Five of the Best : Record Players

Whether you have vinyl records handed down to you, you’re a DJ, or you’re getting into vinyl for the first time, you’ll need a good record player. One that’s reliable, durable, and easy to maintain. This week we’re looking at five of the best.

Vinyl records are still a small part of overall music sales, but they’re definitely on the rise, there’s no doubt about that. Beyond that, many people have had records for years, or have had them handed down to them, or love to shop for old recordings in thrift stores—but you still need a good player. Earlier in the week we asked you for your favorites, and you gave us tons of great suggestions. We only have room for the top five though, and here they are, in no particular order:

Audio-Technica AT-LP120 USB

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Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120 is a direct-drive turntable that can connect to external devices (like mixers or computers) via USB or analog. It’s handy if you’re looking to both listen to your old record collection and digitize it for on-the-go listening or backups. Being direct drive means that the platter is powered directly by the motor, and there’s no belt or other moving parts involved with the rotation of the turntable itself. It also means there are fewer moving parts that can vibrate and create additional noise. The AT-LP120 is also a semi-clone of the ever-popular (which we’ll get to later) Technics SL-1200MK2, except significantly more affordable—it’ll only set you back $250 at Amazon. The turntable can be toggled in forward or reverse easily, has a pitch control slider on the side (+/-10%-20%), hinged dust cover, selectable 33/45/78 RPM speed modes, a cast aluminum platter (with Audio-Technica slipmats, of course), and all the cables and connectors you need to get it hooked up to your stereo, mixer and monitors, or computer.

Those of you who nominated the AT-LP120 and praised its nomination noted that its cast aluminum platter is nice and heavy, the turntables moves without much vibration, and it’s sturdy and reliable, not to mention affordable when compared with other turntables both aimed at DJs or audiophiles. A few of you pointed out that the USB output is a really nice feature, as is in the included preamp, so you don’t need a ton of powerful gear to use the turntable at all. Plus, the USB output makes it easy to connect right to your computer anytime you like.

Rega RP1

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A modern, sleek-looking turntable that’s aimed at buyers who care about form as well as function, the Rega RP1 is a belt-driven turntable aimed at audiophiles. That said, it doesn’t come with the exorbitant price tag that a lot of so-called audiophile equipment is usually associated with—the Rega RP1 will set you back $435 at Amazon. It can take a beating (even though by its looks you’d never want to hurt the thing), and the table itself is made from phenolic resin for durability. It features a low-vibration, belt-driven motor with manual speed adjustments so you can really dial in the rotation where you want it. The tonearm is hand crafted and the special “Rega Carbon” magnetic cartridge is designed to complete a high-quality package that delivers great sound at a modest price. Best of all Rega notes that their attention to design extends to the longevity of their products, and that you can buy one of these and enjoy it for years without having to worry about replacing parts.

Those of you who nominated the RP1 pointed out that it’s a great kind of “entry level” turntable that won’t break the bank if you’re looking for a stereophile-style record player (trust us, it may seem expensive, but there are plenty that are much, much moreso.) You praised its price point for being at a good place where you get great sound return for your money without paying the “audiophile tax,” where you wind up paying more for less return on your investment sound-wise. The minimal design works in any home entertainment setup, and others of you said that it sounds great on affordable home entertainment gear—but also sounds great if you have pricier equipment as well. All that combined makes it a great buy if you’re just getting into quality audio equipment and may upgrade things like your amp or speakers later, or if you already have some and you’re looking for a record player to match.

Technics SL-1200MK2

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Ah, the “wheels of steel.” The Technics SL-1200MK2 (and later, the MK3, MK4, and MK5) are the quintessential turntable. Used by DJs, turntablists, musicians, radio stations, and everyday music lovers for decades since their release in 1978, Technics finally ceased production of the SL1200 line in 2010. They’re so highly prized that a pair of 1210s are on display in the London Science Museum, and they’re highly regarded as turntables you could drop out of the back of a truck, toss down a hill, then pick up, dust off, plug in, and still play like nothing happened. They’re the industry standard for a reason, after all—the least of which is the powerful, low vibration magnetic direct drive motor, steel platter, +-8% pitch control, selectable 33/45RPM speed modules, and of course, removable dust covers and slip mats. Even though the SL-1200s have technically ceased production doesn’t mean they’re impossible to find—they’re still in wide circulation, both new and used, and can be purchased around $600 from Amazon sellers . We’d suggest you head to a music store in your area and see what they have. They may be the gold standard, but they’re certainly pricey now that they’re discontinued.

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The Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is the smaller brother of the previously mentioned LP120, available at a wallet-friendly $100 from Amazon in a variety of colors. It’s a belt-driven turntable, aimed directly at people who don’t have a record player and don’t really know what they want in one—if anything—but they know they don’t want to spend a ton of money to rediscover their record collections (or records handed down to them.) The LP60 features a removable dust cover, 33/45 RPM selectable speed modes, a built-in phono preamp, and replaceable cartridges. It’s durable and solidly built, so you don’t have to worry about it falling apart, even if it’s a budget model. Finally, the LP60 has an all aluminum platter, space-saving design, and all the cables you’ll need to hook it up to your home stereo.
Those of you who praised the LP60 pointed out that it’s amazing for budget buyers, and great for people who aren’t too picky about the more audiophile aspects of their listening experience. It’s a space saver, and frequently available for less than the $100 it usually sits around at Amazon. At the same time though, more than a few of you pointed out that you can’t control the tracking and anti-skate on this model, which means that the tonearm can track too heavily, apply too much pressure or pull to one side of the groove or the other of your records, or heaven forbid just slide all the way across your record—all very bad things, both for your listening experience and for the longevity of your records.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all out vote:
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