Four Amazing Budget Turntables for Vinyl Junkies: Reviews
Tracking Down a Good, Cheap Vinyl Record Player
When a technology becomes redundant, common wisdom says that it will eventually fizzle out. While that's true in many cases, the vinyl record lives and breathes today, and for good reason. Nothing can really replicate the sound warmth and tactile qualities of an LP. And, unlike the days of expensive hi-fi systems, you can actually get a really good, budget turntable for a very reasonable price point.
From the outside looking in, a person might think that all record players are the same and produce the same sound quality. That simply isn't the case! Certain technologies are better than others, and a number of small factors can make or break your whole experience. Quality is important, but fortunately there are a few select manufacturers who still make some of the best budget turntables for a very decent cost.
By reviewing four of my favorite inexpensive vinyl record players, I'm hoping to steer you in the right direction and help you avoid buying a dud. I will look at each product closely and list the pros and cons, the technology used, and what you can expect from it. I'm also briefly going to touch on a few things to watch for with any turntable.
Let's get going!
The cartridge (sometimes incorrectly referred to as the 'needle') is what actually transmits the vibrations into sound waves. The better the cartridge the nicer the sound. Fortunately, most cartridges can be easily upgraded.
There are a few other 'nice to haves', but I'll get into them a little later on. Let's get to the budget vinyl turntable reviews!
Can a Cheap Vinyl Record Player Sounds Good?
If you're eyeing a particular budget turntable that looks pretty good, but you can't find any reviews, there are a few ways to check for quality. It's not foolproof and I always recommend finding a personal review before investing, but it can help.
Belt or Direct Drive: Most of the time, vinyl record turntables are spun in one of two ways. First (and more common at lower price points) you'll have belt drive. This is where the platform is spun using a belt attached to a motor. Belt drive systems are a bit weaker, and produce more vibration.
Direct drive uses a gear instead of a belt. They're stronger, and you can start a record from a standstill. They are generally a lot better. However some people have noted issues with it transmitting unwanted resonance and noise. (That hasn't been my experience).
Audio Technica LP60: One of the best turntables under $100
What can I really say about Audio Technica? They're my hands down favorite brand for a few reasons. They have a great sound and look, and they're incredibly reasonable in terms of price.
The LP60 is a fine offering, and it's one of the better budget record players below $100. In terms of function there's little else you could ask for: it's a fully automatic turntable with the capability to play at 33-1/3 and 45 RPM.
It weighs in at about 6 pounds, which is a good weight. It's not so light as to cause stability issues, but not too heavy as to be inconvenient to move about. The casing is beautiful brushed aluminum look plastic, and the platter itself is aluminum. It's equally at home in a vintage hi-fi setup or in a modern sound system in your apartment.
It is a belt-drive turntable, and that means it's not as strong as some, but it shouldn't be an issue for you. Vibration is minimal, and noise transfer isn't noticeable.
It comes with the RCA to 1/8 inch cables you'll need, as well as an integrated Audio Technica dual magnet cartridge with a replaceable stylus. (You can always upgrade the to a nicer stylus later, if you feel so inclined, but I think it's fine for most applications).
There is also a USB version that is slightly more expensive, if you want to digitize your vinyl collection at any point.
Pyle Belt-Drive: An extremely inexpensive vinyl turntable
I wanted to include this belt-driven turntable by Pyle because I want to emphasize that it doesn't take a stack of money to get a good sounding record player in your home. Is this the greatest turntable to land on the market? No. But it's a very capable product with excellent sound for the price tag and nice features.
This is one of the best turntables under $100 due to its simple and easy to use array of basic features. It can play both 33 and 45 RPM records, and it has a pitch adjustment of up to 16 percent in each direction. It features an 'S' shaped tone arm which works to reduce vibration and noise transference. It also features built-in anti-skate technology which preserves the grooves of your record and ensures even levels on both channels.
It comes with a dust cover to keep it safe and clean. I do recommend changing out the cartridge for something a little better sounding. Consider how cheap this vinyl record player is to purchase, you should have some savings to toss around.
I should also mention that it looks great with a clean and modern look, so it should fit in with your stereo setup nicely. It's an affordable budget turntable system with excellent customer reviews.
Audio Technica LP120 USB: An affordable, direct-drive record player
I'm going to review another offering by Audio Technica here. I don't normally like reviewing the same brand twice in a list like this, but I can't help myself: this is one of the best turntables on a budget that a person could as for.
The primary distinction between the LP60 and this model is the direct drive system, which incorporates gearing rather than a rubber belt to turn the table platform. It's a high torque motor that won't suffer from lag and can be started from a standstill. The speed is extremely accurate and consistent, and features an automatic electronic brake.
This record player will handle 33s, 45s and 78s, and it comes with a number of precision quartz controls for thing such as pitch.
This is a solid turntable! It weighs approximately 23 pounds, so it's not exactly portable. But that extra weight is necessary to cut down any resonance or vibration. The result is a pristine sound that's well isolated and true.
The solid brushed aluminum casing looks absolutely amazing in a throwback retro-modern home, and it comes with a plastic clamshell casing to protect the workings from dust and damage.
Another bonus is the built-in USB connectivity, which allows you to tap directly into your computer and record all your vinyl into a digital format. It includes the proper software for Mac or PC. It's feature rich and powerful, and it's by far one of the best turntables for under $300.
Stanton T.92: Great sounding budget turntable for below $300
The Stanton T.92 is a USB capable turntable with a direct drive, tons of power, a great sounding pre-amp, and tons of positive customer reviews to go with it.
The first thing you'll note about the T.92 is the weight and feel of the thing. It's solid, and has a nice look to it. It's definitely a bit more modern than the throwback Audio Technicas, but don't let that make you think it doesn't sound great.
The direct drive system coupled with the weight produces an excellent reproduction of your vinyl records. It features 33, 45 and 78 play capability, and a number of other controls such as a wide range of pitch.
The pitch controls and the direct drive motor (which can get a record up and spinning in less than a second, and less than a second to brake again) makes it a good choice for a DJ setup, as it's quick, versatile and quick to change out.
The built-in pre-amplifier is powerful enough to run on its own without an external unit, and it sounds quite nice in my opinion. The cartridge is pretty standard and sounds fairly nice, but if you want a better experience I do suggest planning to swap it for a nicer Shure or something down the road.
The only downsides? There is no auto start or stop on this budget record player, and it requires a bit more manual input when getting it running or changing your records. That's a trade off for the great sound and quality build of this unit, and it's really not much more of a bother than an automatic turntable.
It's an easy to use, gorgeous and versatile product, and one of the top cheap vinyl turntables out there today.
Why are you after a budget record player?
Other 'Nice To Have' Features:
The best budget turntables will not only produce an excellent sound quality, they'll have the extra features that make life easier and make you actually want to dust off those LPs and get them playing. In this price range (under $300 give or take), it's not unreasonable to expect the following features.
Anti-skate is a feature that prevents the stylus from moving laterally too much while it's running along the grooves. This has two effects: first off, it reduces the wear and tear that your record receives, and keeps the sound quality up. Secondly, it ensures that both the left and right channels are receiving equal signal strength, so you'll have an even stereo sound.
A lot of modern vinyl record players are including a USB feature. This essentially lets you plug in to your computer and record your vinyl in a digital format. People like to do this for a few reasons: it helps to preserve older records, and it lets you enjoy the music in digital forms, like on an MP3 player.
Automatic record players are nice. You essentially just place the record on the turntable, press the button and it aligns itself to start. Usually, when the record is finished, the turntable will automatically raise the arm as well.
That said, many people (myself included) like to place the arm manually in order to prevent damage or scratching, so it may not be a feature you value.