The Best Turntables of 2020
Best Sound Quality
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. That attention to detail extends to the sound quality, as this record player treated us to the fullest and most well-balanced sound of all the models we tested. In particular, it displays impressive clarity through the mid and treble ranges, expressing more subtleties and nuances that enrich the listening experience. To top it all off the overall build quality is more robust than that of most other models in this price range.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is pricier than most other models on this list, and is the only one that requires purchasing a separate preamplifier. In total this may be more than most vinyl newcomers will want to spend. However, for those that are willing to spend a bit extra for better sound quality, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon gets our wholehearted recommendation. Additionally, if you have any linking that vinyl listening could become a more serious hobby for you, this model offers more options for upgrading down the road.
Read review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Best For Most People
When compared to the melodious Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is only a very small step down in terms of sound quality, but a huge step up in terms of affordability and convenience. Although its clarity and dynamic range fall slightly short of the Debut Carbon's, this machine is still able to produce a sharp, warm, and fresh sound that is sure to 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. There is even a USB port in case you want to digitize some of your old and treasured records.
There is very little to complain about when it comes to the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB. Sure, the sound quality is simply great rather than exceptional, and it can be slightly more susceptible to skipping than some other models, but overall it offers the best and most fully-featured experience we've found for vinyl newcomers and veterans alike.
Read review: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB
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 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, ensuring no shaky hands will scratch your newly found vinyl treasures. Plus it offers the option of digitizing records so you can make a copy of that rare, vinyl-only track for safekeeping.
The biggest downside of the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB is its sound. While it is fairly well balanced and has a hint of that vinyl warmth that many people love, we didn't find the experience to be all that different from listening to a music streaming service on a decent set of speakers. Sound quality is inherently subjective, but 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 the thought of a scratched record causes you extreme levels of anxiety, or you want to minimize record skipping whilst dancing with reckless abandon, the Fluance RT81 is a great choice. First off, its fully-automated cueing eliminates the chance that a slip of the hand will result in a catastrophic scratch. Second, the RT81 was the best performer in our vibration resistance testing, warding of skips even when we strongly bumped the table on which it sat. This combination offers ample protection for your record collection.
Apart from sound quality that is just slightly short of top-tier, the only real downside of the Fluance RT81 is its price. Although it isn't overly expensive, it certainly isn't cheap and may be a bit pricey for vinyl newcomers. But if you're looking for good sound from a player that offers greater than average protection for your record collection, the Fluance RT81 is our top recommendation.
Read review: Fluance RT81
Why You Should Trust Us
In order to create the most useful sound quality testing procedure possible we worked with sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Palmer has more than a decade of experience recording sound, during which he's worked with such clients as Animal Planet, PBS, and MTV. Heading this review are GearLab's audio specialists Michelle Powell and Max Mutter. Over the past 4 years they've conducted hands-on testing of more than 200 of the best turntables, speakers, headphones, earbuds, and soundbars on the market.
To complete 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 readers' needs, bought them at retail price, and brought them into our testing lab. We 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 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 a record 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 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, 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 marvel at the full-sized album art as you lovingly place it on the record player, and to set the needle down and enjoy 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, 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 mp3's 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.
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 room to breathe and emotional resonance. The Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB wasn't far behind, picking up a score of 8 out of 10. It also supplied 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-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, but overall they all provide very similar listening experiences.
Two models, the Sony PSLX300USB and the Audio Technica AT-LP60XUSB, 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 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 played through our testing speakers (the kind of compressed audio file you might stream through Pandora or Spotify). 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.
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. 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. We had some of our in-house mechanical engineers examine all of our record players' components side-by-side to assess their relative quality.
The clear frontrunner in this metric is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, which earned the top 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 greatly 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. Its platter is sturdy, but the aluminum makes it 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.
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, 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. 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 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 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 a somewhat stressful task. Simple touches like cue levers, which let you lower the needle by pulling a lever rather than using your hand, can make this process a lot easier. Fully automated cueing makes that process foolproof. You may also need to make some adjustments to your turntable if it's not sounding 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, which is a big part of why it picked up an Editors' Choice Award. 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 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 record.
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 that keeps 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 earning an 8 out of 1 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 automatically adjusts the platter speed based on which type of record you are playing. Although it does not have any sort of pitch control, t 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. This function always worked in our testing, but the mechanical action was jerkier than that of the Audio-Technica models that also shared this feature. It can automatically sense the type of record you are playing 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, however, the digitization quality is much better on the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB
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 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 accordingly. The most challenging aspect of this machine is the manual cueing because 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, 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 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, which makes 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 a particularly good quality.
The Victrola Vintage was the worst scorer 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, lacks the ability to 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. 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 increasing force until each model finally gave in and skipped.
In our testing the Fluance RT81 withstood impressively hard bumps to the table it sat on without skipping. We were able to 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. But anything more aggressive, such as jumping around or 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-LP120XUSB, the Sony PSLX300USB, 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 dancing 6 feet away from that table managed to induce the same. This player is far more suited to those that like to sink into a couch while they enjoy their vinyl than those that 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