Best record player for 2020: Rega, Audio Technica, Pro-ject, more turntable reviews

Best record player for 2020: Rega, Audio Technica, Pro-ject, more turntable reviews

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There’s never been a better time to get a great-sounding budget hi-fi system, including amazing, cheap speakers and a high-quality turntable for vinyl records. But how much should you spend if you want to find the best turntable? There’s a record player to fit pretty much any budget if you consider everything from vintage turntables to the newest fully automatic and Bluetooth options. For example, the Audio Technica LP60 is a great little turntable for $100. 

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The following is broken up into two sections: the best turntables between $100 and $1,000; and a shootout between the best turntables under $300, which is a sweet spot. Spending more will often get you better sound, but you don’t need to — any of our picks should have you spinning vinyl for decades to come. I’ll update this list periodically. Let’s dive in.  

The best turntables from $100 to $1,000

Sarah Tew

If you’re just starting out in vinyl or looking for cheap turntables to give as a gift, the inexpensive Audio Technica AT-LP60 belt-drive turntable is a good option with fully automatic operation. Even with speakers such as the Bowers and Wilkins 606, the LP60 was able to give a convincing and musical performance. Plus, that fully automatic operation really helps.

Read our Audio Technica AT-LP60 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Fluance RT82 offers everything you could want except an onboard preamp, so if you have a receiver or amplifier with a dedicated phono input, this is the model to get. I was mightily impressed by the well thought-out inclusions with the Fluance. Auto-start on/off, adjustable feet and even a little bubble-level were designed with the user in mind. This high-quality turntable had one of the most entertaining sounds of the under $300 turntables, with plenty of insight into recordings as well as a healthy bass kick.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Rega has made turntables for over 40 years, and was the first to develop the lightweight plinth or base that’s now seen in most modern turntables. Even at $1,000 the Planar 3 only sits in the middle of the company’s range, but it’s arguably the best value. It’s also a thing of elegance, with a simple to set up design and the beautiful (if you’re into that sort of thing) RB330 tonearm. If you’re a tweaker you can customize almost every part with a wide selection of third-party upgrades. With the right cartridge the Rega Planar 3 offers an exciting, fun sound, while also looking great and just being a complete blast to use. It is highly recommended.

Read our Rega Planar 3 review.

The best turntables under $300

In this section, I’ve chosen $300 as the sweet spot because it opens up the options for finding a high-quality model. These vinyl record players are no longer simple toys but can be considered true hi-fi: They offer elevated vinyl record sound quality and high-quality components. With an analog turntable or manual turntable, you’ll be constantly removing a vinyl record, moving the tonearm and spinning up an actual motor — so it’s worth spending a bit more for record players that will last.

I also considered vinyl record players from the bigger electronics manufacturers, such as Sony, Denon and Yamaha, but didn’t find any below $300 that beat the quality of the ones above.

Each of the turntable models I tested for this buyer’s guide has at least something to recommend it, but a couple stood above the rest with solid builds, user-friendly features and excellent sound quality. Let’s dive in and check out the top picks for the best turntable under $300, which I’ll update periodically.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Among audiophiles the name Crosley has a bad rap, but it still manages to produce some excellent hi-fi models. The C10A is a case in point: It was engineered with help from Pro-Ject, but it offers even more refinement than you may expect from either company (the T1 below excepted). It sounds good, it looks great, and if you can get it under $300, it’s a bargain.

Read our Crosley C10A review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Pro-Ject may be a little over $300, but it shows how spending a little more can reap benefits. In terms of sound quality it really can bring out the best in your records. It offers refined treble, an expansive, detailed midrange and supple bass. It looks lovely too with its glass platter — second only in appearance to the Audio Technica (but the Pro-ject sounds better). The T1’s only “problem” is that it’s ergonomically awkward — the switch is deep on the left-hand side instead of on the front, and you need to apply a bit of upwards force to remove the tonearm from the rest. The Pro-Ject T1 is sometimes on sale for under $300 and it’s a great deal at that price.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Arriving in the middle of the pack in terms of both build and sound quality, this is a good turntable at a good price range. It had an even-handed response with all types of music but wasn’t as engaging as the Pro-Ject and Fluance tables.

If you’re looking to plug a modern turntable straight into any receiver (that is, one that lacks a phono preamp or phono stage) then this is the model we’d opt for.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With its carbon-fiber arm and natural wood veneer plinth, the Audio Technica was my favorite design, but a mixed bag in terms of sound quality for vinyl. The table was the boomiest sounding model when plugged into the same phono preamplifier as the others. When I tested its own preamp it was much less bassy, though also less exciting, and this was presumably due to a better match with the cartridge. 

Though the Music Hall’s onboard preamp sounded better, the Audio Technica could be the one to get if you want an all-in-one package that also looks great.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There’s no denying the U-Turn Orbit Plus looked striking with its red plinth and acrylic platter. I also appreciate that the tonearm has been upgraded from the original Orbit with a new gimbal bearing. While it’s better sounding than I remember from the original, the U-Turn couldn’t compete with the sound of the others. It sounded truncated with a lack of extended high frequencies, and on the hardware side the lack of a cue lever felt like a glaring omission. Note that you can also get this model with a built-in preamp for $70 more.

What does $300 buy you?

Turntables under $300 compared

Best overall Best mainstream Best step-up Best plug and play Best cosmetics Best for newbies Best under $100
Product Fluance RT82 Crosley C10A Pro-Ject T1 Music Hall MMF-1.3 Audio Technica AT-LPW40WN U-Turn Orbit Plus Audio Technica AT-LP60
Price $300 at Fluance $279 at Amazon $329 at Turntable Lab $289 at Amazon $299 at B&H starts at $289 at U-Turn $79 at Amazon
Cartridge Ortofon OM10 Ortofon OM5E Ortofon OM5E Audio Technica AT3600L Audio Technica VM95 Ortofon OM5E Audio Technica AT3600L
33/45 speed switch
Onboard preamp ✘ at $289, ✔ at $359
Adjustable feet
Platter Metal Metal Glass Metal Metal Acrylic Metal
Removable headshell
Weight (lbs) 14.1 12.1 11 11 10.4 12.5 6.6

Above anything else, sound quality is the main reason to upgrade to a better turntable. Compared to an all-in-one design by the likes of Victrola or the cheaper Crosleys, the lack of integrated speakers means the designers can concentrate on things like better motors and upgraded tone-arms. These are hi-fi components that can stand alongside stereo systems worth many thousands of dollars in a way that a $100 turntable can’t.


From left to right: Music Hall MMF-1.3, Fluance RT82, U-Turn Orbit Plus, Audio Technica AT-LPW40WN, Pro-Ject Primary (discontinued).

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are four main elements to a turntable: the plinth or base, the platter on which the vinyl record sits, the motor and the arm. Both external and internal noise can affect the sound quality of the vinyl, and the idea is to ensure that vibrations don’t travel from one to the other of these components, and the vibrations don’t interfere with sound.

All of the $300-ish vinyl record players offer a belt drive design which helps isolate the rumble of the motor from the pickup or stylus. Each vinyl turntable also includes either a removable head shell or at least a replaceable cartridge should you want to experiment with a higher-quality cartridge (such as an Ortofon 2M Red). 

Some of the turntables offer upgrade options such as an acrylic plinth, which not only looks smarter but may offer a sound quality upgrade too.

It’s worth noting that all of the models I tested had a dust cover, but I used (and photographed) them with the lid off. They both look and sound better that way. While every other aspect of a turntable is damped, the dust cover usually is not. It’s a simple piece of plastic designed to keep dust off your vinyl while not playing music, and it can vibrate and cause feedback if it’s left attached and the volume is up loud enough.

Best Turntables Under 300 dollars

The Audio-Technica offers a carbon fiber tonearm.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How I tested them

All of these turntables offer a phono-level output — an unamplified signal that needs RIAA equalization. I plugged them into the phono input on both our reference Rotel RA1592 amplifier and Onkyo TX-NR696 receiver powering a pair of Q Acoustics 3050i tower speakers.

For receivers and amps that lack phono input, you’ll need a phono preamplifier. Our own Audiophiliac recommends the $100 Schiit Mani phono preamp as a quality budget option.

Two of the models offered a switchable line level output — the Music Hall MMF-1.3 and the Audio Technica AT-LPW40WN — and this is handy if you don’t have or don’t want an external preamp. You can plug these models into anything that accepts RCA cables. I also plugged these two directly into the amplifier and compared them against each other.

It’s worth noting that only two of the six are available outside North America: the Audio Technica AT-LPW40WN, and the Pro-Ject T1. Between them, I’d recommend the Pro-Ject T1.

I listened to four different artists from my vinyl collection — Bob Marley, Slint, LCD Soundsystem and Miles Davis — on each turntable and compared notes. I listened for a bass response (was it boomy, or clean?), midrange detail (low-level instruments and echo effects) and high frequencies (were they recessed or even too loud?). Skip to the appendix at the end to get a deep dive on how the turntables fared with each song.

Two of the turntables — the Crosley C10 and the Pro-Ject T1 — were not tested at the same time as the other models, and the Pro-ject T1 was added later with a comparison against the Music Hall. As the Crosley C10 was reviewed much earlier it was not possible to test against other models and so the results aren’t listed. It is included in this roundup for reference.

Which one should you buy? 

The Fluance is the over-achiever of the bunch with its polished looks, useful features and involving sound, but the only ones that fall far behind are the Audio-Technica and the U-Turn — their sound quality can’t match the other three. If you’re able to pay a little more the T1 is lovely, if a little awkward to use.

If you’re looking for a more familiar name brand, you’ll need to pay a little more. The Denon 300F is well-regarded at $329, the Sony PSH-X500 offers hi-res USB ripping for $499 and audiophile favorite the Rega Planar 1 can be had for $450. But it’s arguable whether they would be able to offer sound quality that’s markedly better than the Fluance or Pro-Ject — a test for another day perhaps. In the meantime, happy listening!

Full sound quality notes

If you want to get a greater insight into the performance of each model, here are the notes I took for myself while listening to each turntable with four different songs (each from a different record).

Bob Marley’s Revolution

This is the first track I tried on all the turntables. The Fluance offered a warm sound with this track with fine control over the deep bass line.

This track was my first signal of the Audio Technica’s shortcomings. The bass was simply out of control, boomy and unpleasant. However, the midrange offered a good sense of space.

The MMF-1.3 had fuller, less “one note” bass than the Audio Technica. The ‘table offered more midrange information than some of the others but this also combined with more surface noise.

Vocals were more forward on the U-Turn, which suggested improved detail but also meant the turntable turned up more surface noise. The bass guitar was deep and relatively supple, but at the opposite end of the spectrum the cymbals sounded clipped as if it couldn’t recreate the high frequency (10kHz and over) information at all.

Lastly, the Pro-ject T1 was smoother and it brought the background singers to the fore in a way others didn’t, and the horns had greater presence too. 

Slint’s Breadcrumb Trail

Compared with the other ‘tables the Fluance was better at organizing the sparse scattering of instruments into the space between the speakers. The bass lacked the bloat I heard with the Audio Technica.

The MMF-1.3 offered good speed stability but lacked the drama of the leaders. There was lots of high-frequency on display but it wasn’t sharp or strident.

The Music Hall was more forward sounding than the Pro-ject T1 which again sounded more cultured with this track. The rumbling of the sticks from the drummer at the end of the song was easier to hear on the Music Hall.

The Audio Technica’s issues with bass continued with this song’s prominent bass. Low-end notes stuck out in a way I hadn’t heard before.

The U-Turn turned that abundant high-frequency energy into something splashy, but detail retrieval was good. Like the Pro-Ject, there was some speed-related waver with the long guitar notes.

Best Turntables Under 300 dollars

Sarah Tew/CNET

LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk Is Playing at my House

The Fluance turned in an enjoyable, toe-tapping performance, with only a shade too much high hat. Meanwhile, the MMF-1.3 was better balanced with this song.

The cowbell sounded more distinct on Pro-Ject T1 with a more pronounced stereo image.

The Audio Technica offered up bloated bass notes and lots of noise between tracks.

This song was the one that painted the U-Turn in its best light — while there was some faint bass bloat, the vocals were forward of the mix, and the cymbals sounded natural for a change. Maybe this is the DJ turntable for dance-rock fans?

Miles Davis’ So What?

The Fluance could get a little bloomy on bass with more midrange forwardness, but less brightness on the ride. It sounded a lot like what I’d heard at the Sony mastering studio previously.

Again the MMF-1.3 put in a good performance, and the bass sounded balanced with an excellent sense of the performance room. It was a very clean presentation with lots of spatial information on the sax especially.

The Audio Technica and U-Turn both exposed more surface noise on this recording.

The bottom end was a little more refined on the Pro-ject T1 and the treble sweeter too. I quickly found that the speed is a pain to change, though, and I somehow got the drive belt stuck on the outer edge making it run too fast. When situated properly it worked fine.

Bob Marley’s Revolution take 2 (phono preamp models)

Lastly, I listened to the Bob Marley track again with the built-in phono preamps (line-level outputs) of the MMF-1.3 and the Audio Technica. The MMF-1.3 had the better preamp, with a more exciting presentation of the song but the bass threatened to become slightly bloated.

In comparison, the Audio Technica sounded much less exciting, and smaller, less impactful, but at least the bass was not as boomy as it had been through our tests.

More audio advice and recommendations

Source: Cnet News
Keyword: Best record player for 2020: Rega, Audio Technica, Pro-ject, more turntable reviews

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