Establishing a benchmark for “affordable” audiophile turntables has become somewhat difficult. Everyone has a different definition of what that actually means. I consider $500 to be a good starting point for a quality and affordable high-end turntable.
WTF audio reviewer guy? $500 is a lot of money for a turntable.
$500 is a lot of money for a pair of boots. But if you use that pair of boots every single day and take good care of them – they should last you a very long time.
The same logic should apply to your turntable. Do you use it every single day? Do you spend more than $500 each year on records? If you own 800 records, spending $500 on a turntable is really not that large of an expenditure.
If you own 80 records and spend $5,000 on a turntable – I think you need help or more friends.
Why are consumers so willing to spend $3,000 on a 4K OLED television, $2,000 on a laptop, or $1,000 on a new phone – but instantly insulted if you suggest spending $500 on a turntable.
Just wait till we explain the merits of spending $1,000 – $2,000 on a turntable.
The hate mail will be strong after that one. Shame.
How you spend your money on a turntable is ultimately your decision, but understand that $250 turntables are not capable of letting you hear what your records really sound like. Not a chance.
Buy a better turntable. The table is the most important part of the table/tonearm/cartridge equation. Sticking a $500 cartridge on a $250 table is dumb. It won’t deliver the improvement in sound quality that you think it will. A $100 cartridge on a $500 turntable will always win in that scenario.
What Should You Buy?
Established high-end audio brands like Pro-Ject, and Rega Research have decades of experience building high-performance, affordable turntables and wisely chose to embrace this new generation of listeners with entry-level packages that will not be tossed into the dumpster bin of history when we all finally submit to the Borg…digital streaming services.
Affordable audiophile turntables have taken huge strides in both build and playback quality – making them worthy analog sources that will bring justice to your record collection at a price that won’t break the bank.
U-Turn Orbit Custom/Acrylic Platter/Grado Labs Black3/Walnut Plinth ($439.00)
U-Turn Audio were one of the first American turntable manufacturers to take advantage of the resurgence of vinyl with affordable tables hand-built in Massachusetts made from American-sourced parts. Started by a trio of recent college graduates from the area, the brand hit the ground running and has never looked back. Fast forward 9 years to 2021, and we find this upstart brand offering entry-level turntables priced below $500 with real hardwood plinths, acrylic platters, and an optional internal Pluto phono stage which can be bypassed if your existing amplifier already offers a phono pre-amplifier.
U-Turn offer a limited selection of moving magnet phono cartridges from Ortofon, Audio-Technica, and Grado Labs to finish off your table. The Grado Black3 keeps this remarkably confident sounding entry-level turntable affordable and audiophile approved. $439 at uturnaudio.com.
Rega Planar 1/Rega Carbon ($475.95)
Rega have been building affordable audiophile turntables in the United Kingdom for close to 50 years; the RB-300 series tonearms are one of the best-selling high-end audio components in history. The Planar series turntables are considered a benchmark in affordable high-end design – products that are known to play nicely in the sandbox with a wide range of cartridges, and big on what the Brits call “PRaT” (Pace, Rhythm, & Timing). Rega tables run a little fast creating that boogie factor, something that you’ll notice about the Planar 1 that includes a Rega Carbon cartridge which is pre-installed.
For 2021, Rega have introduced a new matte finish and redesigned RB110 tonearm with ultra-low friction bearings. The 23 mm high mass phenolic platter is another improvement that makes this one of the best tables in the group. Rega does tables at this price point the right way. $475 at Turntable Lab.
Fluance RT85/Ortofon 2M Blue ($499.99)
Audiophiles often dismiss entry-level tables for using MDF plinths, cheap tonearms, and bargain basement cartridges, but none of those criticisms could be levelled at the Fluance RT85. With a solid wood plinth, acrylic platter, 9-inch aluminum tonearm, and pre-installed Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, the RT85 is a genuine audiophile turntable that delivers speed stability, a dynamic sounding presentation, and a lot of performance for the money.
The only item not included in the box with the Fluance RT85 is a phono pre-amplifier which will run users between $130 for a Schiit Audio Mani or Moon by SimAudio 110LP V2 which retails for $399. Both work exceptionally well with the Ortofon 2M Blue and would elevate the sound of the RT85 to end-game table performance for most people assembling an entry-level high-end audio system. $499 at Amazon.
Pro-Ject Audio Systems Debut Carbon EVO ($499.00)
The Debut Carbon has been one of Pro-Ject’s best-selling turntables for a number of years, so we expected nothing but quality from the brand-new Debut Carbon EVO edition. Everything about the EVO feels new and the build quality and finish options are exceptional at this price point. The new table features a TPE-damped steel platter, electronic speed changer and stabilizer, TPE-damped isolation feet, and pre-installed Sumiko Rainier phono cartridge which is mounted on an 8.6” low-mass carbon fiber tonearm.
The Rainier offers a replaceable stylus that can be easily upgraded to a Sumiko Olympia in a matter of seconds. No need to replace the cartridge, reset the alignment nor rebalance the tonearm. The Debut Carbon EVO has a robust and warm presentation that will elevate the sound of your records in a very big way. The differences between the EVO and its predecessor are not subtle improvements. This may be one of the best $500 – $1,000 turntables available today. $499 at Amazon.
All four of these affordable audiophile turntables are dramatically better than anything else in the category below $500 and give you a solid platform to enjoy your record collection. You can always upgrade the cartridge but we would advise selecting the right phono stage before rushing to make any changes. Actually listen to the changes in the presentation, detail, pacing, clarity, and tonal balance and just sit back and enjoy your records.