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There’s a certain kind of magic in pulling a record from its sleeve, placing it on a turntable platter and gingerly dropping the needle into the groove. And with vinyl sales growing year on year since the resurgence of the format about a decade ago, manufacturers have been putting out great entry-level turntables – like the ones we’ve picked here.
What to look for in turntables and record players
There’s a lot to unpack here – analogue media is nowhere as user-friendly as clicking play on Spotify. But the following are the key points you should factor in when buying a turntable. For a more in-depth discussion, check out our guide on how to set up a record player at home.
Speed: Vinyl records run at three different playback speeds: 33 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm. Most full-length albums run at 33 1/3 rpm, while 12” singles and seven-inches run at 45 rpm. The players we’ve selected offer variable speeds to ensure that whatever you’re listening to is playing at the correct speed, but it’s worth keeping an eye out in case certain speeds aren’t supported.
Phono stage: The signal that a turntable sends out is weak. The phono stage, also known as a phono preamp, brings up that signal to a level that either amplifiers or powered speakers can use. Turntables with a built-in phono stage let you plug them straight into your home stereo speakers right out of the box. You can, of course, buy a standalone phono preamp.
Belt- vs direct-drive: Belt-drive turntables have a motor that’s off to the side of the unit, using elastic bands to torque the platter. Direct-drive turntables put the motor directly beneath the vinyl. There are pros and cons for both, with direct-drives being ideal for DJs because of the short time it takes to reach the required turn speed, but this can lead to some distortion. Belt-drive players, on the other hand, cause less vibration and distortion, but take a little longer to spin up.
Connectivity: Some of the decks on our list offer USB connectivity, others even have Bluetooth as an added extra. If you’re looking to minimise the amount of wires, looking for a player capable of wireless playback could be the way to go, although these often add a premium onto the cost of the player.
The best budget record players and turntables
Sony is a household name in home entertainment – but these days you wouldn’t associate the brand with analogue media. So it’d come as a surprise how good its record players are, particularly this belt-driven model.
We like that this turntable has been designed for the modern listener. It’s Bluetooth-enabled, so a quick hit of a pairing button lets you ‘stream’ your records to a soundbar or wireless speaker – no fiddling around with stereo amplifiers necessary. And yet, an in-built phono stage and line-level output (with three gain modes, no less) offer versatility in case you ever want to expand your hi-fi setup.
This Audio-Technica turntable connects via USB and offers a direct drive with the added benefit of an anti-resonance plate to minimise distortion. It runs at all three speeds and has options for both built-in phono preamp and line-level output, plus adjustable anti-skate control to ensure your tracks play smoothly. Couple all of those perks with excellent audio quality, and it’s an ideal first step into the world of vinyl.
Rega Planar 1
Even before you plug it in, this Rega player makes a statement. With a glossy white platform, it’s a looker for sure. Following on from the excellent RP1, the Planar 1 offers a re-designed main bearing that’s firmer, helping improve the time it takes to track your record and ensuring the player will last longer with sustained use.
It also marks the debut of the RB110 tonearm – which is the brand’s most user-friendly tonearm – and a 24-volt, low-noise synchronous motor on Rega’s decks that reduces vibration. The Planar 1 ships with Rega’s Carbon cartridge.
Pro-Ject Primary E
This compact, sleek-looking number from Pro-Ject offers a gorgeous matte finish, a removable acrylic lid and sapphire bearings that improve the unit’s longevity.
The belt-drive mechanism is directly hooked into the mains, which removes the need for complex processing, as well as any external power brick. Not only does that help keep the player affordable, but it also ensures excellent sound by stripping things down to the basics. The Primary E ships with the Ortofon OM cartridge.
This USB option from Lenco is the cheapest player on this list, but it’s not short of great features. Like the Pro-Ject, it’s small, offers an acrylic cover and it’s belt-driven, too. It includes RCA cables to hook up to your existing home speakers and, via USB, the player can convert your vinyl into digital audio – great if you have vintage oddities that you can’t find on Spotify.
There are also handy features for the vinyl novice, like auto return and an integrated phono preamp. The L-85 even comes as a Bluetooth-enabled option, too, although it’ll cost you a little more.