|Price||$400 List||$250 List||$250 List|
$249.99 at Amazon
$199.00 at Amazon
$379.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Exceptional sound quality, high quality construction, easy to use||Great sound, high quality construction, easy to use||Good sound, fully automatic cueing, great vibration resistance||Good sound quality, fully automatic cueing||Good sound quality, high quality construction, good vibration resistance|
|Cons||Susceptible to skipping if bumped, expensive||Expensive||Expensive||Somewhat prone to skipping||Expensive, fully manual, some static distortion at higher volumes|
|Bottom Line||Great for audiophiles that want the best possible listening experience||Great sound quality and user-friendly features will please vinyl veterans and newcomers alike||Automatic cueing and good resistance to skipping offers greater peace of mind when listening to treasured old records||A solid performer that offers the convenience of fully automatic cueing||Good sound and construction that is held back by a higher than average price point and less user friendly design|
|Rating Categories||Pro-Ject Debut...||Audio-Technica...||Fluance RT81||Audio-Technica...||U-Turn Audio Orbit...|
|Sound Quality (40%)|
|Component Quality (25%)|
|User Friendliness (25%)|
|Vibration Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Pro-Ject Debut...||Audio-Technica...||Fluance RT81||Audio-Technica...||U-Turn Audio Orbit...|
|Cartridge||Ortofon 2M Red||Audio Technica AT95E||Audio Technica AT95E||Audio Technica AT91R||Ortofon OM 5E|
|Operation||Manual||Manual||Fully Automatic||Fully Automatic||Manual|
Best Sound Quality
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Sporting a sleek and minimalist aesthetic, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon looks great on almost any table or shelf. That attention to detail extends to the sound quality, treating us to the fullest and most well-balanced sound of all the models we tested. It offers impressive clarity through the mid and treble ranges, expressing more subtleties and nuances. To top it off, the build quality is more robust than with most other models in its price range.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is pricier than most models on this list and is the only one to require a separate preamplifier. Consequently, this may be more of an investment than most vinyl newcomers will want to make. However, for those willing to spend a bit extra for better sound quality, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon gets our wholehearted recommendation. Also, if you think that vinyl listening could become a more serious pursuit, this model offers more options for upgrades.
Read review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Best For Most People
Compared to the melodious Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is a very small step down in terms of sound quality but a huge step up in affordability and convenience. Dynamic range and clarity are slightly short of the Debut Carbon, but this machine is still able to produce a sharp, warm, and fresh sound. It also has a beginner-friendly cue lever that makes getting the needle on the record an easy and stress-free experience. There is even a USB port if you get the urge to digitize some of your old and treasured records.
The sound quality of Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is great rather than exceptional, and it can be slightly more susceptible to skipping than is the case with some other models. Still, overall it offers a fully-featured experience for vinyl newcomers and veterans alike.
Read review: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB
Best Bang for the Buck
If you just came upon some vintage vinyl and need an inexpensive way to enjoy it, the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is your best bet. For a relatively low price, you get a rig that sounds decent and offers fully automatic cueing — the needle moves into place and lowers onto the record at the push of a button, so there's no risk of shaky hands scratching your newly found vinyl treasures. Plus, it offers the option of digitizing records so you can make copies for safekeeping.
The main downside of the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is its sound. It is fairly well balanced and has that hint of vinyl warmth that many people cherish, but the experience wasn't all that different from listening to a music streaming service on a decent set of speakers. We would classify the AT-LP60XUSB's listening experience as enjoyable but not memorable. Still, this player offers a simple, straightforward, pleasant, and inexpensive entry point into the world of vinyl.
Read review: Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB
Best Vibration Resistance
If you want to minimize record skipping while dancing with reckless abandon, the Fluance RT81 is a great choice. First, the fully-automated cueing eliminates the chance that a slip of the hand will cause a catastrophic scratch. Second, the RT81 was the best performer in our vibration resistance testing, warding off skips even when we forcefully bumped the table on which it sat.
Though its sound quality is just slightly short of top-tier, the real downside of the Fluance RT81 is its price. Although not overly expensive, it certainly isn't cheap and might be a bit pricey for vinyl newcomers. But if you want good sound from a player with greater than average protection for your record collection, the Fluance RT81 is our top recommendation.
Read review: Fluance RT81
Why You Should Trust Us
To create the most useful sound quality testing procedure, we worked with sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Palmer has more than a decade of experience recording sound. He has worked with such clients as Animal Planet, PBS, and MTV. Joining him on our team were GearLab audio specialists Michelle Powell and Max Mutter. In the past four years, they have tested more than 200 of the best turntables, speakers, earbuds, headphones, and soundbars on the market.
We carefully researched more than 100 of the best-regarded turntables on the market. Then we chose the nine most promising models, bought them at retail price, and took them to our testing lab. We spent more than 100 hours listening to these products, side-by-side, always using the same speaker setup. We listened to dozens of records running the gamut of musical genres (we even found a copy of whale songs on vinyl at a thrift store). Then we did a once, twice, and thrice over of each machine, assessing overall user-friendliness and construction quality. Finally, to test each player's resistance to skipping, we played a record and purposefully bumped into each model with progressively more force.
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 280-character chunks, and the music we listen to is warped and mashed into small digital files that can easily be beamed across our wireless networks. In many ways, turntables and vinyl records are an escape from this compression. Not only does vinyl transmit all that precious musical information that is lost in digitally compressed files, but it also 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 marvel at the full-sized album art as you lovingly place the record on the player, and to set the needle down and enjoy entire albums from beginning to end.
There is generally a positive correlation between price and sound quality when it comes to record players, but that doesn't mean you can't be smart with your money. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon offers sound and great performance, but at a high price. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK is nearly as good but 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 mp3s in favor of vinyl, so the majority of our testing centered around examining sound quality. We did this by listening to 10 different records on each one of our turntables 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 all the models to a standard mp3 played through the same set of speakers.
Earning a score of 9 out of 10, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon was the clear frontrunner in our sound quality metric. It was crystal clear in our testing and had a broad dynamic range that gave the music emotional resonance and room to breathe. The Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB wasn't far behind, picking up a score of 8 out of 10. It also supplied impressive dynamic range and clarity, but both were just slightly shy of what the Debut Carbon could produce.
Three different models shared the third step on the sound quality podium, all with scores of 7 out of 10. The Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK, the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus, and the Fluance RT81 sounded quite similar. All three produced a crisp, clear sound on par with the clarity of the Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB, but they all also had slightly narrower dynamic ranges. The only minor difference we noticed amongst these models is that the Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK offers slightly more powerful bass than the other two. Still, overall they all provide very similar listening experiences.
Two models, the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB and the Sony PSLX300USB, 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 also showed noticeably smaller dynamic ranges, though they could still make loud notes sound punchy. For comparison, this is the same sound quality score we would give to a standard mp3 played through our testing speakers (the kind of compressed audio file you might stream through Spotify or Pandora). Both of these turntables, however, do add some of that signature vinyl warmth, so they still provide a better listening experience if you like that flavor of sound.
Unfortunately, in our quest for a truly shoestring-budget record player, we 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. They taught us that you need to be very careful when shopping for record players in the bargain-basement price range.
A turntable's overall quality and longevity are largely determined by the quality of its 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. To assess relative quality, we had some of our in-house mechanical engineers examine all of our record players' components side-by-side.
This metric's clear frontrunner is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, which earned the highest score of 9 out of 10. It is the only model we tested that sports a carbon fiber tonearm. An ideal tonearm would be completely rigid yet weightless, and carbon fiber is about as close as you're going to get to that ideal. The Debut Carbon 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-LP120XUSB 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 are just slightly heavier and less rigid than the Debut Carbon's tonearm. The AT-LP120XUSB 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 dramatically reduces vibration. However, the rubber mat material that it's fitted with isn't quite as nice as the felt on other models.
The Fluance RT81 offers a good but not incredible set of componentry. Though its platter is sturdy, the aluminum makes it a bit lighter and thus less vibration-resistant than some of the top-scoring models. The rubber mat is similarly effective but not quite as plush as the top models' felt mats. The metal tonearm feels solid and sports a fairly 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 of 10 in this metric, has a nice rubber mat, 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. The Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is built almost identically to its sibling, but the tonearm feels just slightly less stiff. It scored a 5 out of 10.
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 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 provide very much vibration resistance. The Jensen uses a flimsy plastic tonearm. The Victrola uses a slightly higher quality metal tonearm, but it still feels quite flimsy.
The simple act of placing the needle on a record can be a somewhat stressful task, especially for a beginner. This process can be made easier with simple touches like cue levers, which let you lower the needle by pulling a lever rather than using your hand. Fully automated cueing makes that process foolproof. You may also need to make some adjustments to your turntable if it does not sound good, so things like adjustable needle tracking force and pitch control are 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-LP120XUSB was the easiest model to use in our tests, earning the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. First off, it has a well-designed cue lever; 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 a pitch control knob, a well designed threaded weight for adjusting tracking force, 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 album.
The Debut Carbon, which earned an 8 out of 10 in this metric, 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 or 45's. It also has an anti-skating weight designed to keep the needle from skipping across the record. We experienced no issues with this weight, but many online customer reviews mention issues with it falling off.
Also scoring an 8 out of 10, the Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK also has a nice cue lever and 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 will automatically adjust the platter speed based on which type of record you are playing. Although it does not have any type of pitch control, it does have a nice, threaded weight to adjust the tracking force.
The Sony PSLX300USB is the only model to score a 7 out of 10 in this metric. It also sports a fully automatic cueing function. Though this function always worked in our testing, we found that the mechanical action was jerkier than the Audio-Technica models that shared this feature. It can automatically sense the type of record you are playing and adjust the platter speed to 33 or 45 rpm. It does not have any adjustment for pitch or tracing force. It can digitize your records; however, the digitization quality is much better on the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB
The Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB earned a 6 out of 10 for user-friendliness. It has our favorite automatic cueing function of any of the models in our test fleet, making it great for beginners. It lost some points because it lacks some adjustability; there isn't any pitch control or 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, earning a 5 out of 10 in this metric. Because it lacks any sort of cue lever, we found the most challenging aspect of this machine to be the manual cueing. This maneuver isn't super tricky 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, the tracking force is adjusted via a sliding weight. We found this mechanism more tricky to make small, controlled adjustments than with the threaded weights of many other models.
The Victrola Vintage 3-Speed and Jensen JTA-230 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 the tracking force. It can automatically adjust to 33, 45, and 78 records, and it provides a pitch control adjustment and a USB port that allows you to digitize your records. However, we didn't think the resulting mp3 files were of particularly good quality.
The Victrola Vintage scored the lowest in this metric. The fact that it can automatically adjust to different record sizes is its only saving grace. Otherwise, it lacks any adjustments for pitch and tracking force, cannot digitize records, and utilizes a relatively flimsy cue lever that makes touching needle to record more precarious 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 playground kind. Nothing puts a damper on an impromptu dance party like the music skipping. Not only is it a bummer, but it can also cause damage to your records. To test vibration resistance, we first shook 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 increasing force until each model finally gave in and skipped.
The Fluance RT81 withstood impressively hard bumps to the table it sat on without skipping in our testing. We could get it to skip, but we really had to throw some force into it. Bottom line, if someone bumps the Fluance RT81 hard enough to get it to skip, your first instinct will likely be to make sure said person is ok, not to check that your record isn't scratched (depending on the record, of course).
The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus also prevented skipping in our test quite well, falling just behind the Fluance RT81 with a score of 7 out of 10. It withstood even a fairly strong hip check to its table without skipping. However, we were able to get it to skip via a table bump equivalent to a clumsy stumble.
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 general ambling about or even accidentally bumping a hip into the table without skipping. However, anything more aggressive, such as dancing or jumping around, and you could run into some issues. Six different models fell into this category, including the Sony PSLX300USB, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB, the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB, and the Victrola Vintage 3-Speed.
The Jensen JTA-230 was so sensitive in our vibration resistance testing that we felt like we had to slink around on our tiptoes in order to appease it. Just light grazes against the table it sat on caused it to skip, and even some rigorous dance moves 6 feet away from that table managed to induce the same. This player is far more suited to those who like to sink into a couch while enjoying their vinyl than those who like to be up and about or dancing.
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. We hope that sharing that experience has elucidated whether you would enjoy leaping into the world of records or whether it might be better to stick to the digital realm.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata