Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
With the surging popularity of vinyl, we take a look at the best turntables under $1000 that you can buy right now. Pro-Ject’s offerings top our lists, though Audio Technica also offers a number of competent offerings for budget-focused buyers.
The most improbable thing has happened: vinyl has made a comeback, and how!
A format long thought as “dead” has recorded growing sales over the last few years, even hitting an all-time high of 733,000 album sales in April 2018. That it has made this comeback at the peak of the streaming boom is all the more remarkable.
You, of course, know this already. Which is why you’re reading this article on the best turntables under $1000.
Picking a turntable in this price range can be incredibly tricky. There is a massive range of options to choose from, from cheap Audio Technica turntables to high-end offerings from Marantz that will put a serious hole in your pocket.
There is a lot of nuance to buying a turntable. In the next few sections sections, I’ll share a brief buying guide to buying turntables, my review methodology, and a deep dive into the 10 best turntables under $1000 on the market right now
To quickly jump to the right section, use the navigation below.
If you want a sneak peak, here are the best turntables under $1000 right now:
- Best overall: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC
- Best budget: Audio Technica AT-LP60
- Best performance: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB
With all the basics out of the way, let’s answer the question you originally came here for: what’s the best turntable under $1000 on the market right now?
From the cheapest AudioTechnica to the most expensive Pro-Ject, I’ll share my list of the 7 best turntables under $1000 you can buy:
Best Overall: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC
Drive type: Belt drive
- Ortofom 2M red cartridge
- 8.6″ carbon fiber tonearm for reduced vibrations
This is the price range where you start getting the good stuff.
And as far as good stuff goes, you can’t really get better than the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable.
Pro-Ject is one of, if not the most respected names among turntable manufacturers. The Carbon DC turntable is an entry-level model aimed at newbies who want to get a taste of the audiophile life.
As you’ll notice, the Debut Carbon DC is a far cry from the flashier, modern looking AudioTechnicas and Pioneers. It is as minimalist as they come. You don’t see anything but a plinth, a platter, and a tonearm.
The tonearm is the standout feature of this turntable. Made from carbon fiber, it has a heft that belies its low weight. Place it into position (this is a manual turntable) and you’ll get a smooth, satisfying motion.
At the end of the tonearm is an Ortofon 2M red cartridge – one of the best moving magnet cartridges you can get.
There is a lot of damping and everything about it feels solid and well-built. This is a serious turntable for serious listeners.
Best Budget Turntable: Audio Technica AT-LP60BK
Drive type: Belt drive
- Fully automatic
- 2 speeds (33 1/3 and 45RPM)
- Switchable phono amplifier
- Moving magnet cartridge
The AudioTechnica deserves a spot on this list because of its sheer popularity: it is one of the largest selling turntables ever with thousands of units sold each year.
Normally, I’d frown on relying on ‘popularity’ as a metric for audiophile gear, but the LP60BK is often the first point of contact for beginners to the world of turntables (as it was for me). A poor experience at the beginning can very well kill any enthusiasm you might have had for turntables and audiophile gear in general.
I’m pleased to say that the AudioTechnica LP60BK makes for a fine start. It doesn’t have the finesse or stability of a high-end Pro-ject, but it is an extremely capable performer with dependable, consistent output. For a beginner turntable, you can’t really ask for more, particularly in this price range.
The entire turntable is designed for no fuss operation. It’s automatic, so you don’t have to manually place the tonearm on the record. It has a built-in phono amp so you don’t have to worry about external amplification. It’s got a cover, an integrated cartridge, and an easy to use design.
In other words: it just works.
Best Performance Turntable: Pro-Ject – Debut Carbon Esprit SB
Drive type: Belt drive
- Built in Pro-Ject speed box
- Supports 78RPM records
- Acrylic platter
The elder sibling of Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon turntable, the Debut Esprit has the same guts with a few additional features for smoother performance.
The first of these is the SB or “speed box”. The speed box solves the biggest problem in Debut Carbon: you had to change speeds manually. With the built-in Pro-Ject speed box, you can now do it automatically with a push button on the left of the base.
The other big difference is the platter. Instead of aluminium, the Carbon Esprit uses a heavy, non-resonant acrylic platter. This further reduces vibrations and leads to a slight improvement in sound quality when compared to the Debut Carbon (though you’ll be hard pressed to spot it).
The rest of the turntable is largely the same with the same attention to detail and build quality.
Best Mid-Range: Fluance RT80
Drive type: Belt drive
- Engineered wood plinth
- Built-in preamp
- AudioTechnica cartridge
Rounding up the top three in the low-mid range is the Fluance RT80. The cheaper of Fluance’s two leading turntables – RT80 and RT81 – it uses AudioTechnica’s AT91 cartridge and uses a belt-drive system.
There is a built-in preamp that offers a good enough performance for most beginners (the target market), though I recommend getting an external preamp once you’re willing to graduate to a higher tier of performance.
Other features include an ‘Auto Stop’ function that, as you guessed it, automatically stops playing once the record reaches the end of the last track. The base is engineered wood instead of plastic. You get a dust cover as well as a 45 adapter and a felt slipmat.
Best Overall (Alternative): Rega Planar 1
Drive type: Belt drive
- Rega carbon cartridge
- RB110 tonearm
As they say: if there is a Pro-Ject turntable around, a Rega can’t be far behind.
The legendary British manufacturer is known for its exceptional attention to detail and build quality. Despite being the cheapest entry into the Rega world, the Planar 1 meets all those expectations, and more.
For starters, you get a Rega carbon cartridge. This is a modified version of AudioTechnica’s poular AT91 cartridge. The cartridge is attached to a RB110 tonearm which is borrowed from the earlier iteration of this turntable, the RP1.
Playback is smooth and luxuriously consistent thanks to a new 24v synchronous motor. There is generous damping and a good amount of heft to individual components, especially the platter.
And of course, it looks gorgeous as well with the glossy white MDF base and black platter.
Do keep in mind that like a lot of other turntables in this range, this one isn’t “plug and play”. It doesn’t have a built-in phono amplifier. You will have to connect it to a phono input – either on your amplifier, or via an external phono preamp.
Best Budget (Alternative): Audio Technica AT-LP120BK
Drive type: Direct drive
- Three speeds (including 78RPM)
- Adjustable pitch and pitch lock
- Built-in phono amp
What? Another AudioTechnica turntable?
At the risk of being partial, it’s impossible for me to ignore the AT LP120BK.
The LP120BK is one of the rare direct drive turntables that routinely shows up on these “best of” lists. Since it has a direct drive and adjustable pitch, it is targeted more towards DJs than audiophiles. In actual use, however, I’ve found that it fulfills an audiophile role as well.
In other words, the LP120BK is an “all-rounder” that works well in both DJ and audiophile settings.
Like other AudioTechnica turntables, this one too is packed with features. You get a built-in phono amp, three speed settings, adjustable pitch with pitch lock, and the biggest one of them all – USB out. This makes it possible to digitize your old records.
(If you’re going to digitize your records, I highly recommend the VinylStudio software for recording and removing pops and clicks)
This turntable is manual, which usually results in better performance (fewer moving parts = better durability and lesser vibrations).
Best for Audiophiles: Rega RP3 Turntable
Drive type: Belt drive
- Elys2 cartridge
- RB303 tonearm
The Rega Planar 3 is, with little doubt in my mind, one of the best turntables under $1000. It has all the finesse and exceptional build quality you’d expect in a turntable in this range. It also has luxuriously splendid sound quality thanks to a handful of innovations.
The first of these is the plinth. Conventional wisdom says that the heavier the base, the more vibrations it will absorb and thus, the better the sound quality.
Rega has turned that philosophy on its head. Instead of a heavy plinth, Rega has used a lightweight plinth core with a rigid resin skin on top. This results in very low weight but with exceptional rigidity which, Rega says, improves sound output (notice the thinness of the plinth above).
Another new feature is the RB303 tonearm. This is based off the RB300 tonearm that Rega used in previous avatars of the Planar 3. There aren’t a lot of design changes between the two, but structurally, the RB303 is stiffer and feels more robust.
The Planar 3 also uses Rega’s own hand-built Elys 2 cartridge. Like the Planar 1, it also has a 24v synchronous motor.
If there is any complaint I have with this turntable, it is the bland design. For a turntable in this price range, you’d expect something more premium looking.
Although I haven’t experienced it, some users also complain of a slight humming sound from the motor.
Turntables are tricky purchases. There is a finesse to them that’s often hard to describe. You can’t always go by objective metrics alone; you have to turn to subjective opinions – the way a turntable makes you feel.
But while subjective opinions are important, there are objective considerations in any turntable buying decision. What kind of drive system does it use? What type of cartridge does it employ? What is the plinth made from? You need answers to all these questions, and more.
For a beginner, this can be an intimidating world. Turntables – and vinyl records – are far removed from the “press-button” simplicity of digital music. Minute differences in equipment can lead to major differences in listening experience.
If you’re going to spend money to buy the best turntables under $1000, you need to understand all these minute differences.
I’ll help you make sense of all these issues below.
Understand the Anatomy of a Turntable
If you’re going to spend money to buy the best turntable under $1,000, you first need to understand all its different parts.
For such an expensive device, turntables are surprisingly simple in their construction. There are only about half a dozen parts – a tonearm, cartridge, stylus, platter, motor, and plinth.
Let’s look at each of these parts and their role in the turntable’s operation in more detail:
- Tonearm: The tonearm is an elongated “arm” that holds the stylus and cartridge in place as the record rotates beneath it. Tonearms can either be “automatic”, i.e. the turntable automatically places them on the record when switched on. Or they can be “manual”, i.e. you have to place the tonearm manually on the record.
- Cartridge: The cartridge is a electro-mechanical device that turns the kinetic movement of the record into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is essentially what produces sound. The cartridge (also called a “phono cartridge”) is a critical component in the turntable’s operation. There is a big difference in the performance of high-end and low-end cartridges.
- Stylus: The stylus or needle is the fine point at the end of the cartridge. This stylus traces the grooves of the record and transfers the kinetic energy thus generated to the cartridge, which turns it into sound. The more precise the stylus, the more accurate the quality of audio reproduction. Styluses are replaceable since most wear out over time.
- Platter: The platter is the circular part which the record sits and spins on. It is usually covered with cloth, rubber, felt, etc. to reduce vibrations.
- Motor: The motor drives the platter and makes it move. The smoother the operation, the better the quality of the turntable. Motors can use either direct drive or belt drive systems for their operation.
- Plinth: The plinth is base of the turntable, i.e. the foundation which the platter sits on. Plinths should be sturdy and durable with minimal vibrations. A high-quality turntable will have as few vibrations as possible.
A turntable when the record, placed on the platter, rotates at a fixed speed (such as 45RPM). The stylus, connected to the tonearm, is placed into the grooves on the record. As the record moves thanks to a motor, the stylus moves along the grooves, producing a tiny electric signal. This electric signal, when amplified, produces sound.
The best turntables under $1000 usually use belt drive systems since it produces less vibrations than a direct drive. The latter is more suitable for DJs who want consistent speeds and the ability to scratch records. You can do that with belt drive turntables as well, but the experience will be poor.
Direct Drive vs Belt Drive
There are two types of drive systems used in turntables: direct and belt drive. Understanding the difference between them is crucial to understanding turntable performance.
In a direct drive turntable, the platter sits directly on top of the motor. That is, the motor directly drives the platter as shown in the diagram below:
Direct drive turntables offer more consistent speeds and higher torque. This makes them suitable for DJs who want to scratch and spin records.
On the downside, since the motor isn’t isolated from the platter, direct drive turntables tend to be noisier and less vibration prone.
In a belt drive turntable, the motor is connected to a belt that is wrapped around the turntable platter. Instead of moving the platter directly, the motor moves the belt which, in turn, moves the platter as shown below:
Since the motor is isolated from the turntable, belt drives have less noise and vibrations. This makes them suitable for audiophiles.
On the downside, belts can wear out. They also can’t be spun or scratched easily, making them unsuitable for DJs
Types of Cartridges
Another aspect of turntables that you should consider is the type of cartridge.
As one of the most important components in any turntable, the quality and type of cartridge you use has a distinct impact on output quality.
Cartridges broadly come in two varieties:
- Moving magnet cartridge: In this cartridge, a tiny magnet is suspended between two coils at the end of the tonearm. As the magnet moves between the coils, it produces a tiny electric current. This current, once amplified, creates sound.
- Moving coil cartridge: In this cartridge-type, the process is reversed. That is, there is a coil suspended in a magnetic field at the end of the tonearm. The movement of this coil produces an electric current.
Moving coil cartridges are almost an endangered species of late. This is because these cartridges produce a tiny current that is magnitudes lower than a moving magnet cartridge. Since the current is extremely tiny, you have to use a step-up transformer and a phono amplifier to get the signal strong enough for your speakers.
This additional equipment, along with the high replacement cost of a moving coil cartridge (once damaged, you have to replace the entire cartridge, not just the stylus), has kept these cartridges out of favor among manufacturers. At the same time, moving magnet cartridges have improved a lot.
This is why it is so rare to find a new turntable that uses a moving coil cartridge, even though the latter delivers arguably a slightly (emphasis on “slightly”) better performance. Even the top manufacturers such as Rega and Pro-Ject in our best turntables under $1000 list have mostly stopped offering magnetic coil turntables.
How to Connect a Turntable to an Audio Output?
Did you know that you can’t just connect your turntable to your speakers?
You see, turntables produce a weak signal called a “phono signal”. This signal is too weak to be transferred straight to a pair of speakers. You need to amplify it first.
This amplification process is done via a phono amplifier. Some turntables have a built in phono amplifier. With others, you have to buy an external amp. In some cases, the amplifier might be built into your receiver.
Refer to the diagram below to understand how the system works:
Keep this in mind when you buy a turntable. If you don’t already have a phono amp, or if your chosen turntable doesn’t have one built-in, buying an additional one can add to your costs.
What to Look for in the Best Turntables Under $1000
Now that you know all the parts of a turntable and its operation, we can look at the factors that should go into your purchase decision.
Regardless of your budget, here are a few things you should keep in mind when looking for the best turntables under $1000:
- Drive system: Check whether the turntable has a belt or direct drive system. As I mentioned earlier, belt drive systems are more vibration proof. They also take a couple of seconds to get to speed. Direct drive systems are better for consistent performance and hence, work better in DJ controllers. Most audiophile turntables will have a belt drive system.
- Cartridge-type: Nearly all turntables these days have a moving magnet cartridge. While moving coil cartridges arguably offer better sound quality, the maintenance and additional costs aren’t worth the hassle. However, a few high-end audiophile turntables do use them.
- Motor speed: Any turntable should be able to operate at 33 1/3 and 45 RPM – the standard speed for most records. Some turntables also offer a 78 RPM speed option, which is suitable for older records. With others, you might have to buy a separate attachment.
- Automatic/Manual operation: “Automatic” operation means that when you start the turntable, the tonearm automatically moves into place on top of the turntable. With “manual” operation, you have to do it yourself. Although convenient, the additional moving parts required for automatic operation can impact sound quality. Most audiophile turntables, hence, offer manual operation.
- Preamp: As I mentioned earlier, the phono signal produced by a turntable needs to be amplified before it can be fed into external speakers. Many low-end turntables have a built-in preamp to do this. The quality of this preamp is often debatable, though most will let you switch it on/off. Hence, high-end turntables usually skip the preamp – you have to supply your own.
- Built-in speakers: A few cheap turntables offer built-in speakers. These speakers are low-quality at best and ruin the immersion and quality you’d expect from vinyl. Avoid these at all costs.
- USB Output: Most turntables will have RCA output. Some new models, however, also offer USB output. This lets you connect the turntable to your computer, making it possible to digitize your tracks. Although not essential, this is a nice feature to have.
- Build quality: Sturdy and sturdy should be your two keywords when evaluating the best turntables under $1000. A well-built turntable won’t only last longer and look better, it will also have less vibrations and more consistent performance.
- Dampening: Vibrations and turntables don’t go along particularly well. Good turntables will have plenty of dampening in every component – from rubberized feet on the plinth (base) to felt covered platters.
- Signal-to-noise ratio: The signal-to-noise ratio (or S/N ratio for short) refers to how much signal, i.e. music, is produced for every decibel of noise. The higher the ratio, the more the music and the less the noise. Look for a S/N ratio of at least 50. Most good turntables will have a S/N ratio of 60, while high-end ones will have a S/N ratio of 70 or higher.
Other features you should think about are accessories such as turntable covers, cables, and that ultimate subjective thing – design.
Based on these factors, I’ll cover my top 10 turntables under $1000 below.
But first, a question that every customer invariably thinks about: what to spend on a turntable?
How Much Should You Spend on a Turntable?
Anyone reading this isn’t just a casual music fan. If you were, you would have been happy with Spotify. Or maybe you would have sprung for Tidal’s higher quality audio or even bought CDs.
But if you’re looking to buy a turntable, you’re inching close to serious music lover category. You don’t just want to listen to good music; you want to listen to good music in the most authentic possible format.
Listening to music on a turntable is deliberate. There is a sense of physicality that’s all but gone from digital music. You can’t skip tracks. You can’t shuffle across artists. You have to physically get up and put on a record to hear it.
This entire experience attracts people who are serious about sound and the instruments that produce it.
So when people ask me: how much should I spend on a turntable?, I invariably end up replying: “As much as you can afford“.
Having said that, I don’t recommend beginners to pump in $1,000 on a high-end Pro-ject turntable as their first purchase. There is a perfectly cheap entry point to the turntable experience.
By and large, here’s what you get for different price ranges:
- Under $100 ($): The starting point of turntable purchases. There is a good number of options in this price range from respected manufacturers like AudioTechnica. If you avoid the gimmicky offerings (“has Bluetooth! Has built-in speakers!”) and stick to the basics, you can get surprisingly good options for under $100.
- $100-$300 ($$): Turntables in this price range are often in no-man’s land. They aren’t cheap enough for a beginner, and they aren’t good enough for an audiophile. Generally, I tend to avoid products in this range. They rarely offer anything you can’t get in an under $100 AudioTechnica.
- $300-$500 ($$$): This is the point where you start getting quality beginner audiophile turntables. The $300-$500 price range is in the sweet spot of performance and price. You’ll start seeing your first “serious” brands such as Pro-Ject here. You’ll also start seeing fewer automatics and more manual turntables.
- $500+ ($$$$): The $500+ range is the starting point of “high-end” turntables. This is an expansive category and covers everything from a $500+ Pro-Ject turntable to a $2,500+ Elac. The quality of individual components matters a lot here. You’ll see high-end brands write paeans to their 8mm ruby balls and sintered bronze bearings. Needless to say, function and form matter more than price in this range.
So that wraps up my roundup of the best turntables under $1000 on the market right now. I’ve covered a big range of prices, starting from the budget-end to top-shelf audiophile-grade turntables. You can easily pick any turntable from this list and you’ll be happy with the purchase.
Just to recap, here’s the complete list again:
- Rega RP3 ($$$)
- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB ($$$)
- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC ($$)
- Rega Planar 1 ($$)
- Fluance RT80 ($)
- Audio-Technica AT LP60 ($)
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