Vintage turntables have become extremely popular during this new golden age of vinyl, but we are not entirely convinced that consumers looking for a vintage turntable really understand what that entails. “Vintage” gets used a lot as a marketing term to attract a certain type of customer — but don’t confuse that attempt to sell you something with the importance of quality.
Not every vintage turntable is worth considering. This list could have included products like the iconic Linn Sondek LP12, Michell Gyrodeck, Oracle Delphi, or Well Tempered Lab turntable, but we wanted to keep this below $2,000. Gulp. That “quality” thing that we mentioned already comes with a price.
We love the vintage turntables below because the brands still exist, parts are available, companies can restore them for you, and because they sound great when properly set-up. Don’t be seduced by some fancy images you see online or a review from 1983 that makes one of these turntables sound like your dream vintage turntable.
We wouldn’t recommend these turntables if we didn’t have extensive experience with them or own them currently.
One of the most iconic belt-driven vintage turntables of the 1970s, the Thorens TD-125 is in serious demand in 2021. Restoration companies like Vinyl Nirvana can’t work on them fast enough for customers who either found one online or at a garage sale. Thorens sold more than 100,000 TD-125s in 1975 alone (according to the numbers), and that means that there are lot of tables and parts floating around.
What made the TD-125 so unique was the electronic speed control that was a major feature of the turntable. The pitch control was a very important feature that high-end buyers demanded and it makes the turntable a very stable platform for a myriad of tonearms. The TD-125 was originally sold with its own tonearm, but users began switching them out for SME tonearms for their superior performance. It’s a heavy suspended design with a 7-pound platter and they are made to last.
The TD-125 is an easy turntable to service, modify, and restore making it very popular with audiophiles who remember its excellent speed stability, and very pleasing tone. It doesn’t offer the same degree of low-end extension of some comparable modern decks, but it’s a great table with something like the Ortofon 2M Black, Denon DL-103, or Dynavector low-output moving coil cartridges. The suspended design definitely requires some isolation, and we recommend a very heavy equipment rack or wall-mounted turntable shelf in your listening room.
41 years have passed since VPI introduced its first turntable; the HW-19 was introduced in 1980 and offered with either the Jelco Profile or AudioQuest PT5 tonearms. This extremely heavy and well-engineered turntable, along with the MK II, MK III, and MK IV variants, have a serious cult following around the globe. There is no question that VPI have become the premier American turntable manufacturer with models ranging from the entry-level Cliffwood to the $40,000 Titan that is considered to be one of the best turntables in the world.
The HW-19 models bear little resemblance to the more modern looking turntables that are currently handmade in New Jersey, but they still offer the same VPI commitment to quality, reliability, upgradability, and customer service.
The HW-19 MK III and MK IV are the perfect platforms for high-end SME or Jelco tonearms – if you can find one used online. The stainless steel/acrylic sub-chassis offers excellent isolation, and VPI have the parts to repair or update these iconic vintage turntables forever. The isolated motor offers excellent speed stability, and the tables deliver scale, clarity and a very high-level of resolution and midrange punch that lesser tables simply can’t touch. You can find used HW-19 models online but be prepared to pay a hefty price. American-made quality doesn’t come cheap.
For more information: VPI HW-19 Turntables
The Technics SL-1700 was manufactured in 1977-78 and came from a long lineage of workhorse turntables. It is asemi-automatic, direct drive turntable, and includes a strobe light with speed adjustments to ensure accuracy during playback. Technics offered the SL-1700 with an “S’ shaped tonearm and removable headshell to facilitate cartridge changes. What made the table so popular with so many users was its ease of set-up and operational simplicity.
The direct drive motor provided excellent speed stability and thrust; Technics has jumped back into the turntable market with SL-1200GR and SL-1210GR direct drive models which are significantly more expensive. The SL-1700 is not very difficult maintain and it certainly qualified as a high-end “entry-level” at the time of its introduction. The grey metal and plastic base certainly looks quite dated in 2021, but it matches visually quite well with vintage audio products from the 1970s. Finding one in reasonable condition isn’t that difficult and it certainly benefits from a quality budget cartridge under $300.
Yamaha’s top-of-the-line turntable in 1976, the YP-701 (or YP-700, depending on where it was sold) was a belt-drive, auto-return player. The table is a bit of a monster, measuring 480 x 410 x 161mm (18.9 x 16.1 x 6.3 inches) and weighing 9.2 kg (just over 20 lbs). It features a medium-mass “S” shaped tonearm with universal plug-in headshell, heavy die-cast aluminum platter, and double float suspension (arm and turntable are sprung separately from the motor to insulate against vibration and motor noise). No signal is passed until after the stylus is actually on the record, so there is no thud as the needle comes in contact on start-up.
The sound of the YP-701 has been compared with Thorens vintage turntables of the same time period, which may be partially due to similarities in the suspension design; this model was nicknamed the “poor man’s Thorens” by some. The independently suspended platter, motor and arm make this a very quiet turntable. It is a delicate sounding player, particularly sweet in the midrange and treble (not surprising for a Japanese table), but some might find the low end a bit thin and lacking in authority. I find it particularly good with jazz, classical, and acoustic music where detail is of the essence.
Dual produced their first turntable in Germany in the late 1930s. They started selling internationally in the late ‘60s with their 1009 idler wheel table, and the company added belt-drive and direct-drive turntables to the product line in the ‘70s. Dual’s best-known units are undoubtedly the 1009, 1219 and 1229; all idler drive turntables that had to compete with the more expensive and classic Garrard, Lenco, and Thorens tables of the period. The 701 was their first direct drive unit. Idler drive vintage turntables are coveted for their drive, warm tonal balance, and strong low end performance; they can also be a challenge to maintain due to their complex mechanisms.
The 701 (1973-76) on the other hand is pure simplicity, with its platter sitting directly on top of an innovative, electronic, low speed motor (which rotates at the actual record speed). The motor is so quiet and resonance-free, that it does not require isolation mounting and is secured directly to the chassis; in fact, at the time of its manufacture, it was known to be the “quietest turntable ever made,” as evaluated in independent laboratory tests.
The Dual 701 features a straight tonearm (common on all vintage Duals), shuttle cartridge mounting system, internal grounding (no finicky grounding wire to attach to the amp), a 2.9 kg (6.4 lbs) non-magnetic, dynamically balanced, detachable platter, auto-start and return, stroboscopic pitch control, and a beautiful wood plinth. It has a relatively small footprint at 420 x 362 x 145 mm (16.5 x 14.3 x 5.7 inches) but weighs a hefty 10.9 kg (24 lbs).
The 701 is authoritative and dynamic sounding, with a big, robust tone. The low-end is nice and thick; compare it to any inexpensive turntable made overseas today and you’ll hear the difference. The midrange is warm and fleshed out with good detail retrieval. Treble is pleasing and certainly not lacking, though perhaps outshone by the quality of the lower registers. The slightly forward presentation and excellent sense of pace make it an excellent choice for any genre of music.
More Reading: The Best Phono Preamps For Your Vintage Turntable