It’s Holiday time, and some of you may be asking for your first turntable or looking to buy one for that special someone. (It’s too late for this, but how awesome would a turntable and seven records be for Hanukkah?) But it’s hard to know what to get, especially when articles “for beginners” list $300+ tables that still need a phono preamp. That’s a lot of money out the gate, and knowing how to buy a phono preamp is hard to do. I’m convinced that’s why so many people just buy the Crosley Cruiser and are done with it.
When I bought my first turntable, I picked up a Pioneer for around $100 on Amazon. My thought process was as simple as “well, I like Pioneer.” While not the worst purchase, it wasn’t the best use of my money. Since then, I’ve learned much about turntables and what to look for in one. To keep things simple, I’m assuming you’re buying new. Although really, there are a lot of awesome and affordable vintage turntables available very inexpensively.
Things to Look For
This is a very simple list, with very simple explanations. The world of audio components is a rabbit hole in which you can get easily lost forever. But since you’re starting out, I’m going with the KISS method.
- Built In Preamp – Record players play a very low signal, to get them to a level that’s able to be heard on a stereo you have to amplify it. That’s where a preamp comes in. It boosts the signal to a level that your amplifier, receiver, or powered speakers can work with. To save yourself some headache (and cost) starting out, get one with a built in pre-amp.
- Replaceable Cartridge – A cartridge is the thing that holds the needle, and upgrading it can make a cheap turntable sound better down the line. So getting a turntable where you can upgrade this component will ensure your investment lasts.
- Adjustable Tone Arm – A tonearm is the thing that moves the needle across the record. Different cartridges take different pressures, so being able to adjust this allows you to get the pressure right and not damage your records.
What Else Do I Need?
Of course, a turntable only works if you have something to listen to it on. If you have a surround sound or home theatre system, you’re set. Plug the turntable into the system and you’re good to go. If you don’t have a home setup already, you’re going to need to either buy an amp and speakers, or a set of powered speakers (speakers that plug into the wall).
If you want an amp and speakers, Monoprice has a slick little tube amp package for $200 that will also do bluetooth. If you want powered speakers, there’s the Audioengine A2+ for $250. I’ve not tried either of these personally (I already had a home theatre setup), but they have solid reviews from the audio community. If you’re more into headphones, I highly recommend the Schiit Magni headphone amplifier. If you get the Magni Uber, it can also run powered speakers.
What Turntable to Buy
Because of the reasons listed above, I suggest picking up the Audio-Technica LP120. It has an adjustable arm, is upgradeable, and has a built in phono pre-amp. It also has USB if you want to turn your LPs into MP3s. For $250 this is a true starter turntable that you can be happy with for several years. I have not used this turntable myself, but it is what I recommended to Claire when she said she was ready to upgrade her setup. Another option is the U-Turn Orbit Basic with their Pluto Phono Preamp. This setup is $268 and since the same company is selling you the preamp and turntable, it removes some guess work. You can also choose to get it built in for a little less ($250).
This system is still quite a bit more than your typical $100 Crosley, but I think long term you’ll be happier with it. It’ll sound better, it’ll be nicer to your records, and I won’t tease you about having a Crosley. Happy Listening!
Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.