The enthusiasm for turntables and vinyl records has been growing dramatically over the past few years. Whether it’s kids and teens trying to reconnect to simpler times or today’s artists releasing vinyl records, the demand is high.
Luckily, these days you can listen to just about anything on any of the best turntables under $1,000 or even under $500.
To make things even better, it’s much easier these days to access the information you need to make a financially sound decision without compromising on build and sound quality, while also avoiding unnecessary additional investments in your speaker system.
Best Turntables Under $1000 & $500 for Audiophiles
Table of Contents
- Best Turntables Under $1000 & $500 for Audiophiles
- Some Characteristics of More Expensive Turntables in This Price Range
- Wow and Flutter – a Very Important Factor
- The Importance of the Cabinet and Base
- Understanding Playback Speeds
- A Few Words on Operational Convenience
- Belt Drive Turntables Are for Listening to Music
1. Fluance RT85
The Fluance RT85 is a vinyl record player designed for pure analog performance. It comes with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, one of the best elliptical cartridges on the market. That minimizes distortion very well, making this turntable great for old records. It also features high channel separation. That all translates into more accuracy and a higher audio resolution.
The RT85 boasts an isolated motor, which further prevents distortion and reduces vibrations by design. There’s also very little noise, and it features variable speed control as well. That means that the platter velocity should be highly consistent.
Speaking of the platter, this one is made from high-density acrylic. The resulting sound is thus much tighter in the lower register and fuller around the midrange for better vocals and overall clarity on old and new records.
This model doesn’t have a preamp, so you’ll require amplification. But, I should also point out that it does feature adjustable damping feet, and these are perhaps more useful and impressive than the otherwise stylish solid wood cabinet.
The AT-LP120XUSB turntable is one of the more affordable vinyl players. It presents itself as a perfect blend of old meets new since it has both analog and USB connectivity. The DC servo motor can comfortably play 33, 45, and 78 RPM speeds, which opens up many decades and genres for your enjoyment.
I also like it for its conversion feature. It’s useful to preserve, not to replace obviously, and you may want to give it some thought if your vinyl records aren’t looking good anymore.
A minor downside for some people would probably be a completely manual operation. But, the pitch control, the quartz speed lock, and the well-calibrated S-shaped tonearm should compensate for this, especially the damped lift control.
Although it may not have that vintage look or feel about it, there’s no denying that the AT-LP120XUSB gets the job done, and well at that. The built-in preamp is highly convenient too for most people.
This U-Turn Audio maple turntable is a perfect example of simple elegance. It has such a slim profile that you wouldn’t even think it was fitted with a preamp too so that you can connect it to your powered bookshelf speakers.
The solid hardwood plinth offers a resonance-free base for all moving components as well as a stable base for the platter. The acrylic platter has impressive speed consistency, which ultimately delivers a more detailed playback.
I also like that this model uses the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. This award-winning cartridge is known for its dynamic, open sound that doesn’t interfere with the nuances of any genre recorded on vinyl.
Unfortunately for some, the turntable only handles two speeds, 33 and 45 RPM. However, not everyone is interested in spinning 78 RPM records, since it’s quite complex and usually requires aftermarket turntable modifications. To real enthusiasts, this shouldn’t be an issue, especially if you consider the added stability of the platter.
To minimize distortion, U-Turn opted for a gimbal tonearm. It will provide accurate tracking and will eliminate most if not all distortion, depending on the quality of the vinyl.
The Project DC turntable is available in a variety of colors and might be just the thing you need to finalize your entertainment room. It comes with a durable and very precise 8.6” carbon tonearm and a slightly larger platter that adds more weight and improves the balance.
Again, you’ll see the use of the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which is always a good sign, especially in lower price ranges. One thing I’m not thrilled about is the open box design. Sure, it looks cool, and it makes operating the turntable easier, but it also makes maintenance and cleaning more of a pain.
The accepted playing speeds are 33 and 45 RPM. You can switch between the two by pressing the on/off switch once or twice. It may seem counterintuitive, but there’s an LED indicator that tells you what speed you’ve just selected.
While a built-in preamp is not part of the design, I will say that the neutral tonal balance provided by the cartridge can probably compensate for this. The Debut DC lacks in the bass department, but you will find the vocal definition most impressive for sure.
Although the AT-LP7 is a very modern turntable, you can call it a classic due to its fully manual operation and simplicity. The belt-drive turntable operates at 33.3 RPM and 45 RPM, the most sought after speeds these days.
It features an interesting cartridge, the VM520EB, which is a dual-moving magnet model. It works with virtually any VM stylus, and it offers impeccable channel separation as well as a wider frequency response range for even better audio clarity.
Interestingly enough, the AT-LP7 also boasts a built-in phono preamp. It can also be used without it, as it comes with an on/off preamp switch.
I love the chassis on this turntable. It’s a 40mm thick medium density fiberboard that provides superior vibration damping and thus limits the impact of low-frequency feedback. The thick platter is made of polyoxymethylene, a low-friction, high-precision thermoplastic known for its superior stability.
It may look very basic as far as turntables go, but the AT-LP7 is nothing if not worth the premium given the quality of the engineering and the materials used for the essential components.
If you’re looking for something more affordable and that better complements your high-tech gadgetry, the Sony PS-HX500 turntable could be a good fit. It’s reasonably priced, quite durable, and has support for line output as well as phono.
The main advantage of this modern turntable is the HX500 software. It will allow you to edit tracks as well as rip them to have your favorite albums always in your digital storage and excellent audio quality.
The cartridge is a Sony model, nothing you’ll likely find elsewhere. However, it provides a very good focus due to the integrated shell design. That gives more stability and expands the dynamic range of the sound.
The PS-HX500 is compatible with 33 and 45 RPM speeds, meaning that you can consider it a relatively complete package. Although it doesn’t offer the best platter design, it’s still able to handle a lot of spinning before you start noticing missed tones or a shift in the pitch.
Of course, the overall build quality helps too, as does the 1.18” MDF cabinet. The cabinet has impressive sonic characteristics and improves the overall sound reproduction accuracy and clarity.
The Rega Planar 2 turntable has some interesting components. First of all, the RB220 tonearm is capable of high-precision tracking while the Carbon MM Cartridge delivers a natural but accurate soundstage.
It’s interesting to see a glass platter in a high-end turntable, even though it’s a fad right now. Compared to high-density acrylic, glass doesn’t have the same vibration-damping properties. That said, it may offer better overall spinning stability.
The plinth is laminated in high gloss acrylic, which makes it stiffer, more eye-catching, and ultimately more durable. Another trademark feature is the low noise motor. That is something that will certainly catch the attention of turntable newbies.
Integrated cooling is also a design feature, one that I consider a must-have these days. But at the end of the day, the RB220 tonearm, with its unique design and intricate features, is the component that steals the show. In my opinion, it outshines the motor, the plinth, the platter, and perhaps even the sound.
For an aluminum tonearm, it has one of the best designs in this niche. Its only flaw is the lack of VTA angle adjustments, which would make switching to a secondary cartridge much easier.
If you want something with more of a vintage feel and design, the Music Hall MMF-1.5 turntable may be a fitting choice. It doesn’t have that modern vibe about it or too much plastic or all-black MDF that can take away a lot from a vinyl player at times.
Still, this is a belt-drive turntable, optimized to play at 33 and 45 RPM speeds. It also comes with a Music Hall Melody cartridge, which gives it a unique sound and operation smoothness that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.
The platter mat has good vibration damping properties, too. That does say something about the overall design and component compatibility.
You’ll also find a built-in phono preamp, so there’s no need to worry about anything as long as you have some powered speakers to connect to the MMF-1.5 turntable.
The tonearm is an S-type aluminum tonearm that also features a removable headshell. It’s nothing too special, but it provides good tracking and is remarkably durable.
The package also includes a dust cover, as it should at this price range. Unfortunately, it’s not hinged as I like it and as I’m sure many of you also do. That’s not an ideal design choice because it can sometimes be frustrating to have to take it off, place it somewhere close, change your record, place it back, and avoid causing any unwanted vibrations and feedback in the process.
If you don’t fully appreciate the art and patience it takes to handle a turntable, but you still need your vinyl fix, then I suggest a fully automatic turntable. Perhaps the Denon DP-300F may accommodate you better than others.
This turntable comes with a unique tonearm design with a one-button operation. It moves smoothly and leaves no chance of scratches or damage in general, even to your more sensitive records.
The built-in phono EQ is a very nice feature to have, especially if you’re not particularly pleased with traditional vinyl playback, characteristic of vintage turntables. It’s also very convenient since all you need to make it work is a pair of powered speakers; the higher the quality, the better, of course.
Assembling the turntable is quite easy, thanks to the detailed guide and intuitive design. The two-speed operation is a given at this price point, so that’s no surprise.
It is interesting how rich and detailed the sound is, even though I haven’t noticed any innovative design features apart from a noticeably heavier base. It offers better vibration damping and reduces the resonance to limit the low-frequency feedback.
Some Characteristics of More Expensive Turntables in This Price Range
The first thing you need to understand about turntables with prices in the vicinity of $1,000 is that they come with high-end cartridges. That means superior longevity and more signal stability.
Secondly, expensive turntables, because let’s face it these are among the expensive ones, aren’t made from garden variety materials. Although there’s nothing wrong with an aluminum or carbon fiber tonearm, exotic materials often improve the sound quality and accuracy.
The platter and bearings are also commonly made of high-end materials at this price point. Another characteristic is usually the absence of a built-in preamp, so most turntables nearing the proposed budget limit for this article will require dedicated amplification.
Of course, this potentially means a new investment, but also superior sound clarity and volume. With that in mind, $200 turntables also qualify as turntables under $1,000. But the closer you get to the budget limit, the more and more premium features and materials you’ll find.
Wow and Flutter – a Very Important Factor
As you’re willing to pay more for a turntable, the overall quality will undoubtedly be better. However, you must still take your time and compare a few features.
One of the most important things is the flutter or the wow and flutter rating. Manufacturers or retailers do not always provide this rating as it can have major implications on their sales. But, keep in mind that a rating around or under 0.25% is usually ideal.
Why is this important? Because the wow and flutter effect or behavior refers to the accuracy and consistency of the spinning platter. Mainly, how accurately the turntable will spin the records. The lower the spin, the better the record sounds.
Any slight deviation can cause a wavering effect. High numbers here mean that the deviation becomes more and more audible.
The Importance of the Cabinet and Base
Not many people like the idea of MDF. It’s long been associated with cheap manufacturing costs, even though you can find it on some durable cabinets. It’s important to understand that not all materials share the same acoustic properties.
In the case of turntables, MDF if no reason to run away. High-quality MDF with medium to high density and thick MDF can provide some impressive acoustics.
What also helps turntables reproduce your records more accurately is the overall quality of the turntable’s base. A heavy base helps reduce vibrations. Together with other components and design features, it can even eliminate vibrations to the point where you only have to worry about the quality of the vinyl or cartridge and nothing else.
Understanding Playback Speeds
As you may have noticed, the majority of turntables come with two operating speeds of 33.3 and 45 RPM. That is all you need to spin all your favorite vintage records and modern releases.
But, you’ve also probably noticed the mention of 78 RPM. This speed is commonly used for microgroove pressings. It’s a modern speed for a specific kind of modern record. There’s nothing vintage about it, hence why very few turntables come with this option.
That said, cartridge plays the biggest role in the playback speed. Since most cartridges are made to handle older records and are compatible with both low operating speeds, you won’t 78 RPM compatibility on many modern turntables.
There are specialized cartridges that can handle all speeds, as well as those designed specifically for 78 RPM records. However, it may not always be easy or even possible to use a 78 RPM cartridge with a turntable specifically designed for vintage records.
A Few Words on Operational Convenience
Turntables come in three types, depending on how you operate them. They’re either manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic. Manual turntables require 100% involvement on your part. It’s essentially just like making your coffee in a French press as opposed to turning on your espresso machine.
You get to enjoy the experience too. But it’s not just that. A manual mechanism also eliminates the risk of additional noise. So, because of that, manual turntables have better average sound quality. Of course, if you’re not an audiophile or a seasoned musician, you may not notice this in midrange turntables.
Semi-automatic turntables only require you to start things off, and then they handle everything, including returning the tonearm and powering off the motor.
Where things get interesting is with fully automatic turntables. As I’ve already pointed out, these can invite a world of problems, mainly by introducing unwanted noise. It can come from the motor, but it can also come from all the extra moving components and sensors that work tirelessly to ensure everything is running smooth.
While very convenient and with less risk of human error, when you start caring about sound quality above all else, I won’t recommend a fully automatic turntable if the ultimate tone quality is your goal. Not all things need to change, and newer is not always better.
Belt Drive Turntables Are for Listening to Music
Another issue I want to put to rest is the debate between belt drive and direct drive motors. Why is the connection between the motor and the platter important? Because it all has to do with noise and spinning resistance.
DJs use direct drive turntables. Their main draw is getting up to speed very fast after turning on the motor. Another great thing about the direct-drive system is the resistance-free spinning platter.
Belt-driven turntables reduce a lot of noise. The elastic band or belt is what turns the platter, so there’s no need for the motor to work too hard. That eliminates the noise aspect and gives a more detailed and nuanced reproduction of the recording.
Choosing a Turntable Might Be Easier Than You Think
At first glance, it may feel intimidating to compare turntables, given how many tiny details there are that separates them. However, once you understand a few basic concepts, arriving at a decision is not that hard.
Besides, as you can see from this article, the best turntables under $500 & $1,000 can be way below this price point, especially if you’re looking for a particular combination of features.