To celebrate Record Store Day 2016, and the recent vinyl revival, we take a look back at some of our favourite turntables of the past 35 years...

Back in 1995, the annual What Hi-Fi? Awards issue declared that it might just be the last year that we had a turntable category, such was the move away from vinyl towards digital and the CDs... How wrong we were.

The vinyl resurgence has seen vinyl sales hit a 20-year high, with 1.3 million albums sold in 2014 and 2015 sales up significantly year-on-year. But it's no good buying vinyl, if you've got nothing to play it on. 

As vinyl has endured, so have some of our favourite turntables. So what are the best turntables of all-time?

We've been through the What Hi-Fi? archives to dig-up some of the best sounding, best value turntables we've ever tested, featuring repeat award-winners and five-star reviews... 

MORE: The best turntables of the 21st century

Dual CS505 [1980]

The Dual CS505 cost £75 back in 1980 and was pitched at "hitting back at cheap decks from the Far East". It was also the first of Dual's decks to be sold in the UK without a fitted cartridge.

It also boasted an "autostop and arm lift device". Not bad, eh?

Its rival in 1980 was the Rotel RP-500, but the Dual came out on top thanks to sound quality that we heralded, unsurprisingly, as "second to none".

Little Oak [1983]

It may not have been the Product of the Year, but the Little Oak turntable did walk home with an Award at the very first What Hi-Fi? Awards back in 1983. 

It was an unassuming and simple budget deck, that was easy to set-up and, wait for it, stayed in tune over time.

The way we judge our Awards hasn't changed much so it was no surprise to find the Little Oak was picked out for offering high-class sound at a low price. 

Linn Axis [1987]

In 1987, with the prospect of CDs becoming the format of choice already on the agenda, Linn carried on its turntable production with the Axis.

Other than fitting the tonearm and cartridge, the Axis required little in the way of setting up. It featured electronic speed change and produced a "clean and tidy performance".

Of course turntables have in fact out-lasted Linn's own CD players, which ceased production back in 2010

More after the break

Rega Planar 2 [1989]

Rega's Planar 2 was voted Best Budget Turntable at the 1989 Awards thanks to in no small part to its £155 price tag.

It may have used a manual design, but so effortless was it to change speeds, that we declared it wasn't an issue.

"If you want to hear the music in the way it was meant to be heard... the Rega Planar 2 is the turntable to choose," said our Awards issue.

The Planar 2's big brother, the Rega Planar 3, would go on to win four Awards, as Rega stamped its mark on the turntable category.

Systemdek IIX [1990]

The Systemdek IIX was so good that it was our turntable Product of the Year for three years running from 1990..

The deck's sound quality was well above its closest rivals: "Timing and pitch information are presented with surprising confidence, the music sounding tuneful and easy-flowing." Say no more...

 

 

Michell Gyrodec [1994]

Undoubtedly one of the most iconic turntables in history and an example of a deck that has been through any number of incarnations.

The incredibly striking design from Michell certainly won us over: "Even by exotic turntable standards, the Michell Gyrodec looks gorgeous," we said of this model in 1994.

And it sounded the part, too, we even went as far as to say it could be almost "too revealing". Too much of a good thing, clearly.

Stereo imaging was spot on and, considering its intricate looks, we noted it was actually incredibly easy to use. A genuine classic.

Linn LP12 [1994]

Linn's LP12 took top honours at the 1994 Awards. A notable year, as it was the last time that turntables would get their own dedicated category right up until 2001. A sure sign of how vinyl's popularity waned when digital music first took hold.

As for the LP12, another deck that has stood the test of time and appeared in many guises, we praised it's "warmth and faithfulness". It may have been expensive at £1345, but it was worth every penny.

As we said in 1994, "a worthy winner of this, possibly our last ever Best Turntable Award". Erm... or not.

Pro-Ject Debut [1999]

"We don't see many new turntables these days", began this review of the Pro-Ject Debut in 1999...

This record player was named Best turntable in the 1999 and 2000 Awards, but both were tucked away in the Accessories category.

The £109 Debut was incredibly easy to set up, and the sound it delivered for the price was "astounding". 

It wasn't until 2001 that turntables got their own dedicated category again, the year the Pro-Ject Debut Phono took top honours, showing how Pro-Ject has dominated the budget turntable market, right up to the present day.

Clearaudio Concept [2009]

The Clearaudio Concept took top honours at the 2009 and 2010 Awards, and has remained a favourite since, even if it recently lost out to the Rega RP3/Elys 2 for top honours.

Quite simply, there's nothing we don't like about this deck. It's very much a plug-n-play product and delivers a performance that's "little short of thrilling".

As we said in 1999: "The Clearaudio Concept is a great all-rounder: it's easy to set up, easy to use and sounds great. At this price point, it's king."

Rega RP3/Elys 2 [2011]

Like it's predecessor, the P2, the Rega RP3 has won four Awards on the bounce. And that's before we mention Rega's similarly all-conquering midrange turntable range, the Planar. 

No matter what genre you throw at it, the P3 will hold you in good stead and deliver great sonic results.

It's incredibly easy to set up and even easier to use, and a worthy addition to our list of the best turntables we've ever reviewed.

Will it win again in 2015?

 

MORE: Best turntables 2015

See all our turntable reviews

Comments

bombayteddy's picture

What, no Thorens?

You have made some GLARING omissions in this list: The AR turntable, which pioneered the sprung subchassis; and at least 3 turntables from the Thorens stable: TD-124, TD-125 Mark 2 and the TD-150, which was the blueprint for the Linn Sondek. And you have ignored Garrard entirely....inexcusable for a British magazine!

speculatrix's picture

TD166 mk2

The Thorens TD166 mk2 was a fantastic turntable for the price, am surprised it was overlooked.

The only weakness was the rubber mat it came with was thin and had two high ridges so it didn't support the record properly. I bought a replacement heavy flat softer mat (had to increase the tension on the suspension to compensate) and it transformed it into a top performer. 

Amclaussen's picture

Thorens original mats... and better replacements.

Quite true, speculatrix.  I have and still use my TD-160 Super (with several clever, inexpensive DIY modifications), and the poorly designed mat was indeed its main flaw.  Is was made with hard (way-too-hard) durometer rubber. Apart from its ridged design, it was prone to slippage, and had a very high dielectric value that effectively prevented any static drainage from the record.  In my TD-160 Super, the mat was replaced by several aftermarket options, but the one that I considered final, was the one made with "Sorbothane" (can't remember the exact brand name now, but it is very soft, pliable and somewhat sticky material)...  It was placed between the record and platter. But an even better solution was to use the very rare "AudioTechnica" vacuum platter mat over the sorbothane one. That accesory came with a hand vacuum pump and had two circumferential lip seals, it made possible to effectively flatten even heavily deformed records, and made the relatively "flimsy" thin vinyl record a much solid and better anchored assembly.  Unfortunately I was never able to buy one, and they discontinued it soon, so I had to best play my cherished records only from time to time as my neighbor had the only available example of that magnificent piece of engineering by AudioTechnica: the vacuum platter mat, outstanding product that was made briefly. Amclaussen.

relocated's picture

What is going on with you

Huge mentions already but then you also missed all the fabulous Technics decks - pro/hifi and studio.  Hopeless.

Oh and anyone heard of a certain Pioneer PL12D?

joemit's picture

Errmmm.. Should that be 35 years?

Since the first four turntables are from the 1980s shouldn't that be: "The 10 best turntables of the last 35 years"?

 

Joe Cox's picture

You're not wrong

The person who wrote the original headline wasn't very good at maths...

TerFar's picture

Thorens TD160S with SME3009fh with fluid damper

I'm still using mine. 

Julian Stevens's picture

Turntables

Oracle?  Pink Triangle?  Roksan?  VPI?  Well Tempered?  JBE?  SME?  SME for Chrissakes!  I could go on.... Scratch one-s head

Cassandra's picture

Turntables

Where are the best turntables?

SME?

Roksan TMS?

 

hardly the best with these two absent. 

What happened did you not review them in the past? Or just brain fade?

Hairy's picture

Rega Planar 2 - Turntables.

Apart from the glaring point of it being 35 years not 25 years.  The Rega Planar 2 - you say 'its successor' the Rega Planar 3 went on to win many awards.  This is incorrect!  The Rega Planar 2 and 3 were in production simulataneously from the late 70s until the 90s.  The Rega Planar 3 was essentially an upgraded Planar 2 with a thicker glass plinth and platter.

bonkerr's picture

Turntable

The thorens was good as sondek . I have a TD160s which had a SME 3009 arm and a Ortofon MC 30 cartridge pure dead brilliant . It now has a Linn arm with Ortofon cadenza blue still brilliant

Albion59's picture

Best turntables

With all respects, WhatHifi still refuse publishing full technical specs. If these figures were published, some of the best in this 10 of the best list would have been at quite a different position no doubt, or not listed at all........ So I still regard the tests done by WhatHifi to be useless. True, some "inventions" claimed to be have done by some of todays' manufacturers,  actually were invented way back when! Granted, some of the modern turntables do sound fabulous, that is, a turntable should not "sound" at all. If so, the thing is not worthy of the word Hifi component. 

So, trust your own ears instead. Take your own records to the store and take your time. Each and every retailer should be glad to help you out, give you plenty of time. Ofcourse, all within reasonable demands. As a guide of rule, ignore manufacturers that refuse to publish full specs, we all know what manufacturers I mean. Ask the retailer about them, if he doesn't know these fugures, he didn't do his homework properly. In short, read, read, read. Be an expert yourself before you walk in the store so well known babble won't put you on wrong tracks, there are many!

tinkywinkydipsylalapo's picture

Everything that's wrong...

This is a fine example of an article written by someone with no knowledge of, or interest in, the subject, but who has just thought 'Oh, people are talking about turntables, so there must be some way of getting lots of people to click an article about turntables so some adverts can be placed next to it'.

It insults the readers' intelligence, and especially that of those with any interest in the subject-matter. Really if you can't do it right, perhaps best not to bother?

audioaddict's picture

best turntables

such a shame the technics sl1200/1210 isnt regarded at what hifi like it is in other places

Joe Cox's picture

Technics

The Technics 1210 is a classic... I have a pair of them at home. You're right, maybe we should have included it. There will always be other options we could have included in lists like this.

Naturally the list is slanted towards the decks that have been popular in What Hi-Fi? over the years and it's true to say we haven't covered the 1200/1210 as often as other turntables, which is why perhaps it didn't immediately leap to mind.

As for the list, it was over seen by our technical editor, Ketan, who has been working in the hi-fi industry for 20+ years, so I think we'd respectfully disagree with the assertion there's no knowledge behind it...

Amclaussen's picture

DJ vs HiFi turtable designs...

Joe Cox:  you seriously need to considerthe possibility of going to work as a DJ at some Disco...  The TECHNICS 1210 (and any numerous other similar -or basically identical-) turntable designs are indeed "classics", but only when talking about DJ use, that is!

A true HiFi design is quite different: No need to hold and stop the platter or making it go backwards. (It is IMPOSSIBLE to do that kind of monkeyish stunts with a Belt-driven, suspended sub-chassis turntable). "scratching" the "needle" is a forbidden thought in true HiFi.

On true HiFi terrain, the best solution is still based on what the original AR turntable (extraordinary design, mediocre execution), later followed by Thorens and Linn: a suspended Sub-Chassis. For engineering reasons, this is the most effective way to decouple the acoustic and seismic (footsteps) feedback.  Turning the motor from the platter with a soft, pliable belt is then the simplest and most elegant and effective way to do it.  On tonearm design: the Germans and europeans in general, had it right from the beggining: a Straight tonearm is the correct one.  Japanese products (with several very respectable and notable exceptions) had it wrong: the "S" curve adds mass and lowers rigidity, but they decided it just "looked" more sexy, I guess. So, your "classic" is not really the better design for serious listeners, but a dream for the monkeyish DJ's pirouettes.

swc461's picture

Ofcourse anyone who claims to

Ofcourse anyone who claims to know about turntables would be well aware that the Technics turntables were always built as HiFi decks first, long before the DJ's of the world found out they were indeed the world's best constructed turntable! So yes the Technics is a classic HiFi deck for serious listeners, which just happens to be so well constucted that the DJ's love them too!

tinkywinkydipsylalapo's picture

"it was over seen by our

"it was over seen by our technical editor, Ketan, who has been working in the hi-fi industry for 20+ years"

Doesn't that sort of make the omissions and mistakes even more worrying?

Joe Cox's picture

Mistakes

If you mean the headline, that's my fault. 

As for omissions, as I said above - there will always be disagreements on what should have been included, that's mean to be part of the 'fun', e.g. the 'best albums of all time' lists etc. Hopefully '10 of the best' makes that a little clearer. We are not suggesting this is a definitive list with which it is impossible to argue, quite the opposite. The article was meant to provide a nice trip down memory lane rather than cause any great distress...

sargentington's picture

Has the Connoisseur Belt

Has the Connoisseur Belt drive turntable with SAU 2 pick up arm not come into your view.

Amclaussen's picture

Still More Whaaaat... no Thorens???

One more comment on the lack of Thorens on your compilation of best turntables... (judging by the number of pro-Thorens comments, that was a grave omission of the worst kind, no doubt).  For me, the best 'bang-for-the-buck' turntable in the sensible, next to introductory category, is (I'm still using it, of course!) the Thorens TD-160 Super. This was a basic, solid, no-nonsense deck with all the imperative design and construction aspects of a device that pretends to be included in the HiFi level: suspended sub-chassis, belt drive, precision main bearing, solidity.  Provided that the mains were at precisely 60 Hz (sorry, 50 in UK...), the TD-160 super was a DIY modifier's dream, as it is very easy to work on it and get some impressive improvements, without expending idiotic excessive money amounts. Mine has hosted an outstanding combo: Grace F9E MM cartridge with both metal and Ruby Stylus, and 747 tonearm; at roughly $1,000 USD from 1982, that synergistic package has impressed all of my friends, and some audio artists and producers too, almost equalling systems three to four times it's cost (with the inexpensive modifications, of course). On the other side, I have never heard a truly acceptable Direct-Drive electronic turntable, unless it is installed in a totally favourable environment (no acoustic feedback...) Again: the suspended sub-chassis is unbeatable in real life applications. Amclaussen.

P.D.: and I agree with the other commenter of another Thorens, its mat was awful, but some very good alternatives were available at very reasonable costs.

fundraised's picture

No Thorens or Garrards

The two best turntables I have ever owned were:

A highly modified Thorens TD160 with Sorbothane mat & electronic power supply. It also had a the pressed steel chassis damped with self adhesive sound deadening pads, the foam removed from the suspension springs, the suspension re-adjusted for the additional weight & finally the flimsy hardboard base was replaced with a 4 inch thick slab of MDF fitted with three metal domed adjustable height feat. An SME 3009 fixed head & Shure V15 iii pulled the music off the record. As good, if not better than a Linn LP12 of the same vintage.

The other, a Garrard 401 with a felt mat, custom made brass record clamp, a rewired Rega RB250 with custom low slung brass counterweight, Denon DL103, all mounted in a remarkably inert black granite custom made plinth, with three adjustable spiked feet. That was a remarkable turntable. Visitors were just stunned when they heard it. Remarkable deep tuneful base, eerily silent (no surface noise), with a huge dynamic range, and you could jump up & down next to it all day without affecting its delivery of simply stunning music. It was also very tolerant of poor recordings & pressings too. I really regret selling it.

Tony M's picture

I like the list

Hi, I like your choices for 10 of the best over 35 years. Obviously there is scope for many, many alternative inclusions in this list - everyone has their own favourites, partly sometimes to justify their own purchases, but expressing outrage and disapointment just because a few of "your favourites" didn't make it, is surely not the point! This forum aims to promote discussion and the exchange of useful and educational information, which it clearly has. The editor's mention of the word "fun" in enjoying discussions on this or any other topic is really relevent. Everyone can have their opinion and all opinions should be respected and enjoyed. Having said all that, I'd like to have seen the Technics SL-1200 Mk2 on the list, but it's not there. So be it! What I can do now, is use all this valuable info and other member's comments to compile my own list - and that definitely is fun! BTW - the people who instantly discard direct drive turntables as HiFi junk have possibly never bothered to pull the platter off a 1200 to see how it's constructed! The motor field coils are wound on a former and this is bolted directly to the plinth, however the platter shaft and bearing pass THROUGH the centre of this - there is no physical contact between the two. The magnet section of the motor is fixed to the underside of the platter (clever!), so when the platter is mounted on the spindle shaft, that completes the motor and drive assembly. There is therefore no physical contact between the two halves of the motor and therefore it is impossible for any so-called "vibrations" to find their way through to the platter - which can be a bug-bear of some DD designs and the reason why the belt drive enthusiasts dismiss all DD designs as being inferior. Thus my point: the Technics DD motors are differently constructed and superior, which is why JBE chose them for use in their slate plinth turntable, which is another one that could conceivably appear on a list of "the top 10". Anyway, Happy Christmas to everyone and happy listening!

Vinyl God's picture

You've missed the best of all!

I own a Systemdek IIX and it's a great deck which I bought to replace my Linn Sondek, , but my main turntable is a Pink Triangle Anniversary and it blows every other deck on this list away. Fitted with an SME V and a Lyra Parnassus, nothing sounds so detailed and so uncannily natural. 

 

The only other deck I've ever considered buying since was the Nottingham Audio Annalog - very different but also stunning.

Geohros's picture

Poor selection

Just an opportinity to plug recent models at the end of the article which shouldn't even have made the list.

Omitting Thorens TD145/160/320, Garrard 401 and Technics SL 1200 is almost a "crime" in hi-fi terms. 

Rather disappointing from a mag I read and respect and should know better.

Andy Clough's picture

It's all in the testing

The list was based on decks we have actually tested, unfortunately some of the ones you mention haven't been through our test rooms so, good as they might be, we didn't include them. Feel free to disagree with our selection smiley

Geohros's picture

10 of the best turntables of all time...

Thank you for your reply but this is weak justification for an article so entitled. Exluding such iconic symbols of vynil history is rather limiting considering many of them are much sought after and still going strong today. You did actually review the Thorens TD160HD in July 2008 and gave it 5 stars with the statement "this brilliant deck is capable of worrying anything near its price point (which was 1560 pounds)...". If nobody at What-Hifi has ever tested or reviewed a TD160 or an SL 1200, given the general consensus I see in nthe comments above, then I suggest this gap is filled at the earliest opportunity. You don't have to be retired to remeber or like these products. There is a thriving community of young music enthusiasts who are redescovering the joys of quality vintage hi-fi and giving new life to superb turntables such as the ones made by Thorens, Technics and the iconic Garrard. They may not go out and buy the latest Pro-ject (really?...) but they will experiment with an SME or a REga arm, a new cartidge, better interconnects or other mods (i.e.: purchasing equipment), which is what has kept this particular sector alive for decades and made Hi-Fi such good fun ! (BTW, still running an Audiolab 8000 and Rotel pre-power, Quad speakers and Marants CD players, but I can hear all this around the house via the amazing Sonos system...so yes, I did move on to the 20th century...*pleasantry*...including Thorens and Technics turntables. It's actually thanks to the Sonos that I started re-discovering my LP collection).

Happy and free to disagree...won't stop me buying your magazine though. Smile