Moving up from the sub-$500 bracket, the best turntables under 1000 dollars bring a little more to the table than the cheaper turntables, mainly in build quality. You will still find the same minimalistic, ‘audiophile’ designs, but the weaknesses apparent in the base model Pro-ject, Rega and Music Hall turntables are less apparent. But is the price increase justified?
Many of the same turntable manufacturers featured in the best turntables under $500 list again feature in this higher bracket. Frankly, there just aren’t that many manufacturers that create turntables for this price. Above $1000, and in many cases well above $1000, there are more manufacturers than below $1000, which might seem unusual. It is likely a reflection of the turntable market: there is a big demand for cheap turntables by consumers, and small but significant demand for top of the line turntables by audiophile hobbyists. The recent success of Pro-ject in particular has suggested that there is a burgeoning market for these “affordable audiophile” turntables. Perhaps the reason that there are so few players is manufacturing ability: many audiophile companies are in fact quite small affairs that create only a handful of products. The mass production required for the turntables on this best turntables under 1000 list may not be yet possible for many companies.
Despite there being little competition in this price range, the contenders for best turntable under 1000 are great tpieces of technology, and people wanting to spend a little more cash should not hesitate. This price range is where it starts to be clearly justified in buying a new turntable vs an old turntable. Vintage turntables in this price range, such as unmodified Lenco GL-75s and Thorens TD-124s and old Linn LP12s are infinitely more difficult to deal with than a brand new turntable. This money provides ease of use without the pain of having to refurbish and take care of a 30+ year old turntable.
Without further adieu, we move on to our best turntables under 1000 list.
Pro-ject Xpression III
The Xpression III is solid, as are most Pro-ject turntables. Not solid as in sturdy, but solid as in very difficult to find flaws in. That said, the build quality of the Xpression III is excellent, but one would struggle to look at it and classify it as a rough-and-tumble bit of machinery.
The included cartridge, the Sumiko Oyster, is pretty underdone for a cartridge on a turntable of this calibre. It is a little on the bright side. A better option would be anything up to a 2M Bronze in the Ortofon line, or a Grado Gold. A real strength of Xpression III is its superb carbon fibre tonearm. The tonearm is the best of all turntables on this list.
In terms of comparison to the Pro-ject Xpression‘s direct competitors for the best turntables under 1000 title; the Pro-ject comes away with a win in the price department.
Music Hall MMF 5.1
A little more expensive than the Pro-ject Xpression III is the Music Hall MMF 5.1. I’m still not totally clear on Music Hall and their relationship to Pro-ject, but they’re certainly made in the same factory and look damned similar. The Music Hall 5.1 justifies the extra cost over the Xpression with a few notable improvements.
Firstly, the cartridge on the MMF 5.1 is much better than the cartridge on the Xpression. The Goldring 1012GX costs around $300 by itself. Some people have reported sibilance with this cartridge, however.
The platter is different – glass, vs the Xpression’s acrylic platter. Most audiophiles would have you believe that the acrylic is the superior material. I find it difficult to believe that the platter material makes much of a difference on these tables, so if looks matter to you please choose accordingly. I think the Pro-ject wins in the looks department, but not by much.
The plinth on the MMF 5.1 is, at the very least, more elaborate than the Pro-ject’s. It has a double plinth design intended to improve isolation. This is a principle employed on many higher end tables, and on aftermarket plinths made for vintage turntables such as those made by Lorifcraft for the Garrard 301 & 401. The Xpression uses conical feet, which are effective at their intended job, but it is doubtful that they provide superior isolation than the MMF’s technique.
Had this article been written a year or so ago, the Rega P3-24 would have featured on this list. Unfortunately, the new RP3 is slightly out of the price range intended, unless you can find it for cheap.
Instead we have the RP1 with performance pack. The upgraded RP1 is a really fantastic turntable, that rivals the more expensive turntables on this list for performance in their stock format. The performance pack gets you the Rega Bias 2 cartridge, an upgraded belt and a wool mat for the platter that is included on the P3, P5 and P7 models. Before purchasing this it is recommended that you listen to the Rega cartridge to judge for yourself, as they tend to have a distinctive sound.
The Rega’s sound is a little different to the other best turntables under 1000. It is a little more musical, a little more like vinyl. The Music Hall and Pro-ject seem a little analytical and standoffish by comparison. Then there’s the whole owning a Rega factor which is similar in turntable terms to the owning a Mercedes factor. It’s a quality turntable made by a quality company.
The Best Turntables Under 1000: Vintage Edition
If you are willing to or keen to go vintage, here is a short list of turntables that will suit your $1000 budget.
Thorens TD-124, TD-160 and more. See the Thorens section.
Technics SP-15, SL-1200 mk II or V. The 1200s will require modification to bring them up to scratch with the other tables listed.
and others on the best vintage turntables list.
The Pro-ject Xpression comes out the overall winner. Whilst the Music Hall MMF 5.1 puts up a great fight, the Xpression’s superior tonearm and wonderful looks give it the edge. The Music Hall is more of a complete package from the get-go, with its better cartridge and record clamp. However, the Xpression suits upgrades a little better, and with the speed box upgrade it is a fantastic turntable. If budget allows, the speed box upgrade should definitely be purchased.
In reality, the winner of this battle will be highly dependent on cartridge used. The Rega upgrade paths, at least for the RP3, are superior to the Pro-ject’s, which will provide years of upgrades and fun to an owner that views his or her turntable as an ongoing project.
You really could not go wrong with any of these turntables. The best turntables under 1000 are beautiful pieces of technology that act as the centrepiece for any room, and will provide hours of listening pleasure.