Review: Yamaha TT-S303

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Yamaha's budget-friendly turntable performs best when not using the built-in phono stage.

Published 2024-04-26 - 8:00 am
Yamaha TT-S303
Lasse Svendsen

Competition in the budget segment is fierce. There are many players vying for attention, and it’s not difficult to find an affordable turntable. But it’s harder to find a really good turntable that doesn’t cost a fortune.

For most people, the best bet is to find a player from Rega, Pro-Ject or Argon. They come in all price ranges, even on the nice and budget-friendly end. You get a quality player with good sound that also looks good.

Of course, there are other manufacturers too, and with the TT-S303, Yamaha enters the battle for the budget segment.

The black lacquered player is a simple, belt-driven and manual player with a built-in phono stage. This means it can be connected directly to an amplifier or speaker with an audio input. A Bluetooth speaker if that’s what you have, but it can also be connected to a separate phono stage or an amplifier with a built-in phono stage. Then you can also get slightly better sound.

The Yamaha turntable is attractive and easy to use. (Photo: Yamaha)

Yamaha is by no means a newcomer to analogue playback. They’ve been making turntables for ages, but stopped in the 90s when the CD became the dominant music medium.

They picked up again a few years ago with an excellent model that could play music wirelessly over the network, and not long ago they entered the high-end class with one of the best turntables we’ve tested. The Yamaha GT-5000. In other words, they are on home turf – also when it comes to turntables.

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Although Argon is not known for turntables, they can easily be included.

Easy to use

The TT-S303 was hardly developed by Yamaha itself, but is an off the shelf OEM product branded as a Yamaha player. The quality is a few notches down from the wireless TT-N503 (MusicCast VINYL 500), but it comes with a detachable pickup housing and the arm is far from the worst we’ve seen in this class. It’s identical to the arm in the TT-N503.

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The turntable is built on a lightweight MDF base with a thin aluminium platter driven by a silicone belt. It comes with a felt mat, cables, dust cover, single adapter and a pre-assembled Audio-Technica MM pickup.

All you need to do is mount the counterweight, pickup housing and pull the belt over the shaft when you attach the thin – and undamped – disc. Follow the instructions for use to set the needle pressure. Then choose whether or not to use the built-in phono stage, plug it in and it’s ready to compete.

The removable pickup housing makes it easy to change the needle or replace the entire pickup. That’s pretty much the only thing you can do to increase the sound quality from the player. Except for one thing.

The speed can be fine-tuned with two screws on the underside labelled 33, 33 and 45 rpm.

You might not need to, because our measurements showed a moderate deviation in rotation speed -0.32 per cent from 33.33 rpm. The Wow & flutter measurement showed a deviation of 0.47 per cent. This is a good result for a turntable in this price range and better than the JBL BT Spinner that we recently tested.

Listener-friendly sound

We recognise the Audio Technica pickup from other budget players and we know it works well for the price, but it’s not on par with Audio Technica’s more expensive AT-VM95 or an Ortofon 2M Red. As we often see on turntables in the lower price range.

It’s not very sensitive to vibrations and resonances aren’t noticeable as long as it’s placed flat on a stable surface. There isn’t much play in the arm mount either. All in all, this simple player is designed to produce good sound.

And it does. You may not get fireworks and confetti, but it plays rhythmically and balanced. The sound is more open than the JBL player, which uses the same MM pickup, but the Yamaha player doesn’t have the dynamic contrast or bass punch of a Rega Planar 2 that costs the same.

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With the player connected to an amplifier with a phono stage, such as our reference among integrateds, the Yamaha A-S3200, or a reference in the lower price range – the Hegel H190V, the player does a great job of bringing the rhythm of Pat Metheny’s Are You Going With Me to life. It should be said that the guitar sound is a bit woolly, but the music flows nicely out of the speakers and the sound is warm and rich.

Vocals, on the other hand, sound a little too withdrawn and the player dampens the biggest dynamic fluctuations on Dire Straits Private Investigations. Here I miss that the drums are both heard and felt. But overall, the player does a convincing job of conveying the music, considering the price.

Plug the turntable into the amplifier’s phono stage to get the best out of it. (Photo: Yamaha)

If you switch to the player’s built-in phono stage, anything can happen. Of course, depending on what you’re comparing it to. The MM input on the A-S3200 and H190V is of far higher quality than any built-in phono stage.

It’s noticeable. The sound stages collapses somewhat when you play from the built-in phono stage. The rhythm loses its drive, there’s almost no dynamic contrast, and details disappear and drown in a woolly broth of sound.

It’s strange really, because the turntable has obvious qualities, they just don’t come out if you use the player’s built-in phono stage.

The switch to disconnect the phono stage – please use it! (Photo: Yamaha)


The Yamaha TT-S303 is actually a decent budget turntable. It plays engagingly enough when connected to an amplifier with a proper phono stage. However, the built-in stage leaves us with the impression that it’s only there as a stopgap measure. Something to get you started until you buy a better phono stage or a well-equipped amplifier. Which you should definitely have if you want to spend money on the Yamaha player. It feels a bit like a Jekyll/Hyde player, with a good side and a bad side.

(Photo: Yamaha)

Yamaha TT-S303

We think

Full-bodied and warm sound with good dynamics and ever-so-slightly crisp transients. A good budget option if you have a phono stage amplifier. The built-in phono stage doesn't live up to the rest of the turntable.

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