In an era where most people consume music that’s streamed in highly compressed digital files that transfer wirelessly over the airwaves, it’s not surprising that some people want to slow down and hold onto a more tangible reproduction of sound on a record player.
The best record players set you up with the gateway you’ll need to start the record collection you might have fantasized about. A record player might feature automatic or manual drives, standard moving magnet cartridges, built-in preamplifiers, multiple connections, and either belt or direct drives. Most importantly, the best record players sound great and are easy to use.
Whether you’re building up your hip hop library, scooping some King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, or collecting old Joni Mitchell classics, vinyl is the best way to listen. Read on for the breakdown of some of the best record players out there.
— Best Overall: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB-BK
— Best All-In-One: Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity
— Best Entry Level: Victrola Revolution GO
— Best High-End: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO
— Best Budget: RIF6 Record Player
How We Picked the Best Record Players
There are a lot of factors that contribute to making a record player truly special. That’s why we looked at a wide range of record players, examining different makes and models for the best record player that hits all the bases right. We broke down some of the characteristics that make for a special record player below. The most important of these are a record player’s tonearm, phono cartridge, and the record player’s build.
The phono cartridge is the component of the player that houses the stylus which tracks the record’s grooves, as well as the magnets and coils that convert that stylus’ motion to an electrical signal. All of the record players we feature on this list have moving magnet cartridges.
The tonearm is the component that supports a record player’s phono cartridge as it traces the record’s grooves. Sometimes the tonearms are set manually and sometimes they set themselves automatically. High-end tonearms can cost thousands of dollars, but most audiophiles don’t need to spend nearly this much on a component. We looked for record players with great, built-in tonearms that won’t break the bank.
Overall build can also dramatically affect the sound of a record player. Mechanical noise can get picked up and mixed into a record player’s signal as low end flutter or motor noise. Turntables with warp to them or shoddy materials might also distort a player’s sound. We looked for players with solid builds that won’t warp over time.
Older record players required something called a preamp to operate properly. A phono preamp is used for two purposes. First, a preamp boosts a turntable’s signal so that it’s ready for the amplifier at the root of your sound system. Without it, traditional record players emitted a faint, tepid sound. Secondly, phono preamps were used to counter the RIAA equalization protocol that has been applied to vinyl records since 1954. In short, this equalization reverses the natural, high-pass filter that’s physically cut into vinyl records by applying a standardized low-pass filter. These days, many people will want a record player that has an internal preamp, as most of the record players on this list do. However, we also included a couple of options that either don’t include a preamp or feature preamps that can be disabled, so more discerning vinyl enthusiasts can add their own phono preamps.
Ease of use is a factor for many folks. In the end, whether you need an automatic or manual drive turntable is up to you. Both options have benefits. Automatic turntables lower the stylus onto the record and raise it when the album finishes playing. However, the gear to make this action happen takes up space under the hood, and it costs. Manual record players, on the other hand, require you to place the stylus on the record, and remove it when the album is finished. Semi-automatic drives will raise the stylus when the album completes, and shut off the turntable. We made sure to include both manual and automatic record players on this list.
The Best Record Players: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB-BK
Why It Made The Cut: With a built-in digitizer, a preamp that can be disabled when you want to use your own, and solid components all around, this is a versatile and reliable manual record player.
— Manual or Automatic: Manual
— Direct Drive or Belt: Direct
— Special Features: Digitizer, phono preamp disabler
— Solid, all-around build with die cast aluminum platter
— Easily digitize old records for playback or sampling
— Hook up a separate phono preamp to upgrade
— Some issues using digitizer with a separate phono preamp
Founded in 1962, family-owned business Audio Technica is still one of the most recognized names in record player technology, and with the AT-LP120XUSB-BK, it’s easy to see why. This is a record player that’s firmly rooted in tried-and-tested turntable technology, yet is updated for the digital age. With a die cast aluminum platter combined with a multi-speed motor that can run 33, 45 or 78 rpm, this deck prioritizes solidity. A balanced, S-shaped tonearm suspends a proprietary AT moving magnet cartridge. A pop-up target light provides a nice guide for playing vinyl in low light. One of our favorite features is the switchable preamp, which can be disabled if you wish to pair your turntable with a higher-end auxiliary preamp, but can otherwise perfect your record’s sound so that it’s ready for your main amplifier.
All together, this is a great system for most users. It is manual however, and while many vinyl heads stump for the superiority of manual systems, it’s something you should be sure about before you buy. If you don’t trust yourself not to drop the stylus onto the vinyl, or if you tend to fall asleep partway through playback, then an automatic system might be better for you. We also love the fact that this system has a USB-out for digitization. If you’ve got a legacy record collection you want to digitize, or you’re a producer looking to sample from vinyl, then this record player presents a great option for seamless connection with Audacity, or another digital sampler.
Best All-In-One: Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity
Why It Made The Cut: With beautiful wood trim, powered Bluetooth-ready speakers, a switchable auto stop, this is an elegant, all-in-one solution to a home audio system with a record player at its core.
— Manual or Automatic: Manual / auto-stop
— Direct Drive or Belt: Belt drive
— Special Features: Bluetooth connection
— Great-looking wood plinth
— Uses top notch components including a AT95E Audio Technica cartridge
— Powered speakers eliminate the need for a phono preamp
— Doubles as a Bluetooth speaker
— Switchable auto-stop
— Somewhat pricey
Canadian company Fluance’s record players are a great all-around option. The Fluance RT81 capitalizes on the company’s design experience to deliver a record player that doubles as a whole home audio cabinet. A 120-watt amplifier works to power two 60-watt speakers with internal Bluetooth connections. The record player features an Audio Technica diamond-tipped stylus with excellent frequency response, and a tonearm that can be toggled to auto-off. The belt driven aluminum platter is consistent, and the player features switchable line / phono out.
With elegant, varnished wood trim on both the record player and speakers, this system looks as good as it sounds. We think that with its top quality components, its versatile Bluetooth connectivity, and great aesthetic, this is a really excellent home audio system for any audio lover. This system is ready for vinyl listening parties, nightly “Seinfeld” episodes paired to your home projector, or the newest “Radiolab” episode.
Best Entry Level: Victrola Revolution GO
Why It Made The Cut: This novel, portable record player contains a rechargeable battery with up to 12 hours of life, and doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, so you can DJ the party or the picnic.
— Manual or Automatic: Manual Direct
— Drive or Belt: Belt drive
— Special Features: Bluetooth connection, rechargeable battery
— Features a guitar strap, record holder dust cover, and 12-hour rechargeable battery for portability
— Audio Technica stylus won’t hurt your records
— Bluetooth connection converts it to a Bluetooth speaker
— Won’t stand up to dedicated sound systems in sound quality
The Victrola Revolution GO is a true hybrid record player. Made for park outings, picnics on the quad, and late nights playing music, this record player features a guitar strap for easy carrying, a 12-hour rechargeable battery, and a Bluetooth feature that turns its internal speaker into a mobile Bluetooth sound system. If that’s not enough, the detachable top dust cover doubles as a stand for five records.
While this Victrola’s speaker likely isn’t the loudest, and won’t replace an audiophile’s home stereo system, it’s better than you might expect from a device that aims to be so much. Indeed, the whole device is impressive, the tonearm wields an Audio Technica AT3600L which safely tracks vinyl without scratching, and the stereo speaker and passive bass radiator does a better job than you would expect for such a small array.
Best High-End: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO
Why It Made The Cut: This elegant record player features a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) dampened steel platter, top-quality belted motor, carbon fiber tonearm, and premium cartridge.
— Manual or Automatic: Manual
— Direct Drive or Belt: Belt drive
— Special Features: None
— Premium grade components throughout
— Sleek and beautiful
— Capable of perfect stabilization
— No special features
For those interested in building a top-quality system, premium components are more important than special features. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO doesn’t come with a built-in phono preamp, Bluetooth connections, or a mobility strap, but for most audiophiles interested in a truly superb home audio experience, all those things will actually only detract. Instead, the Carbon Evo offers a perfectly tuned body that’s dialed in for excellent audio.
Using three thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) heavy-duty feet for stabilization, the Carbon EVO adjusts to whatever surface you position it on. The belt drive features an electronic speed control and runs underneath the body, powering a felted steel platter. A carbon fiber tonearm supports a Sumiko Rainier cartridge. You’ll need your own phono preamp and amplifier for this record player, but that can only contribute to the top notch audio you can expect. All in all, this is a sleek and elegant premium piece that can make a high-end audio system. It’s an investment, but one the discerning audiophile will enjoy for years.
Best Budget: RIF6 Record Player
Why It Made The Cut: With built-in speakers, a Bluetooth connection that goes both ways, and a tonearm that stops on its own, this is a great first record player for anyone looking to get their feet wet.
— Manual or Automatic: Manual / Auto-stop
— Direct Drive or Belt: Direct
— Special Features: Bluetooth connection
— Can double as a Bluetooth speaker
— Dust cover included
— Plastic parts are cheaply put together
— Sound isn’t great and some users find the stylus scratches their records
If you or somebody on your gift list is looking for a budget record player before investing in a whole system, then the RIF6 Record Player is a good place to begin. For a true value price, this record player is ready to handle your collection, and will also double as a Bluetooth speaker. That Bluetooth connection also goes both ways. You can broadcast your record wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker, or broadcast Spotify onto your RIF6. The device also comes with a handy dust cover that will protect your records, and looks elegant with a wood trim.
Sadly, the device’s cheap asking price may come with some quality issues. Some users complain that some of the plastic components are prone to breakage, and the stylus has been known to scratch vinyl. The device doesn’t skip a phono out in its build, however, supplying aux, RCA, and its Bluetooth connection. While the connections are impressive in their breadth, the system still lacks the internal quality and attention to detail that those who value high-fidelity seek. Still, as a budget device the record player’s dual functionality as a Bluetooth speaker ensures it makes for a good starter piece.
Things To Consider Before Buying a Record Player
Before you buy a record player, here are some factors to think about:
All-in-One Systems: We featured a number of all-in-one systems in our roundup. All-in-one systems might include their own speaker plus a mobile battery and Bluetooth connection. Or they might use separate powered speakers that connect to a central turntable, allowing you to use your record player as a central hub for a Bluetooth-enabled, all-in-one sound system.
Separate Record Players: If you’re looking to build a truly powerful sound system you may want a discrete record player. Usually adding extra features like Bluetooth-connected, built-in speakers takes the design emphasis off premium grade components and overall balance. If you want your system to be the best of the best, you’ll likely want a separate phono preamp, as well as a separate amplifier that powers high end speakers.
Manual Or Automatic: While many top quality record players are manual systems, these systems do come with some disadvantages. Dropping the stylus onto the record with force can damage both the stylus and the record. If you don’t trust your manual dexterity, you may want to search for an automatic drive system. Automatic drive systems also take the onus off you to remove the needle from finished records, so you don’t have to worry about falling asleep or leaving the room and leaving a record spinning for hours. Some systems feature switchable, auto-off features that can be the best of both worlds.
Q: How much does a record player cost?
Record players can cost from under a hundred dollars to well over a thousand. If you’re a casual buyer you can easily get a decent and easy-to-use record player for just a couple hundred dollars. However, if you’re looking to build a truly premium system you’ll likely want to spend more.
Q: Is a turntable the same as a record player?
Turntables are the crucial centerpiece of any record player. A turntable is the spinning platter, tunearm, and stylus which combine to play a record. However, the term record player can often refer to this turntable as well as the built-in or affiliated components, including the phono preamplifier, amplifier, and speakers.
Q: Do you need a speaker for a record player?
Some record players feature built-in speakers. These range from high quality powered speakers to rather low frequency devices. Other lone turntables do not come with built-in speakers and will require additional speakers, as well as an amplifier, and possibly a phono preamp.
Q: Do records sound better than MP3s?
Records generally do sound better. MP3s are highly compressed digital files composed of bits of information made of ones and zeroes. Records, on the other hand, use analog wave patterns which are cut into the physical body of the record. This wave pattern is tracked by a stylus, turned into an electrical signal through the cartridge, filtered and boosted, and then sent to an amplifier where it’s further boosted and played through a speaker. On good speakers, this creates a richer and more detailed signal than an MP3, that sounds arguably more “alive.”
For anyone buying a record player for the first time, these devices can revolutionize the way you listen to music. An excellent record player will give your favorite albums deeper warmth, texture, and depth than you’ve experienced from digital. Record players can be all-in-one systems with their own built-in speakers, or discrete high-end turntables that must be outfitted with multiple other audio devices to work — but are capable of delivering absolutely superb results.
For a budget all-in-one system that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker and serves as a good first step or gift for someone who’s interested in trying out vinyl, the RIF6 Record Player is worth a look. The Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity , on the other hand, is an all-in-one record player that’s high-end enough to wow: its double powered speakers are also Bluetooth-compatible for easy pairing with your laptop or phone (for some digital interspersals). For most of us, however, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB-BKis the best overall record player, with all-around great performance and a built-in digitizer that will usher your collection into the modern age. It will require speakers and an amplifier, but the end result will be well worth it.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.