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How to buy the best record player or turntable

By Zoe Galloway

If you want a record player with fantastic sound to play your favourite LPs - or digitise them - our expert guide will help you buy the perfect model.

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Whether you're a seasoned vinyl veteran with a priceless collection or a complete newcomer taking your first steps, we'll cut the jargon and tell you what kind of record player or turntable you need. You might be looking to make digital copies of your treasured records, searching for the best sound quality, or buying a gift for a loved one. 

Whatever you're looking for, watching the video above should demystify some of the common questions about record players. If you already know what you want and how much you want to spend, go straight to our Best Buy record players, or use our chooser tool below.

How much should you spend on a new record player?

Although record players can cost a substantial amount of money, we’ve found ones that will give you top sound quality and are easy to use for less than £150. And if you’ve got a budget that’s a little bigger there are plenty of excellent record players ranging from £150-£300.

Should you buy a top-of-the-range record player?

Top-of-the-range record players can cost thousands of pounds, so if you’re looking for something with premium sound and a price tag to match it’s really important to do your research first.

Turntable manufacturers such as Pro-Ject, Rega, Thorens and Technics all sell models that are £1,000+, so if you’re considering one of these, make sure you know exactly what you want to get out of them. 

There is no doubt that with the higher price tag comes superior styling and sound quality, but if you’re a beginner in the world of record players it may be wiser to buy a cheaper model first. Also remember that to get the benefit of an expensive turntable you'll need a top hi-fi system to match, potentially adding significantly to your costs. 

What's the difference between a record player and a turntable?

Technically speaking, a record player is a standalone device that not only spins your vinyl, but also includes a built-in amplifier and speaker(s) so you can hear the music without plugging the player into a hi-fi system. Some are even portable, giving you the option to power them from batteries.

A turntable, on the other hand, relies on a separate amp and speakers to make a sound. In practice, you'll see the terms used interchangeably on retailer websites, so it's important to know what you're looking for.

It's also worth knowing that most record players can be plugged into a separate amplifier hi-fi system, too.

Both record players and turntables can cost thousands of pounds but for those of us who aren’t aspiring DJs or a keen audiophile, there are models out there for as little as £40. So whether you simply want to play your old records again or need to transfer them onto your computer, make sure you buy the right record player for you, otherwise you might be left feeling underwhelmed by the results.

What should you look for in a record player?

Auto operation

This fully automates the moving of the tonearm (the moveable part of the record player that houses the needle and follows the grooves on the record), making playing your records easy. This will also reduce the chance of you damaging your records or needle by lowering it too quickly. 

Belt drive

A belt-drive turntable uses an elastic belt to connect the motor to the platter where the record sits. Some turntables are direct-drive, where the platter is spun directly by gears from the motor, but these are only really used by DJs who want their records to start spinning immediately. 

Built-in speakers

Some record players include built-in speakers, which means you don’t need to buy additional speakers or plug in existing speakers you own. Sound quality on built-in speakers will be a lot worse than playing records through hi-fi speakers though, so they're more a handy extra than a killer feature. 

Should you buy a USB record player?

A classic record player will play records via an amplifier that will create sound through loudspeakers or headphones. Recently there has been a demand for record players that will digitise your records, too. Recording your vinyl digitally means you'll be able to listen back to your collection on a computer or other digital music player.  

USB record players plug into your computer via a USB cable. Most come with software, such as Audacity, that will convert your records into other music formats. Most typically, conversion software will allow you to split up tracks into separate audio files, search for album titles or artists online and name the applicable files. Some software will also help you clean up clicks/scratches in the recording, and get rid of background noise. 

USB turntables are ideal for someone looking to transfer their record collection to other music forms but you'll have to be careful to ensure you get a good-quality recording.

Pros:

  • You can easily transfer your whole record collection to other digital music formats.
  • Widely available and becoming a more common feature on record players.
  • Cheaper than other types of record player.

Cons:

  • This type of player tends to be cheaper so the quality of features, such as the cartridge, can be lacking.
  • The tonearm and stylus are of reduced quality too. The worst-offending models may even cause the records you play to wear out quicker.

Should you buy a second-hand record player?

It’s understandable that you may be considering buying a second-hand record player, especially if you’re only planning to use it infrequently. But there are a number of points you should remember when scanning the internet for a deal:

Condition: Your vinyl records are fragile and easily damaged. Therefore always look at the condition of the turntable, especially where your record will be in physical contact with it.

Features: To reduce the chances of damaging your record, the turntable base, platter and tonearm should be in good working order. Make sure the base is level, the platter moves freely and evenly and the tonearm moves across the record without friction.

Stylus and cartridge: These are essential parts of the record player that will actually touch your record. Always ask about the amount of use they’ve had, but for peace of mind, it may be better to purchase these items new.

Type: Make sure the record player you’re purchasing can play all records in your collection. One that plays 78rpm is no use if it doesn’t also play 33s and 45s.

Should you buy a portable record player?

If you like the idea of being able to listen to your records in different places around the house you may be attracted to the idea of a portable record player. Some of the most popular brands, such as Crosley and GPO, make turntables that fold up into carry cases and even include built-in speakers.

These vinyl players often feature retro styling, reminiscent of the classic Dansette record players of the 1960s. Unfortunately, though, they tend not to sound as good as they look. You want a turntable to be as solid and sturdy as possible to minimise unwanted vibrations from outside.

The cheap portable players from brands such as Crosley are built to be lightweight and, as such, they’re often a bit flimsy. They won’t recreate the delicate vibrations of the vinyl as faithfully as one of our Best Buy models, so if it’s sound quality you’re after you’ll want to steer clear of portable players.

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