Looking to buy your next turntable, but on a budget? Paul Rigby rounds up the Top 20 turntables under £500. Plus, we look at a few mid-priced gems, in case you find some small change down the back of the sofa…
Some people go absolutely crazy about hi-fi. They spend every spare penny on shiny boxes with flashing lights and buttons. Most of us, though, just can’t bankroll that type of behaviour. We have to cut our cloth a bit, watch our budgets… and seek out value for money. Since you’re reading this, it’s likely you want to take advantage of the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl; or perhaps you never left in the first place. Either way, you may be looking at a turntable purchase, or even an upgrade from a failing oldie.
Nowadays, when looking to buy a budget deck, you no longer have to feel like you’re ‘making do’, either. Indeed, budget turntables can be quite spectacular in terms of possible sound quality. Besides, you have to get your priorities right. A French magazine once asked Roy Gandy, the guy who founded and owns Rega: “When did your passion for hi-fi begin?” Gandy paused and replied: “I’ve never had a passion for hi-fi. I have a passion for music.” That’s the right attitude to have. And it’s that way around. If you know anyone who has more hi-fi boxes in their front room than vinyl records, then you have every right to be wholly suspicious of them. But there’s budget and there’s budget. It’s more complex than you might think, mostly because ‘budget’ to one person is ‘quite expensive’ to another.
ROY GANDY, WHO FOUNDED AND OWNS REGA, WAS ASKED: “WHEN DID YOUR PASSION FOR HI-FI BEGIN?” GANDY REPLIED: “I’VE NEVER HAD A PASSION FOR HI-FI. I HAVE A PASSION FOR MUSIC”
We start in the ‘cheap as chips’ portion of the sub-budget sector with this deck, where the ‘Sunday supplement’ turntable monstrosities lurk. The L-85 is designed to provide a viable alternative to these machines. It’s a semi-automatic design, with a built-in phono amplifier and USB. Despite the light, plastic build and Early Learning Centre colour scheme, the L-85 is a solid turntable that works well. It offers a very easy vinyl-ripping system, too. It’s not the most accurate-sounding design, but at this price, it remains a solid deal.
+ GREAT VALUE
– NOTHING, AT THE PRICE
One of the most respected budget-turntable brands in the business, Pro-Ject shows the world how to create a sub-budget deck… that works. Works in terms of sound quality, anyhow. For the price, you get a turntable that does nothing else but play vinyl records. Oh, the relief – it makes a nice change at this price point. Sharing parts with the more expensive Elemental turntable, the Primary offers a 220mm tonearm with Ortofon OM 5e cartridge. You have to connect it to an external phono amplifier, which bodes well for sound quality.
THE ORBIT BASIC OFFERS GREAT VALUE AND HOLDS ITS HEAD ALOFT IN BUDGET TURNTABLE CIRCLES
The Orbit is a little different from the other 19 listed in this feature, because it’s only available to customers living in either the USA or Canada for now (although the company says that this will change). This belt-driven deck features a unipivot arm and a pre-installed Audio-Technica cartridge. Including a dust cover, felt mat and dual-speed option, this inexpensive gem offers great value and holds its head aloft in budget turntable circles.
+ SOUND QUALITY
– FOR THE PRICE, NOTHING
A sub-budget turntable for which Audio-Technica takes a standardised Chinese design and adds a few tweaky bits of its own. Included is an AT91R cartridge (set at a 2g downforce) plus an attractive red SME-type AT-HS3 removable headshell. This automatic deck includes a built-in phono amplifi er and a switch to move from moving-magnet to moving-coil cartridges. It includes extra damping within the chassis, which helps to reduce vibration. The LP3 features some build compromises, but is a solid turntable, nevertheless.
+ GOOD VALUE
– AVERAGE SONICS
A venerable name in terms of turntable history, but this two-speed, direct-drive turntable is sourced from China and rather strongly resembles a Technics SL-1200, which may put some people off. Don’t fall into the trap… yes, it arrives with DJ additions to the plinth and works well as a budget DJ deck, but it has an Audio-Technica AT-3600 cartridge and a built-in phono amplifier. Sonics are excellent. The Lenco offers superb precision and focus for the price.
+ DIRECT DRIVE
– MINOR SPEED ADJUSTMENT REQUIRED
No funny stuff or bonus gadgets here – just a turntable to play vinyl, featuring very easy installation. It’s well made, with a great design and boasts an array of components that have been upgraded since 2010’s P1. It does everything that a budget turntable can do and should do, and offers plenty in terms of top-quality sound for the asking price.
+ TOO MANY TO LIST
If you spend a couple of minutes looking closely at the general deign of this NAD turntable, you’ll come to a realisation: it is, in fact, very similar to the Rega RP1. There are NAD-related tweaks and differences which, in the grand scheme of things, are minor – but they are there. First up, you get a different paint job, but you also get a different cartridge – a Rega-built cartridge that’s been manufactured to NAD specifications .Apart from that, there are three rubber feetand the RB101 arm.
+ SOUND QUALITY
This two-speed, fully automatic Dual turntable should be viewed in conjunction with the AT-LP3, because the pair are cousins, so to speak. They feature the same basic Chinese turntable design with, in general terms, the same features… but with key differences. The Dual includes a USB port to allow you to connect the turntable to a laptop to ‘rip’ vinyl to a digital file. Like the LP3, you havea built-in phono amplifier – useful to connect to powered speakers.
+ VALUE FOR MONEY
– BASIC DESIGN
Taking a minimalist design approach to its belt-driven turntable – even the platter appears to shrink into the very pinth itself – this subdued, two-speed design is not really just about the turntable, despite its inherent importance. Sony provides software that willl enable the turntable to rip vinyl to DSD standard, giving prospective digital files a quality boost up to 5.6MHz (in conjunction with analogue-to-digital converter and USB Type B output). the basic sound of the turntable itself is big, bold and melodic.
+ DSD RIPPING
– PROSAIC LOOKS
ALPHA 100 RIAA
Elipson’s turntable has a low key, yet decidedly Gallic style, with its curvy plinth and understated fi nish (plus that slightly playful and retro speed-change toggle switch). The deck covers 33 and 45rpm, and while the design does not come with a damping arm cue, we like that omission –more clutter means more noise in the system to infect the sonics. The clean and airy sound from the upper-mids provides a welcoming fragility that is quite mature at this price point and the bass has a nice kick to it, too.
+ MATURE SOUND
– NOTHING, AT THE PRICE
One of the biggest surprises with this turntable is the inclusion of a carbon-fibre tonearm, the like of which is normally to be found in turntables costing thousands. Hanging off the end is a very nice Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. Setup is okay, but does require a fiddly anti-skate add-on. Sound quality oozes both clarity and a nice sense of precision, while bass is both accurate and direct. It may have been out for a while now, but this still packs a value punch.
+ SOUND AND BUILD
– NOTHING AT THE PRICE
This turntable is definitely aimed towards a multimedia state of mind, because you can attach it to a Sonos multi-room audio system. This means that you have the ability to stream your vinyl output all over the house. The turntable features analogue outputs, plus all of the relevant cables including a USB cable to connect to a computer and a built-in phono amplifier. Even better, the turntable utilises components from Rega, which should add to your confidence when buying one.
– BUILD QUALITY
MENTION THE NAME ‘THORENS’ TO ANY OLDER HI-FI FAN AND WATCH THEM COME OVER A BIT MISTY-EYED
Mention the name ‘Thorens’ to any experienced or older hi-fi fan and watch them come over a bit misty-eyed at the mention of this classic brand. A fully automatic design, the TD 170-1 comes
equipped with its own tonearm and three speeds, allowing it to play 33rpm, 45rpm and even 78rpm (although you will need an additional cartridge to play shellac records). The overall design is minimalistic in nature. This example has no built-in phono amplifier, but you can opt for one.
+ SIMPLE TO USE
14 MUSIC HALL
This belt-driven deck has now been discontinued, but we’re including it here because it may be possible to find discounted examples on the internet. And it’s well worth tracking down – at the time of writing, we noticed several US-based outlets stocking it at almost half price. Featuring a simplified construction to keep the cost down, the MMF-2.2 looks the business in its piano-black finish. With a cartridge that’s pre-installed and aligned, two speeds and a user-replaceable stylus, the turntable also arrives with a dust cover.
+ EASY SETUP
One of Rega’s very first turntable offerings, which traces its lineage back to the mid 70s, the venerable Planar 2 sports an acrylic laminated plinth, with a glossy plinth finish and the power switch under the plinth. The low-noise motor is joined by a new central bearing with upgraded platter and feet. The new RB220 arm completes the design, and it arrives with ultra-low-friction ball bearings, improved bearing housing and an automatic anti-skate setting. Agile mid-range blends with a punchy bass.
+ DESIGN AND SOUND QUALITY
Take a quick look at the Rega Planar 2 we’ve just covered – notice how this design resembles it? You can imagine who Edwards may have chatted to during development, can’t you? The price includes both the Rega RB251 tonearm and the Goldring Elektra cartridge. Sporting a 12mm-thick transparent platter, the TT1 is intriguing because it doesn’t include a platter mat. This might disturb some users, but never fear, it shouldn’t be a problem. Upgraders might want to experiment with third-party mat add-ons, though.
+ SOUNDS LIKE AN RP2!
– LACKS ISOLATION
THE ONKYO CP-1050 TURNTABLE IS BIG, MEATY AND BUILT LIKE A TANK
LP120 USB C
The inclusion of a direct drive means that you can look forward to a signature sound, while the featured USB output connects to your computer for vinyl ripping. The turntable offers forward and reverse-play capability, three speeds (33, 45 and 78rpm), a selectable quartz-controlled pitch lock and pitch-change slider control. You also get an aluminium platter and built-in phono amplifier. There are turntables in this list offering better sound quality – here, it’s restrained – but not better features.
+ PACKED WITH FEATURES
– NOISY USB RECORDINGS
This particular Onkyo deck offers a pleasantly 70s retro look and feel. The included direct-drive system has a quartz lock control and S-shaped arm. Plus, it’s been tweaked and improved by Sound Hi Fi to improve its speed and stability. Offering great value for money, this turntable is big, bold, meaty and built like a tank. It also includes good-quality RCA connectors. Another good thing about this deck is that Sound Hi Fi is known for its customer support, so you should expect lots of help if you need it.
+ BUILD AND SUPPORT
– TOUGH COMPETITION
Basically a big step up from the TD 170-1 featured earlier, with a rather more substantial plinth and platter, plus an improved arm and an electronically controlled DC motor. Offering three speeds (33, 45 and 78rpm), you’re supplied with a decent Ortofon OM10 cartridge – although a better-quality model, such as a 2M Red, would be better suited to this turntable. Sound quality offers quite a spacious midrange, with bass that provides greater heft than the Thorens 170.
+ GENERAL SONICS
– WE’D LIKE A BETTER CARTRIDGE
The Omega 100 sits on a lacquered PMAA plinth, supporting a steel-forged platter (fixed to the spindle, unusually), which is powered by a digital-frequency-generator motor via a flat belt. The Orbital Tension Tonearm is carbon-based, a big plus for a turntable at this price point; while the twin-bearing arm features a tonearm-mounted, anti-skating wheel that supplies torsion directly above the bearing. The Elipson also arrives with a decent-quality Ortofon OM10 cartridge.
+ GENERAL SOUND QUALITY
– NO ANTI-SKATE GAUGE
TAKE ME HIGHER
What if you were to move the budget up a rung in the monetary ladder? Say, from £500 to £700? What sort of designs would be within your reach? For those on a budget, but with aspirations, here are a few suggestions…
MOONBEAM SERIES II
The entry model in the SOTA line, the Moonbeam Series II is handassembled in the USA and uses a S100 arm. The main platter and sub-platter are made of high-density polymer. An energy-damping interface mat is added to a thick Plexiglas main platter. Attention to detail includes a bearing cup made of Turcite: a Tefl onimpregnated, self-lubricating polymer. Driven by a 24-pole AC synchronous motor, the deck is easy to set up and use. It provides a full, rich sound.
A well-built turntable with a TP 82 unipivot tonearm, pre-fitted with a Thorens TAS 257 moving-magnet cartridge, plus electronic speed change from 33 to 45rpm and back again. The arm is intriguing, with its two counterweights on the back. The smaller one allows fine-tuning of the arm’s azimuth – a neat idea. Sound quality offers a rather epic soundstage, with admirable midrange focus. Overall sound might lack maturity, but bass is powerful. Pros Quality arm Cons Tough competition
+ QUALITY ARM
– TOUGH COMPETITION
A stone-cold classic of a turntable and one that’s been used as the front end to a host of hi-fi systems A deck many music fans have settled upon and never felt the need to move from. The latest Planar 3 (as opposed to the RP3) has undergone a host of improvements and has a new plinth, new bearing, upgraded arm with better arm tube and bearing housing, and improved cables and plugs. It also sounds rather wonderful. Buy with confidence.
Arriving on a 25mm full gloss, Medite MDF plinth with a#TALK Zephyr C200 or Goldring 2100 cartridge, mounted on a 230V AC motor. The TA202 arm works upon a precision-made brass bearing housing. The aluminium inner platter runs on a custom-made ceramic 5mm bearing and is a machined 18mm custom-made acrylic platter driving a custom-made ‘Little Belter’ blue belt. The contraption sits on three rubber isolation feet. Sound is mature and confident.
+ SOUND QUALITY