As far as hobbies go, record collecting is the kind that has something of a steep barrier of entry. There are the economic considerations, of course, but there’s also the matter of know-how. Whether you’re trying to figure out what the heck a pre-amp is, deciding between belt-drive and direct drive, or struggling to understand the difference between passive and active speakers, you might start to wonder if you’ll ever get to actually play that copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours you found at the Goodwill.
Getting into vinyl doesn’t have to be that difficult or expensive; it just depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. The first and most obvious thing to start with is the turntable. The one you choose will affect both the sound quality and the amount of other stuff you’ll have to buy. Some turntables are all-in-one; they have everything you need to plug in and play, but the sound won’t be as good. On the other hand, there are record players with very few built-in features — those are designed for people who take audio quality seriously and want to control every facet of their audio experience. Of course, that involves spending a lot more time and money.
The sweet spot for most beginners is somewhere in the middle; good starter record players have features like built-in pre-amps, automatic arms, and even USB outputs, but they’ll leave things like speakers to you. If you’re still unsure what a pre-amp is or does, the basic gist is that a turntable with a built-in pre-amplifier can be plugged directly into active speakers. That way, you can save money and space by having a sleek setup consisting of two speakers and a turntable. Turntables without built-in pre-amps need to be plugged into stereo systems that have a phono pre-amp or into a separate stand-alone pre-amp. We’ve included options with built-in pre-amps that can be switched on and off (that way, you can choose between active speakers or buying your own pre-amp), as well as one retro, all-in-one pick.
1. Audio-Technica Direct Drive Professional USB Turntable
Audio-Technica makes sound equipment that won’t send you into a sticker-shock-induced cardiac arrest. This turntable lets you convert your LPs to digital through its USB drive, and it has precise controls like variable pitch control and an adjustable tonearm.
Pros: USB feature lets you convert LPs to digital. The turntable has a removable dust cover and a guide light for use in the dark.
Cons: Tonearm is not automatic; user has to get up and put the arm back.
2. Sony PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Turntable
The beautiful minimalist design of this turntable could fool you into thinking it was made by a high-end designer and not one of the biggest consumer electronics brands. Like many of Sony’s turntables, this option has a USB feature that allows you to digitize your records. The built-in phono pre-amp is switchable, so you can decide whether you want to use passive or active speakers. It also has an automatic tone-arm. Simply place the record on the platter, press start and let the music play.
Pros: Sleek design. Features USB and Bluetooth functionality. Switchable pre-amp. Gain selector for tine-tuning your audio experience. Automatic tone-arm starts the record with the push of a button.
Cons: Some options may have a better build quality.
3. Denon DP-300F Fully Automatic Analog Turntable
This turntable is from Denon, a storied company that’s been in the business for over 100 years. The DP-300F combines convenience with quality. It has an automatic tone-arm; there’s a start and stop button, so you can simply put the record on the platter and press start. The sturdy base of the turntable is designed to reduce vibration for a cleaner sound, and the aluminum build gives it a beautiful look and added sturdiness.
Pros: Automatic tone-arm and easy-setup make this a convenient option.
Cons: Can have playback speed issues.
4. Fluance RT85 Turntable Record Player
If you’re looking for a premium audio experience, look no further than the Fluance RT85. It’s a good option if you’re serious about vinyl because there are some purchases you’ll need to make after getting this turntable — for example, it has no pre-amp, so you’ll need to add one. It uses a premium Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge and has a solid wood plinth. The raised rubber feet help reduce vibrations that can cause distortion. It’s available in either piano black or walnut. It features an acrylic platter instead of rubber or felt.
Pros: Ortofon 2M cartridge for premium performance. Solid wood build. Large rubber feet to reduce feedback.
Cons: Pre-amp not included.
5. Victrola Navigator 8-in-1 Classic Bluetooth Record Player
The iconic Victrola brand got revived by Innovative Technology, and it now produces the kinds of record players you might have seen in the ’20s when they were still called phonographs. Except, of course, these models are outfitted with slightly more modern tech like CD drives and USB ports. It’s an all-in-one option, and it comes with USB, tape, AUX and other connectivity options.
Pros: Bluetooth, CD, USB, Tape, AUX drives. Includes a remote, and even has an AM/FM radio.
Cons: Not as high audio quality.
6. House of Marley Stir It Up Turntable
That old copy of Exodus you’ve got lying around will sound great on this turntable, which was made in collaboration with the Bob Marley estate. But they’re not just cashing in on a beloved music icon’s name — House of Marley embodies their namesake’s conscious ethos by partnering with organizations like OneTreePlanted and Surfrider Foundation. Plus, the turntable and its components are made using sustainable materials like recycled aluminum, bamboo and recycled plastic.
Pros: Sustainable materials used. Stylish design. Replaceable cartridge. Built-in pre-amp.
Cons: Not an automatic tonearm.