Top 10 Best Starter Turntables: Vinyl record players for newbies

If you are new to vinyl records and want a reliable turntable with minimal fuss, here are some of the best starter turntables for first timers and newbies. These turntables cost under 250/300 and will satisfy even the most demanding of audiophiles.

Vinyl records are making a comeback. There are many pros and cons of vinyl records, but we won’t go into this in this article. Know that the format is fully analog and lossless, with enthusiasts claiming that it has warmth and character with more focus on the music.

Vinyl Record Players

Physically owning the media be it vinyl record or CD feels different to just streaming or downloading. There is a sense of ownership, having something you can touch and feel. So pick yourself a turntable and start your media based audio listening journey. Pop out that black disc from its jacket, put the record on the spindle, drop the needle and let the music flow.

Just beware that even though they look the same, the records come in either 33 1/3, 45 and 79 RPM (not common). Most players support different spinning speeds, but you will need to set it manually.

Also, there are two main types of players, belt or direct drive. The more common belt-driven models have an offset motor that drives the spinning platter via an elastic belt. As for direct drive models, the servo-motor is installed beneath the plinth centered on the platter.

Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of the models. For me, it is a matter or preference. Know this, direct driven models have a higher starting price compared to belt driven ones.

Top 10 Best Starter Turntables

Not going overboard here, our line-up of turntables for newbies and casual listeners are some of the best players under 250/300. There are more expensive premium models and cheaper, more affordable budget models, but those that make it to our list are some of the best in the market.

  1. Rega Planar 1 Turntable Belt-Drive – Manual
  2. Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK Turntable Belt-Drive – Automatic
  3. Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB Turntable Direct-Drive – Manual
  4. Sony PS-LX310BT Turntable Belt-Drive – Automatic
  5. Fluance RT80 Turntable Belt-Drive – Manual
  6. Crosley C100 Turntable Belt-Drive – Manual
  7. Audio-Technica AT-LP60XUSB Belt-Drive – Automatic
  8. Crosley C200 Turntable Direct-Drive – Manual
  9. Pro-Ject Primary E Turntable Belt-Drive – Manual
  10. Crosley C6 Turntable Belt-Drive – Manual

1. Rega Planar 1 Turntable Belt-Drive – MANUAL

Easily the coolest player in our line-up but it doesn’t just stop with good looks. The award-winning Rega Planar 1 turntable received a 5 star rating from What Hi-Fi? With a balanced tone arm and not much else, not even a speed switch in sight, the P1 is the most minimalistic of players. Still, it offers good sound with plenty of details. Just know where to find the power switch, it is hidden beneath the front left corner of the player.


Rega Planar 1 Turntable

For
  • Plug and play design
  • Minimalistic good looks in piano gloss black or white plinth
  • Heavy 23mm phenolic platter for spin stability driven by 24V synchronous AC motor with aluminium pulley
  • Rega Carbon moving magnet cartridge comes fitted
  • While not shown it comes with a full size hinged perspex cover
  • Weight 4.2kg
Against
  • no pre-amplifier built-in so will need an amplifier with photo stage built-in or a separate phono stage (pre-amp) module to step up the signal from the stylus
  • no Bluetooth
  • for 7-inch 45rpm records, lift the platter and move the belt to the other pulley to change speed
  • non-replaceable captive RCA output cables


2. Audio-Technica AT-LP3 Turntable Belt-Drive – AUTOMATIC

Audio-Technica AT-LP3 is yet another award-winning, 5-star rated turntable. It comes with a balanced tone arm and ability to support different cartridges, moving magnet or moving coil. The supplied AR91R dual moving magnet cartridge and removable AT-HS3 universal head shell works with the balanced tonearm set at 2 grams. It won’t be as easy to set up as the plug and play Planar 1 but you only have to do it once. Elsewhere, two speed switch 33-1/3 or 45RPM, hydraulic damped lift control and lockable rest, built-in switchable phono or line pre-amplifier output and captive RCA output cables. We like that the belt-driven turntable offers the flexibility of a universal head shell and support for a different cartridge and balanced tonearm.

Audio-Technica AT-LP3BK
Audio-Technica AT-LP3WH
For
  • Ultra modern design, both black and white unit looks great
  • Fully automatic tone arm, just press start. the cartridge will return when finished playing and platter stopped.
  • Universal head shell with user upgradeable cartridge, support for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and balanced tonearm with adjustable counterweight and tracking
  • Built-in pre-amp for phono or line output
  • Thick rubber map on anti-resonance, die-cast aluminium platter
  • Weight: 5.2kg
Against
  • A bit more involved in the setup so read the manual carefully and read again to be sure
  • Balance the tone arm, set the lift to stop the arm from swinging then attached the head shell and cartridge. Next, set counterweight to 2 grams for supplied cartridge, then lower the lift.
  • No Bluetooth or USB
  • Captive RCA output cable

3. Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB Turntable Direct-Drive – MANUAL

The first direct drive turntable in our list, the Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB has an S-shaped balanced tonearm with adjustable counterweight and tracking but it goes one better, it comes with USB output to easily mix or convert records to digital files on the computer using compatible recording software like Audacity.

The fully manual turntable supports all three speeds (33, 45 or 78rpm) with its direct drive DC servo motor, adjustable dynamic anti-skate control and variable pitch control with quartz speed lock. It also lets you increase the tempo at a press of a button from 8% to 16%. For output, apart from USB, there is a detachable RCA output with RCA cable supplied.

Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB also available in black

To minimise vibration, the player use professional grade anti-resonance, die-cast aluminium platter with felt matt but what makes this different from the other players is the use of stroboscopic platter and speed indicator as well as variable pitch control with quartz speed lock. Control the pitch to fine tune the speed of the platter, once you see that the spots on the platter is stationary against the strobe light, use the quartz lock. Another light source is used to help cue the stylus in low light.

For
  • Cool professional deck with plenty of controls, quickly start and stop
  • Dynamic sound quality, support all three speeds including the rare 78 RPM
  • Death silent direct-drive motor, more torque, less maintenance than belt-driven system
  • Moving magnet cartridge AT-VM95E included
  • Built-in pre-amp for phono or line output
  • Packed with features: stroboscopic platter, pop-up pilot light for cueing, pitch control, counterweight and anti-skate adjustments to reduce record wear
  • USB connectivity to convert analogue record to digital files using a desktop
  • Removable RCA cables, AC adapter for external AC/DC conversion to minimise audio distortion
  • Weight: 8.0kg
Against
  • Fully manual, if you fall asleep while listening, it will keep on spinning
  • Controls and settings may overwhelm newbies
  • No Bluetooth

4. Sony PS-LX310BT Turntable Belt-Drive – AUTOMATIC

A close second to the Rega Planar 1 in terms of simplicity in design and minimal good looks is the SOny PS-LX310BT. But there is another advantage the unit has over other turntables here, in that it comes with Bluetooth connectivity so you can listen to your music on your wireless Bluetooth speaker. The turntable received a five star rating from What Hi-Fi? in May 2019, a truly great first player at a reasonable price. The player supports 2 speeds (33 or 45 rpm) has 3 gain modes (low, mid, high) and cabled RCA output like those on the AT-LP3.

Sony PS-LX310BT
For
  • Bluetooth Connectivity with easy Bluetooth Pairing
  • Easy to setup and use, a big plus for beginners. The head shell is permanently mounted to the tone arm, no cartridge to install, no counterweight or anti-skate to adjust. Place the platter, loop the belt over the pulley and you are away.
  • Minimalist good looks with easily accessible buttons
  • Phono stage and pre-amp line output
  • Gain control for line level output
  • Separate power adapter to reduce noise
Against
  • Audio Technica LP60-XBT offers similar features and is cheaper but not as good looking
  • captive left and right RCA cables
  • Power button on the back of the unit
  • Feels lightweight but black plastic build quality is acceptable
  • No USB

5. Fluance RT80 Turntable Belt-Drive – MANUAL

The Fluance RT80 has a balanced aluminium S-Type tonearm. For cartridge, it uses the Audio Technica AT91 high performance stylus. The aluminium platter with felt mat sits on a belt-driven system housed on a beautifully crafted engineered wood plinth with isolation feet.

To the left is a rotary switch to switch off or select play speed, 33 or 45. It comes with a Texas Instruments pre-amp, ground terminal and gold plated RCA line out to minimise noise and ensures warm and true reproduction of the music. The entire package is suitably weighted which is always a good sign and the gloss finished base gives it an elegance feel.


Fluance RT80 Turntable
For
  • Audio Technica AT91 stylus with a mere 2 grams tracking force
  • Built-in pre-amp offers switchable phono or line output
  • Dual speed 33 or 45 with rotary switch and 45 adapter
  • S-shaped aluminium arm equipped with adjustable counterweight and anti-skate setting
  • MDF cabinet with high gloss paint and tinted dust cover
  • Weight: 4.5kg
Against
  • No Bluetooth or USB connectivity
  • Manual turntable with auto-stop feature

6. Crosley C100 Turntable Belt-Drive – MANUAL

The Crosley C100 is yet another manual turntable with an S-shaped tone arm complete with adjustable counterweight and tracking. The tone arm is furnished with hydraulic lift control and lockable rest with NP5 stylus. Like the AT-LP120X, the player has adjustable strobe pitch, use the pitch control to adjust pitch on the fly for the best sound. But unlike the direct drive AT-LP120X, this here is a belt-driven unit. If you are after a direct drive model from Crosley, checkout the C200 below. Built-in pre-amp means you get phono or line output to suit your setup. RCA output ports and detachable RCA cables are supplied.

Crosley C100 Turntable
For
  • curved s-shaped tone arm help reduce skating particularly with anti-skate adjustment
  • built-in preamp for direct connection to powered speakers or amplifier without phono input
  • uses diamond-tipped Audio Technica stylus with dual speed 33 1/3 and 45 RPM support
  • audio pitch control that uses a strobe light beaming onto the platter dots
  • detachable RCA output cables
  • weight: 4.3kg
Against
  • ABS plastic construction
  • no pilot light
  • no Bluetooth or USB connectivity
  • felt slip mat

7. Audio-Technica AT-LP60XUSB Belt-Drive – AUTOMATIC

The Audio-Technica AT-LP60XUSB is the entry level Audio Technica AT-LP60X with USB connectivity. Another with Bluetooth connectivity is available in the form of AT-LP60XBT. If you have neither the need for USB or Bluetooth, go with the cheaper AT-LP60X.

Being an entry level player, the unit feels a little too light for comfort but can still pump out a balanced sound and music. Perfect for those wanting to convert their records to digital format on their computer. Or use it with your favourite pair of Bluetooth headphones or speaker and enjoy wireless freedom (AT-LPXBT).

On all models, there is also a switchable phono stage built-in to connect to an amplifier or wired headset via the 3.5mm audio output. There is nothing else you need to do beyond putting the platter in place and hooking up the pulley. A 3.5mm to RCA adapter cable is supplied.

Audio-Technica AT-LP60XUSB

For

  • Affordable belt-driven player with dual speed 33.3 or 45 rpm support
  • USB to connect to desktop and record with Audacity or Bluetooth connectivity option (AT-LP60XBT)
  • Built-in switchable phono pre-amplifier for phono or line level output via detachable 3.5mm to RCA output cable adapter
  • Fully automatic with power adapter outside of chassis to reduce noise

Against

  • Too light for comfort
  • Fittings and buttons feel cheap
  • Like the base AT-LP60X model but with USB connectivity
  • A little on the light side, Weight: 2.6kg

8. Crosley C200 Turntable Direct-Drive – MANUAL

If you like all the features of the Crosley C100 like the RCA output with line or phono settings, adjustable pitch control, adjustable tone arm weight with counterweight and ant-skate adjustment but prefer the maintenance free direct drive over belt drive then the Crosley C200 is your answer. It looks every bit as sophisticated as the LP120XUSB from Audio Technica which coincidentally is also direct driven for extra torque, quick start and stop and smooth operation.

The Crosley C200 Turntable uses an S-shaped tone arm with counterweight to vary the force and is fitted with Audio Technical AT-3600 moving magnet cartridge. Just like other the C100, you get to choose your own cartridge and balance it accordingly. The built-in pre-amp makes magic happens be it for listening over the headphones and over an amplifier and speaker that supports phono or not or just your powered speakers. Our only reservation is the ABS plinth but it is suitably weighted at around 5kg.

Crosley C200 Direct-Drive Turntable
For
  • Great value for a direct drive model, strong pick up and electrical braking to stop at a press of a button
  • Pre-amp built-in for line or phono output
  • Audio Technica AT-3600 moving magnet cartridge
  • S-shaped arm with counterweight adjustment for balance and option to switch cartridge
  • Hydraulic lift control and lockable rest
  • Detachable RCA cables
  • Weight: 5kg
Against
  • No pilot light
  • ABS plinth and plastic components looks cheap
  • Felt slip mat, would have preferred rubber slip mat
  • No auto return feature for tone arm, fully manual

9. Pro-Ject Primary E Turntable Belt-Drive – MANUAL

The Pro-Ject Primary E is a highly rated turntable that received a 5 star rating from WHAT HI-FI? For a budget turntable, it performs well over its price tag. While the unit sounds great, it is a totally stripped back model. There is no pre-amp for phono stage or line output, no USB output or Bluetooth and definitely no automatic operation. Even to change the speed, you need to manually move the belt from one motor pulley to another. This is a fully manual turntable, a true classic.

Still, the Primary E spots a truly minimalist look with a balanced tone arm with adjustable counterweight and Ortofon OM cartridge. It requires very little time and effort to setup with its plug and play design and pre-adjusted tracking force and anti skating. Although allen key and stylus pressure gauge is provided. Pro-Ject Audio Systems insists that the turntable is intelligently designed to keep out unnecessary features with the aim of keeping the cost down. Even the RCA Phono cable is directly soldered.

Pro-Ject Primary E Turntable
For
  • Adjustable counterweight on the tone arm with anti-skate weight and tracking force pre-set at 1.7g
  • Minimalist design with machined special composite fibre chassis and vibration absorbing feet
  • Power switch cleverly hidden underneath the chassis
  • Stylus pressure gauge included in the box to measure the tracking force
  • Weight: 4.0kg
Against
  • Phono only, no pre-amp built-in
  • Captive phono RCA cable
  • Exposed belt and pulley that forms the belt-driven system
  • Manually changing the speed by moving the belt from one motor pulley to another for 33.3 or 45RPM
  • power supply is built into the unit rather than using a separate plug to reduce noise
  • captive RCA cable

10. Crosley C6 Turntable Belt-Drive – MANUAL

The name may be synonymous with budget suitcase or side table type turntables but Crosley managed to win peoples hearts with its C100, C200 and now the C6. The third Crosley turntable in our list, the C6 moves away from ABS plastic plinth to an Audio Grade MDF plinth covered in veneer. It also loses all the features like adjustable pitch control, strobe lighting, dotted platter and anti-skate adjustment. Dialing back on those features does not make it any less good. Most belt driven unit here do not come with pitch controls.

Where it got right are the pre-amp, detachable RCA cables, external DC adapter power supply and adjustable balanced tonearm equipped with counterweight. That plinth looks almost Pro-Ject esqs with a minimalist feel. Crosley moved the motor and pulley system to the bottom of the plinth. It supports two speeds 33.3 and 45 as well as 12-inch and 7-inch records. Like the Primary E, changing the speed does require you to lift the platter and move the belt from one grove to the other.

Crosley C6 Belt-Drive Turntable
For
  • Built-in pre-amp for phono or line output
  • Audio grade MDF plinth with wood veneer available in different natural wood shades or gloss black or red
  • Heavy steel platter provides stability and
  • Adjustable tone arm for flexibility to change out cartridges and dial in the suggested tracking weight
  • Audio Tecchnica AT-3600 Moving Magnet Cartridge supplied
Against
  • Exposed belt and pulley that forms the belt-driven system under the plinth
  • Manually changing the speed by moving the belt from one motor pulley to another for 33.3 or 45RPM
  • Fully manual with manual return tonearm at the end of playback