The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget.

The record resurgence is here to stay and as a result, audio companies are releasing new turntables at various price ranges to fit any music-lover’s budget.

This turntable buying guide will walk you through through the intricacies of picking the right deck for your needs and budget. Belt drive? Direct drive? Do I need a phono preamp? We’ll answer all of these questions and will get you listening to your favorite records in no time.

What’s the best turntable?

Turntables come in all shapes and sizes with drastically different features. When shopping for a turntable, you’ll want to pay attention to the materials used, motor configuration, and additional features like USB recording.

The most important aspect of choosing a turntable is how well damped it is. This means looking at how manufacturers combat vibrations, whether internal or external, through the use of materials and motor configurations. Typically, belt driven turntables are seen as being quieter and therefore offering higher fidelity but there are direct drive (where motors are connected directly to the platter) that sound phenomenal.

Last but not least, you’ll have to think about your personal needs. If you’re starting out, you probably don’t want to be messing with a complicated turntable with adjustable vertical tracking angle, anti-skate and azimuth. Do you want to digitize your record collection? If so, look for a turntable with a USB output and good software to get the job done.

Here are our picks for best turntables:

  1. Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB
    2. Audio-Technica AT-LP60
    3. Denon DP-300F
    4. Fluance RT81
    5. Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
    6. Rega Planar 1
    7. Marantz TT-15S1
    8. Clear Audio Concept
    9. Sony PS-HX500

      1. Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

The best starter turntable with all the features you’ll ever need

Dimensions: 450.0 mm (17.72″) W x 352.0 mm (13.86″) D x 157.0 mm (6.1″) H | Motor: Direct drive | Platter: Die-cast aluminum | Phono preamp: Yes | USB: Yes | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45, 78 rpm | Stylus: AT95E

  • Great sound quality for the price
  • Great for newbies and pros alike
  • Plastic build
  • Mediocre USB output

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is the best beginner turntable for serious vinyl collectors. Out of the box, it comes with the ability to play 33 ⅓, 45 and 78 RPM, meaning there won’t be a record you can’t play. There’s also a built-in phono preamp so you won’t have to bother buying another thing

Newbies will appreciate the simple setup and features while more advanced users will love the ability to dial in the vertical tracking angle, tracking force and easily replaceable headshell. Sure, it looks like a Technics SL-1200 knockoff but at a fraction of the price.

The AT-LP120-USB also comes with a USB output that allows you to digitize your records if you want. Overall, this deck strikes the perfect balance of ease of use for beginners while offering more advanced features for you to grow into.

  1. Audio-Technica AT-LP60

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

Dummy-proof automatic turntable for beginners on a budget

Dimensions: 360.0 mm (14.17″) W x 97.5 mm (3.84″) H x 356.0 mm (14.02″) D | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Die-cast aluminum | Phono preamp: Yes | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: ATN3600

  • Fully automatic
  • Excellent value
  • Can’t replace cartridge
  • Passable sound

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend and don’t care about extracting every last bit of detail from your records, the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is a perfect starting point. It’s small, can play most records and is by far the cheapest turntable we have on this list. It’s also fully automatic, meaning it’ll queue a record and return the arm to resting position without using a manual lever.

The only catch with a turntable this cheap is that it won’t grow with you as your record collection grows. The built-in phono cartridge means you’re stuck with it, though you can replace the needle once its wears down.

While there are cheaper, poorly engineered turntables out there, you risk damaging your records with poorly aligned and poorly weighted tonearms. Records are expensive so we recommend the AT-LP60 for beginners just looking to get started.

  1. Denon DP-300F

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

A gorgeous, full automatic turntable that doesn’t break the bank

Dimensions: 17-3/32 x 4-51/64 x 15″ (434 x 122 x 381 mm); (WxHxD) | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Die-cast aluminum | Phono preamp: Yes | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: DSN-85

  • Fully automatic
  • Great sound for the price
  • Plastic build
  • Buttons feel cheap

The Denon DP-300F is a gorgeous-looking turntable that sounds as great. The included DSN-85 cartridge isn’t the most revealing but it manages to make your music sound airy and somewhat detailed. Unfortunately, you’ll have to spend a lot more money to extract more detail.

While the DP-300F lacks the USB outputs of some of the turntables in this list, it’s still an excellent beginner turntable for those who don’t want to manually queue their records or have a propensity to fall asleep when listening to music. The Denon’s automatic start/stop means your needle won’t be worn down at the end of the record as the arm automatically returns when a record is done.

Build quality is good for an all-plastic turntable, but its buttons feel cheap – a minor issue but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for you. If the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB doesn’t suit your aesthetics, consider the Denon DP-300F instead.

  1. Fluance RT81

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

An alternative to the AT-LP120-USB for those who don’t need USB

Dimensions: 16.5” x 5.5” x 13.75” | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Aluminum | Phono preamp: Yes | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: ATN95E

  • Great sound for the price
  • Decent sounding phono preamp
  • Poor vibration damping
  • No auto returning tonearm

The Fluance RT81 is an excellent starter turntable for the enthusiast. It’s simple to set up and use for newbies but you can switch out the cartridge to squeeze out more performance later on. Newbies also won’t have to worry about getting a separate phono preamp, as one is built in. However, you can turn it off if you want to use a better external preamp.

The only downside is that Fluance’s advertised “auto-off” feature simply turns off the platter, preventing excessive needle wear but you’ll still have to return the arm to its resting place yourself. You’ll also have to manually queue records, which isn’t a deal breaker by any means but is something to consider for those looking for a fully automatic turntable. The Denon DP-300F is a great choice for those looking for a fully automated record listening experience.

  1. Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

An excellent entry-level turntable for vinyl enthusiasts

Dimensions: 415 x 118 x 320mm (WxHxD) | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Aluminum | Phono preamp: No | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: Ortofon 2M Red

  • Excellent value for a hi-fi turntable
  • Easy to setup
  • Manual speed change
  • Requires a phono preamp

Now we’re at the part of the list where things start to get a bit more serious: The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is one of the best, if not the best entry-level hi-fi turntables you can get.

While vinyl newcomers may balk at the price, the Debut Carbon is actually incredible value. For the money, you get an extremely well made turntable that’s damped properly for excellent sound quality. The carbon fiber tonearm is lightweight and stiff, and is usually reserved for turntables costing much more.

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is for the enthusiast that’s committed to the record collecting hobby and as a result, it doesn’t feature niceties like an auto-returning tonearm, buttons for changing speed or an included phono preamp. Newbies may be turned off by the manual changing of the belt position to change speeds and the lack of an included preamp. However, if you want to extract more detail and resolution from your records than the cheaper options on this list, the Debut Carbon is a great choice.

  1. Rega Planar 1

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

One of the best entry-level hi-fi turntables for tinkerers

Dimensions: 17.5″ (450mm) W by 4.5″ (115mm) H by 15″ (385mm) D | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Phenolic resin | Phono preamp: No | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: Rega Carbon

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Easy to setup, even for newbies
  • Manual speed change
  • No phono preamp included

There’s a lot of debate whether the Rega Planar 1 or the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is the best entry-level hi-fi turntable. It’s a close match and there are no clear winners, each providing an excellent starting place for audiophiles on a budget.

While the Rega may lack the fancy carbon tone arm of the Pro-Ject, the Planar 1 still sounds excellent and is well damped with its phenolic resin platter. And for newbies, the Rega Planar 1 is still easy to setup, though you’ll have to provide your own phono preamp.

Ultimately, the Rega Planar 1 just sounds so good that it’s hard to fault it too much. Vocals are revealing and you can hear the texture from instruments like the violin. The included Rega Carbon cartridge isn’t anything special but manages to be a great match for the turntable. It’s a tough choice between the Planar 1 and the Debut Carbon but you can’t go wrong with either.

  1. Marantz TT-15S1

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

Go pro with this high-end turntable

Dimensions: 440mm x 350mm x 110mm; (W x D x H) | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: High-Density Acrylic | Phono preamp: No | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: Clearaudio Virtuoso

  • Gorgeous design
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Price is an investment

The Marantz TT-15S1 costs a serious bit of change, but you’re actually getting a killer bargain. The Clearaudio Virtuoso included with the turntable is $1000 when purchased separately. Additionally, you get a killer tonearm and gorgeous turntable at a price that’s definitely an investment, but not unreasonable.

So what does the Marantz TT-15S1 get you over the competition? Attention to detail. Just about every part of the turntable has been poured over to be the best it can be for the price. The fit and finish are excellent and it’s a pleasure to handle the high-quality components. This is a turntable you’ll find yourself admiring its visual and audible qualities.

Newbies should not get this turntable as it requires more knowledge to set up properly than the entry-level turntables on this list. But if you’re ready to take your record collecting and listening to the next level, the Marantz TT-15S1 is the perfect place to start.

  1. Clear Audio Concept

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

A stunningly beautiful mid-range hi-fi turntable

Dimensions: 16.54” x 13.78” x 4.92”; (W x D x H) | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Polyoxymethylene | Phono preamp: No | USB: No | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45, 78 rpm | Stylus: Clearaudio Concept MC

  • Excellent build quality 
  • Detailed, rich sound
  • Expensive (but still a bargain)

If the Clearaudio Concept and Marantz TT-15S1 seem familiar, that’s because the Marantz was built by Clearaudio to Marantz’s specifications. This means everything about the excellent build quality of the Marantz carries over to the Clearaudio Concept (i.e. this is a turntable that is as gorgeous as it sounds).

One small but notable difference between the Marantz and the Clearaudio is the ability to play 78 rpm records. While most people will never come across 78s, it’s nice to know that the Clearaudio Concept is capable of playing them. The Concept also has a handy speed dial on the plinth, meaning you don’t have to swap the belt position manually.

As for negatives, the Clearaudio Concept has no notable flaws. Yes, it’s expensive but you’re still getting a bargain in this price range.

  1. Sony PS-HX500

The Best Phonograph For 2017 Budget

A well-rounded beginner turntable with some nagging flaws

Dimensions: 16.54” x 13.78” x 4.92”; (W x D x H) | Motor: Belt drive | Platter: Aluminum Diecast Alloy | Phono preamp: Yes | USB: Yes 44.1kHz / 48kHz / 96kHz / 192kHz (16bit / 24bit) | Speeds: 33 ⅓, 45 rpm | Stylus: Sony 9-885-210-05

  • Hi-Res audio USB recording
  • Good sound quality for the price
  • Plastic build feels cheap
  • Forgettable design

The Sony PS-HX500 is a great entry-level turntable for those just getting started with record collecting. Its standout feature is its ability to record Hi-Res audio from its USB output in 96kHz/24bit resolution. This is an excellent feature for those looking to digitize their records.

In terms of sound quality, the Sony PS-HX500 sound spacious and provides good detail. However, the included needle sounds a bit harsh and sibilant at times and lacks the resolution of more expensive cartridges.

While some may like the minimalist design of the Sony, it’s utterly forgettable and its plastic build leaves a lot to be desired. Handling the turntable on a daily basis leaves us wanting more premium materials that don’t rattle.

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