Defined as “a circular revolving plate supporting a record as it is played”, turntables have always fascinated people by their simplistic design, yet, complex features. Having analyzed and scrutinized the complex market of turntables for months, our end deduction is that three essential characteristics matter when it comes to selecting a turntable. These are precision, stability and material quality. If those three elements are considered in the manufacturing of the device, record players will never disappoint a user. In turn, this article will attempt to give the reader the option to choose the best turntable under 500 $.
Our focus, here, will be to inform customers about the functioning of a turntable, offer advice for the undecided buyers, and weigh the pros and cons of the best record players. Our analysis is based on the quality of fabrication which will obviously determine the value of this product. Plinth, platters, tonearms, and cartridges will all determine if the three aforementioned criteria are met. Without dwelling any further on specificities, let’s cover the most valuable information you can retain about turntables.
How does a turntable work?
What are the components of a turntable?
The plinth can be described as the pillar of a record player. It is on the plinth that the rest of the components sit. Its stability is ensured by the fact that feet link it to the base. Moreover, different materials can be employed to manufacture this part of the turntable. Nonetheless, the most popular are wood, plastic or metal.
Platter & Mat
For a vinyl to be able to properly spin, there has to be a platter. This is the rotating component which allows the rotation. Often, this part is heavier, having to limit vibrations. Another important element is the mat, a component located between the platter and the vinyl. The mat provides a soft link between the aforementioned elements and also reduces vibrations. If the majority of record players play both 33 and 45 RPM (rotations per minute), some of them also play 78 RPM.
Playing an important part in the assembly of a turntable, the “tonearm” can be described as the “arm” which moves around the record and permits the contact between the needle and your vinyl to allow your playback. When we talk about “cueing device” we are generally referring to the mechanism that lifts and lowers the tonearm. This is a very sensitive piece of hardware which should be taken care off.
Providing maximal stability, the tonearm enables the initial contact with the vinyl without causing any lateral movement. In the contemporary era, most manufactured turntables are automatic, allowing the user to press one button to activate the tonearm. Other turntables still want you to go through the traditional process of placing the tonearm over the record. For instance, audiophiles complain about the automatic function since it disturbs, according to them, the tonearm’s motion.
The Headshell (Cartridge/Stylus)
The cartridge and stylus are two elements of the turntable which are closely intertwined. If the cartridge is the component that supports the stylus, the latter can often be depicted as a needle. These words often cause a lot of confusion. As a consequence, they are used interchangeably. Nonetheless, as we just said, these elements don’t mean the same thing. A more suited word would be “headshell” since it refers to both elements. Moreover, this part of the turntable is crucial in the sense that it determines to a great extent how your turntable will sound. If you don’t appreciate what you hear, a good solution would be to buy a new headshell (cartridge and stylus). This change often produces great results and is worth the extra buck.
Belt Drive or Direct Drive Turntable?
Belt Drive Turntable
Spins the platter using an elastic belt that’s attached to the motor. The platter sits on a bearing (a bearing is a device that is used to enable rotational or linear movement) and is isolated from the motor.
The motor sometimes generates vibrations. Here, an elastic belts acts as an absorber of these shocks.
The monitor is better isolated and enables less noise transmission.
Lower torque which can result in less precise playback speed.
After a lot of use (several years), the belt could need to be replaced.
Direct Drive Turntable
The direct drive system has an inclusive dynamic. Platter and motor are connected in an intricate way. These type of turntables produce faster startup times, a more solid torque and more regular and precise speeds.
The higher position of the torque makes the platter of direct drive turntables more resistant to external elements (for example your hand or a stylus).
Reduced sound distortion because of the faster high speed of the torque.
With this system you can spin the platter backwards. Often, this allows you to produce unanticipated effects (additional creativity for djs).
This type of mechanism can sometimes produce unexpected vibrations which can deterior the sound quality.
Shock absorbers that are placed between the platter and the motor can be a solution to that problem.
Manual or Automatic turntable?
These methods are directly making a reference to the way you put and remove the needle from the record. The majority of mid to high end turntables use a manual process. In the end it doesn’t matter that much, even if audiophiles prefer manual turntables.
Where do I put my turntable?
- One necessary consideration is to put your turntable on a very flat surface
- For your turntable to work in an efficient way, it would be better to completely shut it off from any undesired vibrations. A good recommendation would be to avoid putting your record player close to your speaker. The unfortunate event which would occur is that external vibrations could be turned into a sound, a hum; which would considerably jeopardize your listening experience.
How upgradeable are the parts?
It depends on the price bracket of the record player. The entry level are certainly NOT upgradeable since they are really cheap. However, some parts from that list below are removable and can be replaced fairly easily.
An important thing to mention is that the heavier the platter is, the better the stability is going to be. However, if you’re not satisfied and you think that your turntable isn’t stable. You better find a heavier platter. But you probably won’t need to replace the platter since other parts are more sensitive to vibrations.
The quality of the tonearm can have a big impact on the accuracy and consistency with which the record rotates.
Also known as the needle, the stylus is the easiest part to upgrade and the most worthwhile. The stylus makes direct contact with the grooves on a record and is responsible for the accuracy and detail of sound reproduction. A stylus will also wear out over time and should be replaced every 1,000 hours or so.
Should I get a turntable with which I can digitalize analog records?
Finally, you should look at whether you want a fully analog player with a completely separate digital music collection, or if you want a turntable with a built-in USB port that you can use to digitize your vinyl collection. With a USB port, you can record the playback to MP3 in real-time, crackles and all.
Most new vinyl records come with a download card that contains a code to download an MP3 version of the album. Amazon’s AutoRip feature also automatically gives you an MP3 version of records you buy.
Additional Videos & Sites
- The quality of the tonearm can have a big impact on the accuracy and consistency with which the record rotates.
- The cueing device is the mechanism that lifts and lowers the tonearm and is a fairly sophisticated piece of hardware that should be handled with care.
Best Turntables | Top 5
- overall rating 90%
Pros & Cons
USB port used to convert vinyl records to a digital format
Switchable built-in preamplifier with line-level RCA output cables
Extra cartridge and needle assembly
All-plastic design (prone to scratches)
The RCA cables are hardwired out of the unit (you’ll go through a lot of trouble to replace them if they ever malfunction)
This manual turntable has a very pleasing and detailed sound quality that is suited to all sorts of music genres. If the cartridge (AT95E) is one of the predominant choices amongst ordinary listeners, you can upgrade to an even better option such as the “Ortofon” or “Shure” cartridges. Another appealing feature with this device is the design which is a direct-drive design made of a plastic base which is entirely removable and replaceable. Everything is well thought out, and the user will really appreciate the S-shaped tonearm assembly which is accompanied by an adjustable counterweight.
Overall, it is a meticulous design which links practicality and elegance. A feeling, which is reinforced with the 4 feet which are holding the turntable in place, providing for a solid platform for dampening external vibrations. The AT-LP120BK turntable also features a selectable 33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm speeds; +/-10 percent or +/-20 percent pitch adjust and a high-accuracy quartz-controlled pitch lock which is really satisfying. In terms of connectivity, the turntable includes a USB cable with a useful Mac and PC compatibility. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Audio Technica AT-LP120BK comes in both black and silver color. We would recommend this product to record enthusiasts, amateurs and collectors.
Operation: Fully Automatic Speeds: 33 1/3, 45 Cartridge Included: AT91R USB Function: None Electronic brake system: None Tonearm Shape: Straight
- overall rating 80%
Pros & Cons
Easy to assemble
Affordable and reliable
Built in phono preamp is decent (considering the turntable price)
Many users have complained about a hum which appears sometimes.
Upper-mids were a little lacking (keep in mind that because there is an included preamp you will still need to run the output through an audio receiver)
It doesn’t matter if you are buying your first turntable or if you correspond to what we describe as an audiophile, this manual device is adapted to most users. Correctly named after an analog turntable, the TEAC TN-300 will make you travel in time by offering you a gritty sound from back in the days. If the sound can be described as being warm, playback quality is good and the overall sound is well balanced with present highs, punchy mids, and tight lows. Using the Belt drive system (supporting 33/45rpm) the design of this turntable is vintage too. Manufactured with stylish wood and a glassy chassis, the TEAC TN-300 is both authentic and ergonomic, tieing sturdiness and style.
Furthermore, gold plated terminals make this product resistant to oxidation. Already mentioned in the previous product, the Audio-Technica MM type phonograph cartridge AT95SE is very popular and its high quality is a reason for the wide acclaim. It is the same cartridge that comes with this turntable. Added to that is a durable and resistant MDF cabinet, fabricated from a multi-layered coating, which is perfect for reducing undesired resonance. In terms of connectivity, this turntable is USB compatible (allowing you to transfer music from your vinyl records to your computer). To conclude, this turntable also comes in 5 different colors.
TEAC TN-300 SPECIFICATIONS
Operation: Fully Automatic Speeds: 33 1/3, 45 Cartridge Included: AT95SE USB Function: Yes Electronic brake system: None Tonearm Shape: Straight
- overall rating 80%
Pros & Cons
Connects wirelessly (bluetooth) to speakers and other devices
The turntable has the standard red white RCA output
Switchable built-in preamplifier (enables wired connection to components with or without dedicated turntable input)
Ponderous pairing process
Feets are not adjustable
Less stable device (in comparison with others – weight: 2.98 kg (6.6 lbs))
Having won the prestigious “TWICE VIP” award in 2016 (high-tech contest), the AT-LP60BK-BT is certainly an option that is worth looking into. The particularity of this product is that it comes in a Bluetooth & standard version. As the previous two products, the AT-LP60BK-BT design comprises a belt-drive mechanism. This turntable is rounded at the edges and remains rested on 4 rubber feet. Well protected by a clear plastic cover which is multifunctional (it can indeed remain fully open, hang open at about an 80-degree angle, or be completely removed), you will certainly not be disappointed with a product of this quality.
Some downfalls of the design include the fact that the feet can’t be adjusted in height. Therefore, you always need to put the device on an even level. Other stylistic features include a removable hinged dust cover and replaceable stylus. If you hesitate between different colors, the ones that are featured with this product are classy (Black, silver, white). Additionally, the playback of your pieces of vinyl will function with a fully automatic operation with provides two speeds: 33-1/3 and 45 RPM. The turntable also comes with a 45 rpm adapter which allows you to play 7-inch records which have larger center holes. With all that being said, we would like to advise you to install the belt before using the turntable; it’s a simple process and there are given instructions in the manual.
Operation: Fully Automatic
Speeds: 33 1/3, 45
Cartridge Included: AT3600L
USB Function: Version with and without
Electronic brake system: None
Tonearm Shape: Straight
- overall rating 90%
Pros & Cons
Robust – All steel construction
USB port & cable for vinyl to digital transfer
A stroboscope indicates speed accuracy, while also creating a disco vibe
Could be more subtle and cohesive
No cartridge included. You can get a decent one for about £30
Clearly oriented for advanced DJs, the AT-LP1240 comes with a whole amount of extra features too. What really impressed us with this one, is the sound quality and clarity that comes with it. The detailed soundscapes offer clarity with a fantastic and identifiable noise separation. The dynamic range is pleasing, displaying enough texture. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the Audio Technica could do with more subtlety, and more nuance when it comes to higher notes. For instance, the deck of this device does a great job at capturing the most diverse elements of a track.
This product is manufactured with a direct-drive design, an aluminum platter, and a built-in phono amp. It’s aesthetically very pleasing and comes in a stunning black color. In terms of connectivity, a USB output is available to connect the turntable directly to your computer (Audacity software is included). Fully automatic, this turntable might also disappoint eclectic audiophiles. Three selectable speeds are provided for different types of vinyl: 33, 45 and 78 RPM (rotation per minute). The direct drive high-torque multi-pole motor makes it perfect for a demanding DJ use. Finally, it is worth mentioning that this product is partially upgradeable with a removable headshell.
Operation: Manual Speeds: 33 1/3, 45, 78 Cartridge Included: AT91R USB Function: None Electronic brake system: None Forward/Reverse Operation with Pitch Control: Yes Tonearm Shape: S-Curved
- overall rating 90%
Pros & Cons
Built in preamp
Effective wow & flutter (-0.2% WRMS (33 RP) which is pretty low)
Internal preamp is not too great (lightly muffles the sound)
Picks up vibrations easily
If we have to pick one turntable on this list with the most appealing design, it would certainly be the RT81 High Fidelity which comes in both stunning walnut and piano black finishes. The cabinet of this turntable is crafted from solid engineered wood (MDF). The aluminium platter and the incorporated isolation feet can assure you to remove any unwanted vibrations. A balanced and adjustable counterweight of the S-Type tonearm is featured, as well as a complex and valuable dual magnet cartridge. Features seem unique as the diamond elliptical stylus or the rubber turntable mat illustrate. A protective dust mat is also featured.
Soundwise, this turntable won’t let you down with a solid belt drive system. Outstanding clarity is delivered from the AT95E Audio Technica cartridge. Additionally, the stylus doesn’t only provide for an appealing product, but it is also designed with the purpose to track your record grooves with greater precision & accuracy for high definition audio. Moreover, the high quality aluminium S-Type tonearm captures all the audio details. Fully automatic, this turntable could disappoint the purists. However, connectivity is another point where the RT81 could disappoint some of you, since it does not offer USB connectivity. It is important to note down that the playable speeds are both 33 ⅓ and 45 RPM. Conversion of vinyl records to digital audio files is also possible with this turntable. Nonetheless, in terms of upgradability, the only part that is replaceable is the cartridge.
RT81 High Fidelity Vinyl SPECIFICATIONS
Operation: Fully Automatic Speeds: 33 1/3, 45 Cartridge Included: Dual Moving Magnet (MM) USB Function: None Electronic brake system: Not mentioned Tonearm Shape: Static Balanced, S-style
Choosing a turntable is not an easy task, especially when you have never owned one. Therefore, we tried to simplify things for you, providing you with an informative scheme, which we hope, will enable you to make a decision more easily. All the turntables that are featured on this list are quality products. The best turntables we listed here are aimed at the same time for DJs and the ordinary listener. It is hard to settle for a preference between all the products that are mentioned here, considering that everyone’s budget and preferences are not the same.
Nonetheless, our personal preference goes with the Audio Technica AT-LP1240, mainly for its functions and features but also for the quality of its manufacturing. If you are interested in other tools for live performances, find out more about the best MIDI controllers on the market.