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The Best Turntable for Beginners and New Audiophiles

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When you’re starting your journey as an audiophile, the first piece of equipment you’ll want to buy is a turntable. A good turntable opens up the wonderful world of vinyl and all its rich, analog goodness. But buying your first turntable can be a challenge. Unlike off-the-shelf hi-fi gear, turntables require a great deal of care – preamps, cartridges, and a good stylus. To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to the best turntable for beginners.

Best Overall

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC

4.6 out of 5 stars

  • Excellent build quality
  • Reliable performance
  • Audiophile-grade materials
Best for Beginners

Audio Technica AT LP120

4 out of 5 stars

  • Direct drive ease of use
  • Reliable performance
  • Affordable price tag
Best Bluetooth

Sony PS-LX310BT

3.9 out of 5 stars

  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Reliable performance
  • Affordable price tag
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On paper, vinyl should have no place in an audiophile’s library. From a purely technical perspective, vinyl’s audio quality is lower than CDs and many digital formats such as FLAC. Then there are the vagaries of the physical medium itself – notches or scratches impact playback, as well as reduced HF near the inner radius. You also have to be super careful about storing vinyl – something you don’t have to even think about with digital mediums.

Yet, there is something incredibly satisfying about pulling a record from its sleeve, placing it on a turntable, and docking in the stylus. And while the sound on a CD might be cleaner, vinyl has a characteristic analog warmth that’s hard to replicate.

Plus, if you’re like me, you accept the pops and scratches as “battle scars” of the vinyl’s physical history.

Vinyl has, of course, enjoyed a resurgence ever since hipsters rediscovered it in the 2010s. Thanks to this renewed interest, turntables have become cheaper and more accessible. I remember hunting for cartridges and styluses on eBay (even the UK version) in the 2000s. Now, you can buy them on any retail store, including Amazon.

Because of this new-found accessibility, more and more beginners are turning to vinyl, and, by proxy, to turntables.

As a beginner, buying a turntable can be challenging. There are far too many technical terms to deal and all the standard audio brands that you know of rarely have any offerings in this category.

Which is why we put together this guide to help you buy the best turntable for beginners. Read on to find our top picks for turntables as well as get a short guide to buying the right turntable for your needs.

Our Top Pick
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Entry-level audiophile turntable for serious beginners

The Best Turntable for Beginners

We’ll start this guide by looking at our pick for the best turntable for beginners. After that, we’ll look at our top picks for different performance and price categories, including budget turntables and turntables for serious audiophiles.

Let’s start with our top pick:

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC

Pro-Ject is one of the best known brands in this category and the Debut Carbon is one of its best yet most affordable offerings. It regularly tops most list of beginner to intermediate turntables (including ours). It’s easy to see why: it has a wonderfully balanced tonearm, Ortofon 2M red cartridges, great damping, and excellent build quality. Get it with the cover and it should last you for decades.

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is not only the best turntable for beginners, but also the best one ever made by Pro-Ject. This DC plug and play turntable comes with a pre-installed Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge, DC Power Supply, and Carbon-Fiber Tonearm. Honestly speaking the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon beats a variety of turntables in quality, value, and performance.

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC features an incredible carbon-fiber Tonearm that ensures its stiffness and sturdiness. It also has an updated DC power supply to offer definite speed stability, and the highly praised Ortofon 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge that enhances excellent retrieval of detail.

If you decrease the unwanted resonances, the 8.6 inches carbon-fiber Tonearm produces a higher fidelity straightaway by playing any LP. Along with the already installed 2M Red, this combination of arm and cartridge yields incomparable recovery and tracking of musical nuances found within grooves of vinyl.

What we don’t like:

Although we love its build quality, some users report humming noises. You also have to change speed manually – there is no option to do it automatically.

Recommended for: Beginners looking for an excellent audiophile grade turntable to start their vinyl journey. 

Pros

  • Great build quality; looks like a proper “grown-up” turntable
  • Excellent 8.6″ tonearm and great Ortofon cartridge

Cons

  • You have to change speed manually
  • Expensive for a beginner turntable
  • Some users report humming noises

Best Direct Drive Turntable: Audio-Technica AT LP120

Key features:

  • Direct-drive, high-torque motor
  • Reverse playback capability
  • Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity software
  • Balanced S-shaped Tonearm
  • Superior Audio-Technica cartridge
  • Integral switchable phono preamp

As we wrote in an earlier article, in a direct drive turntable, the motor sits directly below the turntable. That is, the turntable is driven by the motor. This is different from a belt drive turntable (such as the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon above) where the motor drives a belt which, in turn, drives the turntable.

While this direct operation is easier, cheaper, and more reliable, it is also more prone to vibrations. Audiophiles don’t like it, but for a beginner, a direct drive turntable offers serious value for money. I recommend every beginner to start out with a direct drive turntable before graduating to a belt driven turntable.

In the world of direct drive turntables, you can’t really do better than Audio Technica. Some of you might already be familiar with this storied Japanese brand – they make some of our favorite headphones, including the industry-defining ATH-M50x. Their turntables are very reasonably priced and have that Japanese precision engineering that makes them so popular.

Coming to the Audio Technica AT LP120, it can play 33, 45 and 78 rpm records and also has a reverse playback capability as well as pitch adjustment function. The Audio-Technica is a high-quality turntable designed to provide accurate digital conversion of the LPs. It also features superior components that enhance accurate playback of records.

Some of the features that make it the best turntable for beginners include inbuilt switchable phono preamp connectivity options which include RCA output cables as well as US cable used to connect the turntable to an audio system, PC or powered speakers. It also comes with Windows and Mac Audacity software, stroboscopic platter with speed indicator for playback operation. The ½ inch standard mount AT95E phonograph cartridge provides unresolved sound clarity and detail.

The Audio-Technica AT LP120 has a well-adjusted S-shaped Tonearm with a lockable rest and hydraulically damped lift control. This player comes with a 45 rpm adapter alongside a storage receptacle which is sold separately. When it is connected to a powered speaker, sound card, or AUX -type inputs, the selector should be set to LINE, as this will activate the internal pre-amp of the turntable.

What we don’t like

Direct drive motor noise is a common flaw in the Audio-Technica AT LP120 turntable. It’s not enough of a dealbreaker, but if you want audiophile-grade pristine clarity, you might be disappointed (in which case, it’s better to spring for a belt driven turntable).

Recommended for: Beginners who want an easy to use and reliable turntable to start their vinyl journey.

Pros

  • Solid aluminum platter reduces vibrations
  • Beginner-friendly operation
  • Reliable direct drive performance

Cons

  • Some humming noise – common to all direct drive turntables
  • Lots of plastic used in construction – feels cheap

Best Entry-Level Turntable: Audio-Technica AT LP60

Key features:

  • Switchable built-in pre-amplifier
  • Professional, belt drive design
  • High-Quality Audio-Technica Cartridge
  • Removable hinged dust cover
  • Integral switchable phono preamp connectivity options
  • Easy Operation

Let’s face it: turntables are expensive. Vinyl is expensive. Amplifiers are expensive. Even bookshelf speakers are expensive.

In other words, being an audiophile and buying turntables is an expensive hobby. You’ll have to splurge on multiple pieces of equipment. For a beginner, this can mean serious dough.

Which is why we love the Audio Technica LP60. It’s one of the best turntable for beginners around, not only for its ease of use and reliable operation, but also for its low, low price. You’re going to end up spending hundreds of dollars on vinyl and amps and speakers anyway; if you can cut costs on the turntable, it’s great for newbies.

That’s not to say that the LP60 isn’t a good turntable. Far from it – it checks all the boxes for what you might need in an entry level turntable – reliable performance, recognizable brand name, automated operation, switchable preamp, etc.

When you have the Audio-Technica AT LP60, you can hook up to a computer easily using USB cable, and be able to convert album tracks into digital files and burn them to a CD/DVD, load to phone or other supported devices. The AT LP60 is a fully automatic belt-driven turntable with the same drive system as used in most audiophile turntables. It is somewhat compact than most turntables.

Other features of this turntable include a rear panel with a small switch that allows you to select the integral phono preamp for line-level output which is entirely compatible with the audio-in jacks or choose a high-quality external preamp that can be added later.

The output of the AT LP60 turntable is limited to a hardwired 24-inch cable terminated to stereo RCA plugs set. However, there is a cheaper RCA-to-3.5 mm adapter that enables you to plug into almost any portable speaker, boom box, or stereo system or anything that comes with a port for line-in.

What we don’t like

Although it’s a minor quibble, this turntable is belt-driven which means that the platter spins via motor pulleys with a rubber belt, and this is not suitable for use by DJs because the regularly may need to fast start and back-cue. Also, the build quality is cheap and platicky, but that’s expected at this price.

Recommended for: Budget buyers looking for an audio interface at near throwaway prices.

Pros

  • Easy to use – perfect for beginners
  • Belt-driven, hence lower vibrations
  • Great beginner-friendly price

Cons

  • Iffy build quality
  • Cheap plastic buttons that are prone to failure

Best Bluetooth Turntable: Sony PS-LX310BT

Key features:

  • Wireless Connection
  • Aluminum platter for stability in motion
  • Thick dust cover for pitch-perfect playback
  • Aluminum Tonearm for superior sound
  • USB Ripping
  • One-step auto playback

Let me preface this review by saying that we are not entirely convinced by the idea of Bluetooth turntables.

Yes, Bluetooth quality and bandwidth have both improved, especially with Bluetooth 5.0 protocol. But even then, it remains far behind traditional wires in performance. You simply can’t get the same sound quality over Bluetooth as you would get through wires.

Which makes the idea of Bluetooth turntables a bit strange. When you buy a turntable, you essentially buy it for the sound quality. Yet, by buying a Bluetooth turntable, you limit the sound quality you can get.

That said, we understand that casual users want Bluetooth. We also agree that Bluetooth is far easier to use than managing a bunch of cables.

But if you want great audiophile-grade audio quality, we suggest staying away from Bluetooth turntables altogether.

However, if you’re looking for the best Bluetooth turntable for beginners, you can’t go wrong with the Sony PS-LX310BT. It has a great price tag, reliable operation, solid Bluetooth integration, and a respected brand name behind it.

The Bluetooth feature sets it apart from the rest, with the ability to connect to a wireless speaker, headphones or soundbar. This record player is made with convenience and accessibility in mind, best for newcomers in the world of vinyl.

With the PS-LX310BT, you get to enjoy a highly reliable vinyl from a state-of-art wireless turntable. It features easy wireless connectivity to any Bluetooth Devices, with simple controls designed to provide high-level listening experience. This turntable also features a one-step auto playback that allows you to spin all your favorite tracks with the touch of a button, as well as a newly engineered Tonearm that helps to deliver a clearer playback of songs.

As with the best turntable for beginners, Sony PS-LX310BT has a dense dust cover to ensure pitch-perfect play. This cover is removable and designed to suppress the acoustic pressure from the speakers to provide better stability as well as less distortion.

What we don’t like

The interface is made of plastic and isn’t the most durable, which belies its portable credentials.

Recommended for: Best for people who are mobile and want something lightweight and easily portable to record their voices.

Pros

  • Great sound for the size and price
  • Highly portable design

Cons

  • Fragile; can break over outdoor/touring use

Best Turntable with Built-in Speakers: Jensen JTA-230

Key features:

  • Belt Driven 3-Speed Stereo Turntable
  • Power Indicator
  • Auto Stop Switch
  • Built-in speakers
  • Auxiliary Input Jack
  • Pitch Control

We’ll be honest: we’re no big fans of turntables with built-in speakers. You’re completely limited by your choice of amp and speakers, and there is absolutely no way any built-in speakers can match the power and clarity of a pair of good bookshelf speakers.

Additionally, we haven’t seen any decent turntable offer built-in speakers. All serious brands understand that their users would invest in bookshelf speakers at least. Whatever offerings you do get with built-in speakers tend to also be inferior turntables.

Having said that, we agree that for beginners and casual users, built-in speaker turntables are a good starting point. They’re super easy to get into and require minimal investment. They also act great as gifts for older, less tech-savvy customers who just want a modern equivalent of a phonograph. We’ve seen customers buy these for their grandparents who have a pile of old records they want to listen to without worrying about amps and speakers and cables.

A neat benefit of turntables with built-in speakers is portability. You can’t really lug a turntable anywhere – you’ll have to carry the amp and speakers as well. But if you have built-in speakers, you only need a portable power supply to use the turntable anywhere.

If you’re one of these customers, we highly recommend the Jensen JTA-230. This belt-driven turntable can play at three different speeds – perfect for 33, 45, and 78RPM records. The key feature is, of course, the built-in speakers. They are nothing special as far as speakers go – we’d compare them to cheap $25 computer speakers you’d find at Walmart. They do, however, get the job done.

Additionally, there is an auxiliary input jack with RCA Line-out Jacks and Stereo Headphone Jack that helps to connects the turntables to MP3, iPod, or any other Digital Audio Players. It also has a USB Port and Cable used to convert the Vinyl Records into a digital format via software designed for recording, editing and converting your recorded audio.

With a sturdy and portable design, Jensen JTA-230 record player allows for pitch adjustment and tone control, which is not common with the ordinary turntables within this range.

What we don’t like

The speakers are tinny and perform poorly in the lower frequencies. Anything with a lot of bass sounds very muddy and distorted. The build quality is also poor, but expected in this price range.

Two additional issues which we’d like to point out:

  • While older records play fine, new, heavier vinyl records are too heavy for the motor and cause speed issues.
  • The internal speakers don’t turn off – even if you have other outputs connected. This is a serious design flaw in case you want to connect the unit to your own speakers or headphones.

Recommended for: Beginners who want an ultra-affordable, easy to use turntable for casual use. Works great as a gift for less tech savvy people who want to play old records. Get it for your grandpa as a birthday gift and they’ll love it.

Pros

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Super cheap, especially when you factor in the speakers
  • Portable – only needs power supply

Cons

  • Poor performance with new heavier records
  • Poor build quality – lots of cheap plastic everywhere
  • Tinny speakers with poor low-end performance
Also Consider

Crosley C200

Key features:

  • Direct Drive Turntable
  • Variably-Weighted Tonearm
  • Built-In Pre-Amp
  • Start/stop control
  • Fully manual operation

The Audio Technica LP120 is one of the best turntables for beginners around.

But what if it wasn’t for you? What if you’ve been burned by the Audio Technica brand and wanted something different? Or what if you just wanted to spend a little less?

In that case, you’ll love the Crosley C200.

The Crosley C200 is nearly identical to the AT LP120, even down to the design. What sets it apart is a slighter lower price and slightly lower build quality.

The Crosley C200 comes with a direct-drive power to help you get up to speed. With the direct drive, high-torque motor record player mechanism, this turntable can play 2 speeds at 33 1/3 and 45 RPM records. It also features start and stops control buttons with fully manual operation. The Tonearm of this turntable is S-shaped with a hydraulic lift control, height adjustment, anti-skate, as well as a lockable rest.

Crosley C200 has unrivaled control over the speed of your turntable discs. It also features a sharp Audio-Technica magnetic cartridge that stabilizes the s-shaped Tonearm sweet curves.

What we don’t like

Cartridge adjustment isn’t as easy as we’d like (especially when compared to the LP120). The anti-skate mechanism also doesn’t always work as advertised. There is some skipping, especially on older records.

Recommended for: A great mid-range alternative for beginners who want something affordable yet effective.

Pros

  • Easy to use and reliable performance
  • Affordable price tag

Cons

  • Anti-skate mechanism doesn’t work well
  • Cartridge adjustment is difficult

Over to You

As with most analog technology, buying a turntable isn’t easy. Minor differences in build quality and parts selection can result in grossly different performance. With the lack of reliable household brands in this space, your choice only becomes harder.

Hopefully, this guide should help you buy the best turntable for beginners.

For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.

Also read:

References:

Changelog
  • April 9, 2020: Article first published