Looking to buy a high-quality turntable for your vinyl collection? We tested the best record players from Rega, U-Turn, Pro-Ject, Fluance and more.
Updated Nov. 1, 2023 2:30 p.m. PT
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Reviews ethics statement
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
There are four main elements to a turntable: the plinth or base, the platter on which the vinyl record sits, the motor and the arm. The best designs offer extended bracing and isolation between each of these elements to reduce the noise, which can affect the sound quality of vinyl.
The best turntables feature a user-replaceable cartridge, which allows you to experiment with a higher-quality cartridge (such as an Ortofon 2M Red).
Turntables start at around $50 and can cost as much as a mortgage, but the rally good ones start at around $300. Audiophile-quality models start from $1,000.
Belt or direct drive
Direct drive is almost exclusively used by DJs — in turntables such as the Technics SL1200 — whereas belt driven models are consumer-focused.
Unlike most types of players, a turntable needs a pre-amp to bring music up to “line level”. Otherwise it sounds like pixies singing in a cave. Some models offer a switchable onboard preamp which can enable you to use a better phono stage down the road.
If you play a lot of singles or own audiophile pressings then you will likely want a hardware switch to choose between 33 1/3 and 45. Instead, some models require you to remove the platter and move the belt to change speeds.
With the sales of vinyl booming, music fans will tell you there's nothing that compares to the rich sound of a record player. That's why CNET has tested and rounded up some of the very best record players on the market right now. Features vary, but some of the things to look for include adjustable feet and a speed switch -- some of these models even include Bluetooth connectivity. Superior analog sound often requires spending more money, but it's not necessary. If you're a vinyl enthusiast, you could start with something like the $149 Audio-Technica AT-LP60X workhorse -- it's simple and it's good. Need more information? This guide will fill you in on the models CNET has tested and the features you should be looking out for, from $80 and up.
What is the best record player overall?
Based on my hours of testing and comparisons between models at every level, the best turntable for most people is the Fluance RT82 ($299). It offers excellent design, killer old-school looks and great sound quality for the money. But if you're looking to spend a lot more than that, the best turntable I've tested is the U-Turn Orbit Theory. It offers superlative sound quality and looks every bit the premium model it is. Depending on your budget, there's even more players to choose from -- so dust off your vinyl collection and keep reading.
The Fluance RT82 offers everything you could want except an onboard preamp, so if you have a receiver or amplifier with a dedicated phono input, this is the model to get. I was mightily impressed by the Fluance's well thought-out inclusions. Auto-start on/off, adjustable feet and even a little bubble-level were included with the user in mind. This high-quality turntable had one of the most entertaining sounds of all of the $300 players, with plenty of insight into recordings as well as a healthy bass kick.
If you're just starting out in vinyl or looking for a cheap turntable to give as a gift, the inexpensive Audio-Technica AT-LP60X belt-driven turntable offers the warm sound you've heard about. Plus, it offers fully automatic operation. It also includes a limited upgrade path with a choice of line or phono output, allowing you to add your own preamp. This automatic turntable is a great value.
If there's a turntable on this list that represents a ridiculous amount of value it's this one. It may look like a lot of other record players under $300, but it also sneaks in a USB connection and Bluetooth capability. It used to be that USB meant compromise but not in this case -- the Monolith sounds good using the usual analog connections, and Bluetooth is easy to get up and running. Add in a dedicated speed switch and a defeatable phono preamp and you have a great package.
The main reason to trade up to the Fluance RT82 is it's easier to setup -- the Monolith's tonearm bearing is a little floppy, and I was over the optimum weight by 30% when using the balance method on it. If you want to get the Monolith dialed in you may need to buy a $15 tonearm scale.
The Pro-Ject may be a little pricey, but it shows how spending a little more can reap benefits. In terms of sound quality, it really can bring out the best in your records. It offers refined treble, an expansive, detailed midrange and supple bass. It looks lovely too with its glass platter -- second only in appearance to the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN (but the Pro-Ject sounds better). The T1's only "problem" is that it's ergonomically awkward -- the switch is deep on the left-hand side instead of on the front, and you need to apply a bit of upward force to remove the tonearm from the rest.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo offers everything you want in a player for the money: excellent sound quality, ease of setup and use, and striking looks. You would have to spend twice as much on another brand (*cough* Rega) to get better sound.
The Orbit Theory may look similar to the original Orbit Plus, but this is a vastly superior turntable. Seemingly every component has been upgraded -- from a hardwood plinth to a solid magnesium tonearm -- and U-Turn charges handsomely for these improvements at $999.
The record player is assembled in the US, while the new arm tube is also manufactured here, and the Orbit incorporates almost every "must have" feature (save for automatic operation). The model has adjustable feet, speed control, a nifty tonearm lift and almost everything is preinstalled at the factory. While the package also comes with a felt mat, I found it sounded better without. Placing the record directly on the acrylic platter is also hella cool.
I listened to the Orbit Theory against my reference Rega Planar 3 with a Goldring E3 cartridge, and the Orbit performed surprisingly well. Sound quality was helped enormously by the Ortofon 2M Blue, which exhibited the same sound signature I'd heard before on the Fluance RT-85 and the Project Debut Pro. Only here, with the Orbit Theory, the brightness was better kept in check. Bass was deep and tight, the midrange expressive and detailed, while there was still that treble forwardness that people often associate with digital. The model I received had the optional (and defeatable) $70 phono amp onboard. If you don't have a preamp of your own, it sounds pretty good, though upgrading will pay dividends with better bass.
While the Orbit Plus was a fairly average model for the money, I was impressed with the newest product. So impressed that the supercharged Orbit Theory is now my favorite turntable under $1,000.
Entry-level turntables are great for people getting into the vinyl hobby, but if you really want to unlock the sound quality encased in your records it's worth upgrading. The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is a high-quality record player offering many usability features the competitive Rega Planar 3 doesn't.
For instance, the Sumiko Rainier cartridge comes preinstalled, and the combination of adjustable feet and electronic speed change are a godsend for user-friendliness. The only tip I would give a potential buyer of this turntable is to buy a stylus force gauge as the "plastic see-saw" in the box is finicky to set the tracking weight correctly.
Once setup is complete, though, the sound the Pro produces simply astonishes. If you've ever heard of vinyl described as "warm," this is definitely not that. When paired with a decent system, a high-quality turntable like the Pro-Ject should sound as good as, if not better, than the equivalent digital file. Through testing, I found the Debut Pro has a way of making even well-worn records sound hi-fi with plenty of high-end detail, an expressive midrange and surprisingly deep bass. If your music needs some pep -- if your records make you sleep rather than dance -- this player is a great way to energize your system. The downside to the Pro-Ject's enthusiastic presentation is that with the "wrong" record, the sound could become a little fatiguing.
When you pair "true hi-fi" performance with day-to-day ease of use and drop-dead good looks I can't think of another turntable apart from the Orbit Theory that can hold a candle to it. That said, it is also worth looking at the pared-back Rega Planar 3, as it offers a touch more sonic subtlety and one of the best tonearms out there.
Rega has made turntables for over 40 years, and was the first to develop the lightweight plinth (or base) that's now seen in most modern turntables. Even at $1,125 or more, the Planar 3 sits just in the middle of the company's range, but it's arguably the best value. It's also a thing of elegance, with a simple-to-set-up design and the beautiful RB330 tonearm (if you're into that sort of thing). If you're a tweaker you can customize almost every part with a wide selection of third-party upgrades. With the right cartridge, the Rega Planar 3 offers an exciting, fun sound, while also looking great and just being a complete blast to use. It is highly recommended.
Note that the Rega comes in a number of different configurations, such as without a cartridge ($1,125), with the Ortofon 2M ($1,364) or with the Rega Elys ($1,395). If you get the bare table you can choose whichever cartridge you want, and a good dealer will fix one without charging installation fees.
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Best record players compared
Audio Technica AT-LP60X
Monolith by Monoprice Belt Drive Turntable
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO
Pro-Ject Debut Pro
U-Turn Orbit Theory
Rega Planar 3
Audio Technica AT3600L
Ortofon 2M Blue
Ortofon 2M Blue
33/45 speed switch
Other record players we've tested
Most of the turntable models I've tested for this buyer's guide have at least something to recommend them -- whether it be design, sound quality or both. The following are ranked in order of commendability.
Crosley C10A ($350): You may know the brand for its suitcase players, but Crosley's C10A is an excellent hi-fi component. This vinyl record player sounds good and looks great. I don't like it quite as much as the Fluance or new runner-up Monolith by Monoprice overall, but if you can get it under $300, it's a bargain.
Music Hall MMF-1.3 ($349): The Music Hall MMF-1.3 is a good turntable at a decent price. It has an even-handed response with all types of music but it wasn't as engaging as the Fluance RT82. If you're looking to plug a turntable straight into any receiver without a phono preamp, this is the model I'd opt for.
Fluance RT85 ($500): Unless you have a mellow-sounding system, the Fluance RT85's combination of an Ortofon 2M Blue and acrylic platter seems like one upgrade too far. The RT85 will be too much for already bright systems and the Pro-Ject T1 and Debut Evo are a better value at this level.
Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN ($379): With its carbon-fiber tonearm and natural wood veneer plinth, the Audio-Technica features excellent design, but it's a mixed bag in terms of sound quality. The table sounded boomy when plugged into a phono preamplifier, and while it was more neutral with the onboard preamp, it was still a little ho-hum.
Victrola Stream Carbon ($799): The first turntable to work wirelessly with Sonos, the Victrola Stream Carbon is easy to set up and play on any compatible speaker. The turntable's a lot of fun and the sound quality was fine enough, but sadly the ergonomics were a little off. Specifically, the two components you use every time -- the power-speed switch and the tonearm lift -- are almost comically tiny. Read our Victrola Stream Carbon first take.
U-Turn Orbit Plus ($399): While it's better-sounding than I remember the original being, the U-Turn couldn't compete with the performance of other players around $300. The turntable sounded truncated with a lack of extended high frequencies, and on the hardware side, the lack of a cue lever felt like a glaring omission.
Crosley Cruiser Deluxe (around $80, depending on color): The "suitcase-style" turntable is hyper popular due to its combination of eye-catching design and cheap pricing. The Deluxe has a plethora of features, including Bluetooth in/out plus RCA out, but some compromises have been made, including a cheaper stylus. It's a fun toy, but in the end it's the Crosley's poor sound quality which disappoints. The Victrola Eastwood (below) sounds better, but it has its own issues.
Victrola Eastwood ($90): Unlike the competitive Crosley Cruiser Deluxe, the Victrola offers a proper cartridge (no plastic moving parts here) and compact styling. While it also sounds better than its competitor, the Eastwood's main problem is that the lid gets in the way when you try to change records, which could lead to damaging your vinyl.
Factors to consider when choosing a record player
There are four main elements to a turntable: the plinth or base, the platter on which the vinyl record sits, the motor and the arm. The best designs offer extended bracing and isolation between each of these elements to reduce the noise, which can affect the sound quality of the vinyl. All of these record players offer a belt drive, which further reduces noise over direct-drive designs.
The best turntables feature a user-replaceable cartridge, which allows you to experiment with a higher-quality cartridge (such as an Ortofon 2M Red). Other convenience features to look for include an electronic speed switch (no more removing the platter) and a switchable onboard preamp which enables you to use a better phono stage.
Two of the models offered a switchable line-level output -- the Music Hall MMF-1.3 and the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN -- and this is handy if you don't have or don't want an external preamp. You can plug these models into anything that accepts RCA cables. I also plugged these two directly into the amplifier and compared them against each other.
It's worth noting that some of the models are unavailable outside North America, such as the Crosley C10A, Music Hall MMF-1.3, Fluance RT82 and the U-Turn Orbit Plus. If you're looking for the best alternative to the Fluance RT82, I would recommend the Pro-Ject T1.
As part of the tests listened to a number of different albums including these four artists: Bob Marley, Slint, LCD Soundsystem and Miles Davis. On each turntable, I listened for bass response (was it boomy or clean?), midrange detail (low-level instruments and echo effects) and high frequencies (were they recessed or too loud?). The best turntables performed well across all genres.
Test your music system with these great rock tracks
Music fans have been debating the differences between digital and analog since the introduction of CD in the early '80s. There is no true "winner," as both have their respective strengths. Digital offers ease of use, portability and should sound the same on Day 1 as it does on Day 10,000. Vinyl offers a fuller, richer sound and it's also more fun thanks to its tactile nature. Many people have collections which encompass several formats: streaming, CDs, vinyl records and even cassettes.
Can I leave the dust cover on when playing records?
It's worth noting that all of the models I tested come with a dust cover, but in every instance bar the "suitcase" I used them with the lid off. While every other aspect of a turntable is damped, the dust cover usually is not. It's a simple piece of plastic designed to keep dust off your vinyl while not playing music. If left on, it can cause feedback when the volume is up loud enough. It's best to remove the cover before playing a record: Players look and sound better that way.
How much should I spend for a good record player?
While you can spend extravagant amounts on a turntable, the true sweet spot for a record player is around $300. The best models at this price are not simple toys and can be considered true hi-fi. They offer elevated vinyl record sound quality and high-quality components. Unlike cheaper players, spending a bit more on these models will buy you a turntable that's built to last.
Do suitcase turntables ruin records?
While a turntable like the Pro-Ject Debut Pro could be considered a serious piece of hi-fi, suitcase models like the Crosley Cruiser Deluxe are essentially toys. That's OK, and as long as you treat them as such you shouldn't run into any problems.
Whether turntables like this will destroy your records or not, though, is hotly contested, but the moving parts can be of a fairly basic quality. For example, the stylus on our Cruiser review unit was a chunky plastic/ceramic combo instead of the aluminum/diamond you'd see on almost any other turntable. The stylus itself was also quite large, which could lead to greater wear, and when plugged into a separate hi-fi the player sounded like an AM radio.
The other factor that could lead to damage is that it is typically children who use these suitcase record players, and they aren't as careful with their records as experienced users. While we know people who've used suitcase models without issue, it is worth paying a bit more for a player like the Audio Technica LP60, which offers superior build quality and also sounds better.