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Best record player 2021: Our favourite budget, USB and audiophile turntables, from £100

Simon Lucas
5 Aug 2021
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Whether you’re a vinyl veteran or a recent record convert, we’ve got a selection of turntables that will get you spinning

Vinyl is back in a major way, and if you're keen to switch off Spotify and get the most out of your record collection, then you’ll want to buy the best record player you can afford. The vinyl resurgence means that there’s no shortage of choice, either. From dirt-cheap record-player-in-a-suitcase all-in-ones to eye-poppingly expensive audiophile options (Technics whipped the covers off its £14,000 SL-1000R not so long ago), and from old-school fully manual turntables to sleek wireless Bluetooth alternatives, there are plenty of great options out there.

In this list, you’ll find a selection of the best record players you can buy across a wide range of prices. We’ve included fully manual models, models with built-in phono stages (so they’re ready to play into any amplifier whatsoever), models with USB connections (so you can archive your rare and precious vinyl to your computer), Bluetooth-equipped models that can stream wirelessly, and audiophile models that will tempt you into a lifetime’s investigation of tonearm and cartridge tweakery in the pursuit of perfect sound.

Not sure which record player is best for you? Then scroll past the reviews below and read our buying guide where we’ll run through the key questions you need to ask before you splash out.

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The best record players to buy in 2021

1. Lenco L-85: The best record player under £100

Price: £95 | Buy now from Zavvi

Every journey starts with a first step, and there’s currently no better first step into a lifelong vinyl habit than Lenco’s beginner-friendly L-85. Few worthwhile turntables are this affordable, and even fewer are this coherent and convincing a listen. Granted, the construction is mostly plastic and some of the colour choices look rather frivolous. But keep the price uppermost in your mind and the L-85 suddenly becomes a more serious proposition.

Every critical part – the plinth, tonearm and platter especially – is nicely made and the whole thing is properly screwed together. The built-in phono stage is a thoughtful touch, as it makes the L-85 fit into pretty much any existing system. Another key appeal of the Lenco is that everything is set at the factory, so there’s no need to painstakingly adjust tracking force, anti-skating or any of the other settings you’d need to get to grips with on pricier decks.

And most importantly, as part of an appropriately priced setup, the Lenco sounds surprisingly good. Naturally, it’s not the last word in refinement, but it’s a far more engaging listen than you might expect at the price.

Key specs – Size: 12 x 42 x 36cm (HWD); Weight: 2.6kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45rpm; Drive: Belt; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage?: Yes


2. Pro-Ject Primary E: The best budget record player

Price: £189 | Buy now from Amazon

Even at this relatively modest price, you have plenty of options to choose from. You could buy an all-in-one turntable complete with amplification and speakers; you could buy a whistles-and-bells wireless streamer with digital output and integrated phono stage. But if your budget is £200 or less, you should really consider buying a proper record player that’s been built to do just one thing. Pro-Ject has been at the forefront of affordable “proper” turntables for years, and the Primary E has had the money spent in all the right places.

Yes, it’s “just” a record player, with a manual speed change and no auto-stop, let alone Bluetooth or a USB output, but what it does have is an excellent aluminium tonearm, a very decent Ortofon cartridge pre-fitted, and a well-specified motor. As a result, the Primary E absolutely nails the broad strokes of vinyl playback – it sounds stable, insightful, handles tempos and rhythms well and, basically, is the perfect gateway drug into a lifetime’s vinyl habit.

Key specs – Size: 11 x 42 x 33cm (HWD); Weight: 4kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45rpm; Drive: Belt; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage?: No


3. Sony PS-LX310BT: The best Bluetooth turntable

Price: £199 | Buy now from Amazon

Here’s the cheapest way to take almost all the hassle out of vinyl ownership and still enjoy a lovely sound. Here’s Sony’s brilliant PS-LX310BT. “Convenience” is the name of the game here: as well as being equipped with Bluetooth wireless transmission (so you can enjoy your records without the spaghetti explosion of cables that all too often accompanies turntables), the PS-LX310BT has an integrated phono stage, so if you want to wire your turntable to an amplifier (which, we have to say, gives better audio results than doing things wirelessly), your amp doesn’t need a phono stage of its own. There’s also a USB-B output for digitising your vinyl. Complete adaptability, in other words – and, no matter whether you use a wired or wireless connection, the Sony sounds full-bodied and entertaining. It’s got all of that lush vinyl warmth and weight that’s so celebrated, but it doesn’t make you jump through hoops to get at it.

Key specs – Size: 11 x 43 x 37cm (HWD); Weight: 3.5kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45rpm; Drive: Belt; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage?: Yes


4. Audio Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB: The best USB turntable

Price: £299 | Buy now from Argos

Audio Technica has plenty of experience when it comes to making the world’s most inconvenient audio storage format as convenient as possible – and the snappily named AT-LP120XBT-USB is a perfect example of the brand’s talents.

It has every feature a budding DJ might require, from the Technics-like looks to pitch control and a direct-drive motor. It has a switchable phono stage for ultimate system-friendliness, a Bluetooth transmitter (which supports aptX streaming), and the USB output makes it easy to record digital copies of vinyl records on a laptop or PC.

This is all well and good, of course, but it wouldn’t count for much if the Audio Technica didn’t sound great. Thankfully, it serves up a warm, weighty and pretty detailed performance that would be acceptable even from a far less fully featured deck at this sort of price.

Key specs – Size: 14 x 45 x 35cm (HWD); Weight: 8kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45, 78rpm; Drive: Direct drive; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage: Yes


5. Rega Planar 2: The best record player under £500

Price: £429 | Buy now from Amazon

Rega, like Pro-Ject further up this list, has been banging the drum for the format long before vinyl received its umpteenth lease of life at the start of this century. And, like Pro-Ject, Rega prefers to chuck the research and development budget at the fundamentals of its turntables rather than try to pile on the features. So far, it’s a policy that’s served the company well – and the Planar 2 might just be the best pound-for-pound record player Rega’s ever delivered, which is saying something.

Nothing about the way the Planar 2 looks will prepare you for the extraordinary fidelity and straightforward musicality of its sound. Everything about the way the Planar 2 and its Rega Carbon cartridge delivers music – the effortless management of rhythms and tempos, the amazing retrieval of even the tiniest details, nuances and variations, the way it reveals all the character in a singer’s voice – sounds so natural and unforced it can initially sound all a bit matter-of-fact. But listen on: that’s the sound of a master at work.

Key specs – Size: 12 x 45 x 36cm (HWD); Weight: 5.5kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45rpm; Drive: Belt; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage?: No


6. Rega Planar 3/Elys 2: The best mid-range record player

Price: £685 | Buy now from Sevenoaks Sound & Vision

“Never judge a book by its cover”, so they say. And if they knew anything about turntables, they would also say “never judge the sound of a Rega record player by its appearance”. Because in the case of the Planar 3/Elys 2 package, the unassuming looks give no indication of the sonic fireworks this pairing can produce.

The Planar 3 is one of Rega’s most enduringly popular turntables. This particular package combines the Planar 3 and its accomplished RB330 tonearm with Rega’s own Elys 2 cartridge. It is possible to buy the turntable sans cartridge and choose your own if you prefer, but we’d advise against it: it would be like ordering an Aston without the Martin or listening to a Jagger without the Richards.

As you’d expect from Rega, obsessive attention has been paid to the quality of the motor, the main bearing and the other essentials. The result is a record player that’s a straightforward joy to listen to, one that is just as enthusiastic about your favourite records as you are. Spend a few minutes making sure it’s correctly positioned and set up and the Rega will reward you for years.

Key specs – Size: 12 x 45 x 36cm (HWD); Weight: 6kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45rpm; Drive: Belt; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage?: No

Buy now from Sevenoaks Sound & Vision


7. Technics SL-1500C: The best record player for audiophiles

Price: £899 | Buy now from John Lewis

Technics is one of the most emotive and resonant brands in all of vinyl-land, and that’s for one reason: its SL-1210 turntable is the default choice for every DJ who ever dropped the needle on the record. Of course, what’s good for a DJ isn’t necessarily good for the domestic listener, but there are some aspects of the SL-1210 that suit the home user just fine. And they’re all incorporated into the SL-1500C: the bank-vault build quality, the hefty suspension, direct drive and a high-quality tonearm, for starters.

To this the SL-1500C adds an integrated phono stage, a superb Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and, most important of all, absolutely exquisite sound quality. Hooked into a system of appropriate standard, the Technics simply sings – it digs deep and hits hard in the bass, allows singers all the space they need to express themselves, and lets the top of the frequency range shine without any hint of coarseness. Yes, £899 is a lot of money to spend on a record player, but in this instance it’s worth every penny.

Key specs – Size: 17 x 45 x 37cm (HWD); Weight: 10kg; Speeds: 33.3, 45, 78rpm; Drive: Belt; Tonearm: Fitted; Integrated phono stage?: Yes

Buy now from John Lewis


How to pick the best record player for you

Is there anything I should know before I buy?

Before you go any further, you should be aware that the audio signal from a record player alone is virtually non-existent. It takes a great deal more amplification to make it audible than any other format requires, so it needs to be boosted considerably before it’s ready to be plugged into an amplifier or a pair of powered speakers. This requires a phono stage, sometimes also known as a phono pre-amp, and it’s this that amplifies the quiet signal picked up by the record player’s needle and cartridge to make it louder.

If your amplifier or speakers don’t have a built-in phono stage, you either need to buy a record player with an integrated phono stage or purchase a standalone phono stage to go between your record player and your amplifier. These cost around £25 for a basic model so you don’t have to spend a fortune, but turntables with an integrated phono stage will definitely help cut down on cable clutter – and you’ll need one less mains socket, too.

What types of record players are there?

This guide covers three types of record player:

  • USB turntables are an ideal way to convert your record collection into digital files. Record players with USB outputs can be connected to your PC or laptop – making digital copies is a simple as pressing “record” on the supplied software and lowering the needle onto the record. Voila! Your vinyl is duplicated as digital audio files that you can download onto all your devices.
  • Bluetooth turntables are another brilliantly convenient innovation. A record player equipped with the necessary hardware can be wirelessly linked to an amplifier, or a powered speaker, in the same way you’d link your smartphone. And that’s all there is to it: a record player that doesn’t need connecting to anything except mains power.
  • Traditional turntables don’t hold with any of this “convenience” nonsense – vinyl was always a hands-on format, and some turntables still see this as a virtue. Admittedly, a record player that needs you to move a belt from one pulley to another in order to change from 33.3rpm to 45rpm, and that doesn’t have an auto-stop function (where the tonearm returns to rest when it reaches the end of the record) might well have had the money spent in other, more critical areas. But that doesn’t mean you should be pleased about the hassle.

READ NEXT: The best wired and wireless headphones to buy

Should I get a belt drive or direct drive record player?

Belt drive turntables are as simple as it gets: they have a motor that turns the platter via a rubber belt. Switch the motor on and it tows the platter around like a pulley. Direct drive turntables, on the other hand, use a motor in the turntable’s base to generate magnetic fields that push the magnets attached to the platter’s underside around with no need for a belt.

The advantages of direct drive centre around their start-up speeds and relative resistance to external forces. This is why every DJ uses a direct drive turntable: they can start and stop rapidly (which is great for scratching and cueing up records) and reach the correct speed almost instantly. The best designs spin at a very consistent speed, which is crucial for synchronising the tempo of two records playing simultaneously.

One potential downside of direct drive designs is that the motor sits directly underneath the spindle upon which the platter spins, and this means that vibrations from the motor can potentially be transmitted to the stylus and heard through your speakers. Belt drives combat that vibration to some degree by keeping the motor isolated from the platter – they’re only attached via a belt – and really expensive turntables sometimes even place the motor in a separate box to minimise vibration even further.

That said, even the tautest belt will have a degree of play in it, meaning rotational speed may not always be consistent, and all motors (direct drive included) have some inherent speed variability. This is why turntables can struggle to cleanly reproduce solo instruments such as piano or violin, as these variations in pitch may become audible to a greater or lesser degree.

As ever, the devil is in the detail – neither design is inherently better or worse than the other, and both types present their own set of engineering challenges. Spending more on a turntable theoretically opens the door to higher-quality motors, materials and more advanced designs, all of which can help to ensure that the only sound you’re hearing is the record you’re playing.

How much do I need to spend?

If you’re a newcomer to vinyl playback, or if your sound system is reasonably modest, then there’s certainly no need to break the bank.

Your existing system, and how much money you have to spend on records, will dictate how much you spend. You can buy a perfectly competent starter turntable for less than £200, but spending more will reward you with improved sound quality and provide greater upgrade potential for the future.

Cheaper decks are generally equipped with fixed tonearms that can’t be upgraded, and they may not even have the option for cartridge or stylus upgrades. If you like the idea of steadily improving your turntable as your budget allows, spending a little more initially may be a sensible choice as it will allow you to make the most of upgrades such as high-end cartridges, phono stages, tonearms and so on.

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