What goes around comes around. Vinyl endures because people love the format. They love owning and listening to records, and what better way to do this than on the best record players.
Some record players will wirelessly stream your music, some will make digital copies of your LPs. Some just need speakers to become a whole music system.
But our favourite thing about the best record players of 2019 is that, unlike older, traditional players, these days you get old school style and sound, but with a modern, tech-enhanced twist.
UPDATE: Audio-Technica has revealed a brand-new record player that's compact and looks, frankly, stunning. The AT-LP5x is a direct successor to AT-LP5 - it adds a new AT-VM95E Dual Moving Magnet stereo cartridge and comes with the the next generation model of the legendary AT95E. stylus. The Audio-Technica AT-LP5x will be available from September 2019 priced at £349/€399.
We’ve spent the last month using and listening to 10 of the best-sounding, best value turntables from established brands like Sony and some specialist heroes like Pro-Ject and Rega to establish which ones are the best buys.
Related: Best Bluetooth Speakers
This isn’t the most luxurious of turntables. The edges of the plinth are a little coarse, for example, but it has it where it counts. There’s real drive and momentum to the way the Primary E sounds, and its even overall tonal balance makes it an ideal introduction to ‘proper’ record players.
Every significant aspect of a record player - the integrity of its plinth, the effectiveness of its platter, the robustness and consistency of its motor, the design of its tonearm and the quality of its cartridge - has had care lavished on it by Rega to deliver the Planar 2. Worthwhile improvements from here cost exponentially more.
The shortlist: best record player
1. Rega Planar 2
Our best buy is where Rega starts to up the ante. The Planar 2 has a new tonearm with Rega Carbon cartridge, a new low-noise motor, a stylish (and effective) glass platter, a new central bearing. Just set the speed and the tracking weight and you’re ready to play. Available in white or black.
2. Rega Planar 1
Rega’s best-selling turntable looks neat thanks to its glossy laminated plinth, and means business thanks to a brand-new tonearm and Rega Carbon cartridge. An overspecified 24v motor and aluminium pulley from further up the Rega range don’t do any harm either. Available in white or black.
3. Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB
The AT-LP120XUSB comes on like an affordable version of the iconic Technics SL1200 - it’s a direct-drive (rather than belt-drive) turntable, with pitch control to interest budding DJs. It includes a decent cartridge on a decent tonearm, and USB recording for making digital copies - it’s an intriguing package. Available in black or silver.
4. Thorens TD 203
At a glance there doesn’t seem much here to justify the big price, but look again - the Thorens tonearm (complete with cartridge) is an unusual, expensive unipivot design for (in theory) absolutely faithful tracking of the record’s groove. It’s fiddlier than some to set up, but entirely worth the effort. Available in white, black or red.
5. Sony PS-LX310BT
Not the most luxurious device ever to bear the Sony name, but the PS-LX310BT has it where it counts. You get Bluetooth for wireless pairing, onboard amplification for the widest range of compatibility, and a tonearm with cartridge already attached and set up. Available in black.
6. Pro-Ject Juke Box E
The turntable that thinks it’s a music centre comes complete with 50 watts of amplification, a Bluetooth receiver for wirelessly receiving music, an Ortofon cartridge and a remote control. Add a pair of speakers and you’re good to go. Available in white, black or red.
7. Cambridge Audio Alva TT
Lots of money, but you do get a bit of everything: stunning build quality, aluminium top plate, direct drive motor, pre-fitted tonearm and cartridge. Oh, and it’s (currently) the world’s only record player capable of streaming a hi-res Bluetooth signal, for highest-quality wireless sound. Available in grey.
8. Pro-Ject Primary E
Our best buy for value is Pro-Ject’s most affordable turntable. It comes with an Ortofon cartridge on a 22cm tonearm, and is set up for anti-skate and tracking force. Just plug the hard-wired RCA cables into an amp, put the belt around the platter and away you go. Available in white, black or red.
9. Lenco L-85
It’s made of plastic and feels lightweight, but the L-85 is properly made. The cartridge is pre-fitted, there’s no need to adjust any settings. There are even some cables in the box, so it can plug straight into an amp or desktop speaker. The USB output for making digital copies is welcome too. Available in white, grey, black, red, yellow or green.
10. Ion Max LP
Ion Audio has had a real stab at offering plenty for next-to nothing. Max LP is a compact, plasticky turntable with just a 7in platter that 12in discs overhang, but it has integrated speakers and a USB socket for copying vinyl (or any other source, via its auxiliary input). As far as ‘plug and play’ goes, this is as convenient as it gets. Available in black or ‘wood’.
The expert's view
Best record player: the test selection
Considering this is a technology that has been read the Last Rites on more than one occasion, the market for record players is in remarkably rude health. There’s no shortage of choice at virtually any price you care to mention, from £50 ‘My First Turntable’ beginner’s decks to ‘More Money Than Sense’ audiophile turntables costing many thousands.
To ensure we put the most popular, most highly regarded (and most realistically priced) record players to the test, we looked hard at the likes of Amazon, John Lewis and Richer Sounds to establish the most popular price points and feature sets. For our purposes, if it plays vinyl records, it’s a record player - no matter if it’s strictly analogue, has wireless Bluetooth connectivity or can make digital copies of vinyl records onto a computer.
That’s because different people require different things of their turntable. Some just want to be able to dabble with the vinyl format, some demand more convenience than record players are usually associated with, and some want to archive rare (or perhaps less-than pristine) records rather than degrading them further with constant playing.
From a long-list of 26 record players (at what we consider to be sensible prices) we narrowed it down to a list of 10, based on features, price and popularity.
Features-wise, we decided there is little virtue in a record player needing hours of expert attention to set it up before it’s ready to play. Wide compatibility is important: the signal from a record player is extremely weak, and not every system has the amount of amplification needed to make a turntable audible so it’s helpful if the record player itself incorporates it. And there’s no underestimating how important convenience is, even when discussing this most inconvenient of audio formats - so the ability to wirelessly stream, and/or to make digital copies of vinyl records, was taken into account too.
Price also plays a big part. It’s possible to dip your toe into the water of the vinyl format by spending less than £100, but the real action is between £100 and £500 pounds. That’s where the brands with strong reputations start to flex their muscles, whether that’s a globe-straddling colossus like Sony or specialists like Pro-Ject and Rega.
But ultimately it’s about sound. The only reason the vinyl format has endured as long as it has is because listeners enjoy the way it sounds. As long as a record player sounds pleasing, it’s halfway to being a decent proposition. All it has to do after that is offer all the facilities you need, not cost a fortune and be built to last by a brand you can trust.
Whatever you need a record player to do, we’ve explained what’s what in order for you to select the turntable that’s ideal for you.
Best record player: how we tested
Unlike a lot of the tests on this website, the most important aspect of a record player’s performance - the sound it makes - is, by definition, subjective. So while every turntable here was given a score for its build quality, its feature set, its ease of set-up and ease of use, the most significant weighting is given to sound quality.
There are a number of aspects of ‘sound quality’, naturally enough. These include detail retrieval, dynamic headroom (the distance between ‘very quiet’ and ‘very loud’), stereo image, integration of the frequency range from top to bottom, bass weight and so on. Rest assured that, while you may not be able to consciously identify every different element that goes to make up the quality of a record player’s sound, you most certainly can hear whether or not a turntable sounds good.
We assed the quality of the phono stage (the amplification necessary to make a record audible) in the players that have one - that’s the Ion, Lenco, Sony, Audio Technica and Cambridge Audio. The Ion, Lenco and Audio Technica also feature USB outputs for making digital copies - how straightforward this process is, and how good the resulting digital files sounded, was also taken into account.
Wireless Bluetooth connectivity, which takes a lot of the pain out of turntable ownership, is included with the Sony and Cambridge Audio decks - so the ease and robustness of connection, as well as the resulting sound, were considered.
The Ion Max LP and Pro-Ject Juke Box E are the real oddities in this group. They both include amplification, the Ion has integrated speakers and a USB output, while the Pro-Ject has Bluetooth reception on board. So as well as functioning as record players, they’ve also been judged on their credentials as music systems (‘just-add-speakers’ in the case of the Pro-Ject).
40 percent of the record players here don’t have any wider functionality - the Pro-Ject Primary E, Rega Planars 1 and 2, and the Thorens TD 203 are simply turntables, with none of the niceties the other six decks (to a lesser or greater extent) include. This means they stand or fall purely on their quality of construction, ease of set-up and use, and sound quality.
The quality of vinyl each turntable was playing was also taken into account. The recent growth of interest in vinyl as a format has led to a lot of expensive, heavyweight reissues of LPs - and a 180gm pressing costing upwards of £20 really ought to sound better than a much-played, much-worn and lightweight copy of an LP produced towards the end of the 80s at the height of compact disc’s domination.
How sympathetic each turntable was to some ‘much loved’ LPs (‘in fairly iffy condition’, in other words) was taken into account too. Plus, of course, the reverse was also examined - how much (if any) degradation of an LP do any of these turntables cause?
Best record player: test results
Across every test, the Rega Planar 2 just doesn’t put a foot wrong. Here’s a record player that does nothing but play records.
It has no preamplification, no wireless functionality and no ability to make copies of your vinyl, so it’s assessed on the way it’s made, how simple it is to set up and the sound it makes. In all three respects (and especially the last respect), it’s absolutely impeccable.
A reasonably close second is the Cambridge Audio Alva TT. The most expensive deck by a margin is the best built, an absolute dream to operate, has very decent preamplification and deeply impressive wireless performance, in terms of both stability and sound.
Third place belongs to the Rega Planar 1. Quite obviously there’s something to be said for purity of purpose - the Planar 1 is another no frills/no extras device that’s a more engaging and more effervescent listen than those similarly priced alternatives with more functionality.
The Pro-Ject Primary E seems to prove the point - it’s ‘no frills’ to the nth degree, but what it loses in its occasionally unimpressive build quality it more than makes up for with its enjoyably balanced and purposeful sound.
The middle ground (or fifth place, as it’s otherwise known) belongs to Audio Technica’s AT-LP120XUSB. It’s not built from especially opulent materials, but its direct drive motor gives great pitch stability, its arm and cartridge are well up to standard, and it makes very agreeable digital copies. The sound it produces is on the right side of ‘inoffensive’, too.
‘Inoffensive’ is also as good a way as any to describe the sixth-placed Sony. It’s obviously built down to a price, but the painlessness (and sonic acceptability) of its Bluetooth capability makes it well worth considering for those who crave convenience.
There’s ample convenience about the Pro-Ject Juke Box E too, and lots to be said for its extensive list of abilities. But ultimately the compromises (sonic, mostly, though less significantly in terms of finish) are enough to see it finish no better than seventh. It almost goes without saying that it’s a brilliant choice for space-savers, though.
Eigth place might seem a strange place for a deck as able as the Thorens TD 203 to fetch up. In many respects it’s similar to the Rega that wins this test, inasmuch as it’s built with just one function in mind, and goes about it in some style. That tonearm is an elegant piece of engineering art, too. But somehow the Thorens doesn’t have quite the heft or momentum to its sound the price demands it should.
A ninth-place finish might seem difficult to put a positive spin on, but the Lenco L-85 is far from a disaster. In fact, for the money it sounds quite composed and makes reasonably faithful (if slightly lightweight) digital copies. But a pre-set tracking weight of almost 4g isn’t going to help your cherished vinyl stay in tip-top condition.
There’s undoubtedly a place for the Ion Max LP - probably as a gift for a vinyl-curious teenager. It’s effortlessly convenient, and works acceptably as a method of copying vinyl to digital - but its speakers are bafflingly quiet, its sound is two-dimensional and it’s ultimately a danger to any records the condition of which interests you.
Best record player: overall
Rega Planar 2 £399
The turntable template was set some years ago, and so any improvements are bound to be incremental. The Rega Planar 2 is a good case in point: in one form or another it’s been around for over 40 years, and during all that time it has relentlessly evolved. You just wouldn’t know to look at it.
The 2019 version of Planar 2 is a machine that justifies every penny of its asking price. Visually it’s hardly tearing up the record player rulebook but, from its acrylic gloss plinth and glass platter to its low-noise 24v motor and painstakingly developed RB220 tonearm, the Planar 2 marries form with function and throws in just a tiny hint of aesthetic pizzaz too.
Rega has ensured the Planar 2 is in no way unfriendly or intimidating to set up and get playing. The Carbon cartridge is pre-fitted, interconnects to an amplifier are hard-wired to the deck… all that needs doing is attaching the weight to balance the tonearm. Once the tracking weight is set to 2g, it’s all systems go.
From the first moment the stylus contacts the groove, it’s obvious the Planar 2 is an extraordinarily accomplished record player. The sound it serves up is substantial but not musclebound, sprightly but not hurried, detailed but not over-analytical. Everything that makes a well-sorted turntable such an evocative listen - the warmth of its tonality, the effortless management of rhythms, the smooth integration of disparate sounds and frequencies - is present here, and in quantity.
It doesn’t matter to the Rega whether you like to listen to hip-hop, or free jazz, or K-pop, or symphonies. It establishes a broad, deep stage for performers, positions them on it unshakably, and propels music forwards in the most natural and unforced manner.
There are better record players than the Rega Planar 2, it goes without saying. But their differences are more significant where materials, and finish, and outright bling are concerned. None of them do anything radically different, sonically, to what the Planar 2 achieves - which is why it’s one of the very best pound-for-pound record players you’ll ever hear.
Best record player: value choice
Pro-Ject Primary E £145
If you have up to £200 to spend on a new record player, you can go one of a few ways. You could go all-in on features, and check out a turntable with wireless streaming, a digital output, integrated phono stage, and automatic stop/start and speed change. Or you can consider what you actually want a record player for - listening to records - and buy a deck that’s had all its money spent in the right areas. Like the Pro-Ject Primary E.
There’s absolutely nothing showy about the Primary E. Henry Ford would approve of the ‘black only’ finish, and there’s similar fundamentalism everywhere else. The plinth is your basic rectangle, rather sharp at the corners, and it sits under an equally standard hinged dust-cover.
Switching from 33.3rpm to 45rpm is achieved by moving the belt from one position on the pulley to another. Connections to an amplifier are hard-wired to the plinth, while mains power comes via a plug-in adaptor. The platter on which records sit is a straightforward MDF affair, covered by a thin slipmat.
But the tonearm is serious: a lightweight aluminium design of 22cm, optimised to work with the pre-fitted (and very capable) Ortofon cartridge. The anti-skate weight and tracking force (a gentle 1.75g) are pre-set. The plinth sits on soft, vibration-absorbing feet (unwanted vibrations are Kryptonite to record players). These are the important things, and Pro-Ject has prioritised performance over operational niceties.
The result, when the Primary E is integrated into an appropriate system, is a record player that absolutely nails the fundamentals of audio performance. Sonically, the Pro-Ject is an entertaining, up-and-at-’em listen, keen to extract the details of rhythm and tempo from your records and lay them out in as entertaining a manner as possible.
It presents a nice open soundstage, with plenty of elbow-room for musicians and singers to stretch out, and balances the frequency range well. Less capable turntables at this sort of money quite often lack the discipline to keep low frequencies under control, but the Primary E describes the start and stop of individual bass notes with real attention.
No matter if you’re just beginning to dabble with a vinyl habit or are maxing out your budget for a record player that must last for years, you’ll struggle to find better all-round quality for this kind of money. The Pro-Ject Primary E represents really exceptional value.
Comparing the rest
If it’s a combination of audio excellence, supreme convenience and bank-vault build quality you’re after, the Cambridge Audio Alva TT is the one for you. Cambridge isn’t alone in wanting to relieve you of £1500 for a turntable, but it’s unusual in including a phono stage for that money, and entirely alone in offering high-resolution wireless audio via Bluetooth.
There’s something almost unsettling about such an adept and enjoyable sound coming via a record player that’s only plugged into the mains.
Sony can also offer you wireless convenience - at a fraction of the cost of the Cambridge but, predictably, with a fraction of the effectiveness. There’s nothing wrong with the PS-LX310BT’s wireless stability, but the sound loses some of its bite and detail compared to the wired alternative - though the Sony’s built-in phono stage gives it compatibility with any amplifier you care to use it with.
Of the turntables equipped to make digital copies of your records, the Audio Technica makes both the best copies and the most agreeable sound. Its direct-drive motor, pitch control and all-around Technics SL1200-aping looks are bound to find favour with wannabe superstar DJs, and its integrated phono stage makes it even more flexible. But first and foremost this is an impressively affordable way to properly archive your vinyl collection.
Certainly it’s a more adept analogue-to-digital device than either the Lenco or the Ion alternatives. For all its lightweight plastic construction, the Lenco L-85 actually sounds very decent for the money - and it has a phono stage along with its USB output, so should be able to slot into any system without problems.
But while the out-of-the-box tracking weight may help stop the Lenco skipping and jumping when playing less-than-pristine records, it’ll do nothing for your vinyl’s longevity.
We can’t think of many other record players that are also amplifiers and Bluetooth receivers - yet the Pro-Ject Juke Box E even has an auxiliary input in case you want to go full music centre and hook up a CD player or a games console too. There’s no arguing with the sort of flexibility that only demands speakers to complete an entire system - but there is a price to be paid in terms of sound, which is a little less accomplished than the much more affordable (but much less adaptable) Primary E.
At the opposite end of the Juke Box E ‘full-on functionality’ scale come Rega’s Planar 1 and the Thorens TD 203. The (much) more expensive Thorens has the sort of delicately engineered tonearm that will make certain listeners almost tearful with gratitude, but there’s not quite the distance between the sound the two decks make to justify the price difference. In some ways, in fact, we prefer the Rega - it digs in and attacks recordings in a more determined manner than the Thorens.
One to avoid ?
It doesn’t seem all that charitable to stick the boot into the Ion Max LP. It’s perfectly well aware of its status as a record player built ruthlessly down to a price, and wants to sell solely on the basis of its undeniable convenience.
The compromises, though, are just too great. If we start with the fundamentals - the quality of build and materials - it’s acceptable. In terms of its features, though, the Ion’s case begins to fall apart.
The short tonearm and small platter are decoupled from the plinth by springs, but still transmit a lot of vibration to the cartridge; the cartridge itself is of unexceptional quality and has an unadjustable tracking weight of in excess of 5g (which is terrible news for the condition of your vinyl); the undersized platter doesn’t offer sufficient support to records bigger than 7in.
Yes, it has stereo speakers integrated into the plinth - but they lack any meaningful low-frequency response and are likely to disappoint even the most pessimistic listener. Yes, it has sufficient amplification to be connected straight to an amp or powered speakers - but its sound is thin and rather blunt. Yes, it has a USB output and the software (Windows or Mac OS) to make digital copies of vinyl records - but the copies don’t sound any more detailed or substantial than the original records do when the Ion’s playing them.
It’s the Lenco L-85, in fact, that puts the Max LP into proper perspective. The Ion is, if anything, even harder on your records than the Lenco, and everything else it does is done better by the L-85. Which makes it a bit of a false economy.