If you’re reading this article, then you’ve probably noticed that vinyl is back in a big way, and everyone seems to be getting in on the action. Whether you’re wading into the waxy waters for the first time or getting back into the game after a prolonged absence, you’re going to have to ask yourself one very big question: Should I buy a tough vintage turntable or a slick new audiophile deck?
Take a deep breath, ‘cause that question requires a lot of “unpacking.” Nevertheless, we’re up to the task and hope that, by the end of this article, you’ll have a much clearer idea of not only what kind of turntable is right for you, but a couple ideas on models you can purchase too.
Below, take a look at a variety of modern turntables that are popular on the market today, and see how they compare to many excellent vintage players:
$ = $199 and under | $$ = $200 to $499 | $$$ = $500 and up
All Decks Are Not Created Equal
If you’re just getting into vinyl, budget may be your primary concern and that $40 garage sale/thrift store deck seems like the greatest deal on Earth.
And it might be.
But it also may need a ton of work to be play ready, and that could leave your head spinning at 33RPM. When dealing with a used turntable, it’s always what’s inside that counts. It’s probable that this $40 deck is 15 years old or more.
Trust me, it’s only getting older.
And it may already be suffering from one or more of the following issues: worn out motor, shredded stylus, stretched belt or out of whack balance. Before you know it, that $40 steal has turned into a $300 repair job—and you may not even be able to find the part you need to get your deck up to snuff.
So, before you scoop up that vintage turntable, you’ll really want to ask the seller some specific questions about the condition, ‘cause sometimes the old phrase “you get what you pay for” is absolutely true.
With that in mind, you’ll also want to take a long hard look at new turntables before pulling the trigger. As turntable technology has advanced since the medium’s heyday, there are some truly magnificent options on the market.
But again, you get what you pay for. I know that those Crosley decks dotting big market store shelves are appealing, super easy options to beginners, but the quality of construction and sound production are just not where they need to be.
That shredded $40 deck will probably equal that Crosley in sound, and with a little love will surely outshine it.
If you’re looking to invest in a brand new deck, you’ll want to give yourself a slightly larger budget and start looking at entry level audiophile turntables. The good news is that companies like Pro-Ject and Audio-Technica have a few outstanding options in this price range that offer the clear, warm sounds that vinyl lover strive for.
At some point, you’ll have to make a decision for yourself. That means being informed and knowing exactly what you want out of your turntable. And if you’re looking to break down the advantages and disadvantages of vintage tables, there’s no better way than an old fashioned face off.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling record players currently available on Amazon:
- Jensen JTA-230
- Audio-Technica AT-LP60
- 1byone 3-Speed Turntable
- Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB
- Denon DP-300F
Vintage vs Brand New Turntable Based On…
- Cost: Prices do not include speakers or preamps, which are not cheap.
Vintage – One of the primary reasons to look at a vintage deck is that you can probably find one of high quality for relatively cheap. That means under $200. And that will likely put a great big smile on anybody’s face. Of course, if you’re looking for the real deal vintage deck, that will likely cost you north of $400.
New Turntable – As I stated earlier, take those Target special Crosleys out of the equation. If you’re going to look at a new deck, then you’ll need to look at the legit audiophile realm. And the low end the audiophile realm is about $300.
Winner: Vintage all the way. Look, buying turntables is an expensive prospect. And buying speakers/pre amps and all those shiny records to spin only adds to the cost. If you can save a few buck anywhere, you absolutely should. Just make sure you are paying for quality and not nostalgia.
- Sound: Some people will tell you that sound is subjective. Those people are stupid. Something either sounds good or it doesn’t. If you’re going to spend money on a turntable, you’d better make sure it sounds the way it should.
Vintage – Construction is everything when it comest to vintage decks. Generally, the superior build and construction of a vintage turntable will produce better sound. But that depends entirely on the state of that deck’s elements. If just one is off, or you’re spinning with a subpar stylus, that warm vintage sound becomes a muddy mess. And don’t get me started on motor noise.
New Turntable – Construction is everything for a new vinyl record player as well. With audiophile decks using a mix of particle boards, carbons, alloys and a variety of metals, there’s no shortage of quality construction for this market. With some truly amazing cartridge/stylus packages available, there’s no shortage of great sound either. Where new decks really set themselves apart is with motor sound. Even at the lower end of the audiophile set,
it’s almost impossible to hear one of these decks spin, and that leaves sound both warm and crystal clear.
Winner: It’s a tough call, but I gotta go with a new vinyl record player here. I’ve always felt there are just too many variables and too much upkeep with vintage decks. If I can get warm, clear sound without all the knit-picky upkeep, I’ll take that any day of the week.
- Function/Ease of Use: Can you use it?
Vintage – One of the best things about vintage decks is that they are super-easy to use. Many old turntables are fully automatic, have remarkably easy switch or push button speed control and require very little setup.
New Turntable – Newer decks are just the opposite. Slightly complicated set up – particularly with tonearm balance—virtually no automatic functionality and manual speed control—that often requires lifting the platter.
Winner: There’s a common misconception that newer turntables are easier. I’ve always found the opposite to be true. Vintage all the way here.
- Repair: Can you fix it when it breaks?
Vintage – They’re built like tanks and rarely break down. But if they do break down, you may find yourself in a world of hurt with an expensive repair or a part that’s no longer being made, leaving your tough vintage deck a tough vintage paper-weight.
New Turntable – They certainly seem more fragile, but I’ve found most audiophile decks I’ve encountered to be pretty damn tough. Even when they do break, you can always find the parts to repair them, and the manufacturer will likely do it for free under that shiny warrantee.
Winner: This is a no-brainer—another “win” for a new turntable. There are just too many potential problems involved with a vintage table potentially breaking down. If my turntable malfunctions, I want to know that I can fix it—and fix if for a reasonable price.
- Style – Your turntable will be the focal point of any room you put it in. If it doesn’t look good, you don’t look good.
Vintage – I said it earlier and I’ll say it again—vintage decks are built like tanks. While that’s great for their toughness, it leaves them feeling big and boxy with chunky lines and oversized features. That may be ok at your Dad’s house, but you might want something a little sexier classing up your living room.
New Turntable – Speaking of sexy, it’s almost impossible to find an new table that isn’t attractive. With distinctly modern, minimalist designs, most record players also come in a variety of colors so you can easily find an intriguing look to match your personal styles and tastes.
Winner: I’ve always fancied myself a student of the Dieter Rams school of design. I’ll take sleek, sexy and functional over big and boxy every time. New Turntable all the way here. Seriously, just look at some of the gorgeous minimalist decks available and tell me I’m wrong.
Drumroll, please …. New Turntable it is, my friends!
By a sleek and sexy nose.
Honestly, I’m a bit surprised here. I’ve gotten myself into enough turntable conversations at this point to know that vintage lovers will always be vintage lovers and new turntable fans will always prefer the new to the old. When I upgraded my deck a couple of years ago, I took a massively in-depth look at each option and came up with the same results as I’ve just presented. I still love the idea of having an old tank of a turntable churning out the same warm sounds it has for decades, but at the end of the day, I really just want my turntable to work. And I want to be able to fix it if it breaks. If I can get all of that and not sacrifice the warm, clear sound production, well, why wouldn’t I do that?
The Best of the Best
Here are some of the better vintage turntables available on marketplaces like eBay. We tried to stick with a price of about $500 and under:
Technics SL-1200 — $400-$500
Certainly not the best vintage deck on the market, but probably the most revered. It’s the true tank of the vintage set and pumps some serious bass when needed. Best of all, you can upgrade pretty much every feature on this deck, so with the right kit, you can turn this tough, steady roller into a true audiophile dream.
Thorens TD180 — $200 – $400
The folks at Thorens brought some serious thunder to the hi-fi scene in the ‘80s and ’90s. When the vinyl market crumbled under the weight of CD sales, Thorens all but crumbled with it. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to track a TD180 down on eBay, ‘cause they were some of the best decks ever produced. And some of the first to put a true minimalist spin on things.
Rega Planar 3 — $200 to $300
The Rega team is actually still making this deck—now called the RP3. It’ll cost you about $500 brand new, though. Back in the ‘90s, the Planar 3 was the ultimate money-for- value turntable. If you can find one used, it still is. Just make sure you take advantage of its upgrade capabilities and slap a new cartridge on it.
And now, let’s take a look at three turntables you can purchase brand ‘spankin new (both online and offline).
Audio-Technica – AT LP120 — $250
Audio-Technica has been making turntables for decades now and their reputation is beyond reproach. That’s because of decks like the AT LP120, which may be the best entry level audiophile deck on the market. It’s built tough like its ancestors, but still packs all the audio wallop you’d expect from an audiophile deck. And it’ll cost you about half of what you’d pay for that Technics SL-1200.
Project Debut Carbon — $399
I own this deck myself and absolutely love it. It comes with a carbon fiber tonearm and a Ortofon 2M Red cartridge (which I have since replaced with the 2M Blue stylus, which produces more accurate sound in my opinion). The table is upgradable too, so you can replace the stock platter with an acrylic platter, too.
The Debut Carbon is a manual turntable that’s belt-driven. So, if you want to go from playing LP’s to 45s, you’re going to have take off the platter and move the belt manually on the pulley.
Rega RP 1 — $445
This spiritual cousin to the classic Planar 3 borrows the same minimalist design, but upgrades everything else with uber high-end components, including a silent, low- vibration motor, a phenolic resin platter and a sick Rega Carbon Cartridge. If you’re looking for dynamite style, superior hand-assembled construction and unparalleled sound, look no further than the RP1. It’s everything an audiophile deck was meant to be.
Let’s Get It On?
As you can see, there are a ton of options out there. Whether you go with a sturdy vintage deck or a shiny new turntable, you should have a much clearer idea of what you need. Good luck, and remember you can always return to Devoted to Vinyl for more turntable-reflated information.
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