The return of the record player is one of the biggest stories of the decade.
New vinyl releases, re-releases, Record Store Day and, erm, Urban Outfitters, have all done their bit to get the world in a spin (all over again) about 12-inch discs.
But is it just a passing hipster fad? A desire for a physical connection to your music in the streaming age? Or perhaps a genuine realisation that records can actually sound pretty damn good? It’s probably a little bit of each.
Thanks to the addition of USB turntables, your vinyl purchases needn’t be consigned solely to your record player either.
Want to get on board? You need a solid spinner. Luckily, whether you’re spending a little or lot, there’s plenty of choice.
Don’t be tempted by the all-in-one machines – they may look smart but they rarely sound so clever, and worse still, they could damage your records. Instead, take your pick from our selections of the best on the market, starting at just a little over £100…
Audio Technica AT-LP5 (£330)
Like most things in tech, and indeed life, should you want to pay top dollar for the very best, the sky tends to be the limit.
So while you can easily spend many thousands of pounds on a turntable, back in the real world this Audio-Technica is relatively affordable. The good news is you wouldn’t know it.
The build, look and feel of the AT-LP5 could easily pass for something double the price, helping to ensure this deck gets off to a great start. Run your eyes down the spec list and you’ll be equally enthused: a phono stage is included, a specifically-designed cartridge comes pre-fitted, and there’s a USB output for ripping your vinyl.
But does it sound any good? Why yes, yes it does.
No matter your music tastes you’ll be treated to impressive amounts of detail and a wide open soundstage that’s capable of really filling a room. There’s clear treble alongside good, solid bass, laying the foundations for what is a beautifully balanced sound.
The LP5’s strengths ensure it’s a genuine all-rounder and will sound every bit as impressive with jazz as with jungle, not to mention pop and rock.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
This is a damn musical turntable, that sounds great no matter what you choose to play
Audio Technica AT-P5 in figures Speeds: 33, 45rpm • Drive system: Belt drive • Tonearm included: Yes • Cartridge included: Yes • Dimensions: 450x352x157mm
Sony PS-HX500 (£450)
If you want a company that has serious hi-fi heritage, then you can do a lot worse than Sony.
It’s no wonder the world got pretty excited when the Japanese giant announced it was getting back in the turntable game – and with a clever twist. Not only will this turntable – spoiler – deliver great sound from your vinyl, it also allows you to make hi-res audio copies to play on the move.
Because one thing vinyl isn’t, is portable.
This is a belt-drive deck, so you’ll have to hook the belt up and balance the tonearm. Detailed instructions are included, and it’s easy to do, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right to get the best possible sound quality and avoid damaging your records.
Once done, it’s a slim, minimal design, that will look smart in any system. A phono stage is included, so all you need to do is connect to an amp or powered speakers.
Sonically, the Sony PS-HX500 is light on its feet, delivering crisp treble notes and a big, open sound. It sounds particularly good with acoustic tracks and delicate vocals, but does well enough with dance music and more upbeat numbers.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
High-quality sound and the option of hi-res audio, means it’s a high-five from us
Sony PS-HX500 in figures Speeds: 33, 45rpm • Drive system: Belt drive • Tonearm included: Yes • Cartridge included: Yes • Dimensions: 430x104x366mm
Lenco L-85 (£120)
We’d forgive you for being wary of this turntable. It’s pretty cheap, it comes in garishly bright colours, and it’s made by a brand you probably haven’t heard of. But bear with us: this is the definition of a bargain budget turntable.
Everyone knows the all-in-one suitcase creations from the likes of Crosley aren’t up to scratch, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get plug ‘n’ play convenience at a knockdown price and still get good value for money.
The Lenco L-85 makes that apparent. Set up? Get it out of the box and plug it in. No tonearm balancing or cartridge adjusting required. To steal a famous tech phrase, ‘it just works’. And in some style.
The Lenco delivers a decent, nicely-balanced sound that does particularly well when it comes to playing clear, insightful vocals. It won’t wake your neighbours with bass, and the best around might make this sound a little non-committal, but for the money it’s hard to find fault with this machine. What’s more, plug in a USB stick and you can rip your tunes. Clever.
Oh, and if you didn’t know, Lenco has been making record players for 70 years… so you’re in safe hands.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✩
A fine deck complete with a clever vinyl-ripping system, all for not a lot of money.
Lenco L-85 in figures Speeds: 33, 45rpm • Drive system: Belt drive • Tonearm included: Yes • Cartridge included: Yes • Dimensions: 120x420x360mm
Rega Planar 1 (£250)
The original Rega Planar was released in 1975, as a 200 turntable limited run. The company has come a long way since, partnering with Record Store Day to be front and centre of the vinyl revival, and offering a number of iterations of the company’s famous turntables.
The Planar 1 is the latest version of the company’s most famous deck – and it does the name proud.
It would take longer to list all the upgrades applied to this Planar 1 than it does to get it up and running, such is the breadth of tweaks Rega has applied, and the simple set -up process that still remains. If you like a challenge, Rega claims it’s a 30-second job.
There are new components designed specifically for this deck, and also upgrades inherited from more expensive models, which is always a good sign. A cartridge is supplied but you will need a phono stage.
When it comes to sound quality, there’s simply nothing to complain about considering the price. Detail? Yes, in spades, whether revealing emotion in intimate vocals or delivering every intonation of that bass ‘wub’.
Energy? You betcha. Banging techno and commanding classical tracks are relayed with equally impressive dynamics and bags of excitement. Authority, solidity, sheer musicality? Tick, tick and tick.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
The return of a classic begets a new Rega turntable that will stand the test of time.
Regar Planar 1 in figures Speeds: 33, 45rpm • Drive system: Belt drive • Tonearm included: Yes • Cartridge included: Yes • Dimensions: 450 x 115 x 385mm
Pro-Ject RPM 9 Carbon (£1500)
Oh, so you want to get serious? Pro-Ject Audio, experts at budget and high-end turntables alike, have pulled the stops out with the RPM 9 Carbon.
For starters, it looks stunning. The carbon fibre-covered tonearm certainly helps – the substance will help reduce unwanted vibrations, too – as does the aluminium platter, complete with smooth vinyl top.
As your mates stare agog at this design marvel, you can reveal you had a hand in the build, as there is some work to do involving screws and fitting various parts. But if vinyl is all about a physical connection to the music, why not feel similarly attached to your turntable?
Once done, you’re treated to a sound quality that’s worth a little elbow grease. You’ll need to add an external phono stage, or have an amp with one built-in (as many do – look for the ‘phono input’), but you can then enjoy a solid, authoritative sound, that will ensure your guests, once over the design, remain open-mouthed in awe.
That weight and authority translates to solid, expressive bass lines, even if some similarly priced rivals might deliver more powerful dynamics – those bursts of sound, from quiet to loud – and muster a slightly more agile performance.
STUFF SAYS: ✭✭✭✭✩
A solid, bold sound from a smart, stylish deck
Pro-ject RPM 9 Carbon in figures Speeds: 33, 45rpm • Drive system: Belt drive • Tonearm included: Yes • Cartridge included: Yes • Dimensions: 180 x 440 x 325mm
CLEARAUDIO CONCEPT (£1000)
Pictures don’t really do the Clearaudio Concept justice, with its virtuous simplicity perhaps coming across as ever so slightly boring. In the flesh, though, there’s no denying it’s lovely – all clean lines, tough, elegantly machined materials and a single hefty dial for controlling speed.
Best of all, especially for the beginner, everything is set up by the factory. No messing with cartridge weight and bias; connect the drive belt and slot the platter on, and you’re good to go. It’s as plug-and-play as turntables get.
If your idea of records is that they always sound as warm and soft as a pillow fresh from the airing cupboard, the Concept will provide a bit of a surprise. The expected flow and fluidity is there, but there’s also the sort of party-popping energy and crispness that you’d more likely expect from a high-fidelity digital file. It has great tonal balance, from the sweetest highs to the gut-wobbling lows.
But bear in mind there’s no built-in phono stage, and you’ll need to fork out for a separate one that will do the Concept justice. If you do, though, you won’t regret it.
STUFF SAYS: ★★★★★
Sweet sounds and simplicity make the Concept a stunner
Tech specs Speeds: 33, 45, 78 • Drive system: Belt drive • Tonearm included: Yes • Cartridge included: Yes • Dimensions: 13x42x35cm