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Vinyl sales are surging – but do records really sound better?

Our expert lab said yes. But if you buy a bad turntable, you'll never do justice to your vinyl

Vinyl sales reached their 11th consecutive year of growth in 2018, with 4.2 million vinyl LPs sold in the UK. But can old turntable technology really match the latest digital tech? We set the professionals at our audio lab the challenge to find out.

We bought the newly remastered White Album by The Beatles on CD, vinyl LP and high-quality (320kbps) MP3 to test which format sounds the best. Our sound experts in the lab used a Best Buy turntable, a comparable CD player and an iPod, and listened to all formats through the same amplifier and speakers.

Every format did the remaster justice, but our lab marginally preferred the vinyl. The vinyl version sounded clear and clean with a lack of clicks and pops – about as good as a vinyl can be.

The CD is also an equally good copy, and delivers a more detailed sound than the MP3, as is expected, since CDs store a great deal more data than MP3s. However, as you might appreciate, with source material from the 1960s, the CD’s digital cleanliness can also sound slightly sterile.

But our experts point out that their choice might be different for other material, such as the newly remastered New Order album first released in 1981, Movement, due to the greater range of sound and stereo that a CD can produce.

Read on to see whether our recently tested turntables will bring your record collection to life or leave you feeling flat. Or jump straight to our Best Buy record players and turntables to avoid a dud.

Charting the vinyl comeback

UK consumers bought 6% more music in 2018 than 2017, with hefty growth in music streaming leading the way. However, vinyl sales continue to grow strongly as well.

The timeline below shows how the vinyl story has developed over time compared to other formats and major events in the world of music.

Share your thoughts on Which? Conversation – Does vinyl really sound better?

Popular turntables – are they any good?

If you want your turntable to sound as great, if not better, than the best digital tech out there, you need to beware – almost a third of all the turntables we have reviewed, we gave Don’t Buys. The sound quality of these models is simply woeful – don’t be caught out by brands cashing on the vinyl revival with poor quality products.

To help you sort out the jewels from the duds, we’ve selected eight of the most popular turntables on the market below.

GPO Stylo II, £55

The GPO Stylo II is the new and improved version of the original GPO stylo, and is one of the most popular turntables on the market. It can play 33rpm, 45rpm and 78rpm records, and is available in a variety of colours. You can listen through its built-in speakers, or plug it into your hi-fi if you prefer.

Find out whether this is the perfect turntable for you in our expert GPO Stylo II review.

Bush Classic Turntable (PHK-M41), £20

The Bush Classic Turntable is one of the cheapest turntables available on the market, and comes in the popular briefcase-style design for easy transportation and retro appeal. It has a built-in preamp, so you can plug it straight into any hi-fi amp. It has semi-automatic operation, meaning the record automatically starts spinning when you lift the tonearm away from its rest, and stops again when you replace it.

Is this turntable a Great Value choice for enjoyable listening on a budget? Find out what we thought in our comprehensive Bush Classic Turntable (PHK-M41) review.

Sony PS-LX300USB, £119

Sony has been around for a long time and is one of the biggest producers of music worldwide – in 2018 it began producing vinyl records in house for the first time since 1989, at a new vinyl-pressing plant in Japan.
The Sony PS-LX300USB is its entry-level model, with automatic operation and a USB output allowing you to copy records onto your computer to listen to digitally.

But will Sony’s turntables make the most of their music they want you to enjoy? We put them to the test in our definitive Sony PS-LX300USB review.

Ion PRO100BT, £145

Ion make loads of retro-styled and budget-friendly turntables, but with the Ion PRO100BT they’re promising even better sound quality. Plus it’s packed with features including Bluetooth to connect the turntable directly to Bluetooth wireless speakers and even USB support to convert your vinyl to digital files to store on your computer.

We’ve put all its features to the test to find out whether it’s the ideal package. See whether it has delivered in our Ion PRO100BT review.

ProJect Primary E, £149

ProJect is one of the biggest turntable brands around, and the Primary E is its most affordable, entry-level option. ProJect promises it to be an ‘audiophile’ turntable, and takes a swipe at newer manufacturers in recent years offering ‘plastic’ players with ‘low quality and cheap prices’.

So does it mean business, or has our lab exposed this model to not be up to the same standard as their high-end models? Get the full lowdown in our thorough ProJect Primary E review.

Lenco L-3808, £149

This is one of the higher-end retro-looking turntables on the market. It’s packed with features, including being a rarer direct-drive turntable, meaning you can stop and start the records instantly – great for budding DJs. It’s also got a USB port to save your vinyls to your computer.

Is this model style over substance or does it produce the sound your vinyl deserves? We give all the details in our Lenco L-3808 review.

Teac TN-300, £249

Teac is one of the turntable brands aiming at the more ‘audiophile’ end of the market, claiming ‘luxurious’ build quality. It’s manual operation, the favourite choice of audiophiles who want to feel part of the vinyl experience. You can even create backups of your treasured vinyl collection to your computer via the USB socket – see our guide for more on how to do this.

So is this turntable worth the price, with superior sound quality to match? Our expert listening panel give their verdict in our Teac TN-300 review.

Rega Planar 3 with Elys 2, £649

The Rega Planar 3 is a favourite model of vinyl aficionados, but is it all brand hype or is there really a reason to spend a small fortune on a turntable? It’s not even very fully featured – with no USB to convert your vinyl to your computer or even a preamp, so you’ll need to fork out for extra kit if you don’t have it as well.

Is the Rega Planar 3 really worth the investment? Rega even has more expensive models, and several cheaper alternatives as well. We put it through its paces and compare it to other models on the market to find out which you should buy in our comprehensive Rega Planar 3 with Elys 2 review.

Two brands dominate our list of Best Buys

Our expert tests show that trusting brands to deliver quality sound every time would not be wise. The graph below shows that only two brands we’ve tested have multiple Best Buys, and even leading brand ProJect only achieved a few Best Buys out of the 11 models of theirs we’ve tested, with some being an expensive mistake to buy.

Many more affordable turntable brands also make excellent turntables that have only just missed getting a Best Buy – including some brands we’ve featured above. So it’s worth checking our reviews for Great Value bargains; you could save well over £100 by doing so.

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