Record players used to be a thing of the past. With technological advances over the years like the portable CD player, the iPod, and music streaming services, the novelty of owning a record player just didn’t make sense. However, that’s not the case anymore.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl record sales hit a 30-year high in 2021 — from 21.5 million units in 2020 to 41.7 million last year, or a 61% sales jump. And with all the vinyl records being made and sold, you need a way to play them.
These days, the new record players have features like Bluetooth, color customization, built-in preamps, attractive styles, and more. We’ve rounded up the best record players with these features, so you can spin your vinyl properly.
Best budget-friendly option
Plinth Material: Medium density fiberboard (MDF) | Platter Material: Aluminum | Cartridge Model: Audio Technica AT95E Cartridge | Drive Type: Belt Drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM | Tonearm Type: Adjustable counterweight S-Type tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Yes | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Adjustable
Even though $250 isn’t exactly budget-friendly, cheaper versions of record players will cost you more in the long run (they will ultimately ruin your records). However, if you can stretch your budget to $250, this is a great entry option into the world of record players.
The Fluence RT81 Elite is known for its pure analog listening experience. Its Audio-Technica AT95E Cartridge allows for clear sound free of noise and distortion, since it rests on your records at just 2.0 grams of tracking force. There’s also a handy autostop feature to help prevent unnecessary wear on your needle.
The turntable’s solid engineered wood plinth that comes in three colors reduces vibrations, so you don’t have to worry about where to put it in your home.
- Autostop feature
- Great sound and performance for its price range
- Have to queue records manually
Best wireless option
Platter Material: Die-cast aluminum | Cartridge Model: Audio Technica AT95E Cartridge | Drive Type: Direct drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, 78 RPM | Tonearm Type: S-Type tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Yes | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate:Adjustable
The Audio-Technica LP120 allows you to connect wireless headphones, speakers, or home stereos to the turntable, making it easy to use.
One of the unique things about the Audio-Technica LP120 is that you can convert your vinyl records into digital audio files through the Audacity software available on Macs and PCs. That means that the rare, one-off record you found at your local record store can be turned into a digital file that you can listen to anywhere you want.
Other features of this Audio-Technica include a forward/reverse operation and variable pitch control with quartz speed lock. It also has playback controls and a target light that makes it easier to cue your records when it’s dark.
- Can turn vinyl records into digital copies
- Great for vinyl beginners
- To play 78 RPM records, you’ll need to purchase an additional cartridge
Best customizable option
Platter Material: MDF or acrylic | Cartridge Model: AT91B, Ortofon OM5E, Grado Black3, Ortofon 2M Red, ORtofon 2M Blue | Drive Type: Belt drive | Supported Speeds:33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM | Tonearm Type: Adjustable Counterweight Straight Tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Can be included | Cueing Lever: Can be included | Anti-skate: Built-in/not adjustable
The U-Turn Orbit Custom is an excellent option if you’re looking for something entirely customizable for your taste and needs. You can choose everything from the color, cartridge, preamp, cueing lever, platter material, etc.
What’s great about customization is that you can pay as little as $200 but can add on features that’ll cost you more than $700, making this option perfect for both turntable beginners and audiophiles alike.
One thing to note about this model is that its belt drive can be challenging to handle if you’re not used to it. Since it is attached to the outside of the platter, if you are rough with switching your records, you can inadvertently cause the belt drive to fall off. This can be a huge pain to put back on.
- Fully customizable in features and price
- High-end sound
- Even with all the customization, it cannot play 78 RPM records
- Belt drive can be difficult to handle
- No adjustable anti-skate
Best stylish option
Plinth material: CNC-machined MDF | Platter Material: Blasted-glass platter with felt mat | Cartridge Model: Ortofon OM5E | Drive Type: Belt drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM | Tonearm Type: Adjustable Counterweight Straight Tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Yes | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Built-in/not adjustable
Pro-Ject’s T1 Phono SB prides itself in “no hollow spaces,” meaning there won’t be unwanted vibrations on the plinth. In addition, this turntable is getting into more of the “audiophile” space, so it’s great for those looking to upgrade to their second record player.
What’s exceptional about this turntable is its glass platter. At 8mm thick, it’s heavy, and heavy is always better in the vinyl world. The heaviness of the platter ends up reducing tonearm wobble from unwanted vibrations.
- Good, solid sound
- Vibration-absorbing feet
- No adjustable anti-skate
- Have to handle the belt drive manually
Best option for seasoned listeners
Plinth Material: Acrylic high gloss laminated | Platter Material: Float glass | Cartridge Model: Rega Carbon | Drive Type: Belt drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM | Tonearm Type: Adjustable Counterweight Straight Tonearm | Built-in Preamp: No | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Yes
One of the renowned brands in the record player world is Rega. Since the ’70s, this UK-based company has designed and assembled every product by hand to deliver the best music performance, and the Rega Planar 2 is a perfect example of this.
The sleek, minimalist design paired with Rega’s carbon cartridge allows for a fantastic listening experience. The turntable is also outfitted with Rega’s RB220 tonearm with an adjustable anti-skate system to adjust the amount of bias (the sideways force on the cartridge to balance out the inward pull of the record groove) as the tonearm tracks the record, ensuring even tracking throughout playback.
The one downside to this turntable is that you have to take the platter off to manually adjust the speed. While not a huge turn-off — and for many, it’s preferred — it’s not necessarily the best method.
- Lifetime warranty against manufacture defects
- Impressive sound quality
- Zero plastic parts and no hollow spots
- Have to use an external preamp
- Must manually adjust the speed
What record player terms should you know?
Plinth: Also sometimes referred to as the cabinet or chassis, the plinth is the main component that holds all of the other parts of the record player together. It’s the usually square or rectangle box that everything else sits on top of.
Platter: The circular surface that spins and that the actual record is placed on.
Counterweight: A weight at the opposite end of the tonearm from the cartridge that allows you to adjust the weight placed on the cartridge to reduce wear on your stylus (the actual needle).
Tonearm: The tonearm holds the cartridge and allows it to glide through the grooves as the record spins effortlessly. There are three different types of tonearm shapes: straight, J-shaped, and S-shaped.
Cueing level: Makes it so that the tonearm lifts and drops slowly, so you don’t damage the stylus.
Cartridge: Holds the stylus and is located at the end of the tonearm. Converts the vibrations into audio.
What should you look for in a record player?
Some of the essential things to keep in mind when choosing a record player is that it has a counterweight — and preferably, an adjustable one. The counterweight allows you to put the correct amount of weight on your cartridge to reduce the wear on your record and stylus.
Another feature to look out for is anti-skate. This feature keeps it so the stylus is in the center of the groove rather than on either side of the groove. Your records might skip more or wear down faster if you don’t have anti-skate.
Also, keep in mind that heavier is better, especially for the platter. This is because a heavier platter maintains speed consistency and prevents unwanted vibrations.
Most importantly, the sound will be your deciding factor in what makes a good record player. Good record players produce a rich sound that is distinctive from any other audio format.
How did we choose these record players?
Choosing the right record player can be tough, since you want one that is good quality but doesn’t break the bank too much. We carefully selected these record players based on first-hand listening experience, along with others’ knowledge and research. We paid attention to critical factors like counterweight, anti-skate, and the cartridge type. We also made sure to include well-renowned brands known for their quality and to read customer reviews — both good and bad — to back up our claims.
We purposely left out the Crosley Cruiser Turntable models, since these are known to ruin your records. However, higher-end Crosley turntables are still a decent option you can look into.
Which record player is right for you?
If you’re purchasing your very first record player, we recommend the Fluance or the Audio-Technica from this list. If you’re looking for something you can customize, opt for the U-Turn Orbit. And, if you’re looking for something on the higher-end, the Rega or the Pro-Ject is the way to go.
|Record player||Price||Cartridge model||Built-in Preamp?|
|Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity||$250||AT95E||Yes|
|U-Turn Orbit Custom||$200-$730||AT91B, Ortofon OM5E, Grado Black3, Ortofon 2M Red, ORtofon 2M Blue||Can be included|
|Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB||$450||Ortofon OM5E||Yes|
|Rega Planar 2||$775||Rega Carbon||No|
Are there alternative record players to consider?
If you can find a good quality one and are willing to put in the money/work to restore it, vintage record players are highly recommended. You can find vintage turntables on Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or your local electronics store. However, fixing a vintage record player can be challenging, so you’ll probably want to take it to a professional who has knowledge of vintage turntables and has the parts for them.
[Photo: Jace & Afsoon/Unsplash]