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!
A note on cartridge quality
The cartridge (sometimes incorrectly but colloquially 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.
Some record players don't let you change the cartridge. Some let you just replace the needle, or don't let you replace anything at all. If it's the latter, beware.
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).
1) Audio-Technica LP60: One of the very best turntables under $100
What can I really say about Audio Technica? They're my hands down favorite vinyl brand for a few reasons. They have a great sound and look, and they're incredibly reasonable in terms of price.
The Audio-Technica LP60 is a fine offering, attractive, functional and ubiquitous; 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.
2) Pyle PLTTB1: An extremely inexpensive belt driven 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 ever to land on the market? No. But it's very, very good for the price. The PLTTB1 is a highly 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.
3) 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: the LP120 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 quite literally a very 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.
4) Stanton T.92: Great sounding, budget-priced DJ turntable for below $300
The Stanton T.92 is an awesome choice if you're into playing music and DJ stuff. It's 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 more modern design 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.
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.
Enjoyed this article? Feel free to say hello!
EdK on June 14, 2019:
If you're serious about playing vinyl, disregard this review. Lots of urban legend and false information. The author is obviously a novice himself. Move on!
david paul on June 16, 2017:
direct drive is the best.
Test on January 05, 2017:
You lost me when you said direct drive is superior to belt drive. This is complete rubbish. The opposite is true, way better isolation from motor vibration etc.
Daniel 'HiDef' Gregson on December 23, 2016:
Guys, from my experience, direct drive is necessary for people who require high torque and fast starts such as DJ's. The best hifi turntables out there are belt drive because the belt drive is "quieter", seperating the driving motor from the platter with a rubber belt dampens the vibrations and hum created by the electric motor and in turn helps to isolate that noise from entering the needle, or from affecting the platter itself. I loved the sound of my Technics SL1210-mk5 Grandmaster's, and yes I'm a DJ but I am also a producer/engineer/song-writer and have discerning taste and crave quality. I typically used Shure M44-7 needles for scratching, daily use, sampling funk/motown etc. and I had a pair of Ortofon Concord Pro's I would use for mixing EDM records or sampling classical or jazz. I think the needle makes a bigger difference in the sound, also the tone-arm design, and of course the quality and condition of the record itself, than the motor drive. But to each his own, I recommend experimenting and of course purchasing for your individual needs and tastes.
Fox Music on May 17, 2015:
Thank you for sharing this valuable information about record players or more commonly referred to as turntables.
Andrew B. on March 22, 2015:
Nicely written. I've owned the Audio Technica LP 120 now for quite a few years. Mine's a bit older and does not have the USB output, but I'm fine with that. It's a very good turntable, there's no doubt. Recently I've upgraded to the Shure M97xE cart, and wow that made it even better. I highly recommend to anyone looking to get into vinyl, this is one of the best starter decks out there.
On the tracking force mention: Too heavy is bad, very bad! I bought a proper Shure scale, (around $30 online) and it's one of the best investments out there. Also go online and print out a proper cartridge protector and align it up. You'll be amazed how much this helps. I've never had a record skip by having my tracking force weight too light. I do notice, however, that my anti-skate is very in accurate on the LP-120. I'm going to look into getting an anti-skate tool soon to help me with this. My records tend to run well, but the needle has a very difficult time finding the starting groove on the beginning of a record.
TTGReviews on November 18, 2014:
Turntables offer an authentic experience you can't really get elsewhere... I have the AT LP 60 and enjoy it thoroughly.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on October 29, 2014:
Hi Tim, depends on your budget and size requirements. Altec Lansing is a good brand. That particular set is definitely more bass friendly. AudioEngine P4's are a nice set of passive speakers, bookshelf sized. Arion Legacy AR604H's are a good set of active ones. Both are pretty affordable. Hope that helps!
Tim on August 16, 2014:
What kind of speakers would you recommend with the LP120? (Assuming, of course, that we want to stay within a reasonable budget.) I've had the Altec Lansing Mx6021 2.1 Expressionist Ultra Speaker System recommended to me. I notice they're considerably more expensive here in Canada than in the US (about $305 vs $185, from what I can see).
Andrew on June 23, 2014:
Thanks for the response!
That is how I felt as well. Once I have some more money and can upgrade the LP120 is one of my top choices for sure.
Thanks for the help,
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on June 21, 2014:
Actually, I usually prefer too heavy over too light, since light means jumping, which can cause more damage. But it's true the lack of a counterweight isn't ideal. Personally, I wouldn't be all that concerned about wear with the LP60. Any wear will be very gradual, and likely not noticeable. If you want the peace of mind, I'd upgrade to the LP120.
Andrew on June 21, 2014:
I just recently got into vinyl and did lots of research regarding TT's. Since I'm still new to vinyl I bought an LP60 after hearing many great things. I did notice that there is no counterweight and I heard that the arm applies about 4 grams of tracking force which can do damage to your records. Should I be concerned at all by this?
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on February 27, 2014:
It's a hard thing to quantify, but I find that changing and playing records is a bit quicker with the Audio-Technica, just a bit smoother to set the tone arm. Overall, their features and sound quality are almost identical. For the difference of $150, I'd go with the Stanton, you'll be very happy with the sound. Be aware that, unlike your AT LP60, both of these turntables are fully manual, meaning you'll have to set the tone arm by hand when you start a record. But it results in a better sound, which is a good thing.
Hernán on February 27, 2014:
Thanks for taking your time. Yesterday I saw the Stanton 150 U$S less than the AT LP120 (Stanton is 550 U$S and AT is 700 U$S here..im not joking). So my wallet (and wife) are trying to convence me to buy the Stanton. When you say that it requires more "manual input" what do you mean? Please take under consideration that all my TT experiences comes from 3 years of using the AT LP60 (non USB model).
Thanks again for your time and help.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on February 26, 2014:
Hi Hernán, I'd choose the AT LP120 if I were you. You can upgrade the cartridge, but I'd take it home and try it out first... the one it comes with is actually quite good. You can always upgrade to something better like the Shure M97xE later on if you want.
You mentioned that you want it as ready-to-go as possible... for that reason, I don't recommend the Stanton. It's great, but it requires more manual input, no auto stop, things like that. It SOUNDS amazing, but it's a bit less practical for daily use, especially since you will be using it a lot.
Hernan on February 26, 2014:
Sorry..actually the Stanton is round 100 bucks cheaper here in Argentina (don´t know why). Once again, looking for audio quality and easy setting (a ready to use TT actually). I can spend the extra 100 bucks on the AT if that's best. Thanks again for your time, I really don't have anyone to ask.
hernán on February 26, 2014:
Hello! Im about to buy a new TT (upgrading from the AT LP60) and my choices are the AT LP120 or the Stanton T92 (both of which you review here). Im ONLY going to use it to listen to vinyls (around 2-3 hs on weekdays and at least 5-7 hs during weekend days). I am going to use the PHONO output to use this with my Technics AMP. Im looking for better sound (hope the LP120 sounds better than the LP60) and a TT which it's settings are as easy-ready-to-go as possible.
Which one do you recommend? Given that the price is nearly the same in my country (Argentina). Im hoping to upgrade the cartridge as well. Thanks for your time.
James Richton from USA on January 09, 2014:
These are some pretty nice turntables. I'm looking into getting some new Dj stuff, so thanks for the information.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on January 05, 2014:
Hi Classictvfan1969, no problem, thanks for reading! Yes the LP120 is fully manual (my personal preference), and it's a great choice.
Classictvfan1969 on January 04, 2014:
Good article, thank you for the information and your research. My wife surprised me with a Denon turntable (DP29F) for Christmas this year. I am enjoying it but we are thinking about upgrading to a model with USB connectivity for file transfer. Can you tell me if the Audio Technicas LP 120 has a manual lifter for the arm?
Brad on December 20, 2013:
Great article! Found a few of my parents old vinyls in storage but unfortunately we don't have a player anymore so I'm hoping to pick one up fairly cheap. This article has definitely helped me out, thank you!
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on December 20, 2013:
Joe: I did say 'generally'. It depends on the turntable, but my experience has clearly been different than yours. Given the choice I'd almost always pick a DD over a belt driven model.
Janik D from Dresden, Germany on December 20, 2013:
This was good. I might want to get into vinyl again.
Joe on December 19, 2013:
Your wrong about belt drive vs. Direct drive. A good belt drive is superior to a good direct drive. Trust me on this.
oldiesmusic from United States on November 27, 2013:
My love for listening oldies music and being an audiophile as well are inherited from my father. I also play records and I'm glad that even though I'm young, I learn to appreciate the warm sounds from the records.
Stanton looks good to me. I'm glad the newer turntables have the USB ports, I am yet to have such turntables. I am deciding to get a new one since our decades-old turntable doesn't work anymore. Good suggestions, thanks for posting.