How to build a quality turntable set-up on a budget, without ruining your records

By in Features, Turntables & Tech





Want a turntable system that won’t damage your records or break the bank? Paul Rigby offers three off-the-shelf options that will get you started in no time.

Buying a turntable set-up from scratch is an exciting endeavour, although it’s easy to become overwhelmed or confused by the vast choice and raft of price points out there. Knowing that most set-ups will require a turntable with an arm and cartridge, a phono amplifier (the specialist box that amplifies the tiny signal from the stylus), the main amplifier (which then takes over from the phono amplifier) and a set of speakers, it’s easy to be tempted by cheaper alternative that offer all these parts in one.

Suitcase-type turntables you are great if your budget is under £100 and you’re not too fussed about the state of your records, but the lack of an adjustable tonearm means the heavy tracking weight of these models will wear the grooves thin over time. If your intention is to hear music at a decent sound quality and also maintain the condition of your records, then you really need to look elsewhere.

You don’t have to spend too much, though. In fact, this feature will help you get started with building a vinyl system from a reasonable budget, by presenting you with three possible price points and then detailing a basic system for those budgets.

Buying a decent quality vinyl system for £400 is pretty tough. Choices here are wide, but quality is harder to find. If you shop carefully though, you can find a gem or two.

Price: £149

This is an intriguing turntable, because £149 shouldn’t really buy you very much. Remarkably, Pro-Ject has done a great job at getting a fine turntable out of the door at this price. There is a relatively quiet-running, stable motor here (a find in itself) and a nice 8.6″ aluminium tonearm featuring sapphire bearings. To see any cartridge with the Ortofon label at this price point is striking, and yet the Primary E comes with an OM cartridge, pre-configured to play straight out of the box. A detachable turntable dust cover competes the package.

Price: £200

One of the most respected budget hi-fi names in the business, Cambridge offers a fully-featured amplifier with plenty of sockets to attach extra equipment such as a CD player, radio and more. There is also a built-in phono amp which saves cash and enables you to plug your turntable directly into this amplifier, as well as a built-in headphone amp.

Price: £59 or possibly £39

One of hi-fi’s most venerable brands, Wharfedale don’t make bad speakers, and these are excellent at a price that is laughably small. You’ve got two options here. If you live near a Richer Sounds shop you can pop in and pick up a pair for £39 and keep under budget, or you can buy from Amazon and be a few pounds over.

Adding a hundred pounds to the overall budget loosens the restrictions just enough to provide a few options. Here is an alternative to piecing together a set-up from three different brands or outlets: a one-stop-shop, adding to the convenience, which gets you up and running faster.

Price: £369/£500

Pro-Ject is one of the largest budget audiophile turntable companies in the world. It also concentrates on sound quality over gimmicks, so when it presents an all-in-one turntable offering a host of features, it’s worth paying attention.

The turntable is very easy to set up, with the deck based upon a respected design – Pro-Ject’s own Primary with a 8.6” aluminium tonearm, sapphire bearings and Ortofon OM 5E cartridge. An integrated amplifier with 50W per-channel output is built into the turntable chassis, and the amplifier has a moving-magnet phono stage built-in, based on Pro-Ject’s Phono Box technology. There’s also a wireless Bluetooth input for streaming from a compatible smart device, and an additional Line input to add external products. It also arrives with a remote control.

You can also request a speaker bundle with this system which takes the price to just under £500.

Be aware that lumping all of this technology together, cheek by jowl, is not the best solution if pure sound quality is your thing. Ideally, the turntable, the phono amplifier and main amplifier should be separated into their own individual boxed chassis. Nevertheless, for those looking for decent sound at a decent price, one that treats your vinyl well and can get you up and running quickly, the Juke Box E is an ideal purchase.

With the extra cash, you can push the boat out a bit and start hunting for quality gear. These three elements are as good as any to start with, and you’ll begin to hear the difference in no time.

Price: £249

The Rega Planar 1 is without doubt one of the best budget turntables in the world. The set-up is a breeze, the design is perfect, and the features are aimed only at quality of sound. The price is incredible for the level of sound quality on offer here, which cannot be bettered for a turntable at this price point.

ONKYO A-9010
Price: £229

There is nothing wrong with plumping for the Cambridge Topaz AM-10 listed above to fill this slot too. In fact, I’d would heartily recommend that particular design for this system. That said, if you want to see an alternative then this example is ideal. This specialist 2-channel model has the quality of Onkyo’s AV amplifier modules, probably because it keeps the design free from extraneous features. Offering a built-in phono amplifier, this functional yet well made amp arrives with a remote.

Price: £95

These little speakers feature a small tweeter and a mid/bass unit, and are readily available on Amazon. They provide a great sound for the price and a small footprint so they won’t take up much space.