With vinyl music sales climbing up and up every year, you’ve likely wondered which turntable is the best choice to help kick off your own collection. Going record shopping is a nice break from your Spotify playlists and iTunes collection. There’s just something inherently more personal about vinyl, from exploring the packaging and liner notes to committing yourself to sitting down and listen through your latest purchases.
What’s even better is playing those records on a great sounding and easy-to-use turntable. If you’re not sure whether you’ll stick with the format in the long run, it’s usually best to borrow a player from someone you know — or take in an old one they’re not using anymore. The last thing you should do is drop $100 on one of the junk turntables you’ll find at Target or Best Buy. (Crosley, I’m looking at you.) They might be the easy option, but they don’t sound good and won’t hook you on vinyl like a good turntable can.
The best record players offer a pleasing sound right out of the box; they’re straightforward to use and they’re upgradeable should you ever feel like stepping up audio performance with fancier components.
If vinyl seems like something that could turn into a serious habit, there’s one excellent choice I recommend for most people. It’s not cheap (and that’s before you worry about the speakers to go along with it), but it checks all the boxes in what you want from a record player.
The best turntable to buy is Audio Technica’s LP-120USB. At around $300, it costs far more than those junkers at your local big box electronics store, and vinyl enthusiasts might (reasonably) make a case for starting off with something more affordable. But the LP-120 offers excellent sound quality, is fairly simple to set up, and doesn’t require you to buy anything extra aside from some powered speakers.
Its outward design is based closely on classic Technics players, but isn’t as sleek or stylish as more modern turntables from other manufacturers. You’re not buying a turntable for looks though. Where the LP-120 excels is in the way it sounds. The direct drive motor can play back at 33⅓, 45, and 78RPM speeds to match whatever records you drop onto the high-quality aluminum platter. And most convenient of all is the built-in phono preamp, so you won’t need to plug the turntable into a home theater receiver (inconvenient) or buy an external preamp (extra money). Instead, you can just wire the LP-120 directly into the analog input on powered speakers — or even a soundbar in your living room.
The included cartridge, which is the thing that actually reads your records, is of commendable quality for the price. But you can also switch it out for something better; same goes for the preamp inside. It can be bypassed for an external unit if you feel it necessary to improve the sound. Most people probably won’t ever need to bother.
Assembling and setting up the LP-120 can seem daunting if you’re new to vinyl, but Audio Technica’s instructions are crystal clear and there are also videos on YouTube to help guide you through important steps like calibrating the tone arm. My one major gripe with the LP-120 is that the RCA cable is hardwired to the turntable and very short, so you might need to get an extension cable if your speakers won’t be positioned directly nearby.
The LP-120 also has the ability to let you digitize your LP collection over USB. Some people prefer the audio mix on records as compared to CDs and digital releases because vinyl tends to offer better dynamic range and isn’t as loud as what you’d find on Spotify or iTunes. But this isn’t a feature I found myself using often; I don’t really have a problem going back to my subscription music apps on the go, and using the turntable for extended listening sessions at home.
Video by Mark Linsangan and Phil Esposito
Photography by Amelia Krales