The Best Turntables Under $500 in 2024

by Bruno Brozovic

In this comprehensive article, I will explore the best turntables under $500, considering factors such as sound quality, features, user experience, and expert opinions. Turntables have made a remarkable comeback in recent years, capturing the hearts of audiophiles and music enthusiasts alike. Whether you’re a seasoned vinyl collector or a newcomer to the world of analog sound, finding a high-quality turntable at an affordable price is crucial.

Best Turntables Under 500

Essential Features to Consider When Choosing a Turntable Under $500

Manual vs. Automatic Turntables: Exploring the Differences

When it comes to turntables, there are distinct differences between manual and automatic models that greatly impact the user experience. Understanding these differences is essential for selecting the right type of turntable that aligns with your preferences and needs. In this comprehensive overview, we will delve into the characteristics and features that differentiate manual and automatic turntables.

  1. User Interaction: One of the primary distinctions between manual and automatic turntables lies in the level of user interaction. Manual turntables require more active participation from the user. This includes manually placing the stylus (also known as the needle) on the record and lifting it off at the end of playback. On the other hand, automatic turntables prioritize ease of use, allowing users to initiate the playback process with the press of a button. A mechanical system takes care of placing the stylus on the record and returning it to its original position automatically.

  2. Control and Precision: Manual turntables provide enhanced control and precision for audiophiles who prefer a hands-on approach. These models allow for precise cueing and pitch adjustments, giving users greater control over their listening experience. In contrast, automatic turntables handle these aspects automatically, making them a more convenient option for those who prioritize simplicity and ease of use.

  3. Playback Process: With manual turntables, users have complete control over the entire playback process. They manually lower the stylus onto the record, ensuring proper alignment and contact. This hands-on approach can be enjoyable for enthusiasts seeking a more involved experience. On the other hand, automatic turntables streamline the process by automatically placing the stylus on the record. This feature is particularly beneficial for individuals who prefer a hassle-free listening experience or those who may be concerned about accidentally damaging the stylus.

  4. Semi-Automatic Turntables: It’s worth mentioning that there is a middle ground between manual and automatic turntables known as semi-automatic turntables. These models feature a hybrid system where the user manually starts and lowers the tonearm onto the record, but the system automatically lifts and retracts the tonearm to the off position at the end of playback. Semi-automatic turntables offer a compromise between user control and convenience.

  5. Considerations and Personal Preferences: When deciding between manual and automatic turntables, it’s essential to consider personal preferences and listening habits. If you prioritize a hands-on experience, enhanced control, and the ability to fine-tune various aspects of playback, a manual turntable may be the ideal choice. However, if you prefer a hassle-free listening experience, convenience, and ease of operation, an automatic turntable may suit your needs better.

Ultimately, the decision between manual and automatic turntables depends on individual preferences, desired level of involvement, and the overall listening experience you seek. By understanding the distinctions outlined in this overview, you can make an informed choice when selecting the type of turntable that best aligns with your preferences and enhances your vinyl journey.

Do I need a phono preamp?

When setting up a turntable, one crucial consideration is whether or not you need a phono preamp, also known as a phono stage or phono preamplifier. A phono preamp is a small but essential piece of equipment that can significantly impact your enjoyment of vinyl records. In this article, we will delve into the topic of phono preamps and help you determine whether you need one built into your turntable.

The primary purpose of a phono preamp is to amplify the signal coming from the cartridge on your turntable. Unlike other audio sources like CD players or streaming devices, the signal from a turntable’s cartridge is significantly weaker, around 1,000 times lower. This low-level signal needs to be boosted to be compatible with your speakers or stereo system. The phono preamp is responsible for amplifying and equalizing this signal to a level that can be properly reproduced by your audio system.

Many modern turntables come with a built-in phono preamp, also referred to as a “phono preamp built-in” or “phono preamp onboard”. Having a built-in phono preamp offers convenience, as it eliminates the need for an external preamp and allows you to connect the turntable directly to your amplifier or receiver. This is particularly useful if your audio system lacks a dedicated phono input.

However, not all turntables have a built-in phono preamp. Some models, especially higher-end or audiophile-grade turntables, may omit the built-in preamp to provide more flexibility and allow users to choose their preferred phono preamp separately. In such cases, you would need to connect an external phono preamp between your turntable and the amplifier/receiver.

List Of The Best Turntables Under $500

Fluance RT85

1. Fluance RT-85

1. Fluance RT-85

The Fluance RT85 turntable is a highly regarded model known for its exceptional performance and features. It has garnered positive reviews and is considered one of the best turntables in its category.

The RT85 is part of the Fluance Reference Series and offers several notable features that contribute to its impressive sound reproduction. One key highlight is the use of an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge in the RT85N variant, which is renowned for its clarity, smoothness, and overall audio quality. This cartridge upgrade enhances the performance of the turntable and contributes to a more immersive listening experience.

The RT85 features a belt-drive system, which ensures stable and accurate playback with low noise levels. It incorporates an acrylic platter, which provides improved rotational stability and vibration damping, ultimately contributing to better audio performance. Additionally, the turntable boasts a solid wood plinth with MDF (medium-density fiberboard) construction, offering both aesthetic appeal and improved resonance control.

Overall, the Fluance RT85 turntable is highly regarded for its high-fidelity sound reproduction, attention to detail, and thoughtful design elements. It is suitable for audiophiles and music enthusiasts looking to elevate their vinyl listening experience.

Fluance RT85 Turntable with Ortofon Cartridge, Acrylic Platter, Speed Control, and Vibration Isolation - High Fidelity Vinyl Record Player
  • PURE ANALOG PERFORMANCE - The definitive vinyl record listening experience for beautifully warm and natural music,...
  • SPECTACULAR MUSICAL ACCURACY - Immerse yourself in the detailed high resolution sound of the Ortofon 2M Blue elliptical...
  • HIGH DENSITY ACRYLIC PLATTER - The greater mass of the acrylic platter damps unwanted vibrations resulting in a more...
  • SPEED CONTROL FOR PRECISION PLAYBACK - The isolated motor prevents unwanted vibrations and noise while the speed control...
  • High Mass MDF Wood Plinth - Revel in the gorgeously crafted cabinet with real wood finish and a highly precise metal...

Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB

2. Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB

2. Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB

The Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB turntable is a notable model known for its sound-first design and compatibility with various audio gear on the market. It offers several features and upgrades that enhance its performance and make it appealing to audiophiles.

One of the notable features of the Debut III Phono SB is its inclusion of a dust cover, protecting the turntable when not in use. The turntable is available in gloss black or real walnut veneer finishes, allowing users to choose an aesthetic that suits their preferences.

The Debut III Phono SB utilizes a speed controller/stabilizer that is also used in the Debut Carbon EVO model, ensuring accurate and stable playback. This feature contributes to the overall sound quality and performance of the turntable.

Additionally, the Debut III Phono SB introduces a precision 8.6″ Aluminum Tonearm with a pre-mounted Ortofon OM5e cartridge. This combination is known for resulting in improved audio fidelity.

The turntable has received positive reviews, with praise for its sound performance, level of detail, and dynamics. It is noted for its ability to handle various genres of music with confidence and clarity. The Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB is considered a solidly designed and well-finished turntable, maintaining the brand’s reputation for excellence.

Overall, the Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB turntable is a compelling option for audiophiles seeking a high-quality turntable with a sound-first design. Its compatibility with a wide range of audio gear, the inclusion of a dust cover, and the addition of an Ortofon OM5e cartridge contribute to its appeal and performance.

Pro-Ject Debut III Phono SB, Audiophile turntable with aluminium tonearm, Electronic Speed Selection and pre-mounted Ortofon OM5e phono cartridge (Walnut)
  • Precision 8.6" Aluminum Tonearm with pre-mounted and pre-adjusted Ortofon OM5e cartridge
  • High Precision "Speedbox" DC speed contol for selection of 33 and 45/78 RPM playback
  • Built-in Phono Preamp: Select Line Out to connect to an amplifier without a phono stage or Phono Out if you have an...
  • 1,7kg heavy steel platter for best speed accuracy and speed stability (Wow & Flutter)
  • Includes 1.23m semi-balanced shielded audio cable and dustcover

Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB

3. Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB

3. Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is a popular turntable known for its versatility and quality performance. It offers features that cater to both DJs and music enthusiasts, making it a well-rounded choice for vinyl playback.

One of the standout features of the AT-LP120XUSB is its ability to handle various types of vinyl records, whether it’s new releases, old classics, or even 78 RPM records. This versatility allows users to enjoy a wide range of music and explore their vinyl collection to the fullest.

The turntable is equipped with the AT-VM95E cartridge, which is designed to deliver reliable and accurate audio reproduction. This cartridge contributes to the overall sound quality and ensures a satisfying listening experience.

In terms of sound quality, the AT-LP120XUSB has received positive reviews. While it may have a slightly inferior sound quality compared to some high-end models, it still offers impressive performance for its price range. Additionally, the turntable comes with a convenient built-in preamp, eliminating the need for an external preamp and making it easier to connect to a variety of audio systems.

The AT-LP120XUSB has been praised for its value for money, as it offers a range of features at a lower price point compared to some competitors. It is considered one of the best turntables available, ranking favorably among other models in terms of overall performance.

Overall, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is a versatile and well-regarded turntable suitable for both DJs and music enthusiasts. Its ability to handle various types of vinyl records, reliable cartridge, and built-in preamp contribute to its appeal. Whether you’re playing new releases or rediscovering old favorites, the AT-LP120XUSB is designed to deliver a satisfying and enjoyable vinyl listening experience.

Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB-BK Direct-Drive Turntable (Analog & USB), Fully Manual, Hi-Fi, 3 Speed, Convert Vinyl to Digital, Anti-Skate and Variable Pitch Control Black
  • Experience the high-fidelity audio of vinyl
  • Direct-drive, DC servo motor with selectable 33/45/78 RPM speeds. Damped base construction for reduced low-frequency...
  • Fully manual operation featuring adjustable dynamic anti-skate control, variable pitch control with quartz speed lock,...
  • Convert your vinyl records to digital audio files by downloading and using the free Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity...
  • Includes: USB cable, detachable RCA output cable (dual RCA male to dual RCA male), AC adapter, 45 RPM adapter,...

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

4. Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

4. Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB is a turntable that offers a combination of affordability, quality, and convenience. It is part of Pro-Ject’s T-line, which has garnered positive reviews for its performance and features.

One notable feature of the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB is its integrated turntable preamplifier and button speed switch. This means that it comes with a built-in phono stage, allowing users to connect the turntable directly to powered speakers or amplifiers without the need for an external preamp. The button speed switch allows for easy switching between 33 1/3 and 45 RPM speeds, providing flexibility when playing different vinyl records.

In terms of sound quality, the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB has received favorable feedback. It is considered an audiophile analog package that delivers top sound at an affordable price. Pro-Ject has a reputation for producing quality-oriented budget turntables, and the T1 Phono SB is seen as the current interpretation of their successful line.

The T1 Phono SB has also been praised for its build quality and features. It is designed to provide a reliable and enjoyable vinyl listening experience, with attention to detail in its construction and components. The turntable’s performance and sonic capabilities have been positively evaluated, further establishing Pro-Ject as a reliable and reputable brand in the turntable market.

Overall, the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB offers a compelling package for those seeking a quality turntable at an accessible price point. Its integrated preamp and button speed switch adds convenience and versatility to the user experience, while its sound quality and build quality meet the expectations of audiophiles and music enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly turntable that doesn’t compromise on performance, the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB is worth considering.

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB Turntable with Built-in Preamp and Electronic Speed Change (Piano Black)
  • Tonearm and cartridge completely setup at the Factory for simple installation at home
  • 8mm thick bead-blasted glass platter
  • Premium mechanical parts used throughout for smooth, precise playback of records
  • Precise, electronic selection of 33 1/3 and 45 RPM playback Speed
  • Built-in, bypassable phono preamp for connection to any audio system

U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus

5. U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus

5. U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus

The U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus turntable is a model that offers simplicity, solid performance, and value for money. It has gained attention for its design, features, and overall sound quality.

One notable feature of the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus is its acrylic platter, which not only enhances the turntable’s aesthetics but also improves speed stability and reduces unwanted resonances. This contributes to a more lifelike tonality and punchier bass, enhancing the overall listening experience.

In terms of sound quality, the Orbit Plus has been well-received. It has been described as sounding quite good, providing a satisfying musical experience. While it may not be the most high-end turntable on the market, it offers solid performance for its price point, making it an attractive option for those looking to dip their toes into vinyl playback.

The Orbit Plus has also been commended for its ease of setup and use. It is a user-friendly turntable that allows for hassle-free operation, making it suitable for beginners or those new to vinyl playback. The simplicity of its design, while lacking some advanced features found in more expensive models, has been appreciated by those who prefer a straightforward approach to turntable functionality.

Overall, the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus offers a solid package for vinyl enthusiasts seeking an affordable and user-friendly turntable. With its sleek design, improved speed stability, and pleasing sound quality, it presents a compelling option in its price range. While there may be more feature-rich and higher-performing turntables available at a higher price point, the Orbit Plus delivers a satisfying listening experience for those starting their vinyl journey or looking for a reliable and straightforward turntable setup.

U-Turn Audio - Orbit Plus Turntable with Built-in Preamp (Blue)
127 Reviews
U-Turn Audio - Orbit Plus Turntable with Built-in Preamp (Blue)
  • Now with built-in Pluto preamp, connects directly to powered speakers or amplifier
  • High-performance turntable, assembled in the USA by U-Turn Audio
  • Comes with precision tonearm, Ortofon OM5E cartridge, acrylic platter, dust cover, adjustable counterweight
  • Easy to set up and use, 3-year manufacturer warranty
  • Key specs: 12.5 lbs, 5 x 17 x 13", 0.125% wow & flutter, -79dBA S/N ratio, -63dBA rumble

Conclusion

When it comes to selecting the best turntable under $500, several models stand out for their exceptional performance, features, and value. The Rega Planar 3, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo, and Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB are widely recognized for their reliability and sound quality. The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB and U-Turn Orbit Custom offer affordable options with impressive performance and customization. Ultimately, the best turntable for you will depend on your specific requirements and preferences. With the options outlined in this article, you can confidently embark on your vinyl journey without breaking the bank.

How much do I need to spend on a good turntable?

Expect to pay between $250 and $500 for an entry-level turntable that will not cause harm and has decent sound quality. I recommend that you stick to well-known, reliable brands.

Do cheap turntables damage vinyl?

Cheap turntables, in general, will not deliver the same sound quality as high-end. However, as long as the turntable is in good working condition and the stylus is not worn out, they are unlikely to damage your vinyl records. However, there are very cheap crystal needle turntables that damage records.

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