(Getting Started Affordably In Vinyl)
2020 March 6 Audio
"What's the best low-cost turntable?" I had originally put this article up here in May 2013 to try to answer that question.
Since then, many people have started getting into vinyl records. The past several years have seen a fantastic resurgence in this classic technology.
Let's look at a few of the lower-priced turntables.
Crosley, Victrola, etc.
In 2013 when I first posted this article, there were a only a few low-priced turntables. Now, there could twenty or thirty or a hundred different ones. Some of them have brand names that might remind you of classic vintage radios or phonographs.
I've always wanted to like these cute, retro, portable record players. Here's why I didn't.
Most of these had a ceramic stylus which could not be switched for a better one. Most ceramic styli use very high tracking force (7 grams or more) and also have a spherical design. That can destroy audio details and cause uneven wear in the record grooves.
Another big problem is that many of these units have an ultra-cheap tonearm. Very often, there's also a built-in speaker that's not very good, lacking any way to connect to external speakers.
Many of today's cute, retro-styled turntables have the same problems they always did. That said, I think that Crosley listened to consumer feedback, because now they are offering some units with removable RCA cables. Some even have a diamond stylus. The Crosley Dansette (try this link) uses the same type of diamond stylus as the Audio Technica AT-LP60. That's a good enough reason to want to try this iconic "retro" design.
They also have some enthusiast-style models now. Although I haven't tried them yet, I would consider buying one of these, these, or these.
So I think Crosley is starting to produce some better record players. When you have RCA outputs on a turntable, you can connect them to powered speakers for your own mini stereo system. Or, connect them to a higher-quality amplifier and some big floorstanding speakers.
"I Don't Need The Best Turntable Ever Made,"
you say. "I just want to listen to some scratchy old Bob Dylan records I got in a thrift store."
If your LP's are so scratchy they'd ruin a decent stylus, then it's possible that a low-end Crosley or something could be all you need. Here's a turntable from Ion Audio that's in the same general price range. Again we're talking about listening to records that are already scratchy I would not recommend the cheapest units for good vinyl, or even semi-good vinyl.
Long ago there was a singular event in the history of recorded music. I call it "The Great Vinyl Record Ice-Skate Fest". It lasted from about 1955 to 1985. It seems that half the population of the USA put on ice skates and tried figure-skating across the surface of their LP's. The fallout from this event can still be gathered at yard sales across the nation. (It seems that classical music and Lawrence Welk records, for the most part, passed through this event relatively unscathed.)
The scratched-up records are pretty much worthless to collectors, but there's some good music on
them if you don't mind a few clicks and pops.
Well, some of 'em have more than a few clicks and pops.
"Betcha fifty cents this will have some surface noise."
The worst of them may be a good pairing for the cheapest turntables, because they'll probably wreck the stylus about as fast as a cheap stylus can wreck them.
What about scratchy-but-not-terrible LP's? Every time the stylus has to cross a scratch, it's hitting an edge at fairly high speed before it can continue along in the groove.
The solution is to get a semi-decent, beginner turntable with a diamond stylus. Right now, that starts around the $100 to $150 range.
Here are a couple of reasonable choices in that range.
Audio Technica AT-LP60. This is still one of the better choices in the sub-$150 range; today there's the AT-LP60X, which is the LP60 with some upgraded features (and the same or lower price).
The AT-LP60 / LP60X lacks many of the adjustments of more expensive units, but it's way better-made than any of the "all-in-one" or "portable" units that I know of. The AT-LP60 / LP60X has a built-in phono pre-amp, which means you can connect it to a stereo tuner that lacks a phono stage.
This feature also lets you play LP's through a pair of powered computer speakers with RCA inputs. Try a set of these.
Be aware that the AT-LP60 / LP60X has "auto start" and "auto return", which might skip the first couple seconds of the music when you try to play 180-gram vinyl. This can be frustrating.
This turntable also has an integrated phono cartridge. That means the cartridge cannot be changed out for something better, but you can get a replacement stylus if that goes bad. If you want a turntable that can take upgraded cartridges, consider one of these instead. Then, use the stock cartridge for average or scratchy LP's... and try this for your good vinyl.
Stanton T.62 MKII. Described as a DJ turntable, this under-$200 unit is probably better for the home listener than for a professional DJ. Unlike the AT-LP60, the Stanton lacks a built-in phono pre-amp. That means if you want to use it with a set of powered speakers, you'll have to run it through a phono preamp first. You can get a passably good one for under $20, here. (That preamp I linked to there uses traditional components, and has relatively few of them... that means any reasonably skilled electronics hobbyist should be able to repair it, if for some reason it goes bad.)
The Stanton also lacks auto-return / auto-start, so it's not going to have that issue of starting five seconds into the songs. You can set down the stylus anywhere you want.
Right out of the box, the Stanton includes a pretty-good cartridge. Since you can get a phono pre-amp for so little, the Stanton would be a good choice even if your stereo system is basically a pair of powered speakers. And if you have a hi-fi stereo system with a receiver that has a phono stage, so much the better.
The T.62 MkII can accept an upgraded headshell and cartridge, if you ever want to listen to better vinyl. For this reason, it's a more serious offering than the AT-LP60. Try this link for the upgraded headshell / cart, made by AudioOrigin UK. I haven't tried this, but it's supposed to be a pretty significant upgrade to your Stanton; I'd definitely consider one.
By the way, here's another good set of powered speakers. These, too, have RCA line-in jacks. So if you have a phono preamp, you can run the signal into these speakers and hear music.
There are cheaper ways to listen to thrift store vinyl, but right now there are probably not better cheaper ways.
If you don't already have a "good" turntable for your higher-grade vinyl, just know that a $75 to $150 turntable shouldn't be your first purchase anyway. In that case, consider something like this turntable or this one for the better vinyl. There's also this highly-regarded one from Pioneer, which probably has the lowest wow and flutter you'll find in this price range.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please help me keep this site on-line by purchasing your gear through any of the links on here. Thanks!!
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