Moving up in price away from the mass produced, plastic turntables from Audio Technica et al, we come to the best turntables under 500. This higher price range will be close to the top of the budget for all but the most enthusiastic vinyl lovers. Luckily, the sonic improvement provided by these ‘entry level audiophile’ turntables is magnificent and most certainly noticeable.
The brands within this price range start to sound a little different. For all of the manufacturers on this list of the best turntables under 500, the turntable listed is their entry-level turntable. Their product line includes much more expensive turntables and audio equipment. This is good for us consumers, as these companies clearly have audio quality in mind when they make their gear. Even better for us is the healthy competition that has existed between Rega, Pro-ject and Music Hall over the last 10 years or so.
These turntables are totally not suitable for DJs. Their minimalistic designs are intended to minimise interference transmitted through the stylus tip. They will most probably fall apart if mixing or scratching is attempted on them. DJs should head over to the DJ section of this site for more appropriate recommendations.
Here are the three contenders for best turntable under $500.
Pro-ject Debut III
This turntable is a legend in this price bracket. It really set the standard for affordable audiophile turntables. What this turntable and any others on this list of best turntables under 500 will give you is more liveliness and punch.
The downsides of the Pro-ject Debut III are the infamous Pro-ject hum. The earthing sound, the faint hum that is occasionally audible with electronics, is higher in pitch than it usually is. Also, rumble is higher than expected, especially on the inner grooves of the records.The Debut III comes pre set up with an Ortofon OM-5 cartridge, so you need not worry about setting cartridge overhang. Just set tracking force and antiskate and you are away. One of the main attractions of the Debut III that many people are looking at when considering the best turntables under 500 is the colour variation. The Debut III really stands out in anyone’s living room with its red, black, yellow, blue and white plinth variations.
In terms of slightly different models, the Pro-ject Debut Carbon is the same table with a carbon arm, which is a feature seen in more expensive tonearms that increases stiffness and decreases vibration. The newer models come with the Ortofon 2M red, and the older models come with the OM5. I find the 2M red too bright, and the OM5 is a better choice, so grab one of the older combination packs if you can.
The Rega P1 has been around for decades. It has had a reputation of being a solid entry level turntable. The RP1 is an upgraded version that addresses a lot of the issues associated with the P1.
The RB101 arm is based upon Rega’s very famous very good RB300. It comes with the Ortofon Om5e cartridge – a decent performer, if nothing special.
The sound of the RP1 is good for a entry-level turntable: the highs are not too bright.
The upgrade path of the RP1 is the best of any of the turntables on this list. If you enjoy upgrading components, or plan to build your turntable in to a beast, then the RP1 is your best choice. Personally though, the RP3 is a more sensible option as by the time you spend all of your cash on upgrading an RP1 you may as well have bought an RP3. Whilst you can say this about anything I suppose, it makes more sense to buy a rock solid performer like the RP3 and upgrade it later.
Music Hall MMF 2.2
The Music Hall MMF 2.2 is a little pricier than the other two turntables on the list, but still sneaks in to make the best turntables under 500 list.
The Music Hall MMF 2 is our pick for best turntable under 500. The reason being the provided Tracker cartridge and arm are much better than the Rega and Pro-ject options. The cartridge has a lot of life to it and tracks very well, but it tends to pick up on a bit of surface noise. No problem if a lot of your vinyl is new, but old scratchy stuff might be a little irritating to listen to.
The MMF 2.2 comes in red, black and white – all glossy finishes. Praise to the turntable gods as well, for they have graced us with a dustcover! They seem to be so rare on new turntables these days. Raise your hand if you have never left an LP on a record player for hours on end because you left the room and forgot about it. No one? I didn’t think so.
The Music Hall model does a better job of avoiding hum and rumble than the others on the list. It also allows the user to set VTA. As a result, I consider the MMF 2.2 worthy of the small price difference.
Other things to consider about the minimalistic models
None of the turntables come with built in phono pre-amplifiers. If your amplifier does not have a phono input (read the labels on the back), that means more cost to purchase a phono pre-amp.
Be wary of bad reviews of these turntables that complain of poor tracking, poor tonal balance and other such things. Setting tracking force and anti-skate is vital for proper sound, and errors will occur if this is done incorrectly. It’s not difficult to learn but it is something that you need to sit down and learn for an hour or so.
Not Quite the Best Turntables Under 500 – Other Options
The Denon DP-300F goes completely the other way and provides fully automatic features. The sound is, frankly, not as good as the turntables listed above. But if fiddling around with manual cueing sounds like your idea of a bad time, consider the Denon instead. The AT-LP240 is a Technics 1200 clone that does a good job as well, and if DJing is something you’re interested in it should be chosen over anything else in this price range.
The final option is of course vintage turntables. Finding one in good nick can take time and patience, but if you are able to locate a refurbished or well looked after Thorens, Technics or something similar you will probably get better value for money than what is provided by the best turntables under 500 here.