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The best record players: Get your groove on

What is the best record player? ZDNet recommends the Audio-Technica LP120. We compared factors like pricing, reviews, features, and cartridge models for these top record players.
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Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer on

Record players used to be a thing of the past, made somewhat obsolete by the technological advances of the portable CD player and iPod and music streaming services. The novelty of owning a record player may not have made sense in the recent past, but that's not the case anymore. 

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl record sales hit a 30-year high in 2021 -- from 21.5 million units in 2020 to 41.7 million last year, or a 61% sales jump. And with all the vinyl records being made and sold, you need a way to play them. 

These days, the new record players have features like Bluetooth, color customization, built-in preamps, attractive styles, and more. We've rounded up the best record players with these features, so you can spin your vinyl properly. 

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Audio-Technica

Platter Material: Die-cast aluminum | Cartridge Model: Audio Technica AT95E Cartridge | Drive Type: Direct drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, 78 RPM | Tonearm Type: S-Type tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Yes | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Adjustable

The Audio-Technica LP120 allows you to connect wireless headphones, speakers, or home stereos to the turntable, making it easy to use.

One of the unique things about the Audio-Technica LP120 is that you can convert your vinyl records into digital audio files through the Audacity software available on Macs and PCs. That means that the rare, one-off record you found at your local record store can be turned into a digital file that you can listen to anywhere you want.

Other features of this Audio-Technica turntable include a forward/reverse operation and variable pitch control with quartz speed lock. It also has playback controls and a target light that makes it easier to cue your records when it's dark.

Pros

  • Can turn vinyl records into digital copies
  • Great for vinyl beginners

Cons

  • To play 78 RPM records, you'll need to purchase an additional cartridge 
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Fluance

Plinth Material: Medium density fiberboard (MDF) | Platter Material: Aluminum  | Cartridge Model: Audio Technica AT95E Cartridge | Drive Type: Belt Drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM | Tonearm Type: Adjustable counterweight S-Type tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Yes | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Adjustable

Even though $250 isn't exactly budget-friendly, cheaper versions of record players will cost you more in the long run (ultimately, they will ruin your records). However, if you can stretch your budget to $250, this option is a great entry to the world of record players.

The Fluence RT81 Elite is known for its pure analog listening experience. Its Audio-Technica AT95E Cartridge allows for clear sound free of noise and distortion, since it rests on your records at just 2.0 grams of tracking force. There's also a handy autostop feature to help prevent unnecessary wear on your needle.

The turntable's solid engineered wood plinth, which comes in three colors, reduces vibrations, so you don't have to worry about where to place it in your home.

Pros

  • Autostop feature
  • Stylish
  • Great sound and performance for its price range

Cons

  • Have to queue records manually 
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U-Turn

Platter Material: MDF or acrylic | Cartridge Model: AT91B, Ortofon OM5E, Grado Black3, Ortofon 2M Red, Ortofon 2M Blue | Drive Type: Belt drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM  | Tonearm Type: Adjustable Counterweight Straight Tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Can be included | Cueing Lever: Can be included | Anti-skate: Built-in/not adjustable

The U-Turn Orbit Custom is an excellent option if you're looking for something entirely customizable for your taste and needs. You can choose everything from the color, cartridge, preamp, cueing lever, platter material, etc.

What's great about customization is that you can pay as little as $200 but can add on features that'll cost you more than $700, making this option perfect for both turntable beginners and audiophiles alike.

One thing to note about this model is that its belt drive can be challenging to handle if you're not used to it. Since it is attached to the outside of the platter, if you are rough with switching your records, you can inadvertently cause the belt drive to fall off. This can be a huge pain to put back on.

Pros

  • Fully customizable in features and price
  • High-end sound

Cons

  • Even with all the customization, it cannot play 78 RPM records
  • Belt drive can be difficult to handle
  • No adjustable anti-skate
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Pro-Ject

Plinth material: CNC-machined MDF | Platter Material: Blasted-glass platter with felt mat | Cartridge Model: Ortofon OM5E | Drive Type: Belt drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM | Tonearm Type: Adjustable Counterweight Straight Tonearm | Built-in Preamp: Yes | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Built-in/not adjustable 

Pro-Ject's T1 Phono SB prides itself in "no hollow spaces," meaning there won't be unwanted vibrations on the plinth. In addition, this turntable is getting into more of the "audiophile" space, so it's great for those looking to upgrade to their second record player. 

What's exceptional about this turntable is its glass platter. At 8mm thick, it's heavy, and heavy is always better in the vinyl world. The heaviness of the platter ends up reducing tonearm wobble from unwanted vibrations. 

Pros

  • Good, solid sound 
  • Vibration-absorbing feet 

Cons

  • No adjustable anti-skate 
  • Have to handle the belt drive manually
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Rega

Plinth Material: Acrylic high gloss laminated | Platter Material: Float glass | Cartridge Model: Rega Carbon | Drive Type: Belt drive | Supported Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM  | Tonearm Type: Adjustable Counterweight Straight Tonearm | Built-in Preamp: No | Cueing Lever: Yes | Anti-skate: Yes

One of the renowned brands in the record player world is Rega. Since the '70s, this UK-based company has designed and assembled every product by hand to deliver the best music performance, and the Rega Planar 2 is a perfect example of this. 

The sleek, minimalist design paired with Rega's carbon cartridge allows for a fantastic listening experience. The turntable is also outfitted with Rega's RB220 tonearm with an adjustable anti-skate system to adjust the amount of bias (the sideways force on the cartridge to balance out the inward pull of the record groove) as the tonearm tracks the record, ensuring even tracking throughout playback.

The one downside to this turntable is that you have to take the platter off to manually adjust the speed. While not a huge turnoff -- and for many, it's preferred -- it's not necessarily the best method. 

Pros

  • Lifetime warranty against manufacture defects 
  • Impressive sound quality 
  • Zero plastic parts and no hollow spots

Cons

  • Have to use an external preamp
  • Must manually adjust the speed 

What is the best record player?

The best record player is the Audio-Technica LP120, since it's from a renowned brand at a decent price point for any kind of listener. You also can convert your vinyl records into digital audio files.

Record player

Price

Cartridge model

Built-in Preamp?

Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity

$250

AT95E

Yes

Audio-Technica LP120

$400

AT95E

Yes

U-Turn Orbit Custom

$200-$730

AT91B, Ortofon OM5E, Grado Black3, Ortofon 2M Red, ORtofon 2M Blue 

Can be included

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

$450

Ortofon OM5E

Yes

Rega Planar 2

$775

Rega Carbon

No

Which record player is right for you?

If you're purchasing your very first record player, we recommend the Fluance or the Audio-Technica from this list. If you're looking for something you can customize, opt for the U-Turn Orbit. And if you're looking for something on the higher-end, the Rega or the Pro-Ject is the way to go. 

Choose this record player...

If you want...

Audio-Technica LP120

The best overall option

Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity

A budget-friendly record player for beginners

U-Turn Orbit Custom

A fully customizable record player

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

A stylish and modern-looking record player

Rega Planar 2

A record player for audiophiles 

How did we choose these record players?

Choosing the right record player can be tough, since you want one that is good quality but doesn't break the bank too much. We carefully selected these record players based on firsthand listening experience, along with others' knowledge and research. We paid attention to critical factors like counterweight, anti-skate, and cartridge type. We also made sure to include well-renowned brands known for their quality and to read customer reviews -- both good and bad -- to back up our claims.

We purposely left out the Crosley Cruiser Turntable models, since they are known to ruin your records. However, higher-end Crosley turntables are still a decent option you can look into. 

What record player terms should you know?

Plinth: Also sometimes referred to as the cabinet or chassis, the plinth is the main component that holds all of the other parts of the record player together. It's the usually square or rectangle box that everything else sits on top of.

Platter: The circular surface that spins and which the actual record is placed on.

Counterweight: A weight at the opposite end of the tonearm from the cartridge that allows you to adjust the weight placed on the cartridge to reduce wear on your stylus (the actual needle).

Tonearm: The tonearm holds the cartridge and allows it to glide through the grooves as the record spins effortlessly. There are three different types of tonearm shapes: straight, J-shaped, and S-shaped.

Cueing level: Makes it so that the tonearm lifts and drops slowly, so you don't damage the stylus.

Cartridge: Holds the stylus and is located at the end of the tonearm. Converts the vibrations into audio. 

How to replace a needle on a record player?

It's best to change your stylus every three to five years or if you notice the sound quality changing. To change your stylus, simply pinch the sides of the cartridge and gently pull out the old stylus. Then, position the new stylus with the needle pointing downward and away from the tonearm and slide it into the cartridge pressing into it until you hear it click. 

Be sure to be gentle throughout the entire process, since the stylus is delicate and can be damaged easy. 

What speeds do records play at?

Vinyl records come in three different speeds, measured at revolutions per minute (rpm): 33 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, and 78 rpm.

What should you look for in a record player?

Some of the essential things to keep in mind when choosing a record player is that it has a counterweight -- and preferably, an adjustable one. The counterweight allows you to put the correct amount of weight on your cartridge to reduce the wear on your record and stylus.

Another feature to look for is anti-skate. This feature keeps it so the stylus is in the center of the groove rather than on either side of the groove. Your records might skip more or wear down faster if you don't have anti-skate.

Also, keep in mind that heavier is better, especially for the platter. This is because a heavier platter maintains speed consistency and prevents unwanted vibrations.

Most importantly, the sound will be your deciding factor in what makes a good record player. Good record players produce a rich sound that is distinctive from any other audio format. 

Are there alternative record players to consider?

If you can find a good quality one and are willing to put in the money/work to restore it, vintage record players are highly recommended. You can find vintage turntables on Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or at your local electronics store. However, fixing a vintage record player can be challenging, so you'll probably want to take it to a professional who has knowledge of vintage turntables and has the parts for them.

Otherwise, here are some other new turntables worth the listen: 

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