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Our Favorite Vintage Turntables for Your Stereo System

Don’t buy a vintage turntable until you read this. Here’s what you need to know.

Thorens TD-125 Turntable Tonearm Closeup

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, Roksan Xerxes, Oracle Delphi, Well Tempered Lab turntable, SOTA Sapphire, or even an older Lenco or Garrard, 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.

Thorens TD-125

Thorens TD-125 Turntable
Thorens TD-125 Turntable

One of the most iconic belt-driven vintage turntables of the 1970s, the Thorens TD-125 is in serious demand in 2022. 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. I’m 3 tables deep with Vinyl Nirvana over the past decade and nobody is better at customer service or setup help.

VPI HW-19

VPI HW-19 MK III
VPI HW-19 MK III

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.

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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

Technics SL-1700

Technics SL-1700 Turntable
Technics SL-1700 Turntable

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 YP-701

Yamaha YP-701 Turntable
Yamaha YP-701 Turntable

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. We find it particularly good with jazz, classical, and acoustic music where detail is of the essence.

One setup note that proved to be embarrassing for me — installing the belt requires removing the motor cover and carefully threading it. Eric Pye and I had a good laugh about that as I struggled to get the table working.

Many months into my journey, I’m increasingly impressed by this turntable that has delivered solid results with the Nagaoka MP-110, Denon DL-103, and a Grado Labs Opus3. Yamaha definitely didn’t skimp out when they built this.

Dual 701

Dual 701 Turntable
Dual 701 Turntable

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.

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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

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Chris Barker

    March 16, 2021 at 11:54 pm

    Readers interested in the VPI HW-19 might like to watch my new video on upgrading/restoring a VPI HW-19 Turntable. https://youtu.be/eHBp4Te0BM0

  2. John Thompson

    March 17, 2021 at 2:49 am

    Solid List! I’d add the Dual 1219/1229 and the Technics SL1200 mk2!

    • Ian White

      March 17, 2021 at 12:55 pm

      John,

      The original list had 15 tables and we had to cut it down. We will definitely update it with more as the months go by.

      The SL-1200 Mk2, Linn Sondek, Michell Gyrodeck, Ariston, Thorens TD-160 Super, Well Tempered Turntable…all good options.

      Thank you for reading.

      Ian

  3. Björn Blomberg

    April 18, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    I guess my Denon DP-37F is still superior, mainly because it’s unique tonearm which especially are “free floating” and extremely well damped by it’s electromagnetic suspension… And partly because this masterpiece have an extremely stable servo controlled direct drive, which not even change speed (in any audible way) if I use a carbon brush, while I play a record!

    You can find this model at moderate prices and Denon still make other turntables.

    BB

    • Eric Pye

      July 14, 2021 at 9:51 pm

      The Denon turntables are fantastic. I have a DP-1200, and it is rock solid. Can easily see myself following an upgrade path within the Denon catalogue in the future.

  4. Geoffrey de Brito

    July 13, 2021 at 4:04 am

    An interesting and informative article. I’m the proud owner of a Yamaha PF-1000 Turntable. I bought it new in 1985, so I’m the original owner. One of my most cherished possessions. It sat for decades in storage and getting it tuned up is definitely on my bucket list.
    For those unfamiliar, here’s a link to some info.
    http://www.thevintageknob.org/yamaha-PF-1000.html
    It only came in walnut, the black is the PF-800.

  5. MadMex

    July 17, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    Dust covers! My favorite feature on vintage turntables. 3 of the 5 pictured here have them, though fotos of the other 2 can be found with them elsewhere. Long live er, bring back the dust cover. Great short piece down memory lane.

  6. SFG

    October 20, 2021 at 10:10 pm

    I’m partial to the minimalist design and direct-drive / quartz stability of the Technics SL-1401 and its S-shaped tonearm.

  7. Audiofool

    October 23, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    I set most of these turntables up as part of my daily work in the early 80’s. The Dual arm is a problem, a rattly resonance nightmare. Avoid the direct drive TT’s from the 80’s and before as they all suffered from motor speed cogging degradation of audio playback. The Thorens and VPI’s are truly fine TT’s. If you can find one “the AR” turntable is on par with Thorens.

    • Ian White

      October 23, 2021 at 3:40 pm

      I have 3 of the Thorens tables (TD-160 Super, TD-145, and a TD-125) and I absolutely don’t miss the “newer” tables they replaced which were a lot more money.

      I had a Dual once and it wasn’t ideal. Tonearm issues.

      In regard to the VPI, I actually prefer it to the first generation Classic tables that had iffy construction quality. VPI replaced them with the MW generation tables which I think are better.

      The HW-19 MKIV with a solid arm is an excellent turntable.

      Ian White

  8. Jim Tutsock

    November 9, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    Love your site, first time reader today. This article certainly took me down memory lane, as a Dual and Technics owner in the 70’s, although my college roommate had the Thorens to go with his Bose 601s (don’t laugh they were excellent especially with classical that he listened to and taught me about). I have a George Merrill Heirloom (the one with lead in the platter, the table is very heavy), one of the last ones he made in the mid-80s. I was the first owner starting in about 1998, it sat in storage locally here in Atlanta until then. I have talked to him about it twice, still the original belt, he says no need to buy his more expensive designs (GEM Dandy etc.)unless I want digital speed control. He definitely was in the AR camp and still is with refurbishing if you check his website. I have always lusted after the Denon but am too scared to make any changes lest I go sideways or backwards. I have no idea what the original price of just the table was, but it was under 2k, although with 80’s vintage Fidelity Research tonearm and Sumiko Blackbird I’m way over.

    • Ian White

      November 9, 2021 at 11:06 pm

      Jim,

      Welcome and I’m thrilled that you found us. We’re big on the vintage tables. Keep reading.

      Best,

      Ian White

  9. Warren R Keppler

    February 8, 2022 at 5:29 pm

    I’d add the SOTA Comet Rev 1.0, still pretty affordable used.

    • Ian White

      February 8, 2022 at 6:34 pm

      Warren,

      I really like the SOTA tables and now that the company has proper ownership again — it’s a safer buy.

      I visited a shop in Montreal that sells them and he was running it with a Grado wood body and it sounded phenomenal.

      SOTA gets very little coverage which is really unfortunate.

      Ian White

  10. Jobi Robson

    February 16, 2022 at 2:22 am

    So, I JUST Had a Yamaha YP 700 Walk into My Shop today, With a Technics, (Forgot what Kind), Anyway, I was looking it Up, And I found This Article. Thank You !, I Tested it, Awesome Turntable. I Own a Small Brick and Mortar Record Store in Florida, and Buy Used Vintage Turntables. I Hope $500.00 is a Fair Price !

    • Ian White

      February 16, 2022 at 2:42 am

      Very good price if the condition is fine.

      Ian White

  11. Stephen P Fleschler

    February 17, 2022 at 5:23 am

    My most reliable turntable is the VPI 19-4 (purchased as a 19-1 in 1982). I’ve since moved on to their TNT VI (modified) with modified SME IV arm. I’ve converted the VPI 19-4 to a 78 rpm player. Fabulous. I use the VPI speed controller to set acoustic record speeds.

    • Ian White

      February 17, 2022 at 11:24 am

      Stephen,

      The VPI 19 MKIV has always been a great turntable. Not a fan of the TNT table because I find the plinth material is too lively but it is a classic HW design.

      Hard to go wrong with an SME on a VPI.

      I do like a leo-modified Classic IV with the JW arm.

      Best,
      Ian White

  12. Bruce Goldberg

    March 13, 2022 at 7:21 pm

    The old AR turntables belong on this list. Especially the later variants, which bettered all the Duals.

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