We like to think we have high standards, but when it comes to the best high-end record players, things go up a notch or five. That's because truly top-notch performing, exquisitely engineered turntables don't come cheap, and we know those who buy them are serious about their hi-fi performance and have (or should have) suitable high-end hi-fi systems to match.
So, if you want to get the ultimate performance from your beloved vinyl record collection and have deep pockets to match, here are the finest, hang-the-expense, high-end record players to have graced our testing rooms.
How to choose the best high-end turntable for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
There are a few key things to look for when buying a high-end turntable. Generally speaking, the higher the price, the higher quality of the materials used. And when it comes to performance, you can expect a sense of realism, detail and instrumental authenticity that more affordable models just can't match.
You might notice that pricing is complex when you start looking into buying a high-end turntable. Products as esoteric as these are quite often only available through a select few outlets – and in this case, we'd highly recommend visiting a dealer if possible and demo-ing a deck with the preferred accessories before making a purchase.
Additionally, some models might come with neither a tonearm nor a cartridge, which means you'll have to factor in the added (and possibly quite significant) costs. We've noted the cartridge and tonearm that came included in each turntable package that we tested below, but there are other options the manufacturer might recommend. Don't forget to head over to our list of the best cartridges for some alternative inspiration, though, not to mention finding the perfect match when it comes to phono stages. Once you've made a decision though, you'll want to know how to set up your turntable perfectly to get the ultimate performance from your vinyl set up.
But enough talk, let's dive into the best high-end turntables below. Each deck has been tested and reviewed by the experts at What Hi-Fi? in our dedicated listening rooms. Read on and get a feel for just how capable these record players are. And start saving up...
Originally introduced back in 1973, the LP12 is still a massively capable and neatly configured deck that puts many a young gun to shame. It's been updated and modernised over the years, but the quality and performance have remained impeccable. Even when you factor in the five-figure price tag, the Klimax LP12 represents value for money and is one of the best high-end record players we've ever had the pleasure of testing.
This configuration sees the basic deck (called Sondek LP12) partnered with an Ekos SE tonearm and Kandid moving-coil cartridge. There's also an Urika phono stage, Radikal power supply and Keel sub-chassis all of which combine to make this a truly high-end turntable. We tested it originally at £18,670 (around $22,180 / AU$32,925) but as of 2023, the deck is available for £23,300 (around $26,680 / AU$41,090).
And it's all worth every penny because this deck is impressively precise and smooth, beautifully made (the arm tube is made of titanium) and sounds wonderfully musical. Detail resolution, agility and transparency have improved over the years, resulting in a high-end record player that never loses its composure.
If you want scale, power, passion and all manner of sonic fireworks, the Klimax LP12 is the money-no-object choice.
Read the full review: Linn Klimax LP12
Rega has picked up plenty of awards for its more modest offerings, but the Planar 10/Apheta 3 combination sets sky-high standards for the money and serves up plenty of insight and detail.
The company's mainstream range-topper, the Planar 10 is well-made and visually striking. You could buy the Planar 10 without a cartridge but Rega’s Apheta 3 makes the ideal partner. We tested the deck at £4499 / $6695 / AU$9499, although prices have risen in 2023.
There's plenty of elegant engineering to admire, including a single-piece machined aluminium sub-platter with hardened tool steel spindle running inside a custom brass housing. As for the belt, Rega spent three years developing the material used.
When it comes to sound, there is transparency, resolution and dynamic expression in spades. It's a natural and measured performance that is mature and authoritative, with plenty of weight to bass frequencies.
All in all, this high-end record player is as good as it gets for the money. And if you like that it resembles a work of art, this is the deck for you.
Read the full review: Rega Planar 10/Apheta
The SL-1000R sits proudly at the top of Technics' turntable range. It's not going to fit everyone's budget and at 40kg you'll probably need another pair of hands to shift it. But from the magnesium S-shaped tonearm to the adjustable feet, build quality and finish are as precise as a Japanese bullet train.
Unusually for a high-end turntable, Technics has opted for a direct drive motor rather than a belt drive, but great care has been taken to reduce vibration. In conjunction with the external power supply and 7.9kg triple-layered platter, the SL-1000R delivers excellent speed stability at 33.3, 45 and 78rpm. As with most options at this price (£13,999 / $20,000 / around AU$24,688), you'll need to partner it with your own cartridge.
Sound is seriously punchy and tuneful, with tight, beautifully-defined bass and deeply impressive levels of scale and authority. It might seem expensive, but the SL-1000R will go toe-to-toe with any rival in this price bracket. Truly a fantastic beast.
Read the full Technics SL-1000R review
With over 35 years of experience under its belt, Vertere - originally a maker of high-end cables – knows a thing or two about polished performers. The MG-1 MkII is a fine transition into the world of high-end record players and delivers an astonishingly clean, compelling sound.
Designed to make a statement it's packed with nice details, from the triple-layered, vibration-reducing acrylic structure to the removable centre spindle on the platter, which prevents noise from the bearing being directly transmitted to the record surface.
It's best paired with Vertere’s in-house moving coil cartridge, the Mystic. Machined from solid aluminium, it's a perfect fit, tracks well at 2.0g and is easy to fit thanks to threaded bolts.
The sound is super-agile and we were awed by the level of dynamic expression on display. This is a high-end record player that packs enough energy to drive each and every crescendo with ease.
You'll struggle to hear anything better than this Vertere package at this money (tested at £9300 / $12,690 / AU$20,290).
Read the full review: Vertere Acoustics MG-1 MkII/Mystic
The new VPI Prime 21+ builds on one of our favourite turntables with an upgraded design that improves performance and ease of use.
Just to be clear, there are actually two versions of this deck. The ‘21+’ model costs around £6500 ($6500, around AU$11,450) and includes the brand-new VPI Shyla moving coil cartridge and the company’s Weisline tonearm, while the base '21' model misses out on these two options but costs much less – around £4500 ($4500, around AU$8000).
If you can stretch to the 21+, you won't be disappointed. It's engineered to sing and, like previous VPI's Prime turntables, dishes up plenty of clarity and precision. Sound is big and bold without overstepping the mark, delivering punch and insight that put it among the class leaders in this category.
It doesn't quite have the drive of the Vetere MG-1 or the rhythmic snap of the superb Rega Planar 10 (both listed above), but the VPI Prime 21+ does combine its impressive sense of power with easy set-up and a generous supply of accessories in the box. And for those reasons, this one has to be on your shortlist.
Read the full review: VPI Prime 21+
The Clearaudio Ovation is the Clark Kent of high-end record players: its superpowers are neatly hidden under conventional looks. It's a terrific all-rounder brimming with clever engineering solutions. There's plenty of choice when it comes to picking a cartridge – Clearaudio makes a varied and impressive range, so you can take things up a notch should your budget allow. We tested the Ovation at £5995 (around $7122 / AU$10,570) back in 2014, with the £1095 Talismann v2 Gold moving coil cartridge.
Build quality is pretty much bulletproof. The Ovation’s plinth boasts a sandwich construction made up of two plates of aluminium encapsulating a layer of Panzerholz (a dense, heavily processed wood that’s said to be bulletproof). It's also an effective damping agent.
How does it sound? Refined, enthusiastic and blessed with a level of bite and verve that belies its classy styling. A fuss-free deck that serves up a full-bodied performance. On a tighter budget? You might also consider the four-star Clearaudio Active MM, which performs brilliantly considering it's around half the price of this deck.
Read the full review: Clearaudio Ovation
SME doesn’t launch many new products, but when it does they’re obsessively engineered and usually stay in production for decades. This SME 60 is an immaculate evolution of a 30-year flagship, but takes advantage of modern production techniques and materials where needed. Those are evidenced in the 5A tonearm, machined from a block of high-tech polymer resin, whose well-damped property helps reduce armtube resonances.
SME doesn't make its own cartridges, so we tested this package (which cost £49,950 / $50,519 / AU$72,484) with a highly-regarded Ortofon Windfeld Ti moving coil model. Yes it's a pricey package, but the build quality is exceptional and you'll need to treat it to appropriate partnering kit to get the best out of it. While the SME 60 may be a precision instrument, it still has the aura of something that's intended to be passed down between generations even with heavy use.
Sonically, we hear an immense scale of sound, and a breathtaking combination of muscle and authority that allows a song's dramatic nature to shine through. The Model 60 is almost brutal in the way it renders Beethoven's Fifth Symphony’s savage dynamic swings, yet at no point does it sound anything less than in total control of the situation. It digs up every last bit of information from the record groove, doing a convincing job of transporting us in time and space to the point the music was recorded. While it does err more on the insightful, analytical side (and will show up any shortcomings in a pressing or recording), the 60 still has plenty of verve to keep us entertained and listening.
Read the full review: SME Model 60
How we test high-end record players
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, from TVs to speakers, headphones to hi-fi systems. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them? Allow us to explain.
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years of collective experience in reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics – and that includes plenty of high-end record players. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the testing process, ensuring consistency across all products. We always ensure we spend plenty of time with each turntable, setting them up correctly, partnering them with suitably price-compatible electronics and speakers, and playing various records and genres.
All new high-end turntables are tested in comparison with rival turntables at the same price where possible, and fitted with either the supplied cartridge or a premium price equivalent. All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity. That's why our reviews are trusted by retailers and manufacturers, as well as consumers, the world over.
From all of our reviews, we choose the top high-end turntables to feature in this Best Buy. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended here, or on any other Best Buy page, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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