Best record player 2020: the best turntable for vinyl

The best turntables take up arms and fight it out: IT'S THE VINLY COUNT-DOOOOOWN!

Best record player

The best record players are more in demand than ever, even though Record Store Day this year was sadly cancelled due to, er, there being no record stores. Vinyl is having a resurgence and sometimes can be found as a free gift with Amazon Echo products – figure that one out. But in general, records are a bit of a waste of time and (quite a lot of) money if you don't have the best record player or turntable to spin it on. That's where this handy list comes in…

If you've been thinking of making the first move into analogue musical appreciation, but are baffled by the choice of turntables available, we have a possible solution: a big list of turntables, starting with our favourites, and then continuing with more great choices arranged in descending order of price.

All you need to do is work out your budget and pick a player. We have listed our favourites at 10 key price points from £150 to around £5000 and there are Bluetooth wireless record players, USB record players, DJ decks and more. Now, finding the best record player is no longer like looking for a stylus in a hay stack.

Record Store Day, in April, is when everyone usually gets super-excited about exclusive releases such as the special remix of Venus that Bananarama put out last year. That's how prestigious it is, and why it's rapidly become an institution, propelling the resurgence of vinyl, and helping to keep the dwindling band of shops that sell records and other physical media alive. However, a more suitable place to find deals on cheap record players is Amazon Prime Day. Although that was also cancelled this year, Amazon has rescheduled it for later in the calendar.

The best record players (T3's favourites)

Best record player: Pro-Ject Essential III

1. Pro-Ject Essential III

Best record player

Weight: 5kg
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue with pre-amp
Dimensions: 415 x 335 x 112 mm
Reasons to buy
+Great sound +Attractive styling in a variety of colour options+Output can be pre-amped or not+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Setup is a bit of a pain

• Buy Pro-Ject Essential III from Amazon from £249

Slightly easier setup and nicer looks means we narrowly favour this over those other mid-market perennials the Rega Planar 1 and Audio-Technica AT-LP5. Setup is a mite fiddlesome – you have to attach not one but two counterweights to the tone arm, and fitting the rubber band that drives the turntable doesn't feel terribly futuristic, either.

However, once you're done the Pro-Ject Essential III sounds great for the money, with a truly expansive and enjoyable sound across a range of genres and volume levels. It also looks very pleasing, in a variety of high gloss finishes. 

A Bluetooth version – Pro-Ject Essential III BT – is also available for £320. Unlike the Alva TT (below) and Audio-Technica's AT-LP60XBT (further below) it's only SBC Bluetooth but it sounds remarkably good, all things considered, and obviously setup, in terms of placement, is rendered far simpler when no audio cables are required.

Best record player: Audio-Technica AT-LP5

2. Audio-Technica AT-LP5

A great alternative to the Pro-ject

Weight: 10.5kg
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue with pre-amp, USB
Dimensions: 450mm x 352mm x 157mm
Reasons to buy
+This is how turntables should look+A great cartridge is provided+Additional USB output+Reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

If the last few entries were sonically impressive but rather costly, this is where we start hitting the cost-to-benefit sweet spot: this thing is built like a battleship, sounds wonderous, yet is eminently affordable. This direct-drive turntable comes with the 'exclusive high-performance' AT95EX cartridge fitted to a J-shaped tonearm that allegedly helps minimise tracking errors. It's very solid, anyway.

As with the other Audio-Technica deck in this list, you have the choice of line or phono level output, but here there's also a USB output for vinyl-ripping japes. Pouring all this Japanese brand's 60 years of turntable expertise into one mid-price device, the AT-LP5 should give pleasure for decades to come, and could also conceivably survive a nuclear attack.

Best record player: Technics SL-1210GR

3. Technics SL-1210GR

Best DJ turntable

Speed: 33/45/78 plus multi-speed
Output: Analogue
Dimensions: 453mm x 372mm x 173mm
Weight: 11.2kg
Reasons to buy
+Durable build+Great sound
Reasons to avoid
-Retro look won't be loved by all-This thing is very pricey

• Buy SL1210GR from Amazon for £1,299

The original range of Technics SL1200 and SL1210 – the only major difference between them was the former was silver and the latter black – rightly became iconic as rock-solid DJ turntables. That Technics has now reinvented them as high-end, high-price retro-fetish items seems a bit odd, then. 

You can still buy old SL1210s online that will probably work fine – those things were built to last – or you could spend a grand more and get this (or 2 grand more and get the even more upmarket SL-1210G). 

However, while we wouldn't take this out clubbing, it most definitely sounds better than the old classics, despite having similarly great, timeless looks. It's the ultimate deck for gently maturing ravers.

Best record player: Sony PS-HX500

4. Sony PS-HX500

Best USB turntable

Weight: 5.4kg
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue
Dimensions: 430mm x 366mm x 104mm
Reasons to buy
+Great accompanying software+High resolution rips sound awesome+Audio is sublime
Reasons to avoid
-Much pricier than entry level turntables

Probably the best of the new wave of USB turntables, this Sony one lets you rip MP3, lossless or hi-res audio, with unusually good, bespoke software.

To be honest, you can rip at high resolution from any turntable with the right app, but this one actually justifies the effort with the quality of its output.

Even if you're just ripping to MP3, or even –  bizarre, I know – using it to listen to records on, via the digital or phono-level audio outputs, sonic results are big, detailed and consistently impressive. 

A great bit of kit, and unlike many USB decks, it actually looks like a record player.

Best record player: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB

5. Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB

Glossy perfection from this more high-end Pro-Ject turntable

Weight: 5.6kg
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue
Dimensions: 415mm x 320mm x 118mm
Reasons to buy
+Very attractive design+Superb sound quality+A cartridge is included
Reasons to avoid
-Glossy finish means fingerprints...everywhere

Project dominates the UK entry to mid-price turntable market thanks to its tie up with Richer Sounds, and the fact that its products are jolly good. This slightly offbeat special edition boasts a carbon fibre tonearm of the same type used on certain high-end Linn turntables, and an acrylic platter, sat on a high gloss plinth of purest, er, MDF. Well, all of these materials are deemed highly favourable to the sonic results, you see.

Whatever the science of it, the result is a belt-driven turntable with a superb, focussed sound and a highly attractive look. Both build and audio are like what you'd expect from a much pricier deck. A cartridge is included, but there's no pre-amping here. 

Best record player: Cambridge Audio Alva TT

6. Cambridge Audio Alva TT

Best wireless record player

Weight: Not quoted but fairly weighty
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue with pre-amp and HD wireless digital
Dimensions: 435 x 368 x 139 mm
Reasons to buy
+You can place it anywhere you like+Remarkably good wireless audio+Excellent pre-amped wired output too+Austere good looks and battleship build
Reasons to avoid
-You do pay a premium for the wirelessness, clearly

• This appears to be a Richer Sounds exclusive at present – buy it for £1,500

There have been Bluetooth turntables before but this one is the real game changer because it uses an exhausting array of analogue-to-digital trickery, plus aptX HD to give hi-res/better-than-CD-quality sound, wirelessly.

Bluetooth setup is a little fiddly but once you've paired your headphones and wireless speakers or receiver (we used a Naim Uniti Atom plugged into a pair of Monitor Audio Silver speakers), and figured out how to switch from one to the other, you're pretty much set for life.

You could argue that there are £1500 turntables out there that sound better, but if you want fantastic audio without having to worry at all about where you place your record player, the Alva-TT could be your dream machine.

Best record player: Rega Planar 1

7. Rega Planar 1

The other classic 'entry level' record player

Dimensions: 381mm x 444.5mm x 114.3mm
Reasons to buy
+Excellent low-to-mid-range+Easy to setup+Well-crafted design
Reasons to avoid
-More setup issues than you want at this price

Long-time UK knights of the turntable, Rega continue to turn out excellent entries in the low-to-mid-range area. The Planar 1 is multi-award-winning, with a very refined sound, yet eminently affordable. Setup can be a little 'odd' as Rega does not use an earthing wire, unlike the majority of turntables. This should make things simpler but in some houses you may find you get mains hum, which can prove difficult to resolve.

As this is more of a 'proper' hi-fi deck, there's no built-in pre-amp here, so you will need to buy a separate one, or possess an amp that includes a phono stage. The price may be entry level but the sound is most certainly not. 

The only thing with Rega turntables is they are even more demanding in terms of positioning than other more old school record players. If you have lights with dimmer switches or can't place it away from electric cabling you will probably get hum. You can only hear it when the tonearm is nearing the middle but if you get it, it will piss you off. 

Best record player: Numark TTUSB

8. Numark TTUSB

Best cheap DJ turntable

Weight: 3.5kg
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue with pre-amp, USB
Dimensions: 514mm x 435mm x 174mm
Reasons to buy
+Easy to setup+Sounds good once played through an amp or mixer
Reasons to avoid
-Quiet output-Cheap look and feel

DJ turntables used to be a huge market, and there are still brands gamely trying to take on the market-dominating Technics SL-1200 and 1210, despite over 40 years of consistent failure to do so.

Chief amongst these are Stanton and Numark, who serve up this multi-speed, deck for a tonne. It is decidedly plasticky but has a bit of heft to it, and setup is simple, because the output is line level rather than requiring a phono pre-amp.

That said, output is on the quiet side, but feed it through a half decent mixer, into an amp, and you get perfectly acceptable results, for the money.

It's definitely more of a house deck than a hip-hop one – don't even think about scratching with it; you'll ruin your records and the needle.

Best record player: Audio Technica AT-LP3

9. Audio Technica AT-LP3

Best cheap Audio-Technica record player

Weight: 5.2kg
Speed: 33.3/45
Output: Analogue with pre-amp
Dimensions: 435mm × 353mm× 128mm
Reasons to buy
+On the borders of 'proper hi-fi'+A noticeable step up from cheap turntables+Setting this up is incredibly easy
Reasons to avoid
-For a little more money 'proper hi-fi' is right around the corner

I wouldn't say we're quite in the realm of 'proper hi-fi' with this turntable, which retails around the £200 mark. However, we could be said to be at its borders, having our passport eyed suspiciously by a man in a blue uniform.

The die-cast aluminium platter, thick, vibration-quelling rubber mat and damped bass for reducing bass feedback are all hallmarks of a more grown-up record player, and sound quality is again a noticeable step up from the cheaper models.

Setup remains easy, but here you have the switchable option of line level or phono level output. The cartridge is easily replaceable with a range of others, should you want to tweak its sonic characteristics.

Audio-Technica also does the AT-LPX60BT which is quite a similar record player, costs £170 and includes aptX and AAC Bluetooth for massively convenient connectivity and setup – being wireless means you can place it anywhere you like, without having to worry about where your Bluetooth speaker or amp is.

10. Marantz TT5005

An entry-level record player that won't let you down

Weight: 2.8kg
Speed: 33.3/45
Output: Analogue with pre-amp
Dimensions: 360mm x 357mm x 97mm
Reasons to buy
+Cartridge included+The tone-arm moves by itself+Great sound quality for the price
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most attractive turntable

• Buy Marantz TT5005 at Amazon for £150

Not the most attractive turntable ever to roll off a production line, this Marantz is nonetheless a solid bargain.

Again, it has a cartridge included and outputs at line level, so no phono pre-amp is required. Given its small footprint, that helps make setup a doddle.

Audio is a noticeable step up from the first two turntables, although still by no means 'haiigh-faiigh', but what makes it really cherishable is that the the tone-arm moves onto the record on its own, at the press of a button. Then, when it reaches the end of the side, it lifts off and returns to base, rather than sticking in the run-out groove and making a static-y noise indefinitely. Unfortunately, however, it stubbornly refuses to turn the record over for you.

You can buy cheaper record players than this but most decks below £150 are a bit suspect in terms of sound quality, we find…

Best record player: McIntosh MT2

11. McIntosh MT2

A fantastic turntable for slightly more advanced vinyl fans

Weight: 13.2kg
Speed: 33/45
Output: Analogue
Dimensions: 452cm x 127 x 432 mm
Reasons to buy
+Extremely premium design+Stability and acoustic damping+Tonearm and cartridges can be replaced easily
Reasons to avoid
-You should only buy if you're serious about turntables

McIntosh gear is on the pricier end of the scale, and this is actually entry level by its standards. Very simple to setup, it's a truly epic sounding deck. Unlike McIntosh's other turntables, which look like something from a mad scientist's lab, this just looks like a record player, too, which is a bonus.

You could argue it's hard to justify paying this much for a turntable when you can get the fully wireless, similarly desirable looking Cambridge Audio Alva-TT for several thousand less, but if you have the money, a suitably high-end stereo to plug it into and 'golden ears', you may find the step up in cost worthwhile.

Price £4995 | Find a McIntosh MT2 dealer