February 6, 2020
A guide to the affordable decks that won’t ruin your records.
For those looking to get into the world of vinyl, the task of choosing your first turntable can be daunting.
As the vinyl has grown in popularity over the past decade, the accessibility of turntables has followed suit. Manufactures are noticing this and a greater number of “affordable” turntables are coming onto the market every year. Extremely low-priced turntables can be very tempting, but they will also irreparably damage your records.
In short, you want to stay away from all-in-one turntable systems (sometimes they’re disguised as suitcases), and decks that lack proper counterweight systems. With that in mind, we’ve set our budget at turntables under £400.
The counterweight is a weight that sits on the back of the tonearm, and is a crucial feature took look for when choosing a turntable. It controls the tracking force – the downward weight of your needle. Improper weight can either cause your needle to skip, or cause irreversible damage to your records.
Though decks that have built-in speakers are convenient, these turntables should also be avoided. Having speakers directly built into the unit allows the needle to pick up the sound it’s already outputting. This results in an unpleasant, muddy, feedback loop that interferes with your listening experience.
So, what are your options? Here are eight highly recommended turntables that won’t break the bank, or your records.
This is an update of an article originally published in 2016.
Pros: Fully automatic, easy to use, removable RCA and power cables
Cons: Plastic build, non-upgradable cartridge
Verdict: The Audio-Technica AT-LP60x is an entry-level alternative to the dreaded suitcase turntable for those wanting an introduction into the world of vinyl.
For years, Audio Technica’s AT-LP60 was the industry standard of what a good beginner turntable should be and offered a better overall experience compared to its all-in-one contemporaries. As a first true upgrade, the AT-LP60x offers various improvements on its predecessor. It comes with removable audio cables, an external power adapter, and an upgraded tonearm that results in less skipping. The fully automatic functionality (start, stop, and auto-return) also makes it extremely user-friendly. This is the perfect turntable for someone looking to get into record collecting and who wants something affordable that won’t destroy their records.
Pros: Plug-and-play, Bluetooth connectivity
Cons: Non-upgradeable cartridge
Verdict: The Sony PS-LX310BT is a great beginner turntable that offers Bluetooth and good sound at an affordable price.
Sony’s PS-LX310BT offers a fully automatic turntable, that can be paired with all your Bluetooth speakers or headphones. It also features something that’s not found in a lot of turntables: an audio gain switch. This gain switch allows you to fine-tune your levels. If you’re looking for a stylish turntable with a built-in phono amp and USB output to record vinyl to digital, this one is for you.
Pioneer PLX 500
Pros: USB output to record vinyl, high-torque, plays 78s, built-in phono pre-amplifier
Cons: A reduced pitch control range
Verdict: The Pioneer PLX 500 is a high-torque, entry-level DJ turntable that can also be used for home listening or recording your vinyl.
Pioneer’s PLX 500 is a three-speed, high-torque, direct-drive turntable that is perfect for those wanting to get into vinyl DJing without breaking the bank. Borrowing key features from Pioneer’s Pro DJ turntable, the PLX 1000, the PLX 500 offers a ±8% pitch control to mix with ease. The PLX 500 is also equipped with a USB connection, making it easy to record and convert your vinyl collection into digital files. For another direct drive turntable at this price point, look no further than Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120X.
Pros: Fully-automatic, removable head shell, phono pre-amplifier
Cons: Underwhelming base model cartridge, non-removable RCA cable
Verdict: The Denon 300F is an easy to use, fully automatic turntable with a removable head shell.
The 300F turntable by Denon is a fully automatic, two-speed, belt-driven turntable. With a built-in pre-amp that can be disengaged, the 300F can easily adapt to any system. While most budget-friendly turntables at a similar price point lack a system where you can upgrade the cartridge, the 300F comes with a removable head shell. This means you can upgrade to any ½ mount cartridge your heart desires and essentially have a near audiophile-approved sound out of a budget-friendly turntable.
Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB
Pros: Built in pre-amplifier, glass platter, button-control speed change
Cons: Cartridge can be a challenge to upgrade for beginners
Verdict: The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB is an entry-level turntable aimed at those who appreciate good sound quality.
Pro-Ject’s T1 Phono SB is a two-speed, belt-drive turntable that puts high fidelity first. At this price point, the T1 has various features that elevate it above its competitors. The glass platter helps reduce vibration and improve the overall quality of playback. Paired with a pre-mounted Ortofon OM5e, the T1 has a nice clear and warm sound. It’s built-in Phono pre-amp also allows this turntable to easily plug into any aux input. Highly recommended for those looking for an entry-level turntable where sound quality is a priority.
U-Turn Orbit Plus
Price: $289/ $359 (Pre-Amp Version)
Pros: Acrylic platter, OM5e cartridge, various “build to order” options available on U-Turn’s website
Cons: Not available internationally, base model has no built in pre-amplifier
Verdict: The >U-Turn Orbit Plus is a high quality entry-level turntable, with great sound and build at an affordable price point.
The Orbit Plus is a turntable that offers an entry-level audiophile experience. Its acrylic platter provides improved speed consistency and tight, punchy bass. The platter also allows you to directly place a record onto it without the need of a slipmat. The tonearm comes with an Ortofon OM5e cartridge, which is both detailed and great for multiple genres of music. This turntable is made in the USA and is currently only available in the USA and Canada.
Pros: 2M Red Cartridge, allows for easy upgrade to Ortofon’s 2M Blue cartridge, vibration isolation feet
Cons: No pre-amplifier
Verdict: The Fluance RT83 is hard to beat at this price, and boasts a great sounding cartridge, vibration reduction features and a stylish finish.
The Fluance RT83 is an exceptional two-speed, belt-drive turntable that provides great sound from the moment you set it up. Fitted with Ortofon’s award-winning 2M red cartridge, this turntable has a detailed, warm sound. The RT83 wooden plinth and isolation feet give the deck resistance to unwanted vibration. Boasting a vintage finish, the turntable is perfect for those whot are looking for something with a classic aesthetic and good sound quality.
Rega Planar 2
Pros: Glass platter
Cons: Internally grounded, manual speed change
Verdict: The Rega Planar 2 is a turntable that offers a close to high-end experience at an affordable price point.
The Rega Planar 2 is a redesigned, improved iteration of Rega’s 1976 turntable of the same name. A newly designed RB220 tonearm offers a high quality, ultra-low friction experience that gives you clear and precise sound. It also comes with a beautifully crafted “Optiwhite” glass platter that will help with vibration reduction. A classic in its own right, Rega has mastered the balance between style and sound quality. At this price point, the Planar 2 is highly recommended.