The best record players are more in demand than ever. Vinyl itself (and indeed physical record sales) might not be bigger than ever, but the format's resurgence isn't something you can ignore: sales have grown every year for the past 14 years, and Nielsen Music/MRC data says vinyl LPs made up 16.7% of all album sales in 2019. That's wild.
Thing is, if you're not spinning that wax on one of the best record players, you're not doing it right. You might be destroying your records, putting too much weight on the stylus and wearing out your grooves; you might be using a sub-standard cartridge, and not getting the best sound available to you. Picking up one of the best turntables is an investment in your own enjoyment as much as it is an investment in making that vinyl collection last as long as possible.
But everyone wants a record player with a different specialism. You might be looking for the most stylish record player around. You might be looking for a DJ deck, something you can hook up to mixer and safely (ish) scratch and mix your records together. Maybe you're looking for the ultimate in sound quality. Maybe you're on a budget, and want a cheap record player that won't murder your albums. Whatever your goal, we've got the turntable for you.
Best record players: best turntable for most people
If you don't know specifically what you want, if you're just getting into vinyl, or if you want a record player which is going to work with just about any hi-fi setup and which doesn't disappoint in the looks department, the third edition of the Pro-ject Essential is by far our favourite pick. It's the everyman turntable, the disc-spinner that does it all. Well, it won't suit DJs. It does everything apart from that.
T3's best record player pick
The mid-market for record players is certainly not empty – there are a host of other turntables, such as the Rega Planar 1 and Audio-Technica's AT-LP5 that work plenty hard in the space – but the Pro-ject Essential III hits the high notes for us. Setup isn't that easy, requiring you to monkey with two individual counterweights on the tone arm, and fit the turntable's drive band yourself.
After that, though, it's joy all round. The Pro-Ject Essential III sounds superb given the asking price, with a poised and wide soundstage producing an enjoyable sound across a range of genres and volume levels.
It's not unkind on the eye either, with a variety of high gloss finishes that will slot into most surrounding decor.
There's a Bluetooth version – Pro-Ject Essential III BT – on the market too. It's not the best Bluetooth turntable going, only carrying SBC Bluetooth, but it sounds remarkably good all things considered, and the lack of cables means you're flush with options on where to put it in the room.
Beginner turntables: start your vinyl journey
There's a whole lot of choice in the turntable world, but if you're new to vinyl and want something that's going to get the job done and give you as many options as possible there's certainly hardware out there to suit.
We've chosen a record player with direct drive, meaning the motor spins the platter directly rather than transferring power through a belt. This vastly simplifies setup, and adds a definite bump to longevity – there's much less maintenance required.
You can go belt drive if you like, but our choice also has a bunch of output options, a built in pre-amp so it can be connected to any hi-fi, and a cartridge good enough that you're not going to feel the need to upgrade after five minutes of listening.
It even has a USB output, so you can digitise the sound of your vinyl, if you like. It really is a do-everything unit, for a great price.
T3's best beginner record player pick
You do not have to spend the world to get a record player that sounds like it knows exactly what it's doing. AT's freshly-upgraded AT-LP5X is evidence of this: even with its plastic base it's built well, sounds tremendous, and handles itself with precision and grace.
It's bundled with Audio-Technica's newest generation of its AT-95 cartridge, the AT-VM95E, a moving magnet tucked inside a more rigid housing which apparently gives a higher output and better frequency response, and it's on the end of a J-shaped tonearm that allegedly helps minimise tracking errors. Whatever the science, we know this: the AT-LP5X sounds great.
You have the choice of line or phono level output, along with USB if you fancy transferring your vinyl so something more accessible. Its direct-drive motor can now play 78s, and it's even less prone to interference than before since Audio-Technica has pulled the power supply out of the chassis of the record player and moved it to the plug. This is a turntable that will run and run. Treat it well and it'll stay consistent for years to come.
Bluetooth record players: unwired for sound
Hardcore vinyl enthusiasts may get a little squeamish about using a turntable with Bluetooth; taking that beautiful analogue sound and crushing it into a digital datastream no doubt feels a little sacrilegious. To you, we say you're quite right. You'll hate listening to vinyl that way even if it sounds brilliant, and that's OK. There are countless phono-only options.
For everybody else, Bluetooth offers convenience: routing to different speakers, and even straight to wireless headphones, is easy, and you can put your record player wherever it's convenient (vibration willing) rather than being forced to slot it into an existing hi-fi setup.
T3's best Bluteooth record player pick
Elipson's top-line turntable pulls down a lot of features from the truly high end and puts them in the affordable price bracket, things like the super-stiff carbon fiber tone arm, which cuts down on arm resonance for a truer, tighter sound. It also packs a newly rejiggered digital belt drive motor, both quieter than Elipson's previous engines and, in conjunction with the two-part platter, made for consistent speed and accurate pitch.
On the end of the tone arm is a not-too-shabby Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, not a cheap item in itself, which uses an elliptical stylus that should (if you get the balance right) prevent your records from wearing out too quickly.
And yes, there's Bluetooth; it's aptX, meaning a much higher resolution than some other record players, and there's USB connectivity too if you're looking to back up your records to a PC. All of this digital tomfoolery is backed up by a RIAA pre-amp, which pulls double duty by enabling you to hook up to any auxiliary connection – handy if your amp doesn't have a phono stage of its own.
DJ decks: the wheels of steel
If you're playing loud and playing for a crowd you need a few key things. One is versatility: absolutely any record you place onto that deck has to be playable, even if it's a crusty 78, because who knows where or what you're going to be playing next.
You need control, the ability to finely adjust speed in order to beatmatch and keep the tempo moving. And you need something rugged, able to both resist vibration and resist your sticky fingers getting in there and jiggling the turntable about.
Realistically a DJ-leaning record player might look a little out of place in your living room, but we doubt you'll be disappointed with the results if you pick one as your daily spinner, because they're built like tanks and their direct drive motors can be very accurate. Don't skimp, because while there are certainly budget decks out there that'll do the job, the higher up the ladder you go, the better the results.
T3's best DJ deck pick
Technics' original SL-1200 decks are older than many people reading this right now, but they truly earned their iconic status. You can still find them on the second-hand market, if you look hard enough, and after a bit of refurbishment they're as good today as they were then.
On the other hand, where Technics' reinvented and revitalised SL-1200GR and SL-1210GR (the former silver, the latter black) speak precisely the same design language as their venerable predecessors, they do include a bunch of new quality-of-life features that make them an even better choice.
Is the brushless, cogless motor enough to justify their price? Can the super-slick slider and doubleable pitch range seal the deal? Maybe not. But if you're after accuracy, if you want that pinpoint stop/start and a massively durable construction, this has that in spades. And at least it's less than half the price of the SL-1210G…
High-end record players: luxury listening
As with any branch of the hi-fi tree, it's possible to spend just about any amount on a record player if you really want to. The law of diminishing returns does rear its ugly head, of course – the difference between a player costing thousands and one costing hundreds is not night and day, and neither would you expect it to be.
But climb that tree and you'll find its branches contain a whole lot of incredible design, beautiful sound, and turntables deserving of hosting your precious vinyl collection.
T3's high-end record player pick
McIntosh's reputation precedes it like a motorcade precedes a presidential trip to the shops: if you've noticed it, you can't turn your eyes away. This meticulously made, ultra-weighty record player backs the fanfare up with strong leadership. It has a glowing magnetically suspended platter, with high-end bearings that mean incredible smoothness and precision, a tone arm factory-adjusted for perfect playback, an included moving coil cartridge with an elliptical diamond stylus and... well, just look at it. This is gloriously excessive.
You'll need your own pre-amp, but if you're spending £9,000 on a turntable you've probably already got a good pre-amp. If you haven't, you're someone who's prepared to spend £9,000 on a turntable, so you can probably afford one.
Budget record players: because price isn't everything
There's a minefield in the budget market, and it can be hard to avoid stepping on a mass-produced record player that's going to grind your record's grooves flat with a single glance.
That doesn't mean all budget record players are bad, far from it: there are players out there from companies that care about audio rather than shifting vintage-looking rubbish, and you can even get some attractive design thrown in.
Save a little more and don't go super-budget, though: while (to give one example) the Lenco L-85 USB is a surprisingly competent player, the majority under £150 don't cut it.
T3's budget record player pick
You get what you pay for, but Pro-ject's entry-level player hasn't seen the company going the route of tacking on nice-looking mod cons while skimping in other areas. No, this is the record player stripped down to its most basic form. Its mains-fed motor runs at a constant speed, for example, so if you want to change from 33 to 45rpm you'll need to manually move the platter-looped belt to a different spindle. There are only three feet on the bottom, which means you'll need to take care lifting the lid if it's attached.
Instead of cramming in the features, Pro-ject has gone heavy on the design – this is clean, attractive stuff – and on creating a very credible playing experience. Everything comes pre-adjusted and pre-installed (apart from that belt), so it's ready to go right out of the box with the perfect tracking force.