Choosing the ideal record player will really depend on a couple of personal preferences of yours. Perhaps you prefer a belt drive over a direct drive player or perhaps you like to have a phono preamp to boost the volume up. Some of these devices will not have these options at all because they might be built specifically for DJs whereas some are more geared towards vintage record lovers.
If all these terms mean nothing to you, don’t worry, it’ll all be explained right at the bottom of this comparison chart to help you choose the ideal unit for your needs. First off though, here’s a chart that details the technical specifications and features of the top record players in the market along with the current prices that you can get them for.
$ = Less than $100 | $$ = $100-$300 | $$$ = $300-$500 | $$$$ = More than $500
How to choose the best record player
There are a few miscellaneous features in each player that will cause it to be substantially different from its counterparts. The first would be the type of drive that it uses in order to rotate the platter (the platform where the vinyl record will be placed on). There are 2 types of drives: the belt drive and the direct drive turntable.
In order to spin the platter, a motor has to be installed on the turntable. In most vintage players, the motor will exist right beside the platter and an elastic belt will connect the both of them together. This is called the belt drive.
In a more modern direct drive model, the motor will be mounted beneath the platter itself. This allows the platter to be rotated backwards by hand (for DJs mostly) to create additional sound effects.
As a general rule, a belt drive will produce audio that is much more isolated and stable in nature. This is because the belt provides a shock absorbent effect which helps reduce the vibration from the motor whereby in direct drive players, motor noise will be sent directly into the platter.
While this is theoretically the case, many of the higher-end direct drive devices have completely eliminated this interference from these vibrations so both options are totally fine.
With that said, DJs don’t have much of a choice but to go for direct drive turntables because of their backward-spinning capabilities.
Manual players would require users to lift the tonearm manually and place it onto the record. There are also some of these “manual” record players that are semi-automated in the sense that the tonearm will be lowered slowly by a cueing mechanism. After it finishes playing, you’ll have to turn it off yourself.
Automatic variants are much rarer in general. For an automatic unit, you merely have to place the vinyl record on the platter and push a button. The tonearm will be lifted, moved over to the record and lowered on it automatically. When it finishes playing, the tonearm will return to its resting position and the device will shut itself off.
Manual devices do offer a more vintage feeling but if you’d rather opt for convenience, automatic players are the way to go.
Deciding On Your Record Player
First of all, before you decide to purchase any of these devices, you should really set a budget because there’s a huge selection of these around and the price range varies significantly (from as low as $80 to as high as $600). Naturally, the best record players will have a premier audio quality over the rest, but they are also a lot more expensive.
The top-end versions are generally referred to as “Super-OEM” and they belong to a whole new tier of quality. Today, there are only 3 of such units that share a similar “Super-OEM” quality and those would be the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB, the Stanton ST-150 and the Numark TTXUSB.
The 3 Best Record Players In 2015
The 3 of these units offer the best performance by far, compared to some 20+ record players that we’ve tested thoroughly over the years. Out of these 3 however, the Stanton ST-150 (priced at $600) is approximately $200 more expensive compared to the other 2 despite having the same quality level. The reason for that? Stanton had decided to include a cartridge in the ST-150 and slapped a premium of $200 onto it, which is an arguably poor decision on their part since many of us vinyl enthusiasts would rather save up on that and choose our own cartridges to attach to the headshell.
The choice between the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB and the Numark TTXUSB is much harder, but we did eventually select Audio-Technica as our top pick simply because we’ve personally used many other of its older (and cheaper) models, most of which have been extremely impressive in terms of their performance and reliability. Numark has a decent track record too, but prior to this recent “Super-OEM” product of theirs, the previous models were rather mediocre in comparison to Audio-Technica’s.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 remains our top choice thanks to its impressive performance and reliability. Its motor is very strong (great torque), the build is beautifully constructed (heavy-duty steel) and the additional features that it comes with will satisfy even the most nitpicky of DJs.
It shares a similar tone-arm to the Stanton ST-150, which is essentially the best in the market. If you wish to transfer some of your vinyl collection over to a computer, you can do it simply by attaching a USB cable (included in the set) to its port (the Stanton lacks this function).
The AT-LP1240 also comes with a dust cover (a nice touch since most modern players have omitted this for some odd reason), a slip mat for the turntable and a silver headshell. The only thing that’s lacking in this entire set is a cartridge, so you’ll have to install your own one.
For certain audiophiles like myself, it’s actually a plus since we prefer to use our own cartridges (the Shure M44-7 or Shure M97xE cartridge works great here by the way). With a high-end cartridge like the Shure M97xE that we tested it with, the sound quality is simply amazing. Everything worked really well and has a solid feel to it. The buttons have a rubbery feel to them and they click audibly, unlike the cheap plastic ones that exist on many other inferior units.
For any DJs or vinyl enthusiasts, the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 is certainly the best record player that you can have as it has every fundamental feature that we could think of and the build quality is just amazing. You’ll have to install your own cartridge here though since it’s not included. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, you should know that setting up your own cartridge can be time-consuming and require a ton of patience, plus you’ll need a set of additional tools to do it (tweezers, stylus pressure gauge, alignment gauge etc.). In such an instance, you might want to stick to the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 (link below) since it comes with an attached cartridge.
There are plenty of similar models by Audio-Technica so make sure you get the right one here:
OR if you’re looking to purchase a straightforward, instant plug and play unit that already comes equipped with a cartridge,
Looking for some vinyls? Check out this collection here: Vinyl Records