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Retro record players to avoid

By Daniel Nissenbaum

Don't be fooled by these temptingly stylish record players. Our expert testing has revealed some models that you'll definitely want to avoid. 

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The vinyl revival isn't just about sound, it's about style too. That's why we've seen such a rise in record players for the fashion conscious. Unfortunately, though, many of these affordable retro-looking models simply aren't worth the plastic they're moulded from. 

We've seen lots of these models go through our lab, and the worst of them produce sound so bad that our expert listeners were desperately reaching for the off switch. The low prices might be tempting, but there's no value in going for one of these models. Not only is sound far worse than you'd want, they can be so fiddly to operate that you'll end up damaging your records. 

The table below rounds up three of the models we recommend you steer clear of. Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access by taking a £1 trial to Which?.

Retro record players to avoid

Lowest price (in stock) £11.47
Which? score 32%
Reviewed Feb 2016
Sound quality:
2 out of 5
Ease of use:
3 out of 5
Manual or automatic:
Member exclusive
Built-in speakers:
Member exclusive

It’s pretty cheap, yes, but you’ll feel every penny saved when you start using this record player, and not in a good way. The player makes so much background hiss that the manufacturer has tried a cunning trick. Any quiet noise (i.e. not music) gets cut to zero – very clever, except this player ends up cutting out quiet sections of classical tracks.

Lowest price (in stock) £79.98
Which? score 32%
Reviewed Mar 2017
Sound quality:
2 out of 5
Ease of use:
2 out of 5
Manual or automatic:
Member exclusive
Built-in speakers:
Member exclusive

Looking at the list of features for this record player, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were on to a winner. For under £100, you get a built-in battery and speakers, and even Bluetooth connection. However, don’t be fooled – the tinny sound is so bad you’d be better off playing music through your smartphone.

Typical price £30.00
Which? score 30%
Reviewed Aug 2016
Sound quality:
2 out of 5
Ease of use:
2 out of 5
Manual or automatic:
Member exclusive
Built-in speakers:
Member exclusive

This record player is about as cheap as you can get, making it a tempting option for someone wanting to get into vinyl. However, our tests found that the sound was shockingly bad. You wouldn’t want to waste your time and money collecting your favourite records only for them to be completely ruined by this shoddy product.

Recommendations, prices and test scores correct at May 2017. 

Vintage record players - what are your options?

If a retro look is what you’re going for you essentially have two choices: go for a modern player with retro styling, or brave the second-hand market and look for a bargain. The problem with the first option is that, as mentioned above, it can be quite hard to find a retro-styled player that actually sounds good. Of course, the best way to be sure what you’re getting is to read our record player and turntable reviews.

It can be tempting to go down the second-hand route. Online auction and classified ad sites are full of listings for vintage record players. The only problem is that it’s nigh on impossible to tell the condition of the player from the photos online, and not everyone has the time or expertise to go and see each one and appraise it.

To get the best chance of getting a player that works properly, we’d recommend going for a new one. We’ve reviewed some excellent turntables available for around £100 new. If you are keen to go for a vintage model, though, there are some things you should watch out for:

  1. Check the belt. The belt is one of the most likely parts of a record player to have worn out. If the rubber looks perished you’ll need a new one. If a belt is just on the point of wearing out, you’ll notice it first when playing records at 45rpm. The belt will slip slightly and the record will play too slow. If you can, take a 45rpm record with you when you go to inspect the player.
  2. Check the platter (the bit that the record spins around on). Give it a spin with your hand and apply some downward force to see if it wobbles about at all on its bearings. A wobbly platter is a sign that the bearing or other internal mechanisms might be on their way out. Be aware, though, that some turntables have a suspension system for the platter. In this case you would expect the platter to wobble around on its springs when you push it.
  3. Check the tonearm. If any of the fastenings or joints seem wobbly the turntable may not be fit for purpose. Remember that good sound requires the needle to track the groove very precisely. If anything is rattling around when you move the tonearm this could affect the sound.
  4. Finally, check for signs that the player has been repaired shoddily. For example, screws missing in the case would suggest that someone has taken it apart and not put it back together correctly.
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