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 top-notch turntables don't come cheap and we know those who buy them have high-end hi-fi systems to match.
So, if you want to get the best from your records and have deep-ish pockets and a suitable home hi-fi system, here are finest, hang-the-expense high-end record players to have graced our testing rooms.
There are a few key things to look for when buying a high-end turntable. Generally speaking, the higher the price the higher quality 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. Products as esoteric as these are quite often only available through a select few outlets and 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. Don't forget to head over to our list of the best cartridges for some inspiration, and you'll want to know how to set up your turntable perfectly to get the ultimate performance.
But enough talk, let's dive into the best high-end turntables, tested and reviewed by our experts. Read on and get a feel for just how capable these record players are.
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 has 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.
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.
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 3/Apheta
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 drives each and every crescendo with ease.
You'll struggle to hear anything better than this Vertere package at the money.
Read the full review: Vertere Acoustics MG-1 MkII/Mystic
The new VPI Prime 21+ builds on one of our favourite ever 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) 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).
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.
Build quality 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
The VPI Prime Signature builds on the original and Award-winning VPI Prime, delivering a range of sensible and wide-ranging improvements to areas that include the motor housing, plinth and feet. They all combine to improve the deck notably without spoiling its highly appealing character.
This VPI Prime Signature isn’t a particularly large unit by high-end standards. At 54cm wide and 40cm deep, it should fit on the top shelf of most supports. But it’s heavy, weighing in at just under 37kg, so make sure your hi-fi rack can cope. Set-up can be a bit fiddly, too, especially getting the unipivot tonearm in place and aligning the tracking weight. You'll also need to factor in the cost of a suitable cartridge.
Once it's up and spinning, all the little niggles melt away. VPI's presentation is bold, punchy and satisfyingly solid. There’s everything we would want from the track – a subtle sense of momentum, warmth and weight to the midrange and enough dynamic subtlety to really capture the emotion at the core of the music.
Put simply, the Prime Signature builds strongly on the strengths of the standard model. It’s our deck of choice at this price.
Read the full review: VPI Prime Signature
The McIntosh brand boasts an impressive heritage and is one of the oldest audio firms around, founded in Maryland, USA back in 1949. But that doesn't mean it's trading on past glories, as this truly capable high-end record player proves.
Visual flair comes courtesy of the fancy light-up platter and, once you take the deck out of the box, it takes a matter of minutes before you’re listening to music. It's a real breeze to set up: arm and cartridge are supplied attached and aligned.
It's superbly-crafted and the acrylic plater feels hefty. This mass gives a flywheel effect that helps with speed stability. The tonearm is also nicely made. The bearings feel smooth and precise, and it uses Clearaudio’s trademark magnetic antiskate adjustment mechanism.
The sound is surefooted and punchy. This deck is more than confident enough to deliver tonal shifts with dynamic intensity. And while it doesn't sound quite as exciting as some other rivals, we can't think of many high-end alternatives that are as easy to set-up, use and enjoy.
Read the full review: McIntosh MT5
How we test 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 collective experience of 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 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, trying them with different electronics, in different positions and with different music.
All new turntables are tested in comparison with rival turntables at the same price (and often cheaper and more expensive alternatives, too), and 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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