Best Semi-Automatic Turntables: Our Top Picks in 2024

Best Semi-Automatic Turntables: Our Top Picks in 2024Best Semi-Automatic Turntables: Our Top Picks in 2024

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Semi-automatic turntables offer the ideal balance between superb sound quality, convenience and peace of mind, and are among the most popular choices today for music lovers and record collectors – and often the smartest choices as well.

Even discriminating audiophiles, who generally prefer completely manual purist turntables for their systems, seem to be turning more and more to the best semi-automatic turntables, which can sound unbelievably good.

But with their rise in popularity, and the large number of product choices on the market today, how can you be sure you’re getting the best semi-automatic turntable?

That’s just what this special Speakergy buyer’s guide is for – to help you understand exactly what a semi-automatic turntable is, and which of the many, many choices is best for you and your needs – best sounding, best built, best value and more.

If you’re in a bit of a rush, and don’t want to read through this fairly length and detailed buyer’s guide, here are my top four picks:

What Is a Semi-Automatic Turntable?

Turntables can be classified as fully automatic, semi-automatic and manual, and by this we are referring to how the turntable handles its tonearm.

What’s the Difference between Automatic and Manual Turntables?

  • A Fully Automatic turntable will move its tonearm to the beginning of the record automatically and gently lower the needle into the groove, and when the end of the record is reached will pick up the tonearm and return it to its resting position.
  • A Semi-Automatic turntable does not move the tonearm to the beginning of the record – you must do this yourself – but when the record is done it will lift up the tonearm automatically, and either return it to its resting position or simply leave it resting above the record.

There is also a type called an Auto-Stop Turntable, which simply stops the motor at the end of play, leaving the needle resting on the record – this very basic mechanism still prevents wear to your records, needle and turntable motor, but can offer even better tracking, sound and reliability than the auto-lift type, as there are no mechanisms attached to the tonearm.

In fact, many of my choices for best semi-auto turntable are of this auto-stop variety, which is becoming more and more popular lately.

  • A Fully Manual turntable does none of this, and to play a record you need to raise the tonearm yourself and place it at the beginning of the record, and at the end manually lift the tonearm and return it to its stand.

In addition to convenience – in fact, probably more importantly – a semi-automatic turntable will take care of your records, and take care of itself as well – by stopping the motor at the end of the record, this type of turntable will make sure the needle doesn’t wear into the vinyl for hours and hours, protecting the diamond, the vinyl, the turntable motor and your sanity.

So, Why Aren’t All Turntables Automatic?

You might guess that automatic turntables, for all their convenience, and given their extra mechanisms, would be more expensive, but in fact it’s exactly the opposite – almost without exception. 

Fully manual turntables are preferred by audio purists, who find that any additional mechanisms added onto or built into a turntable will hurt the sound – in this case, the mechanisms connected to the tonearm can, at least theoretically, slightly impede its ability to track perfectly, as well as adding the tiniest amounts of noise and vibration.

Of course we’re talking about people here who often literally have their utility company come in and install a completely separate power line just for their stereo system, to prevent any noise from the refrigerator or dishwasher from degrading their sound.

So we might not be quite this manic – or, shall I say, particular – and we also don’t have the 50,000 dollar speakers, or the 1,000 dollar speaker wires for that matter, which might allow us to actually hear a difference.

On the other hand, fully automatic turntables do have pretty complex mechanisms, which really can mess with the free and frictionless movement of a tonearm a bit, and which can be a bit less reliable over the long term.

So many people – including new buyers and casual listeners, budget audiophiles, record collectors and music lovers, even high end hi-fi enthusiasts – find the semi-automatic turntable a perfect option, with superb sound quality, superior tracking and excellent reliability, and with a bit of convenience – plus the peace of mind in knowing your needle won’t be digging into your record all night if you forget to lift it up and turn it off!

Who Makes the Best Semi-Automatic Turntables?

We see that there is a nice mix of older, highly respected and established companies, like Technics and Denon, as well as some (relative) newcomers, like Ion, Fluance and Music Hall, making the best semi-automatic turntables today.

I have tried so many of these ‘tables, from these and lots of other companies, and even though there are lots and lots which are just fantastic – great sound, beautiful design and superior material and build quality – a few stand out so clearly, and it was actually pretty easy for me to narrow it down to 7 truly exceptional semi-automatic turntables at all price levels.

These are machines that offer really the best sound quality imaginable in their respective ranges, with super-low noise floors, the highest possible retrieval of musical information, incredible acoustical, physical and noise isolation and a superb, accurate and musical overall sound signature – which, to be clear, comes from the turntable itself ultimately having as little of its own sound as possible.

My choices for the top semi-automatic turntables on the market will also have intelligent – and often flat-out gorgeous – designs and will be very well made, with real long-term reliability – often even the least expensive of my recommendations can be considered lifetime pieces. All of this, and a lot more, also means that every one of these turntables offers the very best value you can get.

In this guide to the best semi-automatic turntables I will simply list my top choices from least to most expensive, with a brief description and review of each turntable.

So let’s jump in, shall we? 

The Best Semi-Automatic Turntables: A Special Buyer’s Guide for 2024

Best Super-Cheap Semi-Automatic Turntable

ION Audio Premier Wireless Bluetooth Turntable RCA & Headphone Outputs

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Stop Record Player with Built-In Speakers
  • Speeds: 33, 45 & 78 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Inputs and Outputs, Headphone Out, Wired Digital Out, Wireless Bluetooth In
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: Yes
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: Yes

You might not think you can get a really nice, or really good sounding, turntable for under a hundred dollars, but the Ion Premier is a surprisingly great product for a very low price.

Not just a turntable, the Premier is actually a complete record player, with built in speakers that have a rich, full stereo sound, with good clarity and lots of detail, more bass than you would expect and surprisingly wide, stable and precise imaging.

At the same time, this high quality turntable also has wired audio outputs, so you can connect it to a larger stereo system, or even to lots of powered speakers – and it definitely has good enough sound quality for either – and the Air has a built-in phono preamp, so those wired outputs will work with any and every system, whether it has a special phono input or not.

Speaking of connectivity, there is also an audio input connector, as well as Bluetooth streaming, so you can play other devices through the Ion Audio Premier’s nice speakers, and a headphone jack as well. And the feature I really love, the USB digital output, allows you to connect to your PC and record your vinyl records digitally.

The Ion Premier is an auto-stop record player, meaning it will simply stop the record at the end, preventing excess wear to your records, needle and turntable motor, but won’t lift the tonearm up. The Premier is a three speed player, which will work with normal LPs, 45 RPM singles and even old 78s.

A well-made turntable that looks great and works perfectly, the Ion Audio Premier also sounds great, with very low noise, a smooth and musical sound, excellent imaging and real energy. With good internal speakers, a fantastic design and tons of connectivity options, this is a pretty amazing value for the money!

Upgraded Sound but Still Super Affordable!

ION Audio Air Wireless Bluetooth Turntable RCA & Headphone Outputs

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Stop
  • Speeds: 33, 45 & 78 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Outputs, Headphone Out, Wireless Bluetooth Out
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: Yes
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: Yes

I’m going right back to Ion Audio for my next pick for best semi-automatic turntable, this time the upgraded Ion Air.

For only about thirty dollars more the Air offers quite an improvement in sound quality – their Premier, which I talk about just above, is really great sounding for the money, but this Air has deeper, tighter bass, improved imaging, more detail and more dynamic energy – qualities we normally associate with much more expensive hi-fi gear, but still at a rock-bottom price.

The Ion Air does not have built in speakers – it really is a bit more of a “serious” turntable, meant to connect to a stereo system or powered speakers. For this it has wired analog output jacks as well as Bluetooth streaming, so you can even connect wirelessly to Bluetooth speakers. And it has a headphone jack with really good sound quality.

And since the Air has a built-in phono preamplifier, you can connect it to any stereo or audio system out there, whether that system has special phono inputs or not.

The Ion Air is an auto-stop turntable, which won’t lift the tonearm at the end but will stop the record, so you don’t have to worry about your vinyl, the needle or the motor. The Air is a three speed player, which will work with normal LPs, 45 RPM singles and even old 78s.

With a premium fit and finish, the Ion Audio Air is a very nice looking turntable, and is well designed and exceptionally well made. It also has amazing sound for the price, and is a perfect choice for budget audiophiles and record collectors, or for anybody who wants to hear that wonderful analog vinyl record sound at its best.

Best Budget Semi-Automatic Turntable

Fluance RT80 High Fidelity Turntable with Audio-Technica Cartridge

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Stop
  • Speeds: 33 & 45 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Outputs
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: Yes
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: Yes

With the Fluance RT80 we reach the next level of quality – as good as the Ion turntables are, this is much more of a seriou audiophile product, with superior sound and a fantastic Audio-Technica cartridge pre-installed.

The Fluance RT80 has a much lighter, more frictionless tonearm, with full control of tracking weight and anti-skating, and not only sounds better but is easier on your precious vinyl. And while that included Audio-Technica ATN91 cartridge is very sweet and musical, and definitely as good as the ‘table itself, you can easily change cartridges and upgrade if you want.

With a very low noise motor, high quality components throughout, extreme dampening and inert materials, the RT80 has a focus that other inexpensive turntables can’t seem to match – a very low noise floor, deep, fast bass, clear and very stable imaging and exceptional reproduction of a record’s detail and micro-detail and its dynamic energy.

In terms of features this is a very basic, old-school turntable, with only two speeds – 33 & 45 – and just the basic auto-stop mechanism, which will stop your record at the end to prevent excess wear and tear, but does not include the more complex mechanism to raise the tonearm.

The Fluance RT80 also has a built-in phono preamplifier so it can be used with any speakers or stereo, even if they don’t have their own phono section, and this preamp can be bypassed for even better sound with the right stereo system.

Focusing on material and build quality, purist audiophile sound and both beauty and usability in design, the Fluance RT80 is a very impressive semi-automatic turntable, which is still under 200 dollars but looks and sounds a lot more expensive.

Next Level Sound

Fluance RT83 Reference Series Turntable with Ortofon Cartridge

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Stop
  • Speeds: 33 & 45 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Outputs
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: No
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: Yes

As great as the RT80, just above, is, this Reference Series Fluance RT83 turntable is better in many ways.

With a more stable and lower resonance tonearm, a similarly more substantial plinth (base), better motor isolation and improved suspension feet, the RT83 has markedly improved resolution and focus, with the ability to retrieve more music from records and play it back with less coloration – this means increased detail, micro-detail and dynamic range, and as well as more nuanced dynamic expressivity, stereo imaging and soundstage, frequency response linearity and extension in general and deep bass speed and impact in particular.

A 2 speed – 33 & 45 RPM – auto-stop turntable, which will stop the record at the end of play but not raise the tonearm, the Fluance RT83 has no mechanisms interfering with the superb tonearm, which further increases focus and resolution and increases long-term reliability.

The RT83 does not have a built-in phono preamplifier, so you must use a stereo receiver or amplifier with its own phono preamp, or even a powered speaker with a phono stage (like the excellent Klipsch Heritage The Three II Powered Speaker, with which the 83 sounds really special – like they were made for each other).

Another difference between the Fluance RT83 and the less expensive RT80 is the included cartridge. While the lower priced turntable comes with a high resolution and very musical sounding Audio-Technica ATN91, the Ortofon MC20 Red premounted into this RT83 is on a different level, with even more retrieval of detail and dynamics, and a sound that is a remarkable combination of highly analytical and sweetly musical – a lovely and highly expressive cartridge reminiscent of top-tier audiophile products.

Don’t get me wrong – if you listen to the inexpensive RT80 side by side with almost any other turntable at its price level, the 80 will easily trounce them, and is a supreme value and very highly recommended. But if you listen to the RT80 and then immediately hear the Fluance RT83, things will open up, with detail, space, focus, power and nuance in a way that reveals just how special the 83 truly is.

The Fluance RT83 Reference Series turntable is a high end product at a still easily affordable price – not just the best value semi-automatic turntable on the market today, but one of the best values I know period in home audio.

Best Value Semi-Automatic Turntable

Denon DP-400 Semi-Automatic Analog Turntable with Speed Auto Sensor

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Lift
  • Speeds: 33, 45 & 78 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Outputs
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: Yes
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: Yes

With so many new companies on the market today – especially ones rushing in to take advantage of the enormous upsurge in popularity of the vinyl record and offer their own turntables – it is easy to lose sight of some of the classic manufacturers, those wonderful and iconic brands that have offered the best vinyl playback now for many decades.

And perhaps the most iconic, and with so many of their products the best as well, is Denon – ok, maybe not as well known a brand as Sony or Yamaha, but always a bit higher quality, and a company that has really focused on the best turntables, the best phono cartridges and the best vinyl record playback for many, many decades now.

And while Denon has made some truly no-compromise (and truly expensive) turntables, they’ve also made products like this beautiful DP-400 semi-automatic turntable, which is about as no-compromise as it gets at this mid-level price point, and as beautiful sounding as well.

A remarkably high precision and highly accurate turntable, the Denon DP-400 is a 3 speed unit – 33, 45 and 78 – with a semi-automatic mechanism that will stop the motor and lift the tonearm at the end of a record, and a built in, and bypassable, phono preamplifier. It has a beautifully modern design and, most especially, a beautifully musical sound.

It helps that the DP-400 includes a sensational Denon DSN-85 moving magnet cartridge, which has very low moving mass, superior tracking ability and extreme resolution and retrieval of detail, but the turntable itself is absolutely exceptional, and possibly unsurpassed at its level – whether we’re talking about semi-automatic, fully manual or anything else.

If the Denon DP-400 has a sound quality, or if Denon ‘tables in general can be said to have a sound quality, it is purity, or neutrality – and this is always where they shine. People say the DP-400 is exceptionally sweet sounding, and very delicate in detail, while others say it is quite impactful, with remarkable power and dynamic range. And people always seem to notice the frequency response, and especially the deep, tight, fast and powerful bass.

But what’s really happening with the DP-400, to an almost unbelievable extent at this still affordable price level, is simply retrieval and transparency. In these two key aspects the DP-400 is superlative – it gets more information out of the grooves than other turntables, and does as little as possible to get in the way of that musical information.

The Denon DP-400 is also a fantastically well made turntable, which may very well give you a lifetime of service, and is especially engineered to really take care of your vinyl records. But its real beauty is in its sound, which is accurate, engaging, energetic and alive, and so very musical – simply because it brings you so much closer to the music itself.

Denon also makes the DP-450, which is exactly the same as the 400 but with the addition of excellent analog to digital conversion circuitry and a USB digital output – a perfect choice if you want to record / archive your records with the best possible sound quality.

My Favorite Semi-Automatic Turntable

Music Hall Classic Belt Driven Audiophile Semi-Automatic Turntable

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Lift
  • Speeds: 33 & 45 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Outputs
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: Yes
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: Yes

Music Hall is well known among audiophiles for their affordable fully manual turntables, which offer classic hi-fi styling and a no-compromise sound at a low price.

But my personal favorite Music Hall turntable is their one and only semi-automatic model, the Classic, which to me is not just more convenient but has a warmth and musicality to the sound I don’t hear with their other turntables.

Don’t get me wrong – I like them all, and am amazed at how the company achieves such exceptional isolation from physical/acoustical energy and electrical interference, such total lack of noise, amazing recovery of detail, superb three-dimensional imaging and overall neutrality in pretty much every turntable they make.

Somehow, even though it doesn’t have that same purist design and engineering of their other products, the Music Hall Classic has all of that too, at the same very high (or low) levels, but it also has a kind of life to it that is really pleasing, and is more realistic as well as more engaging.

Deep bass not only has speed and extension, but also a kind of definition, a roundness and a space that makes it sound more alive, and similarly the mids have a presence which brings vocals and instruments right into the room, and the sweet, shimmering highs also have a space around them which reveals even more detail and character.

There is a sense of dynamic life with the Classic which I absolutely love – not just dynamic range, but a subtle yet clear dynamic expressivity at all volume levels, which brings even more force and power to loud passages and makes softer music disarmingly communicative and lovely.

I’m sure that a lot of this is due to the superb Music Hall Spirit phono cartridge that’s included but, that said, I have noticed that the Classic is just a stellar, just as neutral and transparent, just as alive and engaging, with many other cartridges – even far more expensive choices, which it can easily keep up with.

A beautiful turntable with a truly premium finish, the Music Hall Classic looks a bit more retro than modern. A semi-automatic turntable that will stop the motor and lift the tonearm at the end of the record, it has two speeds – 33 & 45 – and a built in, and absolutely beautiful sounding, phono preamplifier, which you can bypass if you prefer your stereo’s phono section – but please try it both ways, because the preamp in the Classic might really surprise you!

There is no doubt that all of Music Hall’s excellent turntables offer value and performance far beyond their selling prices, but the Music Hall Classic semi-automatic turntable is, to me at least, not just a great value, but a really special turntable, that brings music to life like nothing else I know at this price point.

Best Semi-Automatic Turntable Overall

Technics SL-100C Semi Automatic Turntable with Audio-Technica AT-VM95C Cartridge

  • Turntable Type: Auto-Lift
  • Speeds: 33 & 45 RPM
  • Connectivity: Wired Audio Outputs
  • Built-In Phono Preamp: No
  • Includes Phono Cartridge: No

I always feel, and often say, that the best sound quality a piece of audiophile equipment can possibly have is no sound quality at all, and the Technics SL-100C is a perfect example of this, and a truly top-tier audiophile turntable that is still under a thousand dollars – well, just under.

I’ve played around with, and seriously listened to, the 100C on many occasions, and was even able to spend some time with one in my own home system, and each and every time I am struck by just how little sound of any kind this turntable makes.

There seem to be little or no coloration, noise or distortion, no discernible speed variation, no resonance or allowed interference, and in these ways the SL-100C could rightly be seen as a true reference grade turntable.

But when I say sound, as in the sound of components – which is never, ever good, and always stands in the way of the music and the original performance and recording – I also mean it in a subtractive way – that is, in this case the SL-100C really reveals, to an almost unprecedented level, all of the qualities of the original recording.

The superb tonearm tracks records with such precision that all of the details hidden in the grooves is fully extracted, and everything is beautifully audible and comes together in a focused and holistic way – imaging and soundstage, detail and inner detail, transient attack and delay, dynamic levels and shifts, from the most dramatic to the barely perceptible, tonal quality and the complexity of even the simplest sounds.

But I used the word ‘holistic’ just now, and as much as I can isolate and name all of these highest level audiophile qualities, and assure you of how the Technics SL-100C excels at all of them, what wows me about this turntable is just the music – I only think of these qualities and use these terms in retrospect, because when I’m listening I am totally engrossed in the music, which comes through with such power and beauty.

The SL-100C is a pretty basic turntable, with superb fit and finish and essentially industrial level components, materials and build quality but with no special features or functionality – other than the auto-lift, which raises the tonearm and turns off the motor at the end of play. I could talk about the silent, stable coreless motor, the superb and fully adjustable tonearm, the glass-fiber injected base or the brilliantly engineered and highly effective suspension, or a lot of other engineering and design features that make the 100 one of the most advanced (if simplest) turntables made today.

But really, again, it is just a wonderful way to get as close to the music as possible. For this, and this alone, the untouched experience of hearing all the music a record holds, in all its beauty, power and impact, I’m not sure any other turntable under a thousand dollars is as successful as the Technics SL-100C.

One consideration – the supplied Audio-Technica cartridge, while very nice and musical, is not quite up to the level of the turntable itself. I listened to this ‘table with both the stock AT cartridge and the delightful Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, and the difference was revelatory. Ok, I should say it sounded even better with the Sumiko Songbird, which may not be a practical choice considering it’s nearly the same price as the turntable itself, but it does illustrate just how incredible the Technics SL-100C really is, that it can keep, and handily keep up with, such exalted company.