In the wonderful world of Hi-Fi, where one can spend more for a connector cable than I spent on my first car, you may well wonder if it’s possible to get a true audiophile turntable for under $500, and the answer is emphatical YES!
For very little money you can get a brilliant turntable, including cartridge and tonearm and often even a built in preamplifier, so that not only do you have everything you need to plug and play your records, but to hear your records like never before.
Indeed, if you make the right choice, you can get a ‘table that rivals much more expensive units, and in some ways sounds even better, while still offering great quality overall, years of reliable operation and extreme listening pleasure.
And we here at Speakergy are ready to help you make that right choice, with our 2021 buyer’s guide for the best budget true audiophile turntables.
Can You Get True Audiophile Sound at an Affordable Price?
Our recent article – Best Turntables under $100 – reveals a lot of cheap turntables that, for their amazingly low prices, allow a budget shopper to get a substantial hint of the wonders of both analog sound and high fidelity sound.
But now that we’re moving up into the middle range, with turntables between $100 and $500, we can expect a lot more – and in fact we see and hear a lot more.
You see, at these levels, we are firmly established in the “law of diminishing returns” range, where certain less expensive turntables (or other audio gear) will offer almost as much in terms of sound quality as more expensive gear does, and as you move up in price from these great bargains you enjoy less and less improvement with more and more money spent – diminishing returns.
As one example, the absolutely brilliant Rega Planar 1 for around $500 is a true high-end audiophile turntable with jaw-dropping sound. The Rega Planar 2, for a couple hundred dollars more, is better, but the differences are a bit harder to hear. The Rega Planar 3, more than $600 higher than the 1, is really fabulous, but is so similar in sound to the 1, or the 2, that you’d really have to be a hard-core audiophile to justify the increased cost.
Of course, many people do, and turntables can cost thousands and thousands of dollars, but we are absolutely amazed at how much $100-$500 can get, and how beautiful any of our recommendations sounds.
If you are a hard-core audiophile, you might also want to peruse our other recent article – Best Turntables under $2,000.
What Should You Look For in a Turntable under $500?
As a general, and somewhat funny, rule, the more you pay for a turntable the less it does. So here, in the section where we would normally list the features and functions you want to look for, here our list would be something like:
- Spins records
- Turns off and on
- Has a tonearm, needle and cartridge
- Has cables
This is an oversimplification, of course, but true audiophile turntables are, by design, quite spartan and featureless, concentrating solely on sound quality – and, in fact, often excluding features and functions because they may have a bad effect on the sound.
So with most mid-priced or higher audiophile turntables you aren’t going to find Bluetooth streaming, USB ports, smart home integration or digital conversion capabilities – in fact, you would be lucky to find a high end turntable that even picks up the tonearm at the end of the record.
But what they do, they do superbly – spinning records with perfect and perfectly even speeds, controlling and tuning resonances in the platter, deck, tonearm and shell, moving everything with the least possible friction or resistance, maintaining as close to absolute acoustic isolation as possible, allowing all of the low-current audio signal to come into your system without degradation, loss or noise, and making sure that all, or as much as possible, of the information inside those grooves is pulled out.
The listener may not even understand what all of that means, but you can certainly hear it – here we’ve entered into the realm of performance where we don’t just enjoy the marvelously warm and musical sound of analog playback, but hear it in a truly revelatory way, with detail, musical energy, realism and presence on a whole new level.
How Can You Find the Best Turntable for Your Money?
All of that said, we have to realize that spending $100-$500 on a turntable is absolutely not a guarantee that you will enjoy all of, or even any of, the remarkable engineering and craftsmanship, or the stellar sound, of a true audiophile turntable.
Luckily, we at Speakergy have been listening to probably literally hundreds of turntables at all levels, from all price ranges and from all manufacturers, for many years now, and are well prepared to recommend the best of the currently available range of budget to medium-priced audiophile turntables.
First and foremost, our recommendations for best turntables under $500 are based on sound – really the very best sound possible at the price point, and a turntable approaching the highest levels of audio performance. But we also take into consideration the build quality, reliability, fit and finish, the reputation and integrity of the manufacturer, and the overall value each and every one of these turntables offers.
So, if you are looking for that real, thrilling high fidelity analog experience, you have come to the right place. Simply find the turntable that best meets your needs and your budget, and you can buy with confidence, and begin hearing your record collection – and your whole sound system – like never before.
Best Audiophile Turntables under $500 in 2021
For the lowest priced recommendations on our list of best turntables under $500, we are going to look at two different units together – the Ion PowerPlay and the Audio Technica AT-LP60X – exactly the same price, but intended for very different people and uses.
The Ion PowerPlay LP is a machine designed primarily to provide superior quality high fidelity digital conversion of your vinyl records at the lowest possible price – there are less expensive turntables with built in analog to digital conversion, but the PowerPlay sounds significantly better than any of them.
The Audio Technica AT-LP60X, on the other hand, is pure old-school analog – there is no usb connection, no Bluetooth transmitter or receiver, no converting or processing, just a simple, superbly engineered analog playback machine designed to pull as much information from records as possible, present that information as cleanly and accurately as possible, and do so for many years to come.
As a result, the Audio Technica AT-LP60X does sound markedly better than the Ion, with an almost alarming sort of real-life presence, strong energetic drive, fast and deep bass and liquid highs. The Ion PowerPlay nonetheless still sounds great, with the warmth and accuracy we would expect from a good turntable, and for many people what it may lack in the last degree of musical accuracy or energy it more than makes up for in clean, clear and warm digital conversions of your records, resulting in digital files which sound great and manage to capture a great deal of what makes analog so special.
Either way you go, you will be getting a very well made and well designed machine, really just ideal for its intended purpose, and an amazing value. Both include a good quality phono cartridge and built-in phono preamplifier, so they are ready to go out of the box. And both represent really the entry level for their category – the Ion PowerPlay is the lowest priced turntable we have found for really high fidelity digital transfers from vinyl, and the Audio Technical AT-LP60X is the best sounding entry-level pure analog turntable on the market today.
Sony is one of the biggest electronics manufacturers, and one of the most recognizable brands, in the world. It seems like they must make thousands of different products, and yet somehow they also manage to be one of the most highly respected companies in the world, with each and every one of their products having a distinctly premium look and feel and offering sometimes really surprising performance and quality for the price.
The Sony PS-LX310BT turntable is a great example of this, and also of how the consistency of well-controlled mass production in combination with incredibly advanced engineering and seemingly endless resources carry the day – and in this case deliver a nifty and well made turntable that has amazing sound quality for almost no money.
And while the PS-LX310BT may not have the refinement of sound of some of the more expensive turntables below, it still conveys that same sense of musicality that firmly defines it as an audiophile product, as well as superior detail retrieval, wide and flat frequency response, excellent suspension components and physical/acoustic isolation, very low coloration and distortion and tons of musical energy.
Including a nice pre-installed Sony cartridge, a phono preamp, both digital and analog outputs and Bluetooth streaming, not to mention the legendary Sony material and build quality, reliability and premium fit and finish, the Sony PS-LX310BT is an almost unbelievable value.
Lots of turntables out there have everything you need to convert your entire vinyl collection to digital format, and some of them are a lot less expensive than the Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB.
But very few turntables – even more expensive ones – offer the kind of clean, clear and neutral sound quality of the AT-LP120XUSB, which has truly superior ability to pull detail from the record and present it in a neutral and coherent way. This makes listening such a rewarding and musically compelling experience, and also allows you to be confident that your digitally converted files have captured as much of the original analog signal as is possible.
The Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB is also perfectly set up for work, with intelligent design and imminently usable controls, three playback speeds, rock-solid construction and long-term reliability. From one of the great companies in audio, the AT-LP120XUSB is quite possibly the best value we’ve found in an affordable turntable for digital conversion, and an enormously rewarding ‘table for listening as well.
One of the most highly rated products we’ve ever reviewed, with an amazing 4.8 star rating on Amazon, the Fluance RT-82 is indeed an extremely likable bit of kit – it is instantly engaging in how it looks, how it works and how it sounds, and the more we listen the more we fall in love.
With the exceptional Ortofon OM10 cartridge pre-installed, and with the high levels of materials and engineering, the RT82 conveys a sense of musical authority completely unheard of in this price range – the kind of “complete picture” audiophiles are always chasing, and which they are willing to pay sometimes absurd prices to get a tiny bit closer to. And yet, with all of its extraordinarily high levels of resolution and accuracy, the Fluance RT82 still manages to have a warm and inviting musicality which makes listening fun, and which invites you to get closer and closer to the music itself.
Fluance is a relatively new company, and with products like the RT82 it is easy to understand why they are already so well liked and respected. It is a great sounding audiophile turntable for a very low price, well engineered and well made, and a real value – a perfect choice for a moderately priced sound system that aims for the highest levels of musicality.
Denon is one of the most highly regarded Japanese manufacturers of both truly high end audio products and superior quality mainstream hi-fi, and their brilliant DP-300F turntable is a little of both.
The DP-300F is so reasonably priced that it seems like a premium mass-market product, and its all-in-one packaging (it includes a nice Denon phono cartridge and has a built in preamplifier) and extreme ease of set up and use also indicate a consumer focus, but no mass-market gear we’ve ever come across is engineered to these exceptionally high standards or, for that matter, sounds anything like this Denon.
Striking detail, deeply extended, fast and clean bass, super-precise and roomy stereo imaging, sweet and smooth vocals and fast, sweet high frequencies, exceptionally low distortion and virtually no sonic colorations noticeable – the Denon DP-300F really sounds to us like a hand-made unit from some high end specialty manufacturer.
But it would never cost this little if it was. One thing is for sure – the DP-300F certainly offers extraordinary performance and sound for the money, and is among the very best values in this, or any, price range.
Our next recommendation in this 2021 buyer’s guide for best turntables under $500 is all about the sound – no digital circuitry or Bluetooth, just a superb mechanical playback system for getting the most possible music from any and all records, with absolutely no compromises in engineering, materials or performance.
And it certainly shows in the sound – the ProJect T1 turntable is known for its incredibly engaging sound, which somehow keeps you right there with the music, feeling and hearing things that, with other turntables, you may have completely missed. There are people who claim that this or that other ‘table may sound as good as the T1 for the same money, but nobody claims that another turntable is more fun to listen to.
An exceptionally well made and beautiful (in a quite minimalistic kind of way) deck, the Pro-Ject T1 comes with a built-in phono preamp (which can be bypassed if you want to upgrade) and a sweet sounding Ortofon OM 5E cartridge. A true audiophile product, an amazing value and an utterly enjoyable turntable.
Yes, the Rega Planar 1, listed just below, could also be considered a complete package with everything you need, and for the same money is an undeniably better sounding ‘table, but in fact you would still need a phono preamplifier – whether built into your hi-fi system’s amp or preamp or as a separate unit – and if you need to purchase one this is can be a major investment unto itself.
But for, again, around the same money, you can get a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO turntable with the amazing Sumiko Rainier cartridge pre-installed and with a built-in high resolution phono preamplifier, making this a truly complete turntable package, which you can plug into any stereo system, or even directly into high quality active loudspeakers.
And while the Rega Planar I is a bit of a legend regarding sound quality, some people swear that the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO sounds better. We may not completely agree, but have to admit that it sounds incredible, with a sweet, dynamic presentation that is incredibly relaxed and musical while at the same time approaching the highest levels of accuracy and resolution.
One thing for sure – just like the Rega I, this wondrous Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO is easily the rival of turntables costing much more, and one of the best values around.
The best sounding unit by far on our list of best turntables for under $500, the Rega Planar 1 is widely considered to be one of the greatest bargains in the audiophile market.
With superb ability to isolate the record from outside vibrations, ultra-stable drive components, low resonance throughout and near-perfect turntable/tonearm alignment and interaction, as well as the incredibly precise and smooth machining of the tonearm’s and platter’s moving parts, the all-new Rega 1 pulls more detail from any record, is more neutral and accurate in presentation, and thus presents all of the music’s warm and musical tonality, detail, dynamics and imaging, deep bass, extended treble, and inherent beauty, without comment or coloration.
Once you hear it (and especially with the sweet and musical Rega Carbon MM cartridge that’s included), it is easy to understand why many audiophiles choose the Rega Planar 1 over ‘tables sometimes costing hundreds of dollars more, and even easier when you consider Rega’s absolute commitment to quality and long term reliability – easily the best sounding, and best in every way, turntable on the market today for under $500.
If your system does not have a phono preamplifier built-in, the high-resolution Rega Fono MM MK III Moving Magnet Phono Pre-Amp is an ideal match, and if you are interested in converting your audiophile record collection into true audiophile digital files, the remarkably affordable Rega Phono Mini A2D is perfect.
Final Thoughts: What Else Do You Need?
These turntables all have superb cartridges installed, and most also have built in preamplifiers – the exception is the Rega Planar 1, just above, but even there we’ve also included a recommendation for the wonderful, and perfectly matched, Rega Fono MM MK III Moving Magnet Phono Pre-Amp. So, in each case, you’re ready to spin records and do some serious listening.
Nonetheless, there are a few basic record playing accessories which you definitely should not do without, and one or two that make such a positive difference in sound quality that they are well worth the modest investment.
Our recommendations for the best and most important basic accessories are as follows:
Big Fudge Record Cleaner Kit – the most important accessory you can get, and the best way to make your records sound better and last longer.
Boundless Audio Record Cleaner Brush – Vinyl Cleaning Carbon Fiber Anti-Static Record Brush – an especially important accessory for dryer climates, which will keep your records dust-free and make them last longer, and will clean up the sound as well.
Boundless Audio Stylus Cleaner Brush – keeping the stylus as clean as the record grooves allows it to move more freely and sound better, and prevents it from pressing dirt and particles into the soft record grooves.
Viborg LP320B Disc Stabilizer and Bubble Level – weight on your records is a time-honored method of increasing stability and reducing the sound-disturbing effects of acoustic feedback (the shaking of the record, and the needle in its groove, caused by the acoustic energy (musical sound) coming from the speakers and subwoofer). Makes an amazing difference in the clarity and coherence of the sound!
Nobsound Aluminum Spring Isolation Feet for Turntables, Set of 4 – another great way to decrease the effect of sonic energy in your listening room on the turntable and greatly clarify and improve the sound.
Ortofon 2M Blue Moving Magnet Cartridge – a truly beautiful cartridge, which will make your records and system sound more pleasingly musical while increasing dynamic energy and detail, greatly improving imaging and extending frequency response.
Rega Phono Mini A2D – a surprisingly affordable bit of kit from the high-end experts at Rega, the Mini A2D will provide by far the best sounding analog to digital conversion for the price, allowing you to make superb digital files of all your records.