Review : Comparison Review: 5 Turntables

Record players for beginners

If you have a burning desire to start a record collection, you need a turntable. But which one?

Back in the day, one could walk into any well-stocked radio store and choose turntables, needles and records as desired. Today, the selection is much smaller, but the quality is much higher.
That is to say, there are turntables out there that we do advise against buying. For example, those found on the back of the magazines that include radios, cassette players, speakers and turntables. They’re not worth the money.
One should instead look at an exclusive turntable from a reputable producer. One that can easily be connected to the system you have at home, or maybe a couple of active speakers like Klipsch The Sixes. But which turntable to choose?

Budget range
In our experience, the threshold starts around 2,000 NOK. From there and up, good turntables are to found. This is a good place to start without going broke. If you pay more, you don’t get more features, but higher quality and better sound.

Get Started
In this test, we have sampled five turntables that are all in this budget range. They don’t cost the same, but this is because we’re going to try to figure out how much one actually should fork out to get a nice-sounding turntable.
They share the basics are in common, such as that they are belt-driven, have assembled pickup and are easily operated. But there is a difference in quality, which is reflected in the price.

(Photo: Manufacturer)

The quality of the construction is of great importance in relation to to how good a sound one gets. A turntable is a mechanical device with a sensitive pickup that can pick up vibrations, noise and interference, and muddle the sound. Thus, the mechanical quality is important. Everything from the cabinet, to motor, tonearm, platter, mat and pickup, all of these play a significant role in how good an audio you get.
Good cushioning, mechanical precision and electrical quality are essential.

How to get Started
The turntables in this test are incredibly easy to use. You can unpack and hook them up in minutes, and little effort is needed before you can put on the first record and enjoy the music.
When the player is unpacked, the rubber belt is slipped on as shown in the installation guide; the platter and the mat are placed on top and the counterweight is mounted as described.
The counterweight has a scale that is turned to zero when the arm is level with the platter (remember to gently remove the plastic protection from the pickup).
The stylus pressure is set by turning the scale – and the weight at the same time, usually 2 grams. Please refer to the user manual for the manufacturer recommended stylus pressure. Too much pressure ruins the stylus, the platter and the sound, and too little leads to poor tracking and low bass.
Once the stylus pressure is in place, the anti-skating needs be set. Either with a counterweight that is hung at the end of the arm, or on a knob with an anti-skating scale. If nothing else is indicated, you need to turn it to half the stylus pressure, or a value of 1.5 if the arm is still forced outward when lowering the stylus in the record grooves.

Levelling is important
Remember that the surface plays a role. The turntable must be on a flat surface, in level, and preferably not on top of an amplifier.
A record brush for a hundred kroner is a good investment. It keeps the dust away from the records. There are also record cleaning solutions that deep clean the vinyl, and keep the music experience alive.

Rega Planar 1

The best budget turntable

Rega shows why they are considered number one in the market on sound for money.

Our verdict

Ragingly festive and engaging turntable with bucket loads of dynamism and zest.
A little relaxed treble.
Type: Belt-driven manual turntables
Tonearm: RB110 aluminium
Pickup: Rega Carbon MM-pickup
Platter: 28mm thick polyoxymethylene
Outputs: Analog RCA
RIAA/USB: No/No
Other: Dust protection cover
Colour: Black, or white piano lacquer
Dimensions/Weight: 44.4 x 11.4 x 35.5 cm/4.2 kg
Website: mono.no

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Price 2990 £

Rega is one of the few manufacturers that have held up even though they have been challenged by CDs, MiniDiscs and now music streaming.
Later, they have been compensated for this and now have a luxury problem: they are unable to make enough turntables to meet market demand. It is not only due to the fact that the market has increased considerably for turntables and vinyl, but also that Rega’s turntables as a rule are a guarantee for getting good sound for the money.
In our tests, turntables from the Regas always achieve a place at the top and this is irrespective of whether it’s the most expensive or cheapest turntable. Like this one, for example.
Rega Planar 1 is the entry-level model, but built on the same template as the more expensive editions.

This means a lightweight and sturdy turntable that is assembled and easy to use. Simply unpack and plug in. No fussing with grounding or anti-skating. Like so many other affordable turntables, it comes with a simple pickup from Audio-Technica.

The quality is several notches above cheaper turntables, but the turntable is simple and spartan. The tonearm that sits on Rega RB110 can be used with far more expensive pickups than the one supplied, and the turntable has a great potential for better sound.

An edition of Planar 1 will be released with an built-in RIAA, or a turntable amplifier, so it can be used with an amplifier that does not have an input.
Although the turntable belongs at the reasonably priced end of the scale, it sounds full-bodied, and rhythmically speaking, it is among the most engaging turntables from the budget range. With superb dynamics and cool bass, it is seldom boring to listen to music with this turntable in the system.

The music has a warm tone in the bass and the midrange has good focus on details. The soundscape does not seem so messy on the Rega turntable, which is often the case with cheap turntables. If one can live with the fact that it is completely manual, it is the best option out there currently in the budget range. It sounds fresh, open and detailed. Perhaps not with the same convincing deep bass as the more expensive NAD C558, but it is clearly the best buy among turntables under 400 euro.

In 2L’s compilation album Quiet Winter Night, the tone colours come through in the soundscape, and it does not stand in the way of the mood of the recordings. The sound lacks a little bit of the fine tuned and distinct airiness of the treble that comes with a better pickup, but you can hardly get better sound for that price than here.

NAD C558

Looks can be deceiving

NAD shows its back to the competition with a turntable that has a little extra.

Our verdict

Superb control, plenty of bass, and open and engaging sound.
Looks cheap.
Type: Belt-driven turntables
Tonearm: Aluminium
Pickup: Ortofon OM10 MM-pickup
Platter: Glass
Outputs: Analog RCA
RIAA/USB: No/No
Other: Dust protection cover
Colour: Matte charcoal grey
Dimensions/Weight: 43.5 x 12.5 x 34 cm/5.5 kg
Website: hifiklubben.no

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Price 4998 £

Since NAD took the world by storm more than 30 years ago, they have been helping to define the term ‘a lot for the money’. In particular, this applies to the amplifiers, which turned people’s perception of affordable hi-fi upside down.

They have not received the same recognition for the turntables, as there have been fewer of them by and at long intervals between them. The first was built on a belt-driven standing chassis, packed in boring plastic and fitted with a much-too-soft tonearm, a flat one, unique for its time.

This one also looks rather sad. The matte grey surface and the pathetic attempt to make it more high-end by rounding the corners, deserves nothing more than a shrug. If you insert the supplied dust cover protection, it looks like it’s been borrowed from another turntable, because the corners of the cover are not rounded.
The NAD turntable does not win any beauty contests, but it wins this test.

It is easy to set up, but you have to adjust the pickup weight and the anti-skating yourself. It’s not hard, and NAD delivers everything you need in the box, including the same cable that comes with the Pro-Jects Recordmaster.

So now we know who builds the NAD turntable.

The turntable comes with an assembled Ortofon OM10 which is an outstanding budget pickup. Just like on the Recordmaster, but the arm and chassis of the NAD turntable does not equal the Recordmaster’s arm and chassis. But the glass platter gives a more stable momentum than the lighter steel platter of the Recordmaster.
Even with the same pickup as the Pro-Jects Recordmaster, it’s striking how different the NAD turntable sounds. There’s no drastic difference in the audio experience, but the NAD succeeds where the Pro-Jects Recordmaster stumbles across the finish line.

There is good dynamism, not unlike Rega Planar 1, with good focus and good weight in the bass. The soundscape is delivered with good channel separation, and there is deeper bass to be had here than in Rega Planar 1, and the top tones are better focused.

The Ortofon pickup must get the credit for last one.

The dynamics of the NAD turntable is outstanding, but in particular the bass dynamics is in a class of its own among more affordable players.
On Quiet Winter Night, it is especially noticeable in the tracks that have the drum tracks or the bass present in the soundscape. The NAD turntable has more control over the bass, and delivers better deep bass than the Rega turntable.

Thus, it does take more than a few bars before the music grabs and engages the listener. The midrange is open and rich in detail, and the focus is good without being razor sharp. The NAD player may not be the prettiest looking, but there are no problems with the sound.

Pro-Ject Debut III Recordmaster

Recordmaster

Invest in your record collection with a turntable that is also a nice piece of furniture.

Our verdict

Well built and well playing turntable that does not require much of the user.
Unable to engage us completely, slightly tame dynamics drags it down.
Type: Belt-driven manual turntables
Tonearm: Aluminium
Pickup: Ortofon OM10 MM-pickup
Platter: 1.3 kg steel plate
Outputs: Analog RCA
RIAA/USB: Yes/Yes
Other: Electronic speed control, dust protection cover
Colour: Black, white or red piano lacquer, walnut veneer
Dimensions/Weight: 41.5 x 11.8 x 32 cm/5 kg
Website: neby.no

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Price 4990 £

You can hardly miss by choosing a turntable by Pro-Ject. Like Rega, they make some of the best turntables within an affordable price range, but also some cool, high-end turntables for connoisseurs.
They even have a turntable with a built-in amplifier that just needs a pair of speakers to play music — and a standing turntable (!) with vertical playback.
The versatility doesn’t stop there. One can choose from turntables with and without RIAA (turntable amplifier) built-in, and many of them come with a USB output for digital audio connection. This turntable has both.

The turntable is called Debut III Recordmaster and can be had in fresh colours, or as here in matte walnut, which suits the turntable well.
It has electronic speed control where the light stops flashing at the selected speed when the correct speed is reached. The turntable comes with a proper cable with grounding wire, and an assembled Ortofon OM10 pickup, which is several notches up in quality compared to the very cheapest turntables.
Recordmaster can also come with a fully assembled Ortofon 2M Red – our favourite in the budget range – at an additional cost.
You have to adjust the weight and anti-skating yourself when the turntable is set up. Accurate anti-skating is a story unto itself. Anti-skating is something that happens when you rotate around an axis. The speed pushes you outwards, and on a turntable one compensates this with anti-skating.
This is done with a counterweight that hangs by a thread. It’s a somewhat awkward way to solve the problem, and not as practical as an adjustable spring or magnet.

However, when everything is in place, there is little about the Pro-Ject turntable that you can criticize. It has a very good focus in the soundscape, which is experienced as rich and pleasant – with excellent bass rendition. There is good attention to detail in the soundscape and good dynamic contrast, but it all sounds a bit relaxed and muted. It’s nice, but it doesn’t really take off.

On Quiet Winter Night, the compilation album by 2L, the bass has fine weight and the turntable keeps a steady rhythm through the tunes, with gorgeous sonorous midrange, complemented by an open and well-focused treble rendition. Vocals and acoustic instruments sound wonderful, but it lacks a bit of the dynamics that awakens an excitement for life.

The Pro-Ject player is a great choice for those who enjoy a pleasant sound and design that fits into a nicely furnished home. It sounds better than the vast majority of cheap players we’ve tested and is worth the extra hundred NOK compared to, for example, Teac TN-350, but it’s not the best.

Audio-Technica AT-LP60BT

Cheap in all respects

Rarely have we seen so clearly how the price mirrors what one gets for the money.

Our verdict

Fully automatic turntable that is easy to use at an okay price.
Colourless sound, cheap construction and sensitive to vibrations.
Type: Belt-driven fully automatic turntable
Tonearm: Light metal
Pickup: Audio-Technica Dual Moving Magnet
Platter: Aluminium
Outputs: Analog 3.5mm minijack
RIAA/USB: Yes/No
Other: Bluetooth, dust protection cover
Colour: Black, silver or white
Dimensions/Weight: 36 x 9.8 x 35.6 cm/3 kg
Website: bergsala.no

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Price 1990 £

Japanese Audio-Technica is a big name in turntables. They supply pickups for many turntables other than their own, which they also produce a lot of. Analogue sound is something they do better than most, and the Audio-Technica logo is also found on several of the best headphones we have tested. They also make lots of record players.

They make this one, among others. A small, lightweight and simple fully automatic turntable that even a child can use. The turntable is available in two editions – one with the USB output for those who want to use the laptop to record from vinyl, thereby digitising their record collection, and then this one, with Bluetooth, so you can stream music wirelessly from the mobile phone via the player. In other words, the best of both worlds.
This is the simplest turntable one can imagine. Everything is assembled, you just need to insert the platter and plug in the cable. No anti-skating or weight pressure to adjust.

It is also fully automatic and starts and stops with a switch on the front. It also stops automatically when it is finished, and has a switch for 12-inch and 7-inch singles, so that the needle can find the starting track.

The pickup is a simple model from Audio-Technica, but with an interchangeable stylus, and the turntable has a built-in turntable amplifier. Thus, you do not need a separate one, the turntable can be plugged into a vacant input on the amplifier.

A small button on the top of the turntable starts Bluetooth and makes the turntable searchable for the mobile phone.
The turntable’s low price is reflected in the construction. The quality doesn’t exactly instill confidence, but that is not the only area where the low price is reflected.
The sound is tame and it has flat dynamics. It also sounds slightly distorted on complex music. The recordings from 2L’s album Quiet Winter Night certainly have both bass and adequate warmth in the sound, but the sound is colourless.

The lightweight chassis is also not very resistant to vibrations, and the rotational speed is the least stable in the test. One hears the piano tones ringing needlessly with varying pitch. It’s not as critical for fast pop and rock, but this turntable is primarily an inexpensive alternative for those who only have a handful of records that are played on rare occasions.

Audio-Technica’s LP60 with Bluetooth is far from the quality we experienced in the LP120 and LP5. Two of the turntables from that end are much better buys and worth the money, despite being more expensive than this one. If one is still more concerned about price than sound quality, perhaps LP60 USB without Bluetooth is a better buy. It is definitely cheaper.

Teac TN-350

Usable, all round turntable

The turntable from Teac sounds much like it looks and is a good choice both aesthetically and sonically.

Our verdict

Well balanced sound and straightforward operation. Easy to upgrade.
Doesn’t musically grab in the same way as the best turntables.
Type: Belt-driven manual turntables
Tonearm: S-shaped aluminium
Pickup: Audio-Technica AT95E MM-pickup
Platter: Steel
Outputs: Analog RCA
RIAA/USB: Yes/Yes
Other: Electronic speed control, dust protection cover
Colour: Walnut, matte Black
Dimensions/Weight: 42 x 12 x 34 cm/4.8 kg
Website: teac-audio.eu/en

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Price 3990 £

The turntable from Teac costs more than the cheapest turntables, but there’s a reason for that. I don’t just mean the design with the silver grey details on a walnut coloured chassis, but also what is housed within the turntable.
It looks a bit more expensive and is better equipped with both built-in turntable amplifier (RIAA) and a USB output. Thus, one does not need any extra equipment to get sound.

Teac TN-350 is easy to set up and among the easiest to use. The pickup from Audio-Technica comes ready mounted on a loose headshell, but the weight and anti-skating must be adjusted before use.

Speaking of headshells, this one attaches to the end of the arm and is easy to take off and put on. This is convenient if you want to replace the stylus, or if you want to upgrade to a better pickup.

Thus, it suits many people and it will probably find lots of new friends out there. It is uncommon to have turntables that look good, sound nice, and that can be used by anyone, to be easily upgradable at the same time.

It is also found in black varnish for those who want a more neutral design.
The sound is not bad at all. Although the pickup is of the cheaper kind, the soundscape hangs together well. There’s a good balance in the sound, but there’s also a bit more diffused focus in the sound here, and the turntable isn’t as rich in the bass dynamics as Rega Planar 1.

The recording of Quiet Winter Night sounds a little flat, and it doesn’t project as many timbres out of the speakers as it does with the test winner. However, the sound has far more fullness and more finely defined bass than the Audio-Technica turntable, but lacks the focus and dynamics of the Rega and NAD turntable.

It’s interesting to think that the Teac turntable would have scored completely differently with a better pickup, like the Ortofon 2M Red. It would jack the price up by a thousand NOK, but would undoubtedly boost the sound significantly.

Teac TN-350 is both an appealing and a well-playing turntable. It not only has the look and feel, but it is also a delight to use. Unfortunately, there seems to be an unfulfilled potential here. This is a slight pity, because with both the RIAA and the USB, you get great value for the Teac turntable, but the sound is not quite on par with the rest.

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