"Low Budget - High End" und Musik

Turntable Comparison Part 1 – Modern Board Player vs. 70’s Direct Drive

Now I would like to cover a topic that has been on my mind for a while. It is a turntable comparison. True, there are two specific turntables selected here in Part 1. But these two represent both certain types of players and from different times. One is a quite modern belt-driven turntable called Pro-Ject 1xpression III (similar to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with acrylic platter (Amazon:, which I got from a hifi enthusiast friend as a permanent loan, for which I am very grateful, because this fact makes the comparison possible. And the other one is my old luminary, the old 70’s direct drive Toshiba/Aurex SR-255. The latter is also my test player for my reviews. It was refurbished by its previous owner, rewired and wrapped in a fancy white wooden frame.


Why this turntable comparison?

Very often, when reading in forums or Facebook groups about turntables, I come across discussions about which turntables are the better ones. Usually someone has a budget, wants to buy a turntable for it and asks the others in the group or forum what they would recommend. Within shortest time already something like a controversy develops.

One camp recommends a new one from Rega or Projekt with arguments like “The development has also gone forward with turntables”. And of course the “warranty” argument. The others recommend the old “warhorses” like Dual, Thorens or the Technics-like direct drives a la SL 1200. Their arguments are “Back then, quality was still built because they didn’t save on the material”, “They are super robust and still run after 40 years”, “Back then, people still had a clue about turntables” and so on.

But if I am completely without prior knowledge and prejudices now this actually asking, interested, I get with such arguments unfortunately no further. I now still don’t know which is really better, and I’m just as smart as before. Therefore, I thought I’d just compare two turntables from the different eras. I let them compete against each other.

With this record player comparison I would like to leave however the scientific aspect outside, and deal only with the hearing impression. I put myself in the position of a potential buyer, who compares turntables in a hi-fi store, in order to buy one in the end. If I am informed correctly, Phonophono in Berlin offers something like this. They have older Thorens and Technics and let them duel against new Regas.


The conditions of the turntable duel

But how can I set up the duel so that there are equal conditions for both players?

First, of course, you have to play the same sound source, i.e. record. More precisely the same test song that I have selected on the respective test record.

Of course, the rest of the hi-fi chain, i.e. preamplifier, amplifier and speakers must also be the same for both turntables. And last but not least, the cartridge is the same. Here I write consciously “same” and not “same”, because I have the test pickup, the Audio Technica AT 71 E, twice in my repertoire, and do not constantly build it from one to the other player. The needle, however, an elliptical replica needle by EVG from Japan, I will already change from one AT 71 to the other.

To this combination AT 71 and EVG needle can be said sonically: It is perhaps one of the most underestimated systems at all. As a predecessor of the AT 95 and the AT 91 it was “the” standard pickup of the late 70s, which was often installed in a bundle on the Japanese direct drives of that time. For me, it is the biggest positive surprise of recent times among my pickups (and I have a few).

That’s because, in my experience with it, it combines the positive qualities of its offspring, namely the straightforward pleasant frequency response of the AT95 and the charm and “sweet” highs of the AT 91. It doesn’t have the faults of either, such as the harsh, often sibilant highs of the AT 95 and the lack of resolution of the AT 91. The AT 71 is simply good. Especially with the elliptical EVG. And it can even create 3 D, i.e. a depth gradation of the sound. One would not trust such a budget pickup to do that.

I think my test conditions create some comparability.

My other hi-fi behind the turntable consists of the Phonopre Graham Slee Communicator 2, a Dual “Audiophile Concept” amplifier built by Rotel in the 80s, and Yamaha NS G 40 speakers.


Now to the different test records:

As already with my reviews about pickups, e.g. the AT 91 with Black Diamond needle, I would like to access four different test records, which also form different test scenarios at the same time.

The first test record is Carole King’s famous “Tapestry” album and from it immediately the first song “Feel The earth Move”. I chose this record and song for the needle tests because King’s voice is a challenge for any needle, and poorly scanning needles have been known to scratch.

Here I want to use it because the recording has a very special sound character. The middle part of the frequency band is emphasized, and the upper treble rolls off sharply. Here it is interesting how the turntables handle the recording and add their “mustard”.

Then follow two records that could well be used as demonstration discs in a high-end hi-fi store. One is “JTB” by the Jukka Tolonen Band, a fantastic fusion jazz recording from the late 70s. From it, the track “Space Cookie.”

And the other is Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit” album, finally released on vinyl in 2019 in wonderful quality.

And last but not least comes the obligatory classical music test. Here, a Decca recording from the mid-60s, namely Haydn’s “Cello Concerto in C Major” played by the London Chamber Orchestra, serves to determine how the two competitors cope with the demands of classical music.


The turntable comparison in action

Test 1: Carole King “I Can Feel The Earth Move”:

We start with my good old Toshiba:

Immediately I notice what I also like about this Audio Technica system. It is able to present this very mid-heavy recording in a very pleasant way. As a listener, one senses good dynamics. The very strong mids are somewhat cushioned. The basses go deep, are a bit undefined. This may be due to the budget system as well as the recording. What is great is how the piano stands out from the speakers towards the middle of the song and stands in space. The spatial imaging of the AT 71 is again amazing here.

But how does the turntable do? The Carole King piece sounds good with the combination. One might very slightly have the feeling that the energy of the music is slowed down a bit.

I’m curious to see how it compares to the Pro-Ject with the same needle.
“Feel The Earth Move” is the first song on the record. In the lead-in groove, the first thing I notice about the Pro-Ject is that the silence is not black until the song. I can hear a very low hum, quiet but present. This did not set in until the needle was placed. A small minus point at the beginning.

But what you then get to hear is really great. Maybe you can say it like this: It’s a bit more of everything than with the Toshiba. This slightly restrained, positively put, has disappeared with the Pro-Ject.

It sounds directly more dynamic with the same system and the same needle. The bass range is more present, although not more defined, but it booms happily away. The mids come in bulky and passionate, no wonder with this mid-heavy number with that voice, but still in a way I wouldn’t have put it past this AT 71. This one was otherwise rather restrained for me. Treble comes in clean but is hard to judge on this song as it rolls off quite early.

The low end and stage is on par with the Toshiba.

Overall, the Pro-Ject and the AT 71 seem like a great team if it weren’t for that (engine) hum. That diminishes the enthusiasm. But maybe that can be fixed by checking the rubber suspension of the motor. Actually, a low-resonance acrylic platter is already installed.

From the sound of the music, the Pro-Ject takes a 1:0 lead. Both do their thing well, the Toshiba seems a touch more restrained and thus slightly slows down the dynamics and energy of the music. The Pro-Ject lets the energy out and blasts the power of King’s voice around your ears without, and this is the art, only exhaustingly “squawking” the mids.


Test 2: JTB with “Space Cookie”:

Now we turn to the high end recording of JTB. It comes from the heyday of analog sound recording, late 70s, just before digital recording took over and meant a step backwards for decades. The fusion jazz that the Jukka Tolonen Band play has very intricate sections, and makes great demands on the system and the needle to decipher this web of sound. Also, hopefully, it will become clear here to what extent the turntable itself participates in the formation of the sound.

This time we start in the turntable comparison with the more modern Pro-Ject.

Again, you can hear the distant hum when the needle is put down. Music starts and a short “wow” escapes me.

It starts dynamically. This recording, so insanely good, gives the players a chance to show what they can do. And pushes the AT 71 to its limits with the elliptical post needle. The Pro-Ject does this very well. The bass comes from very low and has contour, the mids are wonderfully fleshed out, the acoustic guitar at the beginning of the piece stands wonderfully in space and you can hear the strings and the wood vibrate. The separation of the instruments works well. Again, amazing for this inexpensive AT. The highs, heard on the high heads for example, are neither too shrill nor too rolled off. They show a very natural presentation. Also here the AT or better the EVG needle surprises with well resolved cymbal tones.

The whole performance of the Pro-Ject shows dynamic character, but also an impressive control of the sound. The frequency ranges blend beautifully into each other. Everything seems coherent and very realistic. The spatial representation is also convincing. Particularly striking is the accuracy with which the Pro-Ject’s carbon arm guides the tracking needle through the groove. The sound then thanks the good tracking with super-accurate treble representation, which would suggest more expensive grinds on the needle. If one did not know better.


And what does the Toshiba do in this turntable comparison?

It surprises me completely! Whereas with Carole King it sounded restrained and slowed down, it makes the “Space Cookie” really become one and almost “knocks me off my feet”.

I’m proud of my old warhorse. He really makes the jazz number come alive. This dynamic is fun. Again, the bass comes from the very bottom, has nice contour and blends beautifully into the midrange. The acoustic guitar, which is also great in space like Pro-Ject, gives me goosebumps down my spine. It has so much body and passion. The bass guitar in the last third of the track clearly stands out from the speakers and fills the room with a presence that I have never heard at this point with this instrument.

The treble is presented with just the right intensity, as with the Pro-Ject. Only: And here, with all the passion and perhaps because of this and the somewhat lost control from it, the Pro-Ject has the nose in front. The high heads sound minimally, really just a touch, less accurate on the Toshiba. They are still very well presented, and if you didn’t have the direct comparison, you wouldn’t notice it. But the Pro-Ject, or better its tonearm, samples the highs more controlled and accurately.

Of course, much is a matter of taste here, but I would give the point here to the Toshiba, which swept me away with its passion, even if it was minimally less accurate in the treble imaging. Both were great again, and can be classified as super recommendable after the first two tests.

The score is now 1:1 and we are looking forward to Gregory Porter’s “Musical Genocide”.


Test 3: Gregory Porter with “Musical Genocide”:

Gregory Porter’s great album “Liquid Spirit” was released in digital form in 2013, but not on vinyl until 2019. It is for me a typical example of a high quality modern recording, probably digital, distributed by the Blue Note label in high press quality.

From this album I choose the midtempo track “Musical Genocide”, which I also chose for my previous needle reviews and of which I know every note by now.

Here my beloved Direct Drive Toshiba SR-255 may start.
A strong performance of the combination of drive and system. From the first few beats it’s clear that the two like it dynamic. The bass line of the double bass sets the pace. It’s reproduced so realistically that you’d think you were in your living room. Drums, piano, high heads and the voice start one after the other. Listening is a lot of fun, because despite the balanced character of this pickup, which does not overemphasize any frequency range, dynamics and passion can be felt.

Still, the performance seems homey, you want to listen to the next number because it was so nice.

What I often missed in my needle reviews in this song sample was a certain spatial depth and separation of the instruments into layers. With the AT 71 and the Toshiba, that separation is noticeable. The piano plays clearly behind the saxophone and Porter is center stage in front of all the action.

If there could be minimal criticism, it was as if I heard a very slight uncleanness in Porter’s voice in places. As if it was presented more harshly than in reality, like a minimal scratching. This was audible at one or two points in the song. It was so slight that it could have been deceptive.

I’m curious to see how it compares. Now it’s the Pro-Ject’s turn:
Ok, phew. That will be difficult! In the turntable comparison, both are so similar in this song example. Again, the instruments and Porter’s voice are presented in a balanced yet dynamic manner that is a pleasure to listen to. No frequency range is overemphasized and bass, midrange and treble blend beautifully.

With this digital recording I always had the feeling that the highs, here consisting of the high heads and cymbals, are rolled off very slightly so as not to strain the listener’s ear and to create that homey atmosphere. This is transmitted very well by the pickup and both (!) turntables. The cymbals and high heads sound cleanly resolved with the EVG elliptical needle. Sure, there’s more to be done with a sharper grind, but you’d have to have direct comparison to hear that out.

If there are audible differences between the Toshiba and the Pro-Ject, they are in the barely noticeable range. It’s just a feeling, but the Toshiba was minimally more passionate and lively, the Pro-Ject more unstrained, more controlled. By the way, the slight scratchiness in Porter’s voice was also audible with the Pro-Ject. So either the groove is already scratched out by the frequent listening, or Porter’s voice went here intentionally in the direction of Joe Cocker. Never noticed it until now.

It’s a draw here, there’s no winner in this round. So the score is 2-2, as both get a point.

So the last round, which is about classical music, could be exciting and decisive.


Test 4: Rostropovich and the London Chamber Orchestra play Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major.

Decca is known for having made particularly good and transparent classical recordings in the 1960s and 1970s, when sound technology was making giant leaps in quality. This example from 1965 is also one of them. People working today can take a leaf out of the book of the great work of the sound engineers of that time, who created such wonderful sounding recordings.

Getting this record out and putting it on gives me the greatest pleasure every time. And so it is now. The Pro-Ject with the AT 71 sounds so wonderfully airy and transparent and makes it clear right away: I can do classical music! Among the attributes that are important to me are room imaging, transparency, resolution and airiness, i.e. giving a feeling for the size of the room.

And these attributes are fully given with the Pro-Ject. One has the feeling that everything sounds as the engineers intended. The strings, so arguably the accompanying violins, as well as the main player, the cello, sound so real with that woody note that defines these instruments.

Again, no frequency range is very amplified, everything is balanced with the AT and yet in a way coherently gripping and passionate. I am very moved and almost have tears in my eyes. When you close your eyes as a listener, you sit in this hall and feel where the instruments are, you feel the size of the room. Simply great!

If there is a mini-criticism, or if there is something that other cartridges can do better, it might be to create a slightly wider stage. That’s where the AT comes into its own as a budget cartridge. The absolute low bass, which is not present here, is also not one of its strengths. But the airiness and coherence of the whole is very impressive!

And how does my old companion, the Toshiba, do?
I have goose bumps! It’s so exciting… With the same system, same needle, same cables, preamp, amp, speakers it sounds different. Only the path between the output of the cartridge and the output of the turntable is different, and it sounds different. But how? Worse? Better?

No, none of the above, just different. The sound of the Toshiba in this example is more powerful, the contrasts between the loud and soft passages are greater.

What impresses me most is the sound of the cello. It sounds so beautifully belly-wooden, as it simply sounds in nature. It is as if it were standing here in the living room with its player. This slightly less restraint than from the Pro-Ject does the solo instrument good here. It shows up more in the foreground.

The frequency ranges are also wonderfully harmonious here. The only difference is that you have the feeling of being closer to the action. You sit a few rows further forward. This has the advantage of feeling more of the passion of the game. On the other hand, you lose a bit of the feeling for the size of the room.

The whole thing sounds less airy than with the Pro-Ject, which also manages to convince with its unpretentiousness and slight restraint.

So who does the point go to? That’s clearly a matter of taste here…. That unbridled passion and power of the revised Direct Drive versus the super control and more restrained airiness of the Pro-Ject. Again, they both deserve a point.

So the final score is 3:3.




But what does all this tell us now?

The “battle” was here in part 1 of my turntable comparisons: An old 70’s Direct Drive versus a modern board player.

The Pro-Ject board player currently costs about 600 Euros, the Toshiba SR-255 about 650 DM when it was launched in 1977. The latter would cost about 1000 Euros today with this quality and the materials used (compare Technics 1200 MK7). It was rewired by its previous owner and has undergone an overhaul.

Exciting for me was: Has in these 44 years the development in the turntable area gone so far forward that one feels sonically with a 600 euro turntable a la Project a strong improvement over an old Direct Drive.

To do this, I think you first have to define what is good or bad about sound. There are various attributes in the sound that are perceived as pleasant or unpleasant. Transparency, accuracy, balance, for example, are positive sound attributes for the general public. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of room for taste. And that is also good. Tastes are different, and so everyone can put together his system according to his own taste in sound. We know it from the pickups. Some tend to sound brighter, others to be bass-heavy. And we choose according to taste.

And our opponents are both very good according to objective sound aspects. Here the taste decides!

Of course, there are much better turntables. These two are in the lower mid-range. But they are fun! Each in its own way.

Of course, I had the fun of assigning points in this turntable comparison. And it was very exciting and close in this race, a fair draw in the end.

I was very surprised by the turnaround in dynamics. With Carole King, the Pro-Ject showed its present and passionate side. This then changed in the following tests, where the “new” one was more the controlled, unexcited, but also unstressed one, and the old Toshiba the passionate, punchy one.

The smallest difference was heard in the new digital high-end recording of Gregory Porter. Here, even blindfolded, one would have had difficulty matching the turntables.

I hope I could now give new fire to the passionate discussions that arise in Facebook groups and forums, whether a new or old turntable is better, or calm them down a bit and blame it on taste.



Buy a record player – But which one?

Why buy a record player nowadays?

Record player and records. These words sound mostly comforting and warm to those who own these things. This is home, this is music. To touch and to hear well. For those who want to enter this world, and for them is mainly this article, be warned beforehand. Once entered, there is no going back. But this is not bad, it is wonderful.

This hobby is almost mind-expanding. This haptic aspect, the pleasant warm attractive sound even with inexpensive players, the collecting of these valuable discs with their often artistically designed covers, the act of putting on the record. All these things build a relationship to the music. That’s what’s missing in our fast-paced streaming age. And that’s exactly why this countermovement of renaiissances of haptic sound carriers like records and, in the meantime, cassettes again, serves to decelerate. Taking time for music.

Don’t just listen to playlists put together by algorithms that supposedly suit us, but take a closer look at an artist’s entire album. This one has thought about something. And to recognize that. Often songs that unfold their quality only the third time you hear them. At spotify, we would never have given this song the chance.

But now enough raving. You have decided? You want to buy a record player. But you don’t know which one, and how much you have to spend to get something good? This article is meant to be a little guide. It should provide a small overview of the price ranges from 30 euros to 1000 euros, what there is useful or maybe even good in the respective price groups. The technology of the record player is already very old and robust. 40-50 years ago already good devices were built, which still work today. Therefore I would like to include the second-hand market a la ebay absolutely. Many do not want to spend a lot of money at the beginning, because they are not sure.

I ask to note here that everything written here is based on my experiential knowledge, and is not a measure against which to measure. There are thousands of options. I will only pick out a few devices that I feel are good, so as not to overwhelm or bore the vinyl novice.

Between 30 and 200 euros

In this budget range I will deal exclusively with second-hand goods. On ebay and classifieds you can buy very acceptable turntables at quite moderate prices. Of course you have to be willing to give up warranty and return policy, because most of the sales here are private. But with a little luck you can buy a Technics SL-B 303 in fully functional condition for 30 Euros.

That’s how it happened to me. It’s a fully automatic belt-driven player, which means you only have to press start after putting on the record and the turntable does the rest. The needle lowers perfectly into the lead-in groove and the tonearm is automatically returned at the end of the record. A belt translates the movement of the motor to the platter. Often this belt has to be replaced after so many years (year of manufacture approx. 1978). But this one is easy to get at ebay for about 8 Euro.

Also the “big brother”, the Technics SL-B 3 is often available for under 50Euro. Sonically, these models, although they are lightweight “yogurt cups”, so have a lot of plastic installed, already amazingly good. They shine with warm, full and broad sound. If you are lucky, the high-quality Technics 270 pickup is still installed. It conjures up a relaxed, wide sound. And there are still good reproduction needles for it. Of course, all this is still far from high hifi or even high end standards. But to a well-sounding and by the automatic technical simple entry into the vinyl world it is enough.

The SL-B303 is in our bedroom. Here the full automatic pays off very pleasantly. Because you can fall asleep without fearing that the needle is running in the run-out groove all the time.

This Technics model is also available as a direct drive model. It is then called Technics SL- D3. Direct drive means the platter is driven directly (without the belt in between) by the motor. This type of drive is a Technics invention from the early 70’s and perfected in their cult model, the 1200 MK2. But to this later.

The SL-D3 is about twice as expensive, starting at about 80 euros. However, I do not see the added value. Direct drive promises precise synchronization and long reliability, because the belt as a wearing part is omitted. However, the belt operation has a big advantage: The inherent vibrations of the motor are cushioned by the belt. For this reason, belt operation is standard in the high-end sector.

This means that if you have a fresh belt on the SL-B3 or SL-B303, a good synchronization is guaranteed. You save money and have at least the same good sound as from the direct drive SL-D 3.

The secret tips for buying a turntable under 100Euro

Now we move in the price range just under 100 euros. Here are already many used models of brands such as Dual and Telefunken, which certainly already provide satisfying listening experiences. I’ve read some reviews, but haven’t had the pleasure of testing these models myself.

However, I would like to mention one of these models, which I have not tested, as an insider tip, because the opinions are overflowing here. It is the Philips electronic 312, which can be bought used in good condition for about 80- 100 Euro. It is a “cute” looking belt driven semi-automatic from the mid 70s. Semi-automatic means, at the beginning you do it yourself and lower the needle into the groove. At the end, the system raises automatically and the arm is returned.

In the first moment there is nothing special about the player. But from what you read on the net in reviews, the Philips is apparently sonically already a few classes better than the price would suggest. As already written, I have never owned one. But for the low price, it would certainly be worth a try. Again, a new belt and needle may need to be ordered.

A similar cult status, maybe even more than the Philips, has the Dual CS 505. This belt-drive has been around since 1982 and is still being built in the CS505-4 version. In the 80s, it was considered a price-performance wonder, because it was relatively cheap and still offered very good quality and still offers today. The first version was silvery white and the second version is black with a wooden frame and a lot of metal parts and a high quality sound system. This makes it stand out from the plastic bombers of the early 80s and conveys value.

Every student of the 80s who wanted good sound quality but didn’t have much budget probably couldn’t avoid a look at the CS 505. Also practical for long music nights is the semi-automatic. You can fall asleep and the device switches itself off. You can often get this great turner used in the 1 or 2 version for as little as 70 euros. It is also great that it has a decoupled subchassis, and thus relatively insensitive to external vibrations.

Today’s new version 4 of the CS505 is no longer a bargain at just under 700 euros, and has a hard time holding its own against the Rega and Project superiority in the price range. It does not have as much “punch” as the modern players, is more relaxed in sound, but scores points with the semi-automatic, which the modern purists do not have.

I just bought a well preserved for 60 euros on ebay and want to use it in the bedroom: Keyword automatic and fall asleep.

Between 100 and 150 euros I immediately think of 4 turntables that are worth looking at more closely. Two of them I own myself and find them very good.

And one of the four is very close to my heart. It’s not at my place, but at my mother’s at the moment. It’s the Pioneer PL 12, which I grew up with. It’s the record player I used to listen to the Beatles, Deep Purple and Neil Young as a child. This turntable is where my vinyl roots lie, so to speak.

The Pl 12 is a very solid manually controlled belt drive turntable. It dates from the early 70s, has a brown wooden frame, which was fashionable at that time, and can be bought used in good condition for about 120-150 Euros.

Unfortunately, I don’t have it here to test right now, but the reviews on the net are all positive. He should sound very good and is already very high quality workmanship.

My father is a man who attaches great importance to quality. The rest of our system consisted of a good Saba receiver and Eletro Voice boxes. So if the Pioneer is in good, well-maintained condition, I would recommend it untested. It is a player that with a good system you can definitely get good hifi performance. Changing the system is very easy with the PL 12, as with the Technics mentioned at the beginning, due to the standard SME connector on the tonearm.

The second turntable, which I recommend quasi from “hearing say”, without being able to test it, is the Technics SL-23. This is belt-driven, but is supposed to have a similarly good synchronization as a diektan-driven turntable. Also, the sonic qualities should already be classified in the hi-fi class.

For about 150 euros used, you get a good turntable, which is sure to have a lot of fun. Also this has the practical SME interchangeable system for cartridges (or headshells with cartridges) on its S-shaped arm. The original system is the already above mentioned Technics EPS 270C, which sounds very balanced with a good needle. The semi-automatic guides the tonearm at the end of the record side back to the starting position. It can also be upgraded later with an even higher quality cartridge to suit the buyer’s personal taste.

For about the same price used you get a Thorens TD115. This represents the basic model of the otherwise also in the used segment quite high-priced Thorens players.

Thorens turntables have a very good reputation among hifi enthusiasts. The TD 115 should also not be underestimated. I owned it for a while and was thrilled by its sound quality. The design I found less appealing. However, as is well known, this is a matter of taste.

Like its big brothers, the TD 115 features a decoupled sub-chassis. That is, the part of the player to which the turntable and the tonearm are attached is spring-coupled from the rest of the housing. This means that less resonance is transmitted from the outside to the spring-loaded part, which increases the quality of playback.

As basic equipment, Thorens brings a tonearm that is very low-mass and lightweight. This also means that extra cartridges suitable for light tonearms must be mounted on this arm. When buying used, you should pay attention to this.

If the right system is installed, and the rest of the turntable is in good condition, the Thorens excels in very good, detailed playback. Compared to other turntables, I felt that the Thorens played in a more restrained, relaxed, and less “punchy” manner than turntables from other brands. This “laid back” style of playing can be relaxing to the ears and mind during long music sessions.

Last in this price category, I would like to describe my daily performing, for me, wonderful turntable: It is the Toshiba SR-255, and I was very lucky. Because my copy was modified by its previous owner to the positive. He had rewired the 70’s Direct Drive turntable from the inside and added two RCA jacks and a ground screw to the back of the new fancy white wooden frame. So you can choose for yourself how high quality the cables towards the preamp should be.

With the Toshiba brand, you have the advantage of being “under the radar”. That means you get high quality materials and technology for very moderate used prices.

So also here with the SR-255, which consists almost only of wood and metal, weighs 11kg and had a new price of almost 700 DM (1976). I got it modified for 100 Euro at ebay.

For comparison: The cult turntable Technics 1210 MK2, similarly heavy, with better engine had a new price of 880 Marks and costs used still 500 euros.

The SR 255 has a rather agile, dynamic sound typical of a direct drive, which I personally find very attractive when paired with the right pickup. I have mine running every day and can not hear me full.

However, it must also be honestly said that the eye “listens”. This means here that the design and feel appeals to me personally so much that the desire to put on a record is enormous. This factor should not be ignored when buying a turntable.

The turntable should appeal to the buyer with most of his senses (the sense of taste I leave out now times). Because there is more to “listening to records” than just hearing them. It is a procedure, an act that stimulates many senses.

My SR 255 from Toshiba appeals to all these senses in me, so of course here in the price range I subjectively recommend this record player clearly. It is also seemingly built to last and will hopefully give me many more years of enjoyment. Unfortunately, it and its big brother, the SR 355, have become rare, and as I write this, that’s probably why the prices of the individual pieces still circulating are rising.

Between 200 and 500 Euro

Now we’ve arrived in a price region where the first new turntables are available for purchase that, in my opinion, are any good.

The cheapest qualitatively acceptable is in my opinion the Project Primary E.

It is a typically modern-looking, visually and technically very reduced to essentials turner. In this case, that is mainly positive. Project has left out everything that somehow has to do with comfort. For example, the antiskating setting on the tonearm is also missing, because the Primary is only tuned to the attached cartridge, the Ortofon OM.

Of course, you can also use other cartridges. However, they should be similar in height and weight to the OM because of the lack of antiskating adjustment.

On a positive note, Project has taken care to minimize inherent vibration. So the little Project is really fun to listen to. I test listened to it once at the dealer and was amazed at what you get for 200 euros. However, one should soon replace the needle, a not very high quality OM5, with a higher quality one. You don’t have to spend a lot of money there. So the Analogis Black Diamond with its naked elliptical diamond is still affordable at just under 40 euros and catapults the turner immediately qualitatively a step higher. Now it can show what it’s got.

So: For 240 Euros you get a package that allows you to listen to really good music, even classical music, which demands more accuracy and airiness than pop and rock.

Now there are also those who are into the typical DJ turntable a la Technics SL 1210 in terms of feel or design, coolness. If you want to buy such a turntable, you can get a solid Technics derivative for around 250 euros from the renowned Audio Technica brand. It is the LP-120 X.

This is a Direct Drive, which means a turntable driven directly by a motor. I have heard the LP-120 only once in a record store through headphones. There you can not make a big judgment about the sound. But I had the impression, it resolves relatively clearly and has, typical for a direct drive, decent punch and drive. Also, the engine came very quickly on the trot, as far as I remember under 1 sec to normal speed. That’s enough to be suitable for DJ activity, at least hobby-wise. It tries a lot to imitate its great role model, the Technics 1210s, and probably does it well. The Technics has the very last bit of processing quality ahead of it. But it is also 4 times as expensive (MK7 new) and built for professional demands.

If you simply want to buy a cool-looking, well-made, decent-sounding turntable, you won’t go wrong with the Audio Technica. On its S-shape tonearm, the headshells with attached cartridges can be changed very easily on the very widespread SME connector.

It also comes up with additional features that the big Technics doesn’t have, but also doesn’t need. For example, the LP 120 X has a USB interface, so it is very easy to digitize the vinyl treasures.

Also, this turntable with a built-in phono preamplifier can save the new purchase of such a device. This can make the start easier, especially at the beginning, when you are not yet so deep in this hobby. Simply plug the cinch cables directly into the free Aux or CD input of the amplifier via the built-in preamplifier and off you go. The problem is that many of today’s amps no longer have a phono input. So you would have to buy an additional device that amplifies the phono signal to the volume of a CD player. Audiophiles insist on getting such a preamplifier in between. Often these have a higher quality than the built-in ones.

What else is there for record players to buy between 200 and 350 euros?

Here romp in the used sector already the first sought-after models from the cult manufacturer Thorens such as TD 160 or TD 125, TD 124…. These are high-quality turntables. However it applies here exactly to pay attention, and the announcements exactly to read. Here should be a little prior knowledge, because often you have to tinker with these devices to get them back in working order.

It’s best to get a load in and audition the unit (with Corona spacing rules, of course) to be sure.

Thorens from this price range up have a decoupled subchassis. That means the platter and tonearm are mounted on a sprung plane of their own. Thus one is relatively insensitive to vibrations from the outside when listening to records. In terms of sound character, these old Thorens are characterized by a more relaxed pace. That is a matter of taste. Many then buy a very dynamically playing pickup to counteract this somewhat.

Also many direct drive Technics, Pioneer, Kenwood, JVC and how they are all called are in this price range used on ebay or classifieds to find. In terms of quality, these direct drive candidates of the major Japanese brands from about 1975- 1980 are all considered to be of similar quality. Some offer the possibility to replace the tonearm with a very high quality one (e.g. SME 3009). The Thorens models do that as well. This is not bad. Because so one has with increasing audiophilen requirements the possibilities to upgrade.

Personally, I consider myself to be someone with a reasonably fine ear, but I still have my “normal” standard tonearm on my Toshiba. And it does its job well. I find a good shielding of external vibrations more important. But this may be in another report.

Buy a record player for just under 400 euros?

Now we come into price regions, in which it already begins to hurt many. Because if you just want to start with vinyl, and not yet really know whether this is something for you, then this sum is already a chunk of money.

But on the other hand, these are also the regions in which the turntables are sold, which already deliver very very good quality and are really fun.

I will now mention the used market for the last time, because there are many new devices that are at least sonically the old used rank (there are exceptions, of course).

But: An absolute cult record player is here in used condition between 400 and 500 euros, if you are lucky. We are talking about the Technics SL-1200/1210 MK2. The gray ones are the 1200s and the black ones are the 1210s. No other turntable has such a cult status as this DJ legend. Every DJ who is a bit of a stickler has wanted to use this turntable since 1979 and will always use this turntable. It has a powerful motor with good dehmoment, is built with 12kg like a tank and also sounds good.

The record owes its comeback to this record player! Because there were so 20-25 years between 1990 and 2010/15, since almost only DJs still used records. We normal average listeners wanted only CDs and MP3s. At the end of the noughties, music lovers rediscovered the medium and the sales figures rose again.

In the meantime, records have overtaken CDs and we have the Technics 1210 to thank for that, which kept this great culture going with its reliability….

That one has sonically with 500 euro used price not necessarily a large increase in value, than if one buys the 1410er or 1310er brothers and sister model cheaper by the half, can one imagine. Of course, you pay here the cult with. But what is also ok. Because this turner has earned it.

However, if you are interested in this cult object, you should look closely to see if he is okay. Because these are professional machines that were also used so and evtl are already pretty worn. And for that, 500 euros would be too expensive.

For 370 euros you get the first really audiophile record player in new…

It is the Rega Planar 1.

The English brand Rega builds since the 70s very good turntables and has made a name for itself especially with the fact that these stylish minimalist-looking turntables are affordable and yet of very high sound quality.

The Planar 1 has also been around for a while. Like the other models, it has been constantly improved and the current version has been available since 2016.

I do not own one myself, but I have heard them in a Hifi specialist store sample and was very impressed what is possible for 370 euros new price. I had the feeling, it plays from the dynamics and the stage, the older 70s models to the wall. Now it was also so that I had of course no direct comparison, because an old device was not available in the local Hifi chain.

But also some tests on the net confirm that the smallest Rega performs amazing for the low new price. If you can afford it at the beginning and want to spend a bit more money than on an old used one, then it is definitely worth buying this turntable. However, it should be remembered that the Planars are very spartan, i.e. they have no built-in preamp, no direct way to digitize, and no arm feedback.

There are great turntables from other brands like Teac and Project in this price range. Here it is really worth, when Corona is over, to visit a real hifi store and listen to the turntables test. Often it is also a question of taste, which one appeals the most.

The Rega Planar 2 is the next step towards high end sound, where we are far from even with this great turntable. The turntable is now made of glass instead of MDF, and it has a connection for a control unit that better regulates the synchronization of the motor. This unit is highly recommended, as the Regas tend to run a little too fast. Now, if you add a 300 euro control unit on top of the 519 euro purchase price, we are in a range where there are several wonderful turntables for sale at once.

That’s why the Planar 2 has more of a stopgap status, and unfortunately rightfully so. Nevertheless, it is of course a great sounding turntable.

The royal class up to 1000 euros:

In my opinion, there are three highly recommendable turntables to buy here. There are of course a few more, but I pick out now the most striking for me, which are between 800 and 1000 euros.

First, there’s another Rega, this time the Planar 3, a turntable that, like the Planar 2, has a glass platter and a connection for external motor control. But the highlight of this model is its fantastic tonearm, the RB330, which can already be considered a modern legend.

Its reputation is so good that many also want to buy this tonearm individually to upgrade their older player again.

In some forums, one reads about the Planar 3 that the sound is very good with many cartridges, but it runs minimally too fast, and the treble in the sound is slightly amplified. The motor control is supposed to remedy this. At a price of 850 euros without control and 1200 euros with, we are again in another price segment.

Sound-wise, I found it to be nicely dynamic and musical with the ability to add a nice depth to the music when I test listened to it. At the dealer, the Ortofon 2M Blue was installed, which had a very airy sound. I was very impressed. It also continues to impress in various tests.

All three Regas reviewed here are belt-drives, and I would like to continue with one of them. The traditional brand Thorens still produces excellent turntables. And one of them is the TD 206 . This great turntable is unjustly overshadowed by the Regas. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard it yet. But if you can believe what is written about it, then it does not need to hide behind the Planar 3. Quite the opposite:

I remembered a forum entry in which a buyer had first bought the Rega Planar 3, noticed that it ran too fast and was a bit shrill in the treble. He could not fix the problem and returned the Rega to buy the Thorens turntable with the money. He was so enthusiastic about the sound of the Thorens that he quickly forgot about the Rega.

The fancy Thorens costs about 800 euros and it seems to be the consistent further development of the wonderful old Thorens models.

The last turntable I want to mention is with a price of 999 euros exactly 1 euro below the 1000 euro sound barrier, which I do not want to exceed in this report.

It is the Technics SL 1500 C:

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to experience this modern direct-drive player live either, but I have read quite a bit about it. In the “Stereo” magazine it was rated “outstanding” in 2019.

Known from the direct drive players is that they play agile and punchy compared to the belt drivers. These qualities are also attributed to this Technics. The bass is said to be “edgy and tight,” and the sound generally “very lively.” It has many of the technical features of far more expensive models like the 1200 GR, a hi-fi noble version of the legendary DJ player. This one has an iron-core-less motor as a new development. This improves the synchronization and thus the sound quality. The “small” 1500 C has adopted this motor.

In addition, it comes with a high-quality preamplifier. This means an easier entry into the phono world. You can connect this Technics to any amplifier or to active speakers and directly enjoy “fat” and finely resolved vinyl sound.

If one now looks at this king class under 1000 euro, and is to decide, which for example of these 3 one might buy, then here clearly the personal taste decides.

And I mean that in every respect, including the exterior, the design. This is a very important point, because “the eye listens”. One has much more desire to put on his favorite record on a chic record player than on a not so beautiful. The feel and workmanship are consistently very good in this price segment. That means you can hardly make any mistakes here.

If I were to choose one of the three, it would probably be the Technics. And here we have arrived at the most important point, namely the sound, in addition to the appealing modern design and the excellent workmanship. All three will sound great, no question about it. Personally, I like the slightly more grippy sound of the direct drive. Therefore, my choice would probably fall on the Technics.

Of course, it would be best to hear all three in direct comparison, on the same hi-fi chain with the same record, to be able to decide. Who can afford it, order all three, listen to them test and send two back again. The fewest can do that, and so only the Hifiladen in the city remains to the test hearing in the hope, this has at least 2 of the 3 turntables on site.

Fairly one should buy then also with this dealer, in order to support the local stores.


Conclusion: Which turntable to buy?

The matter is quite simple: It is a question of budget and one’s own audiophile demands.

There are devices in every price range that meet the respective demands. The cheaper, the more compromises have to be made, of course. Sometimes, however, it is more advisable to buy a slightly cheaper turntable and put the rest of the money into a high-quality preamplifier and a good needle, because these components have a very big influence on the sound.

Needles and systems are discussed more often in my blog, such as the wonderful Audio Technica AT12 with Black Diamond needle, and good preamps are a topic for a new report here. Tip: Do not save on it!

Now first happy shopping!

Audio Technica AT3200 XE II – Egg-laying wool milk sow?

With a heavy heart I decided to part with this great system and sell it on ebay. But why? How and what is the Audio Technica AT3200 XE II anyway?

First of all, the special feature of this system: It’s an MC system with the possibility to change the needles. That doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time it is reserved for MM systems to be able to change the needles. Continue reading

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