Raise your hand if you thought turntables would be one of the hottest gifts in 2021 on Black Friday. It’s been fascinating to watch the rebirth of vinyl (and can we stop calling it a revolution after almost 10 years) and there is a lot of debate around who makes the best affordable turntables.
Establishing a benchmark for the best “affordable” turntables has become somewhat difficult. Everyone has a different definition of what that means. We consider $500 to be a good starting point for a quality and affordable high-end turntable. Hopefully, our 2021 Holiday Buying Guide will make the process easier for you.
Turntable sales have not been this good for almost 3 decades and while supply chain issues are most certainly an issue for some brands now, many tables are in stock and well worth considering.
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 ($499.00)
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.
- Where to buy: $499 at uturnaudio.com | Amazon
Rega Planar 1/Rega Carbon ($525)
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.
- Where to buy: $525 at Amazon | 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 $149 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.
- Where to buy: $499 at Amazon
Pro-Ject Audio Systems Debut Carbon EVO ($599.00)
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.
Where to buy: $599 at Amazon | Crutchfield | Turntable Lab
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.
February 10, 2021 at 8:51 pm
Ian, recently found this site and you are my hero: affordable gear reviews but not ignoring sound quality.
February 10, 2021 at 9:32 pm
Appreciate the note and yes == we will be covering a lot more affordable products, including used high-end and vintage.
September 20, 2021 at 1:16 pm
Pity that “The AR” didn’t survive the 80’s for manufacturing. At least Thorens is still making TT’s.
September 20, 2021 at 1:25 pm
You can find AR tables but they all need to be restored. I’m on table #3 from Vinyl Nirvana in NH and Dave does wonderful things with older Thorens tables.
September 20, 2021 at 1:59 pm
Pro-Ject raised the price to $600
September 20, 2021 at 2:06 pm
Good to know and I have corrected. The Debut EVO Pro is completely sold out right now. 1-2 weeks before any more units are available here.
We’re seeing more and more of that this month. Brands are raising prices by 10-20% on a lot of their products. Expect this trend to last until Q4 2022.
September 24, 2021 at 1:54 am
There is an Italian company, New Horizon, with their new entry model 101 at under 600 I think that could be another interesting contender.
November 13, 2021 at 3:12 am
Affordable turntables these days are $1000 and up. $500 ones have need around 25 plus years. What? Like King Tut you’re taking your monies to the next life? Get you a right one.
November 13, 2021 at 12:28 pm
65% of turntables sales are under $500. I agree that spending $1,000 gets you a better deck but we’re trying to get people away from the $250 decks and to look between $500 and $1,000.
November 18, 2021 at 2:07 am
I commend you on understanding his unintelligible comment… For my “monies” I went with the RT85 and am well pleased for the price!! Enjoyed your article.. look forward to a vintage receiver shootout between Marantz Yamaha Sansui and others from that era. I would love to know who put in the best phono stage, had the best specs etc.. who’s underrated who’s overrated..
November 18, 2021 at 2:40 am
Solid selection for your “monies” and we are planning a receiver or integrated shoot-out for 2022 including NAD, Sansui, McIntosh, Marantz, Yamaha, and a few others from that era.
I had a Yamaha CA-2010 with a great MC phono stage.
November 24, 2021 at 7:44 pm
I have a CR-2040 that has been boxed, sealed, and cared for since 1998. I am now afraid to unbox it and fire it up. I am sure needs to be gone through first and all the caps checked for leakage, etc. It is a discreet components receiver as you know. I don’t think there is an LSI in it anywhere. Long and short, who do you suggest I send it to to check it out before I use it again.
December 8, 2021 at 5:57 am
Using the table, you can filter up to the street where you live
January 18, 2022 at 5:00 pm
After much research and budget analysis I replaced my ancient and failing Ariston Q-Deck with the exact U-turn Orbit table that you reviewed except I chose the Ortofon Blue. I love it. One issue that has been brought up in user reviews, is their customer service. Send them an email or call on the phone and one of the founders answers. I had a grounding question that was worked out on the phone. I thought I heard a little to much motor noise on a low cutting level direct to disc, and a new motor arrived – no questions/no charge. They are a pleasure to deal with.
January 18, 2022 at 5:21 pm
As a customer myself — I agree 100%
I’ve purchased 2 tables from them over the years and they have always been great to deal with.
August 18, 2022 at 2:35 am
Greetings! Just discovered you. I realise that most “vinyl” hounds are mainly concerned with L.P.s — and I do have a number of those (many of them 10-inchers from the 1948-1956 era); I also have a selection of 45s; however, I have been buying records since the 1940s, and I have far more 78s than anything else. I wish that reviewers would take 78 r.p.m.s into account, when evaluating a turntable — at the very least, please note when the 78 r.p.m. speed is not included! My favourite cartridges are the Ortofon 2M BLACK, The Ortofon 2M MONO, and the Ortofon 2M 78. I also use an Ortofon 2M RED, wired with one channel out-of-phase, with the channels summed for mono and a 2M 78 stylus, for playing Edison Diamond Discs which are cut vertically. 1950s 78s sometimes have irregular grooves near the outside diameter of the disc — and when tracking at 1.9 grammes, this presents a problem for many ‘tables/tonearms — especially those of (or fashioned after) the Technics SL-1200. What happens is, the stylus will jump the groove. Also, the stylus will tend to leave the groove on lead-out. One turntable/tonearm which very successfully negotiated such tricky gymnastic difficulties at light tracking-pressures, was the DUAL CS-5000 (the CS-7000 and the Golden One, I would presume did also — though I never owned/used either of those two CS-5000-based units). This turntable suffered from about the poorest sound-isolation, being prone to foot-falls and acoustic feedback (NOT good!). It also was quartz-locked at the three standard speeds — meaning that I could not adjust the speed to 80 r.p.m., to match Columbia, Edison, and some other pre-1930 records. Equally-awful was the automatic lift at the end of a side — causing some records to trigger that feature before the end of the recording. The secret to the rock-solid tracking (on warped disks also), was the counterweight well below the fulcrum, instead of being directly in line with the rest of the tonearm, and tracking-force applied with a coiled spring instead of re-adjusting the static balance of the counterweight. Why DUAL since its return has abandoned these features so useful for 78s is beyond me. Any deck will play 33s and 45s; however, I still am searching for one that is also ideally-designed to accommodate 78s. Thanks!