Our editor, Bryan Ruby, is considering one of these six turntables for his vinyl record collection. Which one would you buy?
Surprisingly, I recently sought out and purchased a vinyl record turntable. This is a surprise to me because I've spent the last three decades moving from the opposite direction as my music collection evolved from vinyl and cassette tape to compact discs and then finally to digital music stored as MP3 files on my computer and mobile devices. In this century, I don't even know if you can call it collecting music because I now subscribe monthly to an endless library of artists and songs through various music streaming services.
I'm a mid-aged man living in the future where vinyl records are in our past; so I thought. Yet, here I am. I'm looking at turntables and relearning all over again the importance of a preamps and amplifiers when connecting the turntable to a set of speakers. What happened?
Vinyl records in the year 2020
Like most men and women my age, I grew up with a record player in my family's living room. Even when money was scarce, my father somehow managed to buy a steady supply of LP albums that took up more closet space and shelves than coats and books. By the time I hit my adult years, the music compact disc hit mainstream and all of us collectively seemed to push out turntables aside for more compact and sleeker devices. For me, all my vinyl records have been stored in dusty boxes (vertically straight up!) for well over two decades. In all this time, I hadn't given vinyl much thought until my teenage son came home one day with a record in hand. My son had just bought a birthday gift for a friend and this friend had requested he received new vinyl records for his birthday. My son picked on fresh vinyl, the album Queen II by, of course,Queen.
Teenagers and adults with recently acquired turntables are not just playing old vinyl records on their turntables but they're also buying new records from old and new artists alike.You may be surprised to hear that yearly revenue generated by record sales surpassed CDs last year. Meanwhile, here I was with more than 150 vinyl records in the closet and no turntable in the house to play them.
Since my son's purchase of the vinyl record, a rush of memories and emotions have hit m. I realize I've been missing that slightly ever little pop you hear in the music when the needle is lowered onto vinyl. There is something warm and enveloping that comes from music on vinyl that you can't get through other mediums except live music itself. I can recall how much joy it brought me to walk into the music store buying my newest album on LP for around $10. And who could forget those bargain bins of "unwanted" records for the low-low price of $1.99?. With acknowledgement of what I have missed, I moved those boxes of vinyl records out of my closet and began my quest for a new turntable.
New turntables under consideration
I originally considered looked at buying a vintage turntable but a video on YouTube convinced me that there was nothing wrong in buying a new turntable. New turntables can and often sound as good as vintage turntables. Also, I really didn't want the headaches of purchasing a used turntable and finding myself spending more time on unforeseen maintenance than actually listening to my records.
Having little personal access to many or these turntables, I have relied on the reviews of others, product specifications, and personal preference for the turntables I included in my list of consideration. My only criteria was that I wanted a good-quality turntable that would last me for a long time but also didn't cause my wife to panic when she saw the bill of sale. I found my comfort zone in purchasing a new turntable was in the price range of $150 to $350. Many audiophiles wouldn't hesitate to buy a more expensive turntable but guess what, I'm no audiophile and in any case a turntable wouldn't be the first place I'd start if I was one.
The following are the turntables are those I found myself considering for purchase.
The Audio Technica line of turntables are probably the most visible brand of turntables you'll find at local retail stores. For years, I've kept my eye on one of the cheapest offerings from Audio Techniica the AT-LP60/AT-LP60X line of turntables. I did consider the one with Bluetooth capability but in the end I decided I wanted a better turntable than entry level. For Audio Technica, that step up for a belt-drive system in my opinion is the AT-LP3. The turntable is capable of playing both 33-1/3 and 45 RPM records and features a built-in switchable phono preamp. The turntable also comes with attached dual RCA output cable that enable it be connected to a home stereo, powered speakers and other components whether they have a dedicated turntable input or not.
The AT-LP3 is a fully automatic belt-drive turntable and includes some nice advanced features not typically found on automatic turntables. The balanced straight tone arm comes with a 1/2" mount universal headshell and AT91R Dual Moving Magnet phono cartridge. While the turntable is fully automatic it also offers manual functions via a hydraulically damped lift control that allows the stylus to be precisely and safely lowered and raised at any point on a record. The platter is die-cast aluminum and accompanied by a rubber damping mat.
This particular turntable was not available in my city but I found it could be purchased for $199.99 at Amazon.
If you have never heard of Fluance, don't feel bad because they are a relatively new company in this industry. I hadn't heard about Fluance or their turntables until I saw this video review of the Fluance RT81. The RT81 plays traditional LP and EP vinyl records at speeds of 33 1/3 or 45 RPM using a belt-drive system. The turntable comes with the Audio Technica AT95E cartridge and is attached to a balanced aluminum S-Type tonearm with an anti-skating system. Unlike the AT-LP3, this turntable is not fully automatic but it does have an auto-stop feature.
The RT81 also includes an integrated high quality Texas Instruments preamp, ground terminal and gold plated RCA line outputs. The RT-81 originally had a list price of $350 but as of this writing the Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity Vinyl Turntable can be found for $249.99 on Amazon and is also being offered at the same low price on Fluance's own website.
The Denon DP-300F is a fully automatic analog turntable with built-in phono equalizer. This rigid die-cast aluminum turntable that comes with standard mount headshell, MM Cartridge, DC servo motor, and has rotation speeds of 33 1/3 or 45 rpm. The DP-300F's tonearm has a removable headshell making cartridge replacement simple. The standard mount headshell allows for any standard mount cartridge between 5 ~ 10 grams to be mounted and balanced and comes with a Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
There is a lot to like about the Denon DP-300F but I also saw some reviews from a number of sources that indicate there are consistency issues in playback speed. Another negative for some will be that the RCA cables are integrated into the turntable (you can't replace them without service). The Denon DP-300F lists for $350 but at the time of this writing the turntable could be found at Amazon for $279.
U-Turn Audio - Orbit Plus Turntable
The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus is the only turn table on my list where the built-in preamp is optional on the same model. If you decide you don't need the built-in preamp you can save yourself close to $80 by purchasing one without the preamp. This belt-drive turntable offers, like others, speeds of 33/45 RPMs and anti-skate with adjustable counterweight. The turntable includes an Ortofon OM5E cartridge with elliptical diamond stylus.
The best feature of this turntable though is its platter. The Orbit Plus is one of the few at this price point where the manufacturer offers an acrylic platter at initial purchase. Many audiophiles claim that the material and weight of an acrylic platter over metal improves the turntable's speed consistency and provides much clearer, more detailed playback. This turntable also features a 3-year warranty while many of the other turntables I reviewed covered only a warranty period of 1 or 2 years. About the only negative in features I found with this turntable was that the Orbit lacks a cueing lever which means you must pick up and set the tonearm directly by hand. I'm not so sure I have the steady hands necessary to run the player without a cue lever.
As of this writing, the turntable through UTurnAduio.com as $289 without the preamp and $359 with integrated preamp. Prices on Amazon were actually slightly higher for both no amp and preamp integrated which goes to show you that it pays to shop around before you make a purchase.
The Fluance RT82 is actually one of many "Reference Table" turntables provided by Fluance with better features and higher prices as you go higher up in the model number. Model numbers also include RT83, RT84, and RT85. The most expensive in the line is the RT85 which offers a 2M Blue cartridge and acrylic platter while the RT82 offers a lower priced but still good Ortofon OM10 elliptical cartridge and an aluminum platter. Why would you pick the RT82 over an RT85? The answer simply comes down to economics where the RT82 is $200 less expensive than the RT85. The RT82 may be cheaper than the RT85 but is still considered by many critics to be a very good turntable for your money.
Probably the most impressive feature of the RT82 over other brands was that reviewers almost always observed and noted the turntable's consistent speed control for precision playback. Fluance notes that this is due to the isolated motor preventing unwanted vibrations and noise while the speed control mechanism ensures consistent platter velocity (0.07% Wow/Flutter). I also liked the turntable's wood cabinet with three adjustable resonance damping feet to help reduce unwanted micro-vibrations. The balanced S-shaped tonearm is also a nice feature.
The only negative for some is that the turntable does not come with an integrated preamp. This was done to please audiophiles who prefer no electronics in the signal path of the turntable itself for a cleaner sound. You'll need to make sure your receiver has a phono preamp or need to buy an external preamp to get sound into your stereo system.
While the Fluance RT83 could have been within my price range at $349.99, I still found myself more interested in the slightly cheaper Fluance RT82 for $299.99. The only difference between the two models is that the RT83 includes the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and for $50 extra I'm not sure there was enough difference in stylus to justify the cost difference. Plus I wanted to save my money until I decided if I wanted the upgrade path similar to he RT85 model or go another path with investments elsewhere.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is the only direct-drive turntable I considered because, quite frankly, it was the only direct-drive turntable at the price-point to consider. This turntable is also the only table on my list that plays at three speeds including 33 -1/3, 45, and 78 RPM records. The turntable also comes with the AT-HS6 universal ½"-mount headshell and an AT-VM95E Dual Magnet phono cartridge with elliptical stylus.
Similar to a number of other turntables on my list this turntable is not automatic but instead contains fully manual operation featuring adjustable dynamic anti-skate control, variable pitch control with quartz speed lock. The balanced S-shaped tonearm does however come with hydraulically damped lift control and lockable rest. The turntable also includes an improved integrated preamp but you have ability to bypass the preamp. The previous version of this turntable (AT-LP120) had a reputation of having a "noisy preamp" even when bypassed but Audio-Technica has reportedly addressed this issue in this newer AT-LP120X model.
Similar to other Audio-Technica turntables, the AT-LP120X does have the ability to convert vinyl records to digital audio files via it's USB output and downloadable software. However, I see the primary reason to owning a turntable is to listen to analog music so the ability to convert to digital isn't as strong of a selling point for me as it might be for others.
The Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB lists for $249 but I've seen the turntable offered as low as $229 on Amazon.
Which turntable do you recommend?
Out of my list of turntables, I've already picked and purchased my choice in turntables. However, I'm not ready to recommend that turntable to others until I have some time listening to how the music sounds on it. In the meantime, if you own any of the turntables I have on this list can you tell me which model you own and whether you would recommend others to buy the same turntable? If not, what turntable would you recommend others consider buying?
Is there a turntable you would recommend that isn't on this list? We need those of you that have experience with these turntables to tell us your story and your experience with vinyl records and turntables. Please leave your comments below as it's just not me you will be helping out but others that are either returning to this hobby after years of absence or about to buy a turntable for the very first time.
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