In the immortal words of bespectacled Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo: "I've got records in my head everywhere that I go ... Peel off the plastic, smell the vinyl / For me it's like a holy Bible." Inspiring words, to be sure, but Cuomo's obsession with vinyl records wouldn't be much without one of our best turntable choices to spin them on.
If your format of choice thus far has been music streaming services and you're just now digging around at what the best turntables and vinyl have to offer, there are plenty of entry-level turntables and record players out there to play your vinyl record collection on that'll suit your needs nicely. Many of them come ready to go out of the box, with pre-installed and configured cartridges, built-in phono preamps (that amplify the low signal from the stylus) for easy connection to powered speakers or AV receivers, and a range of features that make them easy to get the hang of. If you're curious and want to dip your toes in slowly, one of our favorite entry-level turntables is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X, a budget-priced basic deck that looks great, too.
But if you've already taken a few spins around the vinyl world and are looking to upgrade or get into something a little more advanced, like better phono cartridges, external preamps, higher quality tonearms, and anti-resonant components that can make for a beautifully clear and sonic experience, we've checked out a bunch and put them on our list of the best turntables, too. Our current number one pick as the best overall turntable for most people, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo, fits this bill and is a reliable, upgradeable workhorse that sounds great and doesn't cost a fortune.
But we've got several other turntables on our list to help you decide, and once you do why not check out our roundup of the best turntable accessories, too. Let's go.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo
Best turntable for most people
- Warm, defined sound
- high-quality components for the money
- No more manual speed change
- Available in nine finishes
- Phono preamp is extra
If you're just starting your turntable hunting you've likely already come across the Pro-Ject brand (heck, we mention two of them in our intro). The stalwart company is up there with Rega as a standout in the industry, and its decorated Debut Carbon lineup has helped keep it there for more than a decade. Its latest version, the Debut Carbon Evo, doesn't falter either, proving that you don't need to spend a grand or more for high-end features.
Pro-Ject's best-selling turntable model got a few key upgrades in this latest version that have put it over the top, including a redesigned, quieter motor with improved suspension, new height-adjustable sound-dampening aluminum feet, and a heavier 3.7-pound, steel platter with a thermoplastic dampening ring that Pro-Ject says reduces wow and flutter (tiny distortions that can be caused by vibrations and other factors).
The best upgrade, though, is the addition of a new three-speed selector switch that has been discretely mounted on the underside of the plinth. Previously, you'd have to remove the platter to physically move the rubber belt underneath to switch between 33 and 45 RMP records. The new switch is a godsend, and also offers 78 RPM as well.
You also get the Evo's single-piece carbon fiber tonearm, which looks cool and contributes to the turntable's rich, balanced, and quiet sound, but not quite as much as its excellent, re-mounted Sumiko Rainier moving magnet (MM) cartridge, which is punchy, balanced, and full-bodied (like a good beer, I guess). Outside the U.S., the Evo comes with the also-great Ortofon 2M Red installed, but, if you're at the stage where you're experimenting with cartridges, you can easily swap them; it's not hard.
The only obvious thing that the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo doesn't come with is a built-in phono preamp, so you will have to get one (unless you have one already). I really like the Schiit Mani 2 phono preamp, I have two of them and they sound great. You might think is a deal breaker, but I would argue that if you're looking to up your entry-level game with a Carbon Evo, a good external phono preamp will be better than most built-ins if you can stomach the extra few hundred dollars.
The Debut Carbon Evo comes with a semi-balanced RCA cable and is available in nine colors and finishes.
- Full sound that stays true to the source
- Outstanding Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge
- Solid, anti-resonant build quality
- Fuss-free RPM speed control dial
- Automatic stop feature
- No built-in phono preamp
- No Bluetooth or USB connectivity
- Glossy finish prone to fingerprints
The midrange Fluance RT85N blew us away when I reviewed it last year for its more than reasonable $500 price, superb Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge, quality components, and rock-solid build, which, in my opinion, puts it neck-and-neck with the Pro-Ject Debut Evo as an even more affordable option that will do the job just as well.
The star of the RT85N is Nagaoka MP-110, which on its own is a $150 cartridge, but its sound is well regarded as being balanced, and forgiving of a wide range of music styles (it really likes older vinyl, too), with excellent separation between the lows, mids, and high frequencies. In my review, I said of the MP-110 that "vocals sound natural across the board, while the highs stay sharp and clean with a marked reduction in sibilance when compared to cheaper cartridges." All that and, if you wanted to, you could easily switch out the MP-110 for another cartridge of your choosing, making the RT85N upgradeable and future-proof.
Helping that Nagaoka cartridge do its thing is all the anti-resonance happening in the RT85N. The thing is a beast at 17.7 pounds, much of that accounted for in its solid MDF plinth. A 0.62-inch (16mm) thick, high-density clear acrylic platter also helps dampen vibrations, along with its aluminum S-shaped tonearm, and adjustable rubber isolation feet, making the RT85N "one of the quietest, most stable turntables I’ve tested," my review says.
There's no Bluetooth or USB connectivity here, and like the Debut Evo, the RT85N does not have a built-in preamp, but they tend to not sound great anyway, so if you're moving up from a budget or entry-level deck, you're probably better off exploring the word of phono preamps now anyway. The RT85N also has a handy auto-stop feature for those who like to putter around the house while listening to records — it automatically stops at the end of the record, which also saves wear and tear on the stylus.
Setting up the RTN85 is pretty easy, too. Everything you need is in the box, and the instructions are clear. Setup should only take you about 10 or 15 minutes, but in case you're expecting to plug it in and go, there is a higher level of precision required with turntables compared to cheaper decks — it's not a bad thing for you to learn how to attach a headshell and balance a tonearm, and the sweet sounds you'll get will make it all worth it.
U-Turn Orbit Theory
Best turnable around $1,000
- Ortofon 2M Blue or Bronze cartridge
- New antiresonant tonearm design
- Easy to set up
- Electronic speed switch dial
- Built-in preamp option
- Fantastic sound for price
- Only two finish options
- No auto stop
As a long-time owner and fan of the original U-Turn Orbit Custom, when I finally got my hands on the Woburn, Massachusetts company's first foray into the premium turntable realm, I was pretty excited. I've always liked U-Turn's scrappy spirit and that it offers high-quality turntables that are a little different than the big players for a reasonable price. The Orbit Theory is easily U-Turn's best turntable yet, and a fantastic next step for vinyl enthusiasts ready to jump up out of the mid-range.
The rethought Orbit Theory is a strikingly beautiful, hardwood-based turntable that comes in walnut and a new black Ebonized Oak finish. But it's not just easy on the eyes. Building off of the 10-year lineage of the Orbit brand, the upgrades are substantial, including a newly developed molded magnesium tonearm that combines the headshell, arm tube, and pivot housing in one to reduce resonance. The belt drive system is all-new as well. It's more powerful, has a new silicone belt that runs in a machined groove around the side of the platter, and it gets up to speed faster. Plus, I can confirm that it's virtually silent. And, my favorite part is that U-Turn has finally added a speed switch — no more manual belt changing between 33 and 45 RMP. A set of three anti-resonant and height-adjustable feet are also new to the Theory, further solidifying its quiet properties.
But where we start getting into the real premium territory with the Orbit Theory is with its choice of two excellent cartridges from world-class cartridge makers, Ortofon: the 2M Blue (which comes with the base-model Theory at $999) and the even better 2M Bronze that adds $180 to the price. Either way, you're laughing with how good these cartridges are — they consistently produce big, brilliant, and stable sound that is forgiving for all kinds of music and you can't go wrong with either. If you do go for the Bronze, you add even more opportunity to upgrade further, as the Bronze's cartridge is compatible with two of Ortofon's best styluses, the Black ($575) and Black LVB ($800), pushing you into audiophile territory, should you like.
In true U-Turn fashion, the Orbit Theory is customizable and ranges from $999 with the 2M Blue and without a built-in preamp to the top-of-the-line at $1,249 with the preamp and the 2M Bronze. Whichever way you configure it, the Orbit Theory is an excellent turntable, worthy of our Editor's Choice pick.
Best budget turntable
- Plug and play
- Easy to use
- Built-in preamp
- Sounds great for the price
- Made of mostly plastic
- No upgradeable cartridge
- No Bluetooth
Many a vinyl beginner has turned to Audio-Technica for their first turntables because the well-established company (they also make world-class headphones and microphones) produces reliable, easy to use, and affordable turntables for pretty much every level and budget.
The AT-LP60X, at just $150, is a great-sounding, stable, plug-and-play turntable that is as easy on the bank balance as it is getting started with. Fine, it's made mostly of plastic and it's not really upgradeable (you can change the ATN3600L stylus, but not the cartridge for something better), but the AT-LP60X's amazing automatic functions are perfect for beginners who might be intimidated by the act of lowering a needle onto a record at first. Its push-button operation lets you simply press a button to play — the tonearm lifts up on its own, moves into place, and lowers gently. When the record's done, the platter stops spinning automatically, and then a press of the stop button lifts the tonearm and moves it back to the starting position. Once you're comfortable, you can also do this manually, so win-win.
A built-in phono preamp with a line level/phono output switch gives you connectivity options for your gear, whether you have powered speakers, an old receiver with a phono input, or something newer with an AUX input instead — you can connect this thing to anything with its included 3.5mm to RCA cable. If Bluetooth is your thing, though, you will not find connectivity with the AT-LP60X, but for $70 more look at the AT-LP60XBT.
If you've got an old box of your dad's 45s or LPs just waiting to be dusted off and played, it's hard to go wrong at this price. It's also available in black, red, brown, and gunmetal to help spruce up your pad.
Rega Planar 3
Best audiophile turntable
- Uncompromising quality
- Best-in-class tonearm
- Choice of two high-quality cartridges
- Bright, full, detailed sound
- Can get expensive
- Only available in three colors
Many turntable nerds count the Rega Planar 3 as the pinnacle, their Holy Grail turntable; the one they'd get if they found a wad of cash in the couch cushions. And they wouldn't be wrong. The Rega name is often the first that comes to mind when you think of audiophile turntables and gear (the Planar 3, while excellent, is actually their mid-range), and the Planar 3 is arguably their most popular, for its reachable price and legendary quality.
With 40 years under its belt, the Planar 3's lightweight, anti-resonant plinth was the mold for many modern turntables that have come after (including several on this list). It's, of course, come a long way since then, having undergone several iterations and upgrades, and it's this design expertise that few can compete with. The current Planar 3 features the latest version of their iconic RB330 tonearm that offers amazing balance, stability, and industry-leading anti-resonance. It's a belt-driven turntable, of course, with a new 24-volt low-vibration motor that's nearly silent and that drives the Planar 3's eye-catching glass platter.
While there is no built-in preamp (turntables at this level rarely have them) and no speed selector switch, when coupled with the Rega Neo power supply, you can bypass the finicky manual belt switching and get precise 33 or 45 RMP speed control with a button push.
But how does it sound? Well, you don't get a reputation like Rega's for sounding like garbage — it sounds big and warm, the soundstage is wide, and the mids and highs are detailed, allowing you to hear just what the artist intended, with no coloration.
The Planar 3 comes in a few different configurations, including on its own without a cartridge that runs around $1,125, with Rega's own outstanding Elys 2 MM cartridge ($1,395), and another with the also excellent Ortofon 2M Blue ($1,364). You can, of course, upgrade to a multitude of other cartridges out there, too. The turntable is as quiet as it gets, sounds gorgeous, and looks it too. Rega also does a good job at making the Planar 3 customizable with upgradeable parts, such as belts, platters, and more. The Rega Planar 3 is available in three glossy finishes: black, white, and red.
Best turntable for DJs
- Rock-solid build
- Heavy and stable
- Instant speed, pitch control
- No built-in preamp
All the turntables on our list, so far, have been belt-drive turntables, which are best for most people because of their simple operation and the fact that they tend to be quieter because the motors that spin are usually off to the side and do not directly contact the platter.
Direct drive turntables, however, are a different beast, as their motors usually sit directly under the platter and often drive them, er, directly. While there is much debate over which is better, DJs favor direct drive decks because they can get up to speed almost instantly, can spin records in both directions without damaging the motor, and often have tempo control sliders for mixing.
One of, if not the best DJ turntables ever made, is arguably the Technics SL-1200, but they are hard to come by and even the new versions of them can get expensive. Enter Audio-Technica, whose SL-1200-inspired LP140XP direct-drive turntable is tailor-made for DJs, but at a way more manageable $500 price.
Similar to Audio-Technica's massively popular AT-LP120, the LP140XP is a beast of a 22-pound turntable that is stable as hell with four sure-footed adjustable feet and a die-cast aluminum platter that is damped underneath with a dense, felt-like material for anti-resonance. Where the LP140XP differs from its LP120 cousin is that it does not come with a built-in phono preamp (most DJs will have some form of amplification anyway), and it trades out the standard workhorse AT-VM95E cartridge for the hotter, more DJ-friendly AT-XP3 cartridge instead. The headshell comes pre-mounted, so all you have to do is balance the tonearm with the included instructions and you'll be spinning in no time. A-T's solid anti-skate mechanism is here, too, to keep the stylus tracking in the groove properly.
Speaking of spinning, the DJ controls include a pitch-control slider, pitch lock, forward/reverse buttons, and the classic pop-up platter strobe light. It doesn't have Bluetooth or USB connectivity (for that look to the LP120XBT-USB), but the AT-LP140XP will spin at 33, 45, and 78 RPM, and is an easy-to-use, straightforward DJ's dream.
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