After some thorough research of more than 50 turntables, we purchased the best 9 available in 2020 and tested them side-by-side for over 150 hours. To find the best sounding models we played the same records using the same speakers with each model. To find the easiest to use we had a team of testers, ranging from vinyl aficionados to complete newbies, evaluate each model's user friendliness attributes. To test vibration resistance we shook the tables that each model sat on as they played music. Whether you're just dipping your toe into the world of vinyl or are looking to upgrade from your existing record player, we can help you find the perfect companion for your analog music journey.
The Best Turntables of 2020
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Opting to highlight the elegant engineering inherent in turntables, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon sports sleek and minimalistic aesthetics that look great on almost any table or shelf. It backs that design up with the fullest, most robust sound of all the models we tested. What really sets it apart from the rest of the field is its clarity, which makes everything from classic rock to acoustic pieces sound sharp and brings out all the subtleties of the music. The build quality of this record player is also great, featuring a carbon fiber tonearm and heavy aluminum platter (an acrylic upgrade platter is available as well if you're willing to spend a bit more).
The biggest drawback to the Debut Carbon is its price. Not only is it the most expensive model we tested, but it is also the only model in our lineup that requires a separate preamp. This means you'll have to add a bit to the price if you don't already have an external preamp. It is also slightly more prone to skipping when bumped than other comparable models, and lacks some bells and whistles like the ability to digitize records. However, if you're looking to build the best sounding vinyl rig possible, we think this is a great starting point.
Read review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
When compared to the incredible sounding Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB is only a very small step down in terms of sound quality, but a huge step up in terms of convenience and affordability. Though its clarity and dynamic range fall slightly short of the Debut Carbon's, this machine is still able to produce a sharp, fresh, warm sound that will certainly provide a luxurious listening experience. It also has a beginner friendly cue lever that makes getting the needle on the record an easy and stress free experience, and a USB port that gives you the option of digitizing your treasured vinyl collection.
After we finished our testing we had only very minor complaints about the AT-LP120BK-USB. The first was that it did tend to skip somewhat easily when we bumped the table it was sitting on, and the second was that its sound quality fell just somewhat shy of that of the Debut Carbon. However, these issues are far from dealbreakers, and we still feel the AT-LP120BK-USB's mix of great sound and user-friendly features make it the best turntable for people starting their vinyl journey.
Read review: Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB
Best Bang for the Buck
If you just inherited some vintage vinyl and are looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy it, the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is your best bet. For a relatively price you get a rig that sounds pretty good and offers fully automatic cueing. This means you can just put the record on the platter and press a button, then the player will move the tonearm over and place the needle onto the record automatically. This makes it perfect for beginners, or those that are skittish about scratching a treasured record.
The one area you have to make a bit of a sacrifice in order to enjoy the low price of the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is sound quality. It sounds quite good, but the clarity and dynamic range both leave a bit to be desired when compared to both of our Editors' Choice winners. Overall the sound quality is about the same as that of a standard mp3, but with a bit more warmth. Despite this drawback, this player still offers a good vinyl experience for less than three digits, making it great for those that want to dip their toes into analog music, but aren't ready to make a big investment.
Read review: Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB
Best Vibration Resistance
There are probably a lot of people out there who have recently inherited a treasured record collection that they want to enjoy, but are borderline terrified of damaging those valuable keepsakes. If you fall into this category, we think the Fluance RT81 is a great choice. Not only does it sound pretty good, it provides more peace of mind that you won't scratch your vinyl gems. This is thanks, firstly, to a fully automatic cueing process that eliminates the chance of a clumsy hand driving a needle into the record. Secondly, this model provided by far the best vibration resistance in our testing — even hard bumps to the table it sat on didn't elicit skips. This means those skips that send you racing to make sure there isn't a scratch on your record will be very few and far between.
Apart from sound quality that is just slightly short of top-tier, the only real downside to the Fluance RT81 is its price. While it isn't overly expensive, it certainly isn't cheap either, and may be more than newcomers to the vinyl world will want to spend. But if you're looking for good sound from a player that will protect your records as much as possible, the Fluance RT81 is our top recommendation.
Read review: Fluance RT81
Why You Should Trust Us
In developing our sound quality testing process we worked with sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Palmer has more than a decade of experience recording sound, during which time he's worked with such clients as Animal Planet, PBS, and MTV. As the leaders of TechGearLab's audio reviews, authors Steven Tata and Max Mutter have spent the last 4 years using and testing nearly 200 of the most highly regarded consumer audio products on the market. Both are also lifelong musicians and have thus spent countless hours of their lives dissecting music bit by bit.
In completing this review we meticulously researched more than 100 of the most well-regarded turntables on the market. We then chose the ones we felt would be most likely to meet our reads' needs, bought them at retail price, and brought them into our testing lab. We then spent more than 100 hours just listening to these products, side-by-side, always using the exact same speaker setup to keep things consistent. After pouring through dozens of records running the entire imaginable gambit of musical genres (we even found a copy of whale songs on vinyl at a thrift store), we completed a once, twice, and thrice over of each machine, closely assessing construction quality and overall user-friendliness. We finished off by playing music and purposefully bumping into each player with progressively more force to test resistance to skipping.
Related: How We Tested Turntables
Analysis and Test Results
Modern life is fast-paced, and as a result, everything gets compressed. News stories are compressed into easily digestible sound bites, ideas are shared in tiny, 280 character chunks, and the music we listen to is warped and mashed into small digital files that can easily be beamed across various wireless networks. In many ways, turntables and vinyl records are an escape from that compression. Not only does vinyl provide all that precious musical information that is lost in digitally compressed files, it forces you to slow down and appreciate the music you're listening to. It pushes you to search the bins at music stores for a good vinyl copy of your favorite album, to appreciate the full-sized album art as you lovingly place it on the record player and put the needle down, and to listen to entire albums from beginning to end.
When it comes to record players there is generally a positive correlation between price and sound quality, but that doesn't mean you can't be smart with your money. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon offers great performance and sound, but at a high price. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK is nearly as good, and costs significantly less. If your budget is at the lower end of the spectrum the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB offers relatively good performance without a triple-digit price tag.
The warm, crisp sound that a good record player can produce is one of the main reasons people are ditching mp3's in favor of vinyl, so the majority of our testing was focused on examining sound quality. We did this by listening to 10 different records on each one of our turntables, and doing so in a side-by-side manner. We used two identical sets of speakers so we could quickly switch between players and get accurate comparisons. When listening we focused on each model's overall clarity and dynamic range (the volume difference between the softest and loudest notes played, which gives music depth). Finally, we compared each model to a standard mp3, again played through the same set of speakers.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the clear frontrunner in our sound quality metric, earning a score of 9 out of 10. It was crystal clear in our testing, and had a broad dynamic range that gave the music an emotional resonance and room to breathe. The Audio Technica AT-LP120BK-USB wasn't far behind, picking up a score of 8 out of 10. It also sported impressive clarity and dynamic range, but both were just slightly shy of what the Debut Carbon was able to produce.
Three different models shared the third step on the sound quality podium, all with scores of 7 out of 10. The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus, the Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK, and the Fluance RT81 sounded quite similar. All three produced a crisp, clear sound on par with the clarity of the Audio Technica AT-LP120BK-USB, but they all also had slightly narrower dynamic ranges. The only slight difference we noticed amongst these models is that the Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK has just slightly more powerful bass than the other two, but overall they all provide very similar listening experiences.
Two models, the Sony PSLX300USB and the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB, both scored 6 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Both of these models provided decent clarity that was a slight step down from the top scorers. They both also had noticeably smaller dynamic ranges, though they were still able to make loud notes sound punchy. For comparison, this is the same sound quality score we would give to a standard mp3 (the kind you'd stream through Pandora or Spotify) played through our testing speakers. However, both of these turntables do add some of that signature vinyl warmth, so they still provide a better listening experience if you like that flavor of sound.
In our quest for a truly shoestring budget record player we unfortunately listened to some discordant models. For example, the Jensen JTA-230 sounds incredibly thin and raspy (in a bad way, not a Stevie Nicks way). Similarly, the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed produces a very muddled sound with no almost no low-end. Bottom line, both of these models sound worse than listening to a low-quality mp3 with a cheap bluetooth speaker, and taught us that you need to be very careful when shopping for record players in the bargain basement price range.
Both a turntable's overall quality and its longevity are largely determined by the quality of their individual components. A light and stiff tonearm ensures constant and correct pressure on the record, a solid platter keeps motor vibrations from reaching the record, and a well-made cartridge will produce a high-quality signal for longer than a cheaply made one. We had some of our in-house mechanical engineers examine all of our record players' components side-by-side in order to determine their relative quality.
The clear frontrunner in this metric was the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, which earned the top score of 9 out of 10. It is the only model we tested that has a carbon fiber tonearm. The ideal tonearm is completely rigid yet weightless, and carbon fiber is about as close as you're going to get to that ideal. It also has a heavy aluminum platter, a felt mat to insulate the record from vibrations, and a high-quality Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
Two models, the Audio Technica AT-LP120BK-USB and the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus, sat just behind the top scorer with scores of 8 out of 10. Both of these models have solid, lightweight metal tonearms that were just slightly heavier and slightly less rigid than the Debut Carbon's tonearm. The AT-LP120BK-USB has a heavy aluminum platter and a nice felt mat material. The Orbit Plus has the best platter of any of the models we tested, a heavy acrylic number that greatly reduces vibration. However, its rubber mat material isn't quite as nice as the felt of other models.
The Fluance RT81 offers a good but not incredible set of componentry. Its platter is sturdy, but the aluminum makes it just a bit lighter, and thus less vibration resistant, than those of the top scoring models. The rubber mat is similarly effective, but not quite as plush as the felt mats of the top models. The metal tonearm has a solid feeling to it and sports a fairly nice AT95E Dual Magnet cartridge at the end.
The Fluance RT81 was the only model that earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. It has a nice aluminum platter that is just slightly lighter, and thus less vibration resistant, than those of the top scorers. It uses a rubber mat, which gets the job done, though we would refer felt. The metal tonearm feels solid and light and had a nice AT95E Dual Magnet cartridge at the end.
Audio-Technica builds even their budget models fairly well. The AT-LP3BK, which earned a 6 out fo 10 in this metric, has a nice rubber mat, a stiff metal tonearm, and a quality AT91R Dual Moving Magnet cartridge. The only aspect of its construction that we aren't huge fans of is the aluminum platter, which is definitely on the lighter side of things. Scoring a 5 out of 10, the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is built almost identically to its sibling, but the tonearm feels just slightly less stiff.
The Sony PSLX300USB also earned a score of 5 out of 10 in this metric. Its aluminum platter has a good, hefty weight to it, but we weren't huge fans of its rubber mat and somewhat flimsy tonearm. The stock Sony cartridge also didn't seem to measure up to those of most of the other models.
Again at the bottom of this metric were the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed and the Jensen JTA-230, which scored a 3 and 2 out of 10, respectively. Both of these models use lightweight, plastic platters and plastic mats that don't do much in the way of vibration resistance. The Jensen uses a flimsy plastic tonearm. The Victrola uses a slightly higher quality metal tonearm, but it is quite flimsy.
Especially for a beginner, the simple act of placing the needle on a record can be somewhat stressful. Simple touches like cue levers, which let you lower the needle by pulling a lever rather than using your hand, can make this process much easier. Fully automated cueing makes that process foolproof. You may need to make some adjustments to your turntable if it's not sounding good, so things like adjustable needle tracking force and pitch control can be great features to have. In our testing we had multiple people cue and adjust all of our record players, and then grade them based on their relative user friendliness.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB was the easiest to use of the models we tested, which is a large reason that it picked up one of our Editors' Choice Awards. It earned the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. First off, it has a well designed cue lever, so all you have to do is swing the tonearm into place and pull the lever, and the needle makes a controlled and gentle descent down onto the record. No worries about scratching, just move and pull. It is also very adjustable with pitch control, a well designed threaded weight for adjusting tracking force, a pitch control knob, and an automatic sensor that changes the platter speed for 33, 45, and 78 records. To top it all off, it also has a USB port so you can digitize any record.
Two models, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and the Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK, shared the second step on the podium, both earning a score of 8 out of 10.
The Debut Carbon has a smooth cue lever that makes cueing quite easy, even for a beginner. It doesn't have pitch control adjustability, but you can manually change the platter speed to accommodate 33's and 45's. It also has an anti-skating weight that keeps the needle from skipping across the record.We had no issues with this weight, but many online user reviews mention issues with it falling off.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK also has a nice cue lever. In addition, it has a fully automatic cueing function, so you can just push a button and the tonearm will magically move into position and drop the needle down onto the record. It can play both 33's and 45's, and automatically adjusts the platter speed based on what type of record you are playing. It does not have any sort of pitch control, but it does have a nice, threaded weight to adjust the tracking force.
The Sony PSLX300USB was the only model to score a 7 out of 10 in this metric. It also sports a fully automatic cueing function. This function always worked in our testing, but the mechanical action was jerkier than that of the Audio-Technica models we tested that have this feature. It can automatically sense the type of record you are play and adjust the platter speed to 33 or 45 rpm's. It does not have any sort of adjustment for pitch or tracing force. It can digitize your records, though the digitization quality is much better on the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB
The Best Buy Award winning Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB earned a 6 out of 10 in our user friendliness testing. It has our favorite automatic cueing function of any of the models we tested, making it great for beginners. It lost some points because it lacks some adjustability: there is no pitch control nor a tracking force adjustment. It will automatically adjust the platter speed whether you're playing a 33 or a 44.
The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus offers an average user experience, accordingly earning a 5 out of 10 in this metric. The most challenging aspect of this machine is the manual cueing, as it lacks any sort of cue lever. This maneuver isn't so difficult to master, but it can add a bit of stress, especially if you're trying to play an old, treasured, and irreplaceable record. It can accommodate both 33 and 45 rpm records, and though there isn't a pitch adjustment you can make changes to the tracking force. However, tracking force is adjusted via a sliding weight, which we found to be far harder to make small, controlled adjustments with than the threaded weights present on many other models.
The Jensen JTA-230 and the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed again tied for the bottom spot in this metric. The JTA-230 only offers manual cueing, and the tonearm tends to stick a bit as you move it, making the process much more difficult. It also does not have any adjustments for tracking force. It does automatically adjust to 33, 45, and 78 records, provide a pitch control adjustment, and offer a USB port that allows you to digitize your records. However, we didn't think the resulting mp3 files were of a particularly good quality.
The Victrola Vintage can also automatically adjust to record size, but that's kind of where the positives end. It has no adjustments for pitch or tracking force, cannot digitize records, and has a relatively flimsy cue lever that makes cueing a bit more difficult and stressful than it needs to be.
One of the biggest downsides of switching to analog music is that you have to deal with skipping, and not the fun kind. Nothing can put a damper on an impromptu dance party like a skipping record. Not only is it a bummer, it can also cause damage to your records. We tested vibration resistance first by shaking the table that our turntables were sitting on. Somewhat surprisingly, all of them passed this test. We then moved on to bumping into the table with increasingly more force until each model finally gave in and skipped.
The Fluance RT81 withstood the hardest bumps to the table without skipping, and earned the top score of 8 out of 10 in this metric. Basically, unless you power walk straight into the table the Flaunce is sitting on, or through roller derby style hip check while you're busting a move, the Fluance won't skip. This makes it great for those aggressive dancers amongst us.
The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus was just behind the Fluance with a score of 7 out of 10 in this metric. It could still handle quite a wallop to the table it was sitting on without skipping, but it still took less force to get it skipping than with the Fluance.
Most of the models we tested earned an average score of 6 out of 10 in our vibration resistance testing.These models can stand up to generally ambling about or even accidentally bumping a hip into the table without skipping. But anything more aggressive (like jumping around and dancing) and you may run into some issues. Six different models fell into this category, including the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB, the Sony PSLX300USB, the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB, and the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed.
The Jensen JTA-230 was one of the very few models we tested that made us feel like we had to tiptoe around. All but the lightest of taps to the table it sat upon made it skip in our testing. Accordingly this model is better suited to those that like to enjoy music while sitting on the couch, not those that like to dance to their records.
Turntables can be both daunting and confusing, with most people having very strong (and often very vocal) opinions about them. Our journey through the world of vinyl has been and continues to be a joyous one, and we hope that sharing that experience has elucidated whether you would enjoy leaping into the world of records, or that you'd rather stick to the digital realm.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata