Choosing The Best Record Players: A Detailed Comparison Guide

Choosing the ideal record player will really depend on a couple of personal preferences of yours. Perhaps you prefer a belt drive over a direct drive player or perhaps you like to have a phono preamp to boost the volume up. Some of these devices will not have these options at all because they might be built specifically for DJs whereas some are more geared towards vintage record lovers. If all these terms mean nothing to you, don’t worry, it’ll all be explained right at the bottom of this comparison chart to help you choose the ideal unit for your needs. First off though, here’s a chart that details the technical specifications and features of the top record players in the market along with the current prices that you can get them for.

How to choose the best record player

 

There are a few miscellaneous features in each player that will cause it to be substantially different from its counterparts. The first would be the type of drive that it uses in order to rotate the platter (the platform where the vinyl record will be placed on). There are 2 types of drives: the belt drive and the direct drive turntable.

Feature #1 – Belt drive or direct drive?

In order to spin the platter, a motor has to be installed on the turntable. In most vintage players, the motor will exist right beside the platter and an elastic belt will connect the both of them together. This is called the belt drive.

In a more modern direct drive model, the motor will be mounted beneath the platter itself. This allows the platter to be rotated backwards by hand (for DJs mostly) to create additional sound effects.

As a general rule, a belt drive will produce audio that is much more isolated and stable in nature. This is because the belt provides a shock absorbent effect which helps reduce the vibration from the motor whereby in direct drive players, motor noise will be sent directly into the platter. While this is theoretically the case, many of the higher-end direct drive devices have completely eliminated these interferences from these vibrations so both options are totally fine.

With that said, DJs don’t have much of a choice but to go for direct drive turntables because of their backward-spinning capabilities.

Feature #2 – Manual or automatic operation?

Manual players would require users to lift the tonearm manually and place it onto the record. There are also some of these “manual” record players that are semi-automated in the sense that the tonearm will be lowered slowly by a cueing mechanism. After it finishes playing, you’ll have to turn it off yourself.

Automatic variants are much rarer in general. For an automatic unit, you merely have to place the vinyl record on the platter and push a button. The tonearm will be lifted, moved over to the record and lowered on it automatically. When it finishes playing, the tonearm will return to its resting position and the device will shut itself off.

Manual devices do offer a more vintage feeling but if you’d rather opt for convenience, automatic players are the way to go.

Feature #3 – Internal or external phono preamp

A photo preamp (or preamplifier) is a device that amplifies the electrical signals produced by the needle before you can hear the music. With an internal preamp, you could start using the player right then and there after purchasing it. This used to be a worrying aspect because some of the older units would lack internal speakers with a built-in phono preamp.

These days though, a lot of modern record players are designed to include this feature so you shouldn’t have be too concerned with this. Regardless of that, it is highly recommended that you attach an external preamp and an audio system to the player so that your vinyl listening experience could be enhanced significantly this way.

Feature #4 – USB interface option

If you plan on transferring your vinyl collection onto your computer for whatever reason, you’ll need a unit that has a USB interface. Plain and simple.

Feature #5 – Recording Capabilities

Not all units would have the ability to play all record types. There are 3 main types: 33s, 45s and 78s. These numbers represent the time it takes for the record to spin. Almost all players have the capability to play 33s and 45s but not all can play 78s.

Deciding On Your Record Player

First of all, before you decide to purchase any of these devices, you should really set a budget because there’s a huge selection of these around and the price range varies significantly (from as low as $$ to as high as $$$). Naturally, the best record players will have a premier audio quality over the rest, but they are also a lot more expensive. The top-end versions are generally referred to as “Super-OEM” and they belong to a whole new tier of quality. Today, there are only 3 of such units that share a similar “Super-OEM” quality and those would be the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB, the Stanton ST-150 and the Numark TTXUSB.

The 3 Best Record Players In 2020

The 3 of these offer the best performance by far, compared to some 20+ record players that we’ve tested thoroughly over the years. Out of these 3 however, the Stanton ST-150 is approximately $$$ more expensive compared to the other 2 despite having the same quality level. The reason for that? Stanton had decided to include a cartridge in the ST-150 and slapped a premium of $$$ onto it, which is an arguably poor decision on their part since many of us vinyl enthusiasts would rather save up on that and choose our own cartridges to attach to the headshell. Of course, if you’re completely new to this and you just want the convenience of owning a unit that works right out of the box, then the Stanton ST-150 would be your best bet.

The choice between the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB and the Numark TTXUSB is much harder, but we did eventually select Audio-Technica as our top pick simply because we’ve personally used many other of its older (and cheaper) models, most of which have been extremely impressive in terms of their performance and reliability. Numark has a decent track record too, but prior to this recent “Super-OEM” product of theirs, the previous models were rather mediocre in comparison to Audio-Technica’s.

Verdict

The Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 remains our top choice thanks to its impressive performance and reliability. Its motor is very strong (great torque), the build is beautifully constructed (heavy-duty steel) and the additional features that it comes with will satisfy even the most nitpicky of DJs.

It shares a similar tone-arm to the Stanton ST-150, which is essentially the best in the market. If you wish to transfer some of your vinyl collection over to a computer, you can do it simply by attaching a USB cable (included in the set) to its port (the Stanton lacks this function).

The AT-LP1240 also comes with a dust cover (a nice touch since most modern players have omitted this for some odd reason), a slip mat for the turntable and a silver headshell. The only thing that’s lacking in this entire set is a cartridge, so you’ll have to install your own one. For certain audiophiles like myself, it’s actually a plus since we prefer to use our own cartridges (the Shure M44-7 or Shure M97xE cartridge works great here by the way). Everything worked really well and has a solid feel to it. The buttons have a rubbery feel to them and they click audibly, unlike the cheap plastic ones that exist on many other inferior units.

Final Words

For any DJs or vinyl enthusiasts, the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 is certainly the best record player that you can have as it has every fundamental feature that we could think of and the build quality is just amazing. You’ll have to install your own cartridge here though since it’s not included. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, you should know that setting up your own cartridge can be time-consuming and require a ton of patience, plus you’ll need a set of additional tools to do it (tweezers, stylus pressure gauge, alignment gauge etc.). In such an instance, you might want to stick to the Stanton ST-150 since it comes with an attached cartridge.

There are plenty of similar models by Audio-Technica so make sure you get the right one here:

>> Click here to check out the latest price and other user
reviews of the Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 at Amazon.com

OR if you’re looking to purchase a straightforward, instant plug and play unit that already comes equipped with a cartridge,

>> Click here to check out the latest price and other
user reviews of the Stanton ST-150 at Amazon.com