatively high price, which brings me to my next caveat: condition. Don’t buy junk.

Vintage turntables are vintage for a reason. They have been well used, are old but some may not have been well cared for – you are recommended to examine any turntable before you buy it. If you can do this in person then all the better. Ask for a demo and see the thing working (or otherwise) in action. Otherwise, you need to ask as many questions as possible and request as many close-up photographs of the deck from all angles to get a closer look at the less photogenic aspects of the deck.

Issues to be aware of include the condition of the stylus, the bearing (When was the bearing oil last replaced? Does the platter make scraping sounds when it rotates?) The attached cables, are they in good condition? Any signs of fraying or rust? Does the arm move freely on its bearing? Is the motor still usable? How about the belt, if applicable, does it need replacing? Look inside the chassis – is it full of rubbish, dust and fluff? Does the turntable hum? There may be grounding issues.

If you can sort out issues of this nature or you ‘know a man who can’ then you can buy with confidence but if your skills are limited then buy with an extra measure of caution and be selective in your buying choices.


NAD

NAD 533
Typical Price: £50

Here’s a bit of a dark horse for you. Not known for its turntables but still a respected name in hi-fi, NAD produced this turntable based upon the highly respected Rega Planer 2 turntable, so it has an impeccable pedigree. Because hardly anyone knows that, though, you can find these decks for very silly money.


thorens

THORENS TD180
Typical price: £50

A manufacturer who was both familiar on the hi-fi scene during the 80s and 90s and who faded from grace when vinyl sales suffered in the 90s. The company is back and making turntables but its classic originals, if looked after, would serve you very well indeed. In fact, a TD180 in decent condition might be all you ever need for vinyl play.


rega2

REGA PLANAR 3
Typical Price: £100

While you can still pick up a brand new RP3 (as the Planer 3 is now called) for around £500, the original Planer 3 was, and remains, a classic turntable. Back in the 80s and 90s, the Planer 3 reigned supreme as the budget turntable to own. It provided and still provides superb value for money. Make sure the arm is supplied but think about buying a new cartridge for it. You’re only looking at around £20 for the likes of an Audio Technica AT-95E.


Michell

MICHELL FOCUS ONE
Typical Price: £200

In fact, if you can find any second hand Michell turntable available to buy at a reasonable price and it is in decent working order – buy it. Firstly, all Michells produce excellent sound quality, all are built to a very high standard in engineering terms and, even better, London-based Michell will service any of their decks that you ship over to them. I’ve visited their workshop and can assure you that they are a safe bet.


technics

TECHNICS SL-1200
Typical Price: £200+

Not, strictly speaking, the best hi-fi turntable that you have ever heard in your life, the SL-1200 is blessed with magnificent bass characteristics from its direct drive motor. There are, however, a host of audiophile upgrade kits on the market to turn a basic SL-1200 into a mean audiophile killer of a turntable. A quick ‘Technics SL-1200 upgrade’ Google will tell you everything you need to know.


Systemdek 2

SYSTEMDEK IIX
Typical Price £220

Based in Scotland, this venerable manufacturer was one of the household names of hi-fi until it faded away in the 90s. Now, the son of the original owner has resurrected the company and, it is said, will talk to people who want to service their old decks. The IIX offered great sound quality. Google the company and have a word about servicing any prospective Systemdek purchase.


Linn Axis3

LINN AXIS
Typical Price: £250

The Axis was produced as a cut down Linn Sondek, the classic – and very expensive – turntable that is still made in Scotland. Unlike the Axis, that is. You will often find an Axis with one of a few Linn-supplied, integrated arms and cartridges. The price may vary depending on the type of arm and cartridge fitted, though. Watch out for decks stored in damp conditions, producing split and swollen MDF chassis seams.


Pink-Triangle-Tarantella

PINK TRIANGLE TARANTELLA
Typical Price: £400

The company died and turned into the outfit now known as Funk Firm but the older Pink Triangle decks were always seen as direct competitors to the Linn Sondek. They are still highly prized. In fact, the reissue record label, Ace, uses a Pink Triangle in its mastering studio to this day. The Tarantella features awesome sound quality if set up properly.

  • marduk

    The name is Rega Planar not Planer mind you..

  • JBS

    How about Rotel? is the RP-3000 any good?

    • Paul Rigby

      Ooops! Sorry JBS, didn’t see you there. The Rotel? It looked the
      business, that’s for sure. The sound wasn’t particularly open and it
      could be a bit noisy, though. I’d recommend a wall shelf, if possible
      (Decent Audio make a good one). If not plenty of isolation underneath.
      Check out people like Russ Andrews or Mains-Cables-R-US for that (or
      Hush isolation platforms, if you have cash in your pocket). A good
      quality mat would help too. Try Oyaide, Russ Andrews again or Origin
      Live.

  • SonictheHedgehog

    Where are you finding a tarantula for £400? I never see these that low by any means, even in non-working condition.

    • Paul Rigby

      On eBay – at the time the feature was written. Gotta be on the ball, Sonic!

  • Deradave

    I have many turntables including a full monty lp12.
    What I can confirm is that a technics1210/1200 with standard arm, correctly set up, plays music to enjoy etc. I am running mine with the linn karma cartridge and it almost beats the linn.
    So save your money and buy a mk2′ they sound the best, before the secret is out and the price rockets

    • richard vreede

      If you just use good armwire and let you platter re-balance; That’s why you have platters, new 160 euro and new 400 euro and painting is nice but i have to agree, you a whole new arm to be sure for only 70 euro and replace it with good wire and go straight to a rca-out , they don’t sound bad at all , but you allways have to replace the shitty components on the motherboard , like the ubercheap potentiometres and put on closed once and new standard rotor bearingsunit. for 40 euro. But only the 1200 serie was brought on the market as budgethifi, which is a term which doesn’t maken sense, it’s just a nice stereo turntable and the mk2 is made with mixing in mind , enough hifi models technics has made

  • richard vreede

    what a bs about the mitchell and technics; And the rega would i only allready buy for the arm, which perfectly is to rebuild to a hifi one…. whatever that is..nice sounding without the digital manipulation to change the soundstage of the system, which offcourse is done these days anyway, instead of making roomacoustics better, the dsp may fuck up the essence of hifi and you’ve wasted a lot of money:)… But for the first time i say a michell for sale with sme arm se and that’s that cheap? not on this planet And a technics has to be an old 12xxmk2 and never refurbished, but a mk5 can cost you easily 1000, mine are:). , but really revised with other made psu, new arm with good wire straight to wtb rca’s and damped within etc. But my hifi table is a blue note with a 60 michell arm and incognitowiring. I love the table, but those technoarms…. sound good, but like an ak-47. , is has no soul.

  • MrCoopersonic

    I assume that you are in the US, right? I do not know much about the American market but ALL of the abovementioned decks sell for considerably higher prices here in Europe. There hasn’t been a decent SL-1200 under 400 US$ for ages. “As new” ones now often fetch more than 1000 Euros (which it may well be worth considering the prices of new decks). Myself, I bought a very good Mk V example two years ago for roughly 500 $ (with a cheapo DJ stylus) and consider myself rather lucky.

    Regas usually sell for no less than 2/3 or even 3/4 of their current steet price, even more if upgraded to a higher quality arm and/or pickup system. The NAD is a bit of a sleeper, true. But for 50 $? No way! The Thorens TD 180 wouldn’t be my choice either. If Thorens, go for a 320 or similar.

    The condition of the stylus on the other hand really should not be of any concern when buying 2nd hand. Buying a replacement stylus (or complete pickup) always is the safest bet anyway. I’d only be willing to pay a bit extra if the current owner guarantees for the condition of a high class stylus (which of course will have to be verified in some way nonetheless).

    Unbelievably abesent from the list and IMHO indispensable are a couple of DUAL models like the 721, 741, 750, 5000, Golden One or even a rather cheap 505-3), legendary Micro Seikis and Luxmans and at the very least a few words about a whole selection of Sansui, Onkyo, Denon, Kenwood, JVC, Akai or Sony/Wega decks that really are available for silly small money whilst still being both better sounding AND more comfortable (semi-/automatic, hinged covers etc.) than any of the current entry level players by ProJect & Co.).

    Also worthwhile mentioning: Special constructions such as linear trackers (e.g. by Revox and Technics (SL-7 and SL-10 are built like tanks)) despite their technical delicacies.

    • Mario

      True on the Duals. Never owned one but my audio tech told me good things about the 1209 and 1219 models, all belt driven.

      How about the Marantz? I owned a 6270Q, solidly built. The 6300 is supposed to be far better.

      And the Denon tables? The Fisher MT models? I live in America and I buy my audio stuff off eBay (say all you want about eBay, but I get a refund if something doesn’t work). The prices cited in this article are from Utopia. Turntable prices, as well as cartridges and styli, are all over the map, go up and down quite wildly. I could get a Technics SL-D2 for $50 one day (no issues whatsoever) then pay $200 two months later.

      • Ted Blumenthal

        The Dual models you mentioned, known as “the 9’s” are not belt driven. These are idler drive turntables. I own the 1219 and it is the best sounding turntable I’ve ever owned. Would put it up against almost any other turntable in most price points. A tank too! Fully automatic, 7 pound platter. Put a good quality cartridge on it and you have a true audiophile grade piece of vintage luxury. Awesome service available for them as well from Bill Neumann at fixmydual.com (in West DesMoine, Iowa). You ship it, he fixes it to like new at a very reasonable cost.

    • Paul Rigby

      See above re. prices. Also, we are limited in terms of space so you’re very welcome to list your missing favourites.

  • Steven

    In what world are you gunna get a Planar 3 for £100?

    • Lora De Allesio

      Exactly my thoughts. More like 250 USD if you r very lucky

      • Marsh Gooch

        I’ve got a Rega P3/24 (successor to the Planar 3) and I love it. Upgraded to a Nagaoka MP300 cart a couple years ago, the PSU-TT power supply upgrade and the white drive belt.
        At this point all it needs is a cosmetic fix (thanks to a bozo hi fi repairman in San Diego) and it’ll be back up to snuff. I plan on keeping it for a long time.

        • Dries

          If you plan on keeping it for a long while, a worthwile upgrade would be a groovetracer subplatter. The stock one is by far the weakest link in the turntable, the ones offered by groovetracer really are a big improvement!

          • Marsh Gooch

            Have you got one yourself? I have to admit I’m leary of these kinds of tweaks though I’m skeptical by nature!

    • Paul Rigby

      We’re talking Planar 3 and not RP3, don’t forget. At the time of writing, there were a couple on eBay for that price and, such is the nature of this particular article, prices fluctuate based on demand, of course which is, as vinyl becomes more popular, going upwards. I notice there’s one ready for bidding for £125 right now, incidentally. Granted, it’s an auction item but, even so…

  • andy medlock

    I have two TECHNICS SL-1210 for sale only ever used in my lounge any one got an idea how much?

    • glambos

      if you figure out how much you want to sell one for, please let me know!

      • andy medlock

        They have lids, slip-mats and ungraded cartridges, I’ll chuck in a descent mixer and call £800 ONO?

  • eddiegamble@aol.com

    There’s no way you’re gonna tell me that any model Garrard is better than any United Audio Dual!

  • Stuart

    Really? I mean for decades every “new” “best” was and is always compared to the Linn Sondek LP-12. If there was a list of five, it has to be there, list of three, has to be there, if there is one, it is it. The Axis, Rega P2 and P3 are both good too but the LP-12 is the one.

    • VonSwenson

      I have an LP-12 I use as my backup “spare” turntable. I preferentially use a B&O 2400 for three reasons: it’s much more stable to floor vibrations, it has auto arm pickup at the end of a side, and it plays 45s as well as 33 rpm records. As for sound quality, the Linn is very good, but I prefer the B&O.

  • VetTeacher

    If the 1200’s on there, the Pioneer PL-L1000 (also known as the Phase Linear 8000) and the Pioneer PL-630 should be as well. With some well deployed sorbothane you can jack those babies up well above typical mass market performance.

  • Mario

    First, “Words: Paul Rigby.” Website owners: ever heard of “Written by” or “Writing today” or similar expressions?

    Second, it seems that Mr. Rigby is only familiar with the fancy schmancy expensive brands like Rega, Michell, Linn Sondek and Thorens. I own a Technics SL-D2 and a JVC QL-F4, both solid performers. They both cost me US$100 on average in 2015.

    What the Technics 1200 MK description does not mention is that it’s a highly prized model because of its DJ roots (it’s an audiophile dream, if online forum comments are to be believed). However, good luck finding a 1200 for less than US$400!

    Those other good-looking tables featured on this article are not wallet-friendly. I owned a Thorens T-170 this year and sold it quickly. Piece of rubbish that retails for $799 (US dollars) brand new; I was lucky to buy it with a couple of issues for $75 and resold it for a little more to someone who didn’t care that the tiny dinky motor only does 33 1/2 speed. Everything about the modern Thorens speak of cheap molded stuff.

    • Paul Rigby

      House style, Mario, house style.
      Thanks for your list of favourite decks. See above re. prices.

  • Anna

    hi guys – could I ask for your help? I want to send a brand new (never used…) 1965 Garrard 3000 – in original packaging etc. Would anyone know what it might be worth? Thank you

  • David Hussey

    Wow what an unhelpful article Technics in there as an overpriced non HiFi turntable but no mention of Dual’s admirable models which formed the main stay of many a system and Sansui’s Sr222 an awesome turntable and one I use to this day, Garrard made some corkers and not forgetting Sony and so on I’m sorry but if I didn’t know better I would call this article biased thank God Apple didn’t make a turntable!

    • Paul Rigby

      I’m limited in terms of space so cannot mention all turntables, I’m sure you can appreciate that David. The idea is to be as diverse as possible within the remit. Thats for your suggestions, though, they all help to give other users further options. Don’t forget to check out our other turntable-related features too with other recommendations.

      • James Frace

        I’d have to add, I have 2 Dual turntables. A 701, and 1229Q that were purchased used. The 701 was $227.39, and the 1229Q was $128.50. They came fully working and with all amenities they had. since I purchased them,I had them both fully restored which ran me $200.00 per table, and that is still less than some of the prices above. I have matched both tables to numerous tables with the same cables, pre amps, cartridges, records, everything imaginable, and they have either played as well or better than $1,000.00 units purchased used. I know things are subjective to each ones ears, but I’ve made several people extremely mad that they spent money on tables only to have an inferior table to the lowly Duals. The last one was an AR- ES1. It was blown out of the water. I have redone both plinths myself and they use a Stanton 881S MKII and Ortofon VMS 30E MKII cartridge. I haven’t heard anything yet that has outperformed either table.

  • John Pesack

    The NAD 533 shown in the photo looks like it has been upgraded with a glass or acrylic platter in the style of modern Rega decks; the original deck shipped with an MDF platter and a black felt mat. As you mentioned, this turntable is a rebadged Rega Planar 2, so it comes stock with the RB250 tonearm and the ubiquitous Elektra Goldring cartridge. Also, not shown in the photo is the beautiful smoked plastic dust cover that attaches to the back via hinges. I bought one of these new in 1994 to use as my primary turntable and am now using it in my office, having upgraded my main system deck to a Marantz TT-15S1. The NAD is a great sounding turntable, not perfect by any means, but definitely worthwhile if you can find one at a reasonable price. I would strongly recommend upgrading the Elektra Goldring cartridge to an Ortofon 2M Red for $100. It’s nice to see that someone is giving this rather obscure turntable some well-deserved recognition.

  • Joe

    I have a very lively listening room 30′ by 17′ on a suspended parquet floor. For less than £10K (deck + arm+ cartridge), is there an objective reason why, say, suspended decks will perform better than high mass decks? My loudspeakers are weird – Eminent Technology LFT 8b http://www.eminent-tech.com/main.html . These are on mini stands 6″ off the ground. The deck will be placed on a wall shelf – the wall is made of stone.
    This question goes beyond subjective preferences for specific decks.

    • Paul Rigby

      I prefer a deck with a suspended chase because they tend to incorporate systems that will drain away destructive noise and distortions that adversely affect sound quality. High mass designs (very generally speaking) are only partially successful at doing this. In fact, most of the time, the destructive noise just bounced in and around that thick platter and doesn’t actually go anywhere. A wall shelf is highly recommended so well done on that one.

  • Davaudio

    Of all the wonderful and beautiful Thorens built you chose the TD180?! If I found one for 50 Quid I would probably buy it to resell for profit. That Thorens in my opinion is boring and not that good. I use a TD145MKII daily and enjoy it. With a good cartridge many tables sound good. This is one of the more interesting “Best of” lists I have seen. Not the usual suspects. 200 for an SL-1200 is a fixer upper price. Over the years the price has climb to absurd levels that I could never justify.

  • Esther Robertson

    is it expensive to ground turntable decks

    • Paul Rigby

      When you say “ground”, what exactly are you referring to and why?

  • John Werner

    What do you think of the AR ES-1 w/ stock Japanese tonearm? Whats a one in very good condition worth these days?

    • Paul Rigby

      You’ve got me there, John. Haven’t looked at that one. That said, colleagues of mine who have heard it give it the thumbs up 🙂 In terms of price? You’d need to do some eBay research, I’m afraid.

  • Mike

    Fascinating discussion. I enjoyed reading while enjoying the sounds emanating from my Manticore Mantra. Oh, you didn’t mention that one 🙁

  • Sad

    I have a pink tarentella turntable, had no idea it was worth 400 pounds, guess that’s a lot less now, since brexit. haha