Over the course of the past several years vinyl has made a magnificent comeback. In fact, vinyl sales grew by more than 50 percent in 2014 and continued to gain traction in 2015 where last year’s sales topped $416 million, the highest level since 1988, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying analog sound you’ll understand why.
Analog sound isn’t perfect, but it’s the imperfections that attract so many music fans to the hobby of curating records. Vinyl releases a warmth of sound, unlike anything you could experience with digital, facilitating an intimacy with the music. Packaged complete with cutouts, album art, and a cleanly pressed record, it’s a totally immersive experience; one that makes you feel like each new purchase is the artist’s personal gift to you. It is, however, difficult to enjoy the warmth of analog sound without a record player. And with so many options out there ranging from $80 beginner players to $15,000 advanced audiophile behemoths, choosing the right record player can be a daunting task. However, we feel it’s necessary to impart our knowledge of these players onto you, for not only do they offer incredible sound but look damn good as well. So, in those efforts, we present you with the 8 best turntables under $500 that aren’t intimidating but provide everything you should come to expect from a quality record player.
Featuring a built-in MM Phono equalizer amplifier, this belt-driven analog player is sure to please any new or seasoned vinyl fan. It comes stock with an Audio-Technica phonograph cartridge, gold-plated terminals that’ll prevent oxidation, a USB output for transferring music to a Mac or PC, and an aluminum die-cast platter. The TN-300 is a handsome addition to any music lover’s collection and comes available in several color options to fit whatever style you choose. Play on.
Audio Technica LP-120
Ask any fan of vinyl about turntables and they’ll mention Technics, a quintessential consumer turntable brand of the 70’s and 80’s. Unfortunately, the only legit Technics turntables nowadays are used or DJ-quality for thousands of dollars. Luckily, Audio Technica has quite successfully filled that void with their LP-120 direct drive turntable. It features an internal phono preamp and USB connection allowing you to turn those old LP’s into MP3 or FLAC files. It also comes stock with an S-shaped tone arm complete with height adjustment and lock, an adjustable counterweight, and anti-skate adjustment as well.
Music Hall MMF-2.2
In case you’re too worried about damaging your vinyl with a manual table, Music Hall offers this pleasing option. And thanks to its design that works to enhance the warmth and spacious nature of your favorite record’s sound, the MMF-2.2 is a fantastic stepping stone into the audiophile world. It’s fully manual and belt driven, featuring a one-piece alloy tonearm for high-accuracy tracking, vibration dampening feet, a Music Hall Magic 2 phono cartridge, high gloss finish, and a high-precision stainless steel and bronze bearing motor. Remember that plastic under the platter is no good. So if it’s made from metal you can trust in the quality. And this Music Hall passes the test.
U-Turn Orbit Plus
Fancy. That’s one adjective your friends will use to describe the U-Turn upon entering your home. This high-performance belt driven turntable is quite the minimal option, made in the USA and featuring a precision tonearm with an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge, a machined acrylic platter, and adjustable counterweight. U-Turn builds their tables with one goal in mind: to eliminate any and all unnecessary features in order to provide listeners with a user-friendly, reliable experience. So if you share similar belief systems, be sure to check out the Orbit Plus.
Yet another plug-and-play turntable that takes the hassle out of the traditional setup, this Denon functions as a high-quality automatic belt-driven option to keep things nice and easy. It also hosts a heavier base construction that decreases vibrations to enhance performance and sound, and a removable moving-magnet cartridge headshell so upgrading your cartridge down the road won’t be an issue. Under the platter is a DC servo motor offering rotation speeds of both 33 1/3 and 45 rpm and the whole things starts up, needle drop and all, with the push of a button. Because convenience is key.
Known as both the RM (USA) and RPM (Europe) this belt-driven Pro-Ject is unique in design and offers high-quality sound for audiophiles and casual listeners alike. It comes with a single-piece fixed headshell, S-shaped aluminum tonearm, and pre-mounted Sumiko Pearl moving magnet cartridge that’ll deliver a song quality well above the price point. The motor is isolated for low noise and speed consistency and the feet are nylon as well which further adds to vibration and noise reduction. And with a resonance-optimized MDF platter, it’s clear the RM 1.3 a turntable that’s hard to beat.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC
As a plug-and-play belt-driven turntable, there’s very little set-up required. Quite literally plug it into the nearest outlet and into your receiver and you’re set. It comes stock with a carbon fiber tonearm, an installed Ortofon 2m Red Cartridge, and DC power supply for speed stability. It’s a minimalist turntable that works to reduce any unwanted vibrations and boasts an affordable cost considering the stock cartridge and make-up that comes with this Pro-ject. And weighing in at a modest 12.3 pounds, it’ll safely sit atop any entertainment system with ease.
Rega Planar 2
Rega makes hands down some of the most beautiful turntables around. And after years of development, the Planar 2 was recently released in all its glory. The new table, complete with a high gloss acrylic laminated plinth and an ‘Optiwhite’ float glass platter is as functionally sound as aesthetically pleasing. It features a brand new RB220 tonearm that hosts incredibly low friction and built from aluminum, a 24v low noise motor, and re-designed feet for enhanced stability and vibration reduction. It’ll give any room a modern and sophisticated look and the plug-and-play feature allows for simple setup into any standard Hi-Fi sound system.
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