The best turntable for casual listening
By Chris Heinonen
This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.
After spending over 50 total hours comparing turntables and measuring their performance, we’ve determined that the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is the best turntable for most people. It’s highly adjustable, has a built-in phono preamp for hassle-free setup, sounds great out of the box, and even has a built-in USB port if you want to digitize your LP collection. It’s also very speed-accurate, according to our tests.
Who should get this
These turntables are for people who are either first getting into vinyl playback, or have been out of it for a while and want a simple solution. Many of the turntables discussed here feature integrated phono preamps, which is important because signals from phono cartridges must be amplified and equalized to be compatible with normal stereo systems or powered speakers. Most new entry-level receivers lack phono preamp sections, and soundbars and wireless speakers never had them, so a built-in preamp can be important.
If you already have a turntable that works for you, you probably don’t need to upgrade to a new turntable from this guide. You can likely get more out of your current turntable by upgrading the cartridge or getting a new phono preamp than you can from buying a whole new table.
How we picked
Since we last updated this guide more and more companies have jumped into the turntable game. Vinyl sales have risen through the past decade, and audio companies want to capitalize on the trend. Many turntable brands have introduced new and ostensibly improved models since our last update.
We brought in nine new or updated turntables to compare with our existing pick, the Audio-Technica LP120. We listened to all of the turntables in a dedicated home theater room that measures 11 by 13 by 8 feet. For direct comparison, we played identical copies of an album on multiple turntables using a line-level audio switcher. We also considered belt-drive and direct-drive models for this guide. To learn more about these models, see our full guide.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is the best turntable for most people because it sounds great, has an internal phono preamp, is speed-accurate, and lets you easily digitize your LP collection. The AT-LP120-USB is a great entry point for the vinyl enthusiast, with sound quality that holds up in comparison with some tables costing twice as much.
The sound quality of the AT-LP120-USB, with the included cartridge and integrated preamp, is remarkably good. With high-quality source material, it can present a quiet background with very good channel separation and vocal clarity. It can stumble a bit on very busy musical sections on the inner grooves of records (where the fidelity is not as good as on the outer grooves), but many tables do this.
Most modern receivers lack a phono preamp, which is necessary to hook a turntable into a sound system, and even fewer people own an external one, so it’s convenient that the AT-LP120-USB has one built in. This means that straight out of the box, the Audio-Technica can plug directly into a soundbar or powered speakers that have an analog input. You can disable the preamp inside the Audio-Technica with a switch, but when we tried it, it produced a ground hum that wasn’t present with the internal preamp.
The AT-LP120-USB’s inclusion of a USB output makes it easy to digitize your LP collection. Most new LPs include download cards so you can get MP3 or FLAC versions of the album, but used LPs lack this. The USB output lets you connect the AT-LP120-USB directly to your computer, so you can use a program such as Audacity to digitize your collection.
The Fluance RT81 looks much like the Audio-Technica and sounds almost identical too. It has the same cartridge and a similar tonearm, but uses belt drive instead of direct drive. It lets you select between 33 RPM and 45 RPM and has an integrated phono preamp, but unlike the Audio-Technica, it will automatically stop the platter from spinning once the arm reaches the center of the record.
Some people might prefer the look of the Fluance to the Audio-Technica, but it is unlikely anyone will be able to tell them apart sonically. Listening to identical records at identical points and switching back and forth, we noticed no difference in sound quality between the two.The Fluance often sells for $50 less than the Audio-Technica, but lacks a USB output for easy dubbing of your vinyl. Plus its speed isn’t quite as accurate, and we don’t have the long history with Fluance’s turntables (the company only recently began selling them) that we do with the Audio-Technica. If the Audio-Technica is sold out, or you decide you like the Fluance for aesthetic reasons, it should provide the same sound quality.
A better-sounding upgrade
The updated entry-level model from Rega, the Planar 1, offers improved audio quality over the Audio-Technica and has the easiest setup of any turntable we tested. When we listened to The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” the Audio-Technica put poor Ringo back in the corner and muffled his voice. The Rega put him center stage and let him shine.
The Planar has a couple downsides. It runs around 0.5 percent fast, but in listening tests comparing it with other more-accurate tables we didn’t notice this speed difference. You also have to remove the platter to switch from 33 to 45 RPM.
A budget pick
If you want something that can just play records easily for as little as possible, the Audio-Technica LP60-BT will do the job. Unlike the other tables we considered, LP60-BT is fully automatic: Press a button and the table spins while the arm moves into position. Once a record is done, the arm goes back into place and the table stops. It has a built-in phono stage and you can even get it with a Bluetooth output for use with wireless speakers.
Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.
By Chris Heinonen This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its wor… Engadget RSS Feed