Pro-Ject Debut Carbon ($379)
We can actually feel you picturing this beauty in your listening room, trying to decide if you should go with a flashy color from its seven available choices, or perhaps something more resigned. Luckily, with a table this cool, there’s no wrong answer. Designed to set new standards in the affordable audiophile category, this belt-driven table boasts a carbon tube tonearm to reduce unwanted resonance, a quiet-run DC power supply, and a weightier platter to hold your records more securely and rock out optimal sound. One caveat — there’s no dust cover on board for many of our choices, so you’ll have to clean those records diligently to keep your stylus sterling (we recommend the tried and true LP brush from Audioquest).
Rega RP1 Turntable ($445)
Sometimes the simplest things really are the most beautiful, and it’s hard to argue against the concise elegance of the RP1. This unit gets high marks for reproducing stellar sound on a budget, and boasts unique features such as a manual speed change system that eliminates wear on the belt drive, a hand assembled tonearm, and a low vibration motor that promises to outperform its price tag.
Pro-ject USB Elemental Phono USB ($200)
Want to know what a belt drive looks like? Our second piece from Pro-Ject, this minimalist hunk of awesome wears its belt on the outside, so you (and those you’re looking to impress) can watch the action first hand. And if you’re still not convinced, the entry-level Elemental tackles function just as well as form, with sleek features like a DC power supply for ultra-quiet running, gold-plated RCA contacts and cartridge pins, a built-in preamp, and yes, USB output to take your collection digital. Basically, it’s a little slice of hipster heaven.
Marantz TT42P turntable ($359)
An icon in the home theater world, Marantz knows a thing or two about putting together a quality hi-fi system, and this little beauty will make a great addition to any beginner setup and beyond. Offering a pleasant balance of slick design and user-friendly features, the TT42P sports a built-in phono preamp, fully-automatic playback at the push of a button, and a “low coloration” tone arm designed to give you a balanced sound. A DC-powered belt drive provides smooth and accurate spins and low distortion, so you can simply sit back and let the music flow.
Music Hall MMF 2.2 Belt Driven Turntable ($299)
Are you sensing a minimalist theme here? Considering the simplicity of a turntable’s essential operation, it’s a fitting aesthetic. And besides, the MMF 2.2’s high-gloss lacquer finish makes minimalism look good. The belt-driven player comes in black, white, or Ferrari red, and also piles on a host of performance options to accentuate the sound of your collection. Those include a single piece alloy tonearm for “superb tracking ability,” stainless steel and bronze bearing assembly, and an alloy record platter for stable playback.
Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB Turntable ($219)
It’s hard to argue with a classic. This hunk of sparkling chrome might not be as fashionable as the others on our list, but it still looks and sounds good, and at a very enticing price. Though it sports direct drive as opposed to the audiophile-preferred belt-driven system, this go-to starter turntable hosts plenty of features like a selectable internal pre-amp so you won’t necessarily need a phono input, a USB output to capture your vinyl in digital form, and three speeds to handle virtually anything in your collection.
U-Turn Orbit Plus ($309)
U-Turn’s Orbit Plus is designed with one thing in mind: superb audio at an affordable cost. This turntable certainly achieves its goal, though it had to make some sacrifices along the way. The table’s construction is solid, with an MDF plinth and acrylic platter. The first thing some may note about this turntable is that it is incredibly basic. There’s no built-in preamp, no USB connection, and no automatic function. There’s no cue lever either, so users will have to manually set the needle, as well as manually adjust the belt to switch between 33 and 45 RPM speed settings. All of this may be daunting for new vinyl users, but those who can accept that will find a sturdy turntable that runs quietly and sounds great. While the basic model only costs $179, splurging for the Orbit Plus is recommended. The Plus comes with a Grado Black cartridge, which is a huge step up from the AT91B that comes with the basic package.
Teac TN-300 ($318)
If we’re judging purely on aesthetics, the TN-300’s glossy finish — particularly in cherry red — might just make it the best turntable on this list. Thankfully, it is much more than an attractive desk ornament. This turntable from Teac has a surprisingly wide soundstage for its price range. Bass is hefty and the midrange is decently bright, though the highs can strain a bit. The TN-300 also comes with the features modern record collectors crave, including USB output and a built-in preamp.
Pioneer PL-30-K ($219)
Another automatic table, the PL-30-K is a user-friendly device, complete with a built-in preamp for easy use with any receiver. This turntable has very basic design, but it’s sturdy enough to get the job done, and the push-button commands make playback a cinch. This means there is no need to worry about scratching a record — just hit play, sit back, and enjoy. The sound quality is impressive right out of the box, but users may wish to upgrade to a better cartridge; the Audio Technica included with the table is functional but not amazing. Still, the PL-30-K produces a robust sound, and makes for a great entry into vinyl.
Denon DP-300F ($329)
New vinyl users intimidated by the delicate procedures involved in the mechanics of the format should take note of Denon’s DP-300F. Like the Pioneer PL-30-K, the DP-300F plays your records with a mere push of a button. The aluminum body gives the table a nice weight, too, and reduces the vibration caused by the belt motor. This turntable also has a built-in preamp for playback on virtually any system. Again harkening back to the Pioneer, sound quality is decent enough for the price range, but users may want to consider upgrading to a better cartridge once they get into the swing.