As vinyl becomes an increasingly attractive option to a new generation of music lovers, more and more people are asking the question: what are the best turntables for beginners? Many turntable enthusiasts will point them towards vintage turntables, citing their superior quality for lower price. New, cheap turntables are often constructed with low quality, plastic parts that do nothing for audio quality. However, the best turntables for beginners are available for cheap new and will do a decent job for someone who…
- Is wanting to try out vinyl to see if it’s for him/her
- Is not interested in restoring, repairing and maintaining a vintage turntable
- Wants to buy a ‘complete package’ instead of purchasing turntable and cartridge, needles etc. separately.
- May want the option of converting vinyl to mp3
The Best Turntables for Beginners: all for under $220
1. Numark TTUSB
The numark model is squarely aimed at the USB turntables market. In fact, it’s one of the best turntables for beginners on the market that also has phono to mp3 conversion. It is powered by a belt drive, and comes packaged with EZ Vinyl Coverter 2, a vinyl to mp3 program that automatically connects to the Gracenote online database and labels your new mp3s for you. It can also record directly to your iPod. Direc to iPod and EZ Vinyl Converter 2 should both be avoided if you care about audio quality, but some buyers will salivate over the convenience this provides. As with most USB turntables, the Numark TTUSB ships with Audacity, an excellent piece of open source software that should be downloaded from the web rather than installed from the CD to ensure the software is current. Audacity is the better software for recording, but requires a little more effort in separating the tracks.
The tonearm on the TTUSB is extremely light, so beginners may find it difficult to cue the needle correctly. It comes with an adjustable tone arm and anti-skate mechanism. No assistance provided here as it is fully manually operated, meaning you will have to return the tone arm after the record side finishes. This means no leaving the room and forgetting about it (and especially no passing out drunk!) as you may come back to find an extra groove dug in to your vinyl record. The cartridge on this turntable is replaceable, unlike some cheap Numark turntables. It has pitch control to +/- 10% which isn’t much but may excite some beginner DJs. As previously noted, it is one of the best cheap turntables for USB conversion, and a reasonable all-round option in the budget range.
2. Pioneer PL-990
The Pioneer’s retro design is a love/hate thing (certainly love for us), so you will probably have already decided, but let’s go through the motions of reviewing it anyway. What may make it one of the best turntables for beginners is that it is fully automatic, making it much easier to operate than the Pro-ject and Rega models on this list. It plays 33s and 45s and is powered by a belt drive motor. It has a built in preamp which cannot be bypassed, meaning you have to plug it in to the auxiliary slot on your amp rather than the phono slot. The sound on this turntable is about what you would expect for its cheap price – a little on the dull side, but for those wanting to revive their vinyl collection, or wanting a record player to supplement their Hi-Fi system it will be hard to look past this simple yet effective turntable.
Unfortunately, this model does not come with a replaceable cartridge, but the stylus is easily replaced. Whilst definitely not for audiophiles, this turntable is delightfully simple as it comes ready to plug in and play (and has no upgrades to concern yourself with). We think it deserves its title as one of the best turntables for beginners, and especially suits those unconcerned or put off by the ‘effort’ of playing vinyl records.
3. Audio Technica AT-LP 120
Let’s face it, turntables look good, and if you want one lying around your home for occasional use (such as when the guests come over), the ATLP 120 may be the option for you. For the money, this cheapie looks great as well, with a nice chrome and matte grey finish that mimics the all-mighty Technics SL-1200. It plays 33s and 45s, and most interestingly it also plays 78s, which is rare at this price point. The ATLP 120 has a direct drive motor with a start, stop and cue button. It is one of the first turntables as you move up through the price range, and certainly one of the few USB turntables, that includes anti-skate and an adjustable counterweight, which are necessities for decent sounding turntables. It also has pitch adjustment, which is pretty irrelevant for a turntable in this price range since this is not even close to being one of the best beginner turntables for DJing. The platter on this turntable is relatively heavy considering the price; ideal for minimising wow & flutter (slow and fast variations in speed, respectively).
Its internal preamp allows you to plug it straight in to an amplifier and speaker setup without the added hassle of buying a preamp. The pre-installed ATP-2 cartridge is a heavy tracking, DJ style cartridge that will cause a bit of wear on your records over time. The non-DJing everyday listener might consider upgrading the cartridge if planning on using this turntable for the long haul.
note: There is also the AT-PL 120 model, which is a nearly identical turntable but without the USB component. Some users of the AT-PL 120 however complain of an unacceptable level of hum so it should be avoided.
The verdict on the best turntables for beginners is…
The Audio Technica AT-LP 120 is our first choice. If this is in your price range, go for it. Since it’s basically a knock-off of the Technics SL-1200, it’s pretty good for the price. Let’s face it, not everyone has the patience to search ebay, classified ads and thrift stores for a second hand turntable, and the Audio Technica is reliable and comes with a good number of bells and whistles for the cost.
The Numark model may not suit beginners due to its need for manual placing of the needle on the record, but those wanting to convert their vinyls to USB will find it fits their needs perfectly.
The Pioneer model is ideal for someone wanting a no frills, simple to operate turntable that looks amazing. Press play and it goes, no need for fussing about with the tonearm.
The best turntables for beginners described in this article are decent enough, but you may want to consider a step up to one of the best entry level audiophile turntables.