Automatic turntables are really just wonderful – they take care of your precious records and your delicate needle, and are so simple and easy to use. In fact, the automatic record player is such a great idea that essentially all affordable turntables are either semi-automatic or fully automatic.
But what exactly is an automatic turntable, and – since everybody and their brother make them – how can you be sure to spend your money wisely, and get the best automatic turntable possible?
That’s exactly what this article is all about. I will briefly talk about what automatic turntables are, and why they’re so great, and then look at the 12 best automatic turntables on the market today, from super-affordable to premium.
If you are in a hurry, and just want the picks, here are my top three recommendations:
- Best Automatic Turntable Overall Technics SL-100C Semi Automatic Turntable with Audio-Technica AT-VM95C Cartridge
- Best Automatic Turntable – Mid-Priced Fluance RT85 Reference Turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue Cartridge
- Best Automatic Turntable – Budget Audio-Technica AT-LP60X-BK Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Stereo Turntable
What Is an Automatic Turntable?
When we use the word “automatic” to describe a turntable, we are referring to the ability of the tonearm to move automatically when the record first starts playing – that is, to move itself to the beginning of the vinyl record and lay the needle gently down into the groove – and/or at the end of the record – to lift the needle out of the groove and move back to its original resting position. Just as important, an automatic turntable will also stop the motor at the end of playback.
There are two types of automatic turntables:
Fully Automatic Turntables – this is a turntable that does both – it moves its tonearm to the beginning of the record when you hit the start switch, and when it reaches the end of the record (or when you hit a stop or “reject” switch) carefully lifts, moves away from the record and back to where it originally started, and shuts off the turntable’s motor.
Semi-Automatic Turntables – with a semi-automatic ‘table the tonearm needs to be manually lifted up and set down at the beginning of the record (or wherever you want to start) when you first start playing it, but at the end of the record it will lift up automatically and stop the motor, and in some cases also return the tonearm back to its resting cradle. This way, if you are listening to, say, Ed Sheeran, and so you naturally and inevitably fall asleep, you won’t wake up hours later to the record still turning and the needle grinding away to diamond dust.
Well, actually there are three types, including:
Auto-Stop Turntables – this is a bit of a compromise in terms of convenience, in that an auto-stop turntable doesn’t actually lift or return the tonearm at the end of the record, but instead simply stops the record, allowing the needle to lightly rest until you lift it and move it home. The main advantages of any automatic turntable are that they protect and save your needle and motor from excess wear, and an auto-stop will definitely do this – and the best ones concentrate instead on simple, reliable mechanics and superior sound.
Auto-stop turntables are quite often called semi-automatic, and any of the three types may be called, at one point or another, simply automatic turntables.
So Why Aren’t All Turntables Automatic?
This is a very good question, since it seems that – given the inexplicable popularity of Ed Sheeran – everybody would want their record player to be at least semi-automatic or auto-stop.
But it must be remembered that there are a lot of audiophiles out there, naturally cool and highly intelligent people who would never, in a million years, purchase or play an Ed… Ok, sorry, I’ll leave the poor man alone…
But it must be remembered that there are a lot of audiophiles out there who are always looking for the most pure, unaltered and undistorted playback possible, and the highest-end turntables are always fully manual.
Turntables that cost thousands and thousands of dollars are masterpieces of minimalism and simplicity, in fact, without a single additional part that can cause vibrations, mechanical noises or other interference. Some of these high-end players don’t even have a power switch – they have a separate power supply physically separated from the turntable deck itself, with an on-off switch there, as to decrease possible resonances and electrical interference with the delicate and precise analog record playback system.
We audiophiles can be a bit mental, but we do at times experience a level of music reproduction so freakishly accurate, musical and believable that most people can’t even imagine what it’s like, and a fully manual turntable can get us a tiny fraction of a degree closer to that ideal.
That said, one of the most beautiful things about record playback is that you can get a fantastic turntable for not thousands of dollars, but hundreds – some significantly less than one or two hundred dollars – that captures so much of what those manic hi-fi nuts chase their whole lives, and you we can still enjoy that rich, lifelike and highly musical analog record sound without stressing about such maddening minutia as the damping factor of your dust cover (for real – I once read an article on just that subject).
Who Makes the Best Automatic Turntables?
With all I just talked about, I should make it clear here that a semi-automatic or fully automatic turntable, if made well, will not in any serious way negatively affect the sound quality – and, in fact, since these mechanisms often handle the tonearm and needle more precisely and delicately than we (or at least I) can, and also protect your records, they can lead to better sound for longer.
So, from under a hundred dollars to well over a thousand, turntable and record player manufacturers make some really excellent products, that care for your precious records and your delicate tonearm and stylus, and do so smoothly and reliably, with mechanisms that not only work perfectly, but will continue to do so for many, many years.
Companies like Fluance, Audio-Technica, Ion Audio, Denon, Music Hall and Technics are all great examples of the art of designing and producing affordable, convenient and beautiful sounding turntables.
BTW, if you are looking for the best automatic turntables for cakes, and haven’t figured it out yet, this isn’t the right article. While you’re here, though, I will recommend adding a teaspoon of espresso powder to your chocolate buttercream frosting – it may sound odd, but it really makes the frosting pop!
So yeah, I’m going to go get a snack, but then let’s dive right in and have a look at the 8 best semi-automatic turntables and best fully automatic turntables on the market today (for records, of course)!
The Best Automatic Turntables in 2023
Best Super-Cheap Automatic Turntable
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There are a lot of choices in the sub-100 dollar range of automatic turntables, and some of them are quite good, and have even been recommended in our own articles here at Speakergy – the Victrola Pro and the DIGITNOW in particular.
But for me the Ion Audio Premier, which is about the same price as those two, really stands out.
This is a simple and reliable record player, with a nice minimalist look and even a bit of style, and for the low price it has a surprisingly high level of fit and finish and very nice material quality.
With an excellent included needle and cartridge, and including built-in speakers, the Ion Premier is everything you need to start playing and enjoying vinyl records, with a clear, full and musical sound that really captures that analog magic that everybody these days wants.
And at the same time the Premier has normal audio output jacks, so it can be connected to a larger stereo system or powered speaker – and these outputs lead to even better sound – really amazing sound, in fact, for such an inexpensive system.
Connectivity options also include Bluetooth, so you can not only play your records through any Bluetooth wireless speaker, you can also stream them to your PC and record them digitally with the super-easy included software.
A semi-automatic turntable, that will lift the tonearm and stylus up at the end of the record, and return it to its original resting spot, the Ion Audio Premier is quite gentle and careful with your records in other ways too, with a very light, low wear tonearm that rests on high precision bearings and keeps record wear to a minimum.
The Ion Audio Premier turntable is highly advanced for its price, and yet amazingly simple and easy to use, and has a sound quality that will really delight you – whether using its own speakers or connecting it to another system. It is well made and reliable, and an incredible value – by far the best super-inexpensive automatic turntable I’ve ever used!
- Great sound for the money
- Good material quality and reliability
- Simple and easy to use
- Nice built in speakers
- Wired and wireless connectivity
- Sound quality increases pretty significantly as we move up the list
Great for 78s!
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I’m only going to spend a couple of minutes talking about this nice, cheap VinYL MUSIC ON turntable – and not just because the company name is such a pain to type.
Truth is, I have only played with this unit for a few minutes, and never really critically listened to it. I have a friend who got one for her son’s birthday, and so naturally I, being who I am, rushed over to see and poke at the new toy. After a short while, though, I realized I was annoying the boy, who wanted to play with his new present, so I left in search of birthday cake.
I can say that, while obviously not a premium product, the VinYL MUSIC ON is decently well made, pretty substantial feeling, in fact, and is nicely laid out and well designed overall.
And while the sound from the built-in speakers is not awesome, it is surprisingly rich, detailed, clear and even a bit warm, and casts at least a decent stereo image. I’ve heard that this turntable sounds even better plugged into other gear (and it does have a built in phono preamplifier) but I can’t attest to this first hand.
If you have, or want to find and check out, antique 78 RPM records, this is probably the very best choice, and if you want a good, very cheap auto-stop record player with a good needle and cartridge, nice sounding integrated speakers and even Bluetooth wireless streaming (incoming only, so you can, for instance, play music from your phone wirelessly through the VinYL MUSIC ON’s speakers), this is an equally good choice.
The VinYL MUSIC ON Vintage auto-stop record player has a pleasing, fun and engaging sound that, if not top-notch, definitely captures the magic of analog vinyl records, and seems to be a very good product overall – especially for the very low price.
- Pleasing sound quality
- Everything you need, including speakers
- Easy to use
- Plays 78s
- Decent build quality
- The cheaper Ion (just above) sounds better
Best Automatic Turntable – Budget
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- Experience the high fidelity audio of vinyl
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For a small increase in price over the Ion Audio Premier – as nice as it is – it’s pretty obvious that the Audio-Technica fully automatic turntable is a different beast at a whole different level.
To be clear, this is just a turntable, with no built-in speakers, so it does need to be connected to some sort of stereo or powered speaker system.
And while this may be a drawback for some, it is actually a real advantage in terms of pure sound quality, as Audio-Technica is able to more fully concentrate their time, effort and thought – and money – on the elements that improve sound.
So we have a much improved Audio-Technica cartridge with diamond stylus, which is not only brilliant sounding but more gentle on your records. The tonearm is lighter and more precise, and tracks records more exactly, which again leads to better sound and improved record life.
The tonearm is designed to be low resonance, as are the base, dust cover and aluminum platter – here we get into engineering normally found in much more expensive turntables, and there’s little that improves sound more than keeping the whole playback assembly as stable and non-vibrational as possible.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60X is a fully automatic turntable, which will carefully move the tonearm to the beginning of the record and slowly lower the needle into the groove, and at the end of the record slowly lift it up and return it to its stand.
The LP60X is, other than that, a pretty basic deck, with only wired connectivity and no Bluetooth wireless (you can get the exact same excellent turntable with Bluetooth wireless for a few dollars more in the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT). It has a built-in phono preamp, though, which allows it to be hooked up to any stereo, powered speaker system or pretty much any other playback device – all with great sound.
An amazingly sweet, musical and beautiful sounding turntable, the Audio-Technica is a very high quality unit in all regards, and is super-easy to use – an easy choice for the best budget automatic turntable.
- Next level sound quality
- Very well made and reliable
- Well laid out and easy to use
- Very easy on records
- Superior accuracy and real musicality
- Excellent phono cartridge included
- No Bluetooth wireless
My Favorite Budget Auto-Stop Turntable
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Here at Speakergy we absolutely love the Fluance line of turntables. A Canadian firm in business for over two decades now, Fluance concentrates on making the very best inexpensive turntables possible, as well as equally excellent and affordable powered speakers and music systems – a really great company!
And the Fluance RT82 Reference is a really great turntable – hugely popular, award winning and very highly rated by critics and customers alike.
The RT82 is an auto-stop turntable, meaning that it doesn’t automatically move, lower or lift the tonearm – you use the convenient lifting arm and the slow, gently cueing lever for that – but it will stop the record at the end, protecting the needle and the motor from excess wear.
Just as we discussed above, the Fluance RT82 eschews this additional mechanism in favor of simplicity and reliability (and this is, for the price, an astonishingly reliable turntable), as well as concentrating engineering and design on sound quality over convenience.
It seems to have worked, too – the RT82 Reference is by far the best sounding turntable I’ve ever used at this competitive level, with an amazingly sweet, high resolution Ortofon cartridge that has superior resolution and detail, amazing imaging and a fantastically musical sound.
Every one of the components on this turntable are higher quality, lower resonance, more precise, more gentle, more elegant and smooth in operation, and this is maybe the least expensive turntable I’ve ever used that takes an essentially no-compromise approach to eliminating all vibration, resonance, mechanical and electrical noise and interference.
As a result, the Fluance RT82 reference has clarity, detail, dynamic energy, imaging, warmth and musicality way beyond its price range, and really does sound like a high-end audiophile turntable. And with the amazingly sweet, high resolution Ortofon cartridge, which shares so many of the sonic virtues of the ‘table itself, and is a perfectly synergistic match for the precision low-mass tonearm, this is quite a package overall.
Fluance does make less expensive turntables, all auto-stop and all great for the money, and we’ve tried, and strongly recommend on our pages, the Fluance RT80 Classic and Fluance RT81 Elite. They are in some ways better choices for people who are not wacky hi-fi nuts like I am, in that they have built-in phono preamplifiers and will therefore connect to any stereo, powered amplifier or pretty much any other audio system.
But the Fluance RT82 Reference is a basic auto-stop turntable, with only low-level phono output, and must be connected to phono inputs on a proper stereo receiver or amp that has a phono input (or a very few powered speakers, like the absolutely wonderful Klipsch Heritage The Three II Powered Speaker (talk about synergy!)).
If this purist audiophile approach suits you, the Fluance RT82 Reference reaches a new level of realism and musicality, and is my favorite turntable at this still affordable price level.
- Absolutely beautiful sound
- Absolutely beautiful fit, finish and overall appearance
- Incredible resolution, accuracy and transparency
- Superbly sweet and musical Ortofon phono cartridge included
- An amazing company standing behind their products
- Maybe, if I’m stretching, no phono preamp? But really, at this price, no serious downside at all
Beautifully Built and an Amazing Value
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While Fluance is a relatively new company, Denon is one of the oldest, founded well over a century ago and focusing on, more than anything else, making the very finest turntables and phono cartridges in the world.
Denon has, in fact, made some of the very best, most expensive and most technologically advanced turntables and cartridges of all times, and so much of their experience, innovation and quality can be found in even this still quite affordable Denon DP-300F fully automatic turntable.
If you know turntables a little, you understand that probably the single most important factor in making high-end turntables sound their best (or, actually, any turntable or record player at any level) is controlling vibration and resonance. A well damped and acoustically inert turntable – including the tonearm, cartridge, base, dust cover, isolation feet, platter and even platter mat – will let the needle accurately track and completely recover all of the information in the record’s grooves, without any interference, blurring or distortion.
And no turntable on the market today – at least at this price level – does more to make sure every part of the system is as damped and as vibration-free and resonance free as possible than the Denon DP-300F, which has a startlingly clear, open sound, with astounding presence and realism, superior stereo imaging and fantastic dynamic energy.
Nothing I know at this price point has a more accurate and uncolored sound, or pulls more of that analog magic out of those vinyl grooves than the DP-300F. That said, I will point out one small downside – the included Denon cartridge is absolutely fine, but in my opinion not quite as good as this stellar audiophile turntable.
I have heard this turntable with both the stock cartridge and the Grado Prestige Black3 (around a hundred dollars), and while the cartridge it comes with is absolutely fine – quite musical and very high resolution – the sound with the Grado is breathtaking. It’s often said that it’s not how good a cartridge sounds, but how good it sounds in a specific tonearm, and it is like the Grado and the Denon 300’s arm are made for each other.
The Denon DP-300F is a fully automatic turntable, with an extremely smooth and reliable mechanism that will carefully move the tonearm to the beginning of the record and slowly lower the cartridge into the groover, and then stop the motor and move the tonearm back to its resting cradle at the end of the record. It also comes with a built-in phono preamplifier, which means that you can plug it into any stereo – with a dedicated phono input or not – and even powered speakers, radios or other sound systems
With the stock cartridge, even, the Denon DP-300F fully automatic turntable is one of the best values on the market today, an affordable machine that fully embraces, and fully delivers, that gloriously rich, thrillingly musical analog sound. It is extremely overbuilt and meant for many years of reliable service, and has a premium fit and finish as well – warmly recommended!
- Superior detail and resolution
- Wonderfully warm and rich analog sound
- Excellent material and build quality
- Fully automatic
- Great value
- Phono preamp included
- Sounds markedly better with an upgraded cartridge
Best Automatic Turntable – Mid-Priced
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We return to Fluance for our next recommendation in this buyer’s guide of best automatic turntables – it’s a real sign of how much I love this company and their products that they have 2 recommendations out of only 8 total!
But I absolutely have to include the superb Fluance RT85 Reference turntable, an auto-stop beauty with exceptionally high levels of musicality and resolution.
We are still under 500 dollars with the RT85 Reference, and yet we’re fully in the realm of high end audio in terms of both the look of the turntable itself and the authority of its sound.
Starting with the sound, the RT85 itself starts with a foundation of dead silence – a much lower noise floor than other ‘tables in this range, which can be easily noticeable when listening through headphones, and even with speakers allows for a resolution, definition and ease, as well as amazing expressiveness in conveying small dynamic and tonal variations.
And when the music gets loud – even really loud – that same subtlety is present, and the strongest dynamics are presented with such clarity, such low distortion and lack of strain – much of this due, I believe, to the superior suspension and acoustic isolation of the Fluance RT85 Reference, as well as the lack of resonance in its heavy acrylic platter, .dense and substantial plinth and rigid, well tuned tonearm.
So when it comes to the resolution of not just detail, but the most finely-etched details of tonality, dynamics, phase and time, space and relationships, this is a whole new level which – also thanks largely to the superb included Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge – is not only incredibly accurate and believable, but transparent, effortless and heart-rendingly beautiful.
And, speaking of beautiful, the turntable itself is just gorgeous. With a perfectly finished gloss black surface, a massy but somehow graceful acrylic platter, a just-right curve the superb tonearm and an overall fit and finish some of the highest end audio products can’t come close to, the Fluance RT85 Reference is a stunner.
It’s amazing that the flagship turntable from a company so devoted to vinyl record playback is so inexpensive, but the Fluance RT85 definitely looks and sounds like a top of the line product, and should provide real pleasure – and beautiful audiophile level sound – for many years to come.
- Audiophile level sound quality
- Superior detail, dynamics, phase coherence, imaging and musicality
- Beautifully extended deep bass and effortless high frequencies
- Top-tier material and build quality
- Amazing value for the price
- A wonderful company
- At this price, none
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I remember once reading, and being highly amused by, a piece of writing that started out by saying one of the worst things you can do is start out a piece of writing on a negative. I don’t know if the writer was being intentionally ironic, or just a bit unmindful, but that admonition has stayed with me ever since.
And yet I want to start out this little section on the Music Hall Classic semi-automatic turntable on just such a negative, by saying that it is not as good as the slightly less expensive Fluance just above. And, at the same time, I want to say that it sounds better than the Fluance. Oh dear, are you also getting a little confused?
Good, let me start over – the Fluance has a kind of no-compromise audiophile sound quality that really does put it in line with much, much more expensive turntables, with absolutely gorgeous sound when you’re playing well recorded records that are in very good shape. But, if the records are even a bit worn out, or the original recording wasn’t all that great, the Fluance can be a bit relentless in exposing any and all flaws.
Now, back to our current topic – the Music Hall Classic semi-auto belt drive ‘table. The Classic is just not as awesomely clear and revealing as the Fluance, and is also not as neutral or transparent. It has a sound that is a bit warmer and sweeter than the records themselves, with nicely boosted bass, warm and dark mids and sparkly high frequencies (and yet somehow without accentuating the also high frequency scratches, pops and clicks you can get with both used and even new records).
This is not the muddled, romanticized haze of a cheap all-in-one record player, but a fully refined, dynamic and superb overall sound signature that is exactly what you’d expect from a product that is starting to wander into the premium price range – really deep, impactful and well defined bass, beautiful presence, low distortion, great detail, amazing dynamic energy and excellent stereo imaging and soundstage.
It is not as accurate as the Fluance, and may not satisfy the most discerning audiophiles, who are in hot pursuit of the most honest and unaltered sound quality possible, but this Music Hall Classic is certainly more forgiving – it has a stunningly clean, energetic, rich and musical sound that will definitely satisfy any true music lover, and will offer this beautiful, fully premium sound quality with a greater range of associated equipment, as well as with both pristine vinyl and records that are maybe a little less so.
In terms of this versatility, I should also mention that this Music Hall Classic turntable has a built in phono preamplifier, so it can be used with nearly any stereo, powered speakers or other sound systems – whether they have a phonograph-specific input or not. The Classic is also semi-automatic, and will lift the tonearm and shut off the motor at the end of the record. And it includes the wonderful Music Hall Spirit cartridge, which is a perfect match for the tonearm and the turntable.
An absolutely beautiful turntable to look at, the Music Hall Classic turntable is just as well finished and well made as you would expect at this price point, and then some, and is extremely reliable over the long term. It is a beautiful sounding turntable as well, with a refined and yet enormously fun and engaging sound that should appeal to a wide range of listeners.
- Beautiful high fidelity sound
- More forgiving than other turntables at this level
- Very well made and reliable
- An energetic, engaging and quite exciting listen
- Works well with a wide range of associated gear
- Phono preamp included
- The less expensive Fluance, just above, has better sound – by absolute audiophile standards, though many will prefer the more exciting popular sound signature of this Music Hall Classic
Best Automatic Turntable Overall
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I said earlier that our list of the best automatic turntables would go up to nearly a thousand dollars, and indeed, this stunning Technics SL-100C is about one cent short, and quite a jump up from our previous recommendation.
I should warn you right up front that I might use the adjective “stunning” again in this section, and again and again, because this is a truly impressive turntable.
Strange, though, that words like stunning and impressive should occur so strongly to me as I write this, because actually – on the most important level – the SL-100C makes no impression at all. Although the Fluance Reference RT 85 comes close, this Technics is by far the most neutral, uncolored and non-assertive turntable on the list, and in this way comes closer to the fully manual minimalist masterpieces of audiophilia that can easily cost many thousands of dollars.
With good records (or with certain cheap used thrift shop or record store finds, as long as they’re thoroughly and effectively cleaned) the Technics SL-100C has a dynamic power that is, if you’ll forgive me, stunning, doing absolutely nothing to hold back the awesome force and energy that analog recordings can capture.
The same is true of detail, which is in no way obscured, masked or missed, phase coherence and that elusive sense music in time and space, tonality, flatness and extension of frequency response and so many other characteristics of music that are there in good and great recordings, and even sometimes in mediocre ones as well – it all comes through in a single, focused, enormously effective and realistic sonic picture.
This is largely down to the superbly engineered and executed tonearm, and how accurately and effortlessly it can track records, and how well it works with the lovely and authoritative Audio-Technica AT-VM95C cartridge, and it is also due to the turntable’s extreme material quality, rigidity and elimination of vibrations, resonance and any other forms of interference, the precise, ultra-quiet direct drive motor and a lot more.
But, as with other truly top-notch audio gear, the real magic of the Technics SL-100C is how this all comes together, how it all works with perfect synergy towards one goal – the disappearance of the turntable, so there is nothing left but the music itself.
As to the details, this is a direct drive turntable that, again, comes with a fantastic sounding AT cartridge. It is a semi-automatic design, which will stop the motor and lift the tonearm at the end of the record. Like any true audiophile level turntable, the SL100C does not have a phono preamplifier built in, so it needs to be connected to an amplifier or receiver that has a phono input and its own preamplifier.
The Technics SL-100C is probably the best automatic turntable on the market today, with a solid, premium look and feel that just shouts quality, a perfect, simple and effective design, real long term reliability and a sound that is – for all its distortion-free and coloration-free neutrality – absolutely stunning.
- The best sounding automatic turntable currently available
- Superbly honest, accurate and uncolored
- Built like a tank
- Simple, intuitive layout
- Includes beautiful Audio-Technica cartridge
- Compared to similar quality turntables, an absolute steal!