Best record players Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best turntables you can buy in 2021.
Americans are buying more vinyl than ever. In fact, US vinyl sales have gone up 14 straight years in a row. Ready to get back into the groove? The best record players will help you make the most of the vinyl revival.
Whether you're seeking a rich, warm sound or simply a USB connection, you'll find our pick of the best record players below. You don't have to spend an arm and a leg – we've come up with top-tier options from $200 to $2000.
So, which record player is best for you? Most budget record players are plug-and-play and come with a tonearm, cartridge and built-in phono stage (the device that amplifies the sound to normal levels), meaning they can be plugged straight into powered speakers or amplifiers.
The makers of pricier, high-end record players, however, usually provide the option to select a specific arm and cartridge combination. Chances are you'll also need to partner a high-end deck with a separate phono preamp.
Whatever your preference, you'll find a definitive list of the best record players you can buy below, alongside some tempting deals from some of our favorite retailers. Now, let's admire all that analogue goodness...
The Planar is the Michael Jordan of record players. Since launching in the 1970s, this superlative deck has dominated the field and seen off every challenger. Of course, Rega has periodically updated the technology used and tweaked the design over the years, but its soulful character and superb sonic abilities have remained constant.
This mid-range model sports sleeker styling and an improved tonearm/cartridge combo that provides a decent jump in sound quality over its predecessor. Build quality is superb and it's clear that Rega has engineered every piece with precision and care.
Sound is engaging, musical and blessed with a truly awesome sense of scale. Individual instruments are composed and well rendered, delivering class-leading levels of detail for the money.
If you want a simple, beautifully-engineered turntable that puts performance first, this is the best-value product on the market right now and a 2019 What Hi-Fi Award-winner to boot.
To put it in basketball terms, the Planar 3 is a slam-dunk.
Read the full review: Rega Planar 3/Elys 2
The Planar 1 is around half the price of the Planar 3 (above), so you might worry that it's half as good. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. This best-selling record player is a significant step up from most entry-level decks and delivers stunning sound-per-pound, making it an attractive option for those on tighter budgets.
The Planar 1's highlights include Rega's excellent 24v synchronous AC motor with aluminium pulley for smooth, quiet operation, as well as a gloss-laminated plinth that features a new RB110 tonearm fitted with the Rega Carbon cartridge.
There aren't many other bells and whistles to speak of, although you can upgrade this model with Rega's optional Performance Pack, which includes a moving magnet cartridge and deluxe wool turntable mat.
The real attraction here is the dynamic sound. The Rega's delivery is spellbinding and well beyond what you might expect from an 'entry-level' turntable. And while some budget record players have a tendency to confect "analogue warmth", the Planar 1 produces it naturally.
If you're in the market for the best record player around $500, this is it.
Read the full review: Rega Planar 1
Talk about iconic. Technics is best-known for the SL-1200 turntable, an industry standard used by DJs for decades. The SL-1500C might not be designed as a DJ deck but it's certainly a return to form.
The Japanese brand's 2019 'entry-level' record player boasts a direct-drive motor with sophisticated speed management circuitry and a familiar S-shaped tonearm that tracks precisely. It's a beautifully-crafted piece of kit, with a built-in phono stage that ensures fuss-free set-up.
Surprisingly, the Sl-1500C can compete with the exceptional Rega Planar 3 (above) in the sound stakes. It has a clean and precise presentation and plenty of agility, punch and depth. It handles dynamic shifts with great ease, too.
The Planar 3 will appeal to purists as it offers a little more subtlety and insight, but the Technics SL-1500 is arguably the better all-rounder. It feels more luxurious and has a handy electronic speed control, unlike the Rega, which requires a manual belt change for those who want to play 45s.
Read the full review: Technics SL-1500C
If you're on a tight budget, you can't beat the ease and simplicity of the Sony PS-LX310BT. It's a fussy name for a very unfussy record player; most buyers will be up and running within minutes of removing it from the box. There's a built-in photo stage and pre-fitted cartridge, so this is a bonafide plug 'n' play affair.
The black plastic casing is perfectly acceptable given the inexpensive sticker price, and the onboard Bluetooth connectivity is a welcome bonus. You can pair eight Bluetooth devices with the PS-LX310BT and, in our tests using headphones, the connection remained solid at a distance of around 10 meters.
And all for $200? You might be suspicious that Sony cut a few corners when it came to sound quality but, amazingly, that's not the case. For the money, this deck offers plenty of oomph, a decent amount of attack, and a ton of fine detail. The $500 Planar 1 provides yet more detail and clarity, but this user-friendly Sony is an enjoyable listen and a cost-effective way to join the vinyl revival.
Read the full review: Sony PS-LX310BT
The Planar 1 Plus is essentially a Rega Planar 1 turntable (as seen above) with the Rega Fono Mini A2D phono stage built in. Both have won Awards, and Rega thought it only felt natural to combine them together. We absolutely agree.
But Rega hasn’t simply taken the existing Fono Mini A2D as is and bolted it under the deck. It has been tweaked: the USB section has been taken out entirely, and the cost saving has gone into improving the audio quality of the phono stage.
The Planar 1 Plus sounds brilliant. It is rather lean-sounding when played straight out of the box – but the sound comes into its own after a couple of days, becoming more full-bodied and rhythmically exciting the longer you play.
Read the full Rega Planar 1 Plus review
The Planar has been around, in one form or another, for over 40 years now. It's remarkable longevity is down to a no-nonsense formula: high-quality components, arranged in the simplest possible configuration, wrapped in classy casework.
The latest Planar 2 boasts some nice upgrades, including Rega's (virtually) plug 'n' play RB220 tonearm, a 24v low-noise motor and an upgraded platter that sports a fancy 'floating' glass design. It's not totally fuss-free – there's no built-in phono stage so you'll need to buy one or hook it up to a stereo amplifier that has one.
Once primed, Rega's signature sound is much in evidence. The Planar 2 is balanced, authoritative and impressive in scale. Punchy bass lines fill the room and get toes tapping; perky vocals float over the lower frequencies with lightness and elegance.
If you're not put off by the lack of wireless connectivity, the Planar 2 is one of the best record players at this kind of money. When compared to the Planar 1, it's a decent step up in performance for around $250.
Read the full review: Rega Planar 2
If you have around $2000 to spend, the Rega Planar 6/Ania should be near the top of your list. It's double the price of the Planar 3 (above) but delivers a major step-up in performance. Hardly surprisingly when you consider its impressive spec sheet.
You get a custom-machined drive pulley, new and improved RB330 tonearm, separate power supply and single-piece aluminium sub-platter. There's also electronic speed change and a smoked dust cover to match the dual-layered glass platter. The design is sturdy yet lightweight as Rega believes that too much mass adversely affects the sound.
Whether you agree with that approach or not, the Planar 6 makes the most of its many upgrades and delivers a bravura performance that more than justifies its hefty sticker price. Insight levels are out of this world – its ability to render the subtlest of details is hugely impressive.
If you're serious about sound and are looking for one of the most refined turntables in its class, the Rega Planar 6/Ania could the best record player for you.
Read the full review: Rega Planar 6/Ania
Pro-Ject has worked hard at making its latest Debut a current class leader, but also one with the potential to morph into a steady mid-range competitor by offering a series of affordable add-ons. However, as you can see from the five stars , the basic deck is impressive enough as it is.
Among the upgrades are improved motor mounting, new height-adjustable damped feet and a heavy steel platter that weighs 1.7kg and features a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) damping ring on the inside for quieter operation.
Perhaps most welcome, though, is the addition of a rocker switch on the bottom of the deck, which allows you to adjust the rotation speed. No more removing the platter and manually readjusting the belt when you want to go from 33.33rpm to 45.
Despite the lack of branding, its identity as part of the Pro-Ject family is revealed immediately as the room is bathed in its rich, full-bodied tone.
But it is also partnered with a great deal of detail and texture. Where competitors might beef up their sound in an attempt to disguise a lack of real insight, Pro-Ject here welcomes you to explore its vast sonic range, proving its aptitude for making a deck that is both easy to listen to and prepared for deeper, more analytical sessions.
Read the full review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo
It won't fit everyone's budget but the Rega Planar 8 is held in high esteem. It's skeletal form is reminiscent of a work of art but you'll quickly find that form follows function.
Rega believes that mass absorbs energy, which can suck the life out of music, so the Planar 8 is carefully crafted to be light and yet incredibly rigid. To that end, it features custom-made, precision-engineered parts that you won't find on the more affordable Planar models, including a platter made from two different types of laminated glass. Rega designs its own drive belts to improve speed accuracy.
This level of attention to detail sets the Planar 6 apart from rivals and produces stunning levels of insight and agility. Set-up is relatively easy thanks to the pre-mounted moving coil cartridge, though you will have to fit the tracking weight and tune the power supply to match the superb 24v low-noise motor.
Nobody could accuse this classic British audio maker of lacking ambition and, in this instance, it's paid off. To deliver this level of performance for under $4500 is nothing short of a miracle. In fact, this luxe classic could go toe-to-to with many higher-priced rivals.
Read the full review: Rega Planar 8/Apheta 2
Audio-Technica’s original AT-LP5 turntable was a winner. Launched in 2016, its combination of solid engineering, useful features and fine sound were enough to make it one of our go-to recommendations for anyone wanting a sensibly priced, fuss-free record player with the added bonus of a USB output.
So it’s no surprise to find that Audio-Technica hasn’t changed its winning formula for this new LP5x model. Why would it?
The new cartridge that's easier to fit, the built-in phono stage can now cope with both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and Audio Technica has added a 78rpm speed option. Those improvements aside, the LP5x's sonics mirror its predecessor closely. It sounds a touch cleaner and clearer before, but without losing any of its composure or dynamically pleasing presentation.
If you're after a well-executed design that's well built, easy to set up and sounds great for the money, the AT-LP5x is worthy of a spot on your shortlist.
Read the full Audio Technica AT-LP5x review
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