It’s kind of unreal just how many turntables there are on the market in 2019. To be frank, buying a new table can be daunting and overwhelming. Luckily, the decision can be a little easier and more lucrative when you consider buying vintage.
With its own sort of difficulties you will have to traverse, the vintage turntable market is a little unique, but well worth learning. A few brands have stood the test of time, and continue to sell well across the world.
If you have thought about vintage turntables under $500 for your next listening experience, you’re in luck, because we’ll be highlighting some great vintage tables in this article.
And, to better help you compare the old to the new, check out some of the top modern day turntable in our table below, and see how well they compare to some of the notable vintage record players we discuss throughout this article.
|Technics SL-1500C||$$$||Manual turntable; Features switchable ‘auto-lifter’ for tonearm|
|Technics SL-1500C (Black)||$$$||Direct drive turntable w/built-in phono preamp|
|Marantz TT-15S1||$$$||Solid Plinth Belt-Drive Design|
Without further ado, let’s get going on the best vintage turntables under $500 that are still awesome today. First, let’s consider why you should be shopping vintage for your next turntable.
Why Shop Vintage?
It’s low hanging fruit, so let’s get this out of the way. Vinyl is a very old school experience in the age of digital music and streaming. That being said, many companies have tried to modernize the turntables being produced today with things like bluetooth, radio, and even cassette decks built in to the cabinet.
That’s amazing, and great for those looking to get a little bit of everything from their turntable. That’s not everyone though. Some just want the pure, traditional vinyl experience. Tables being produced today do also represent this older way of spinning, with little frills and more emphasis on the vinyl experience, but the great tables can cost a ton.
Because vinyl was by far the most common music listening medium until the late 80s and early 90s, turntables were produced in great quantities and across a wide range of quality levels. This means different prices, pieces of technology, and even styles.
Turntable technology advanced significantly in the period from the early 60’s until the early 90’s, when audio manufacturers began to focus on digital media and A/V stereo systems. Like most things, the push became to get the most bang for your buck, so turntables started switching to multimedia designs, including the ability to play CDs, radio, and cassettes all in the same place you would throw on a record.
Fast forward to today, and some of the greatest turntables ever made are now 40+ years old. Every individual turntable is going to vary in quality based on how it has been taken care of, but overall, the engineering behind these is still top tier. So where do you find them?
Where to Buy?
A few top choices online are great ways to find a vintage turntable, but the first stop you should make when shopping should not be a digital store. A local record store should be your top choice because you have access to an expert and a good look at what you are getting.
Your next best bet is going to be eBay, where many listings exist for all the best vintage turntables you might be looking for, as well as a number of digital ecommerce sites where sellers specifically focus on vintage turntables.
Craigslist, as well as personal sellers on the Facebook marketplace are also popular places, but as you get into more person to person selling, the chances of being secure in the reported quality of the product begin to decline.
Thorens TD 165
You see the Thorens TD 160 in a lot of lists of vintage turntables, but at a lower price point sits the Thorens TD 165. This popular table is slightly less desirable than the 160 and the other popular Thorens, the 145, because the platter bearing is smaller.
All that does is change a bit of how the record is played, and unless you had experience with both, you could not hear the difference if all other existing parts were in the same condition.
With a dust cover and great, vintage design, the Thorens TD 165 is a table that averages a very reasonable price, and the popular Thorens brand still has plenty of parts on the market if things need touching up, making this a highly desirable table.
Another popular manufacturer of turntables in their heyday, Kenwood’s KD-74F is a direct drive, fully automatic turntable with a coreless and slotless FG servo motor that still trumps many others today. The KD-74F features a static balance tonearm for linear tracking, as well as the ability to play records at 45 and 33 RPM.
This makes the Kenwood KD-74F a great option for those looking for a straightforward turntable that checks off all the boxes, and better yet, a direct drive, automatic turntable that, in modern constructions, would cost much more than this great, vintage option.
Pioneer is a household name to those who know turntables well, and even if you are in the early days of searching for a vintage table, you will be hard pressed to find someone who has not come across Pioneer tables online or in record shops.
The Pioneer PL-50 is a simple belt driven mechanism that was heavily regarded as a top tier turntable for its heavy plinth. The turntable also features auto return, which can be faulty if the belt needs replacing. Because of the massive popularity of the Pioneer PL-50 even today, you will not have a hard time finding cartridges, belts, and other parts for this iconic table.
The Toshiba SR-F770 is another direct drive fully automatic from a popular brand. Toshiba’s known for their budget tables that are built to last, and that’s why tables like the SR-F770 is still around on the market and a viable option for those looking to buy a vintage turntable.
Something many love about the Pioneer PL-50 is the massive wooden plinth, and the stability of the Toshiba SR-F770’s plastic is not as stable, but, with a tonearm in full operational condition, the mechanical superiority of the Toshiba brand can be seen.
Many other turntables in the 70s and 80s used Toshiba parts, point towards the ways in which the company has thrived for decades. Not to mention, the fact that Toshiba parts are featured in so many turntables means if things need replacing, you are likely to find a replacement part easily and for a good, fair price. That goes a long way since some vintage tables are in need of a bit of a tuning up.
Hitachi has some very nice turntables and the HT-460 is quite similar to the popular PS-58, which is a very nice table but costs a bit more. Considered by retro turntable enthusiasts as a mid to upper mid fi turntable, the low price point gets you a turntable that has an amazing slew of features like a full functioning, direct drive mechanism, smooth tracking, and a design that looks as vintage as any table around.
With a newer cartridge like an Audio Technica Gemini CN 15, you would find yourself in possession of a nearly flawless way to listen to your records, so long as the tonearm and other features have stayed in tact over the years.
The Hitachi brand name may not seem as relevant as Toshiba or Pioneer, but the HT-460 is one of many hugely attractive and competent turntables from a popular maker of 70s and 80s Japanese turntable designs.
The Denon brand name is often dragged through the mud a bit, especially because of the DP-7F model. In relation to other vintage turntables, it is not inaccurate to say that the Denon DP-7F lacks the features and parts that set Toshiba and Pioneer tables ahead of the pack.
Rather than consider this table as a bad turntable for vintage shoppers, it is far more accurate to call it an entry level table, one with excellent sound quality for what you can likely find it for.
Most models, even with a new cartridge installed, could be found for under $150, and users still can enjoy fully automatic features for starting, stopping, and returning the tonearm to the resting position.
The only downside is the fact that it includes a molded plastic, extremely light plinth, which brings questions of stability to the table, but most find it to be a non factor. If you find one without a new cartridge on it, it may be a relatively cheap way to get a vintage turntable.
Last but not least, the Realistic Lab-400 is a turntable with many features we have seen above, This direct drive table, with a stable and well kept motor, spins smoothly and does a great job at giving you a distortion and distraction fee sound thanks to a powerful brushless DC servo motor.
Similarly, smooth playback is possible through the work of the S-shaped tonearm that keeps the stylus of the cartridge perpendicular to the radius of the groove over the full surface of the record.
That means low distortion and excellent tracking at less than 1.5g. You may have seen this turntable in stores like Radioshack as recently as the 80s and 90s, which means in terms of vintage, it’s newer than some. Still, with its simple features and traditional plastic plinth and style, the Realistic Lab-400 is a vintage table worth checking out if you want a more industrial look to your setup.
Buying a vintage turntable is a good choice for those who want to spend a little less money on a great table. Sure, some used items you will find online will need a new belt or cartridge, but the options on this list are relatively easy to replace and upgrade parts.
It’s worth mentioning again that every turntable, being used, will sell within a certain range of values. For example, you can likely find a Realistic Lab-400 for under $200, but some listings go as high as $350. The reason this article features vintage turntables under $500 is because some of these tables range from the lower triple digits, all the way to pushing that $500 limit.
A lot of turntables today are wonderful marvels of how far turntable technology has come. That being said, something incredibly rewarding about listening to a vinyl record is doing so on a turntable that was created or designed for a time before other music media.
Streaming and MP3s are an incredible technology, but vinyl records are a visceral experience that feel best with hardware that puts you in the time where vinyl ruled all. If there are any tables on here that sound good, but don’t quite sell it, look into the brands, and always remember that the table that appeals to you might not be something others like.
That’s okay: everyone enjoys vinyl how they want to enjoy it, so enjoy your life and music.
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