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!