The Best Turntables of 2017

Tired of low-quality streaming music? We researched over 50 turntables, then tested the 9 best side-by-side for more than 100 hours, all so you can ditch the discordant digital music files and experience the sound of analog. Our tests closely examined sound quality, user-friendliness, and overall construction quality. Our top picks cover everyone, from audiophiles that want the best possible sound quality, to vinyl newcomers that want a good mix of sound quality and convenience, to those that just want an inexpensive way to listen to the crate of vintage records they just found in a relative's attic. Read on, and enjoy your vinyl journey.

Read the full review below ≫

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9 ≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
Rank #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB
Fluance RT81
Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK
U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award       
Price $400 List
$386.51 at Amazon
$300 List
$279.00 at Amazon
$250 List
$249.99 at Amazon
$250 List
$199.00 at Amazon
$380 List
$379.00 at Amazon
Overall Score 
100
0
85
100
0
81
100
0
74
100
0
68
100
0
68
Star Rating
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Pros Exceptional sound quality, high quality construction, easy to useGreat sound, high quality construction, easy to useGood sound, fully automatic cueing, great vibration resistanceGood sound quality, fully automatic cueingGood sound quality, high quality construction, good vibration resistance
Cons Susceptible to skipping if bumped, expensiveExpensiveExpensiveSomewhat prone to skippingExpensive, fully manual, some static distortion at higher volumes
Ratings by Category Pro-Ject Debut Carbon AT-LP120BK-USB RT81 AT-LP3BK Orbit Plus
Sound Quality - 40%
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
7
Component Quality - 25%
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
8
User Friendliness - 25%
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
5
Vibration Resistance - 10%
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
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5
10
0
7
Specs Pro-Ject Debut Carbon AT-LP120BK-USB RT81 AT-LP3BK Orbit Plus
Cartridge Ortofon 2M Red Audio Technica AT95E Audio Technica AT95E Audio Technica AT91R Ortofon OM 5E
Drive Method Belt Direct Belt Belt Belt
USB Compatibility No Yes No No No

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Max Mutter and Steven Tata

Last Updated:
Tuesday
December 5, 2017

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Best Sound


Pro-Ject Debut Carbon


Editors' Choice Award

$386.51
at Amazon
See It

Drive Method: Belt | Operation: Manual

Exceptional sound quality
High Quality Construction
Easy to use
Expensive
Susceptible to skipping if bumped
Sporting a sleek, minimalistic look, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the best sounding turntable we tested. It combines crystal clear clarity with a wide dynamic range that creates a full and robust sound, all while lending music that rich warmth that vinyl is famous for. That incredible sound does come at a price, however, as the Debut Carbon is the most expensive record player that we tested. It is also the only model in our lineup that does not come with an internal preamp, so you'll have to spend around another $80 if you don't already have one (if you don't, we got great results with this one). But if you don't mind spending a bit extra for great sound, the Debut Carbon will not disappoint.

Read review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

Best Overall


Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB


Editors' Choice Award

$279.00
at Amazon
See It

Drive Method: Direct | Operation: Manual

Great sound
High quality construction
Easy to use
Susceptible to skipping if bumped
While the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB was not the best sounding model we tested, it was close. Both its clarity and dynamic range rivaled those of the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, and in our testing it created a nuanced, resonant, and warm sound that pleased anyone within earshot. It has the added convenience of a built-in preamp, so all you need is a set of speakers with an RCA input and you're good to go. It is also significantly less expensive than the Debut Carbon, and is slightly easier to cue, making it perfect for those who are new to vinyl but still want to get great sound right out of the box.

Read review: Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB

Best Bang for the Buck


Audio-Technica AT-LP60BK


Best Buy Award

$89.00
at Amazon
See It

Drive Method: Belt | Operation: Fully Automatic

Inexpensive
Good Sound
Fully automatic operation
Dynamic range is a bit stunted
Little adjustability
Combining good sound, a low price, and user friendly features, the Audio Technica AT-LP60BK is perfect if you're buying your first turntable and don't' want to make a big investment, or are looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy the box of old records you just found in the attic. While it doesn't sound quite as good as our two Editors' Choice winners, it can still belt out a crisp, clear tune with punchy loud notes and subtle complexities. It features fully automatic cueing, which will move the needle onto the record at the push of a button. This is great for those that have never cued a record player and are nervous about scratching their vintage vinyl treasures. If you're looking for an inexpensive but worthwhile introduction into vinyl, look no further.

Read review: Audio Technica AT-LP60BK

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Score Product Price Our Take
85
$400
Editors' Choice Award
Superior sound for a model in this price range, a perfect first player for discerning listeners looking to start their vinyl journey
81
$300
Editors' Choice Award
Great sound and user friendliness make this turntable great for almost anyone
74
$250
Great for those that want good sound and something that won't skip if the vinyl inspires some dancing
68
$250
Great for those that want fully automatic cueing and good sound
68
$380
A good model that lacks some ease of use touches that beginners would appreciate, and is priced relatively high
60
$130
A great low cost, entry level model, but there are better values to be found in its price range
58
$100
Best Buy Award
The best sound per dollar value of any of the models we tested, and has user-friendly features to boot
29
$60
A budget option that doesn't provide good enough sound quality to produce a good listening experience
28
$50
A very inexpensive option that sounds correspondingly bad


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.

If that experience sounds appealing to you, our testing results below will help you find the perfect turntable for your record collection.

Searching through the TechGearLab vinyl library for the perfect sound quality testing tracks.
Searching through the TechGearLab vinyl library for the perfect sound quality testing tracks.

Sound Quality


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.

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the best sounding turntable we tested.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the best sounding turntable we tested.

Two models, the Sony PSLX300USB and the Audio-Technica AT-LP60BK, 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 though 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.

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB was a very close second in our sound quality testing.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB was a very close second in our sound quality testing.

We included two very inexpensive (in relative terms) turntables in our selection in order to look for a good shoestring budget option. Unfortunately, our testing results indicate that it's not really worth spending less than $100 on a turntable or record player. Both the Jensen JTA-230, which earned a 3 out of 10, and the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed, which fared slightly worse with a 2, sounded no better than listening to a low quality mp3 through an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker. In fact, both models introduced some annoying distortion that kind of ruined the vinyl listening experience.

Using a tracking force meter to assess component quality.
Using a tracking force meter to assess component quality.

Component Quality


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 titular carbon fiber tonearm of the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the highest quality tonearm we came across in our testing.
The titular carbon fiber tonearm of the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the highest quality tonearm we came across in our testing.

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 tonearms feels solid and light and had a nice AT95E Dual Magnet cartridge at the end.

Earning a 6 out of 10, the Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK uses an aluminum platter that is somewhat on the lighter side and a rubber mat. We liked its stiff, metal tonearm and AT91R Dual Moving Magnet cartridge. The Best Buy Award winning Audio Technica AT-LP60BK, which earned a slightly lower score of 5 out of 10, is built very similarly. It has a slightly nicer felt mat, but its tonearm is just a bit flimsier and Audio-Technica Dual Magnet cartridge isn't quite as nice.

The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus' heavy acrylic platter was the most effective at reducing vibration in our testing.
The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus' heavy acrylic platter was the most effective at reducing vibration in our testing.

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.

To test user friendliness we examined every aspect of each model's user experience  from the control interface to the cueing process.
To test user friendliness we examined every aspect of each model's user experience, from the control interface to the cueing process.

User Friendliness


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, is 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.

While we didn't have any problems in our testing  many users complain of the Debut Carbon's anti-skate weight falling off.
While we didn't have any problems in our testing, many users complain of the Debut Carbon's anti-skate weight falling off.

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 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

We loved the convenience of the cue lever of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB.
We loved the convenience of the cue lever of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB.

The Best Buy Award winning Audio Technica AT-LP60BK 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 earned an average score of 5 out of 10 in this metric. It has neither a cue lever or automatic cueing, so you must place the needle on the record completely by hand. This isn't the most difficult thing to master, but it can be stressful for a newcomer, and even our experienced vinyl aficionados wished it had a cue lever. You can change the platter speed from 33 to 45 rpm's manually. There is no pitch control, but you can adjust the tracking force. However, the tracking force is adjusted with a sliding weight, which makes minute adjustments much more difficult than on the models that use threaded weights.

Having a turntable that automatically adjusts the platter speed based on what type of record you're playing adds a level of convenience. The Sony PSLX300USB  pictured here  automatically changes speed  but you can also override it manually.
Having a turntable that automatically adjusts the platter speed based on what type of record you're playing adds a level of convenience. The Sony PSLX300USB, pictured here, automatically changes speed, but you can also override it manually.

Again, the Jensen JTA-230 and the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed ended up with the worst scores in this metric, both earning just a 3 out of 10. The Jensen JTA-230 has no cue lever, so you always have to cue by hand. The tonearm is also a bit sticky, which makes hand cueing even harder. It has no tracking force adjustment, but does have pitch control and can automatically adjust to 33, 45, and 78 records. It is also able to digitize records, though the quality is quite low.

The Victrola Vintage 3-Speed can also automatically adjust to 33, 45, and 78 records. It does not have pitch control nor a tracking force adjustment, but it does have a cue lever. The cue lever is a bit flimsy, so while it does make cueing easier than on the Jensen JTA-230, it's not by much. The Victrola cannot digitize records.

U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus ready for some vibration resistance testing.
U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus ready for some vibration resistance testing.

Vibration Resistance


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 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.

The Fluance RT81 was the most adept at avoiding skips during our vibration resistance testing.
The Fluance RT81 was the most adept at avoiding skips during our vibration resistance testing.

Most of the models we tested fell into the fairly average 6 out of 10 bucket in this metric. These models were able to take a standard bump to their table without skipping. By 'standard bump' we mean a, "Whoops I accidently walked into the table and it kind of hurt," sort of bump. Anything more, like getting hit by an errant elbow while dancing, will likely make them skip. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB, the Sony PSLX300USB, the Audio-Technica AT-LP60BK, and the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed all fell into this category.

The Jensen JTA-230 was the one model we tested that was particularly susceptible to vibration in our testing. While it passed the shake the table test, any sort of bump to the table led to a skip.

Conclusion


Jumping into the world of vinyl records and turntables can be a both a rewarding and exhilarating experience. We hope our testing results have cleared some of the confusion that can shroud these retro turned new age machines and led you to the perfect model. If you're still not sure what you want, or still aren't sure whether the vinyl listening experience is one that you'd enjoy, check out our buying advice article. It goes through all the digital versus analog debates you hear between music lovers, and provides a step-by-step guide for determining what you should be looking for in a turntable.

Max Mutter and Steven Tata

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