Sales of vinyl have continued to soar in recent years, with more than five million albums sold in 2021, an increase of eight per cent. Furthermore, vinyls made up 23 per cent of all physical albums bought last year.
How to choose a turntable
For the uninitiated, choosing a record player isn’t always easy – even John Lewis offers multiple models. At the very top end, Naim Audio’s turntable, the Solstice, costs £16,000 and if you can afford it is worth every penny. But for most first-time enthusiasts, a budget of £150-£400 will be enough, with brands such as Pro-Ject, Audio Technica and Rega overflowing with quality designs.
All modern turntables will play records at 331⁄₃ rpm and 45 rpm, but if you’ve collected or inherited any classical recordings on shellac you’ll need a 78 rpm setting. Some turntables with pitch-shift can manage, but will require a 78 rpm stylus. An exception is Rega’s Planar 78 (£400; rega.co.uk) which only plays the classics.
Assuming you already have speakers and an amplifier, the next consideration is whether your turntable has a preamp built in. This amplifies the signal to a level that can drive your speakers. There are plenty of separate preamps available from around £150, and while it does mean more clutter, such units can be upgraded.
There are alternatives, however. Bluetooth streaming turntables such as the Sony PS-LX310BT (£249; Currys) can stream audio to as many as eight compatible speakers, while the Juke Box E (£499; project-audio.com) has preamp and power amp built in – so, you just add speakers.
The boom in vinyl sales has also seen a revival of the all-in-one record player, often boasting retro looks and built-in speakers. These are fun and affordable, but generally sound awful and can prematurely wear down your records, which is unforgivable. Some exceptions exist, however, including the new Victrola V1 (£399; victrola.com) which has better quality components, Bluetooth receiver and separate subwoofer.
Turntables come with a phono cartridge (with stylus), which is key to the sound quality. Isolation, vibration and tracking all play key roles, but the better the cartridge, the better the sound. There are two main types: moving magnets (MM) and moving coil (MC), with MM cartridges the commoner and harder wearing, while MC offers a more detailed and accurate sound, at a price. Thankfully, if you choose a turntable from a reputable brand, you can easily upgrade the cartridge and stylus at a later date.
The best turntables on the market today
Pro-Ject Audio A1 Automat
I’d gleefully recommend any Pro-Ject turntable, but this, their first fully automatic design, ticks every box, with its 8.3" aluminium tonearm, built-in phono stage, Ortofon OM 10 cartridge precision mechanics and handmade build, plus fumble-proof, fully automatic operation.
Key features include;
- Fully automatic turntable system
- Electronically controlled playback speeds (33 and 45 RPM)
- 8.3” aluminium tonearm with carbon fibre reinforced anti-magnetic headshell
- Pre-adjusted Ortofon OM 10 cartridge with elliptical stylus profile
- Precise mechanics for automatic start/stop system
- Built-in switchable Moving Magnet (MM) phono stage
- Resonance-damped wooden chassis
Audio Technica AT-LP3
It’s not the most attractive, but the LP3 is a deceptively accomplished, super value fully-automatic two speed (33-1/3, 45 RPM) belt-drive player with a built-in switchable phono/pre amplifier and AT91R Dual Moving Magnet phono cartridge.
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Key features include;
- Fully automatic belt-drive turntable operation with two speeds: 33-1/3, 45 RPM
- Balanced straight tonearm with hydraulically damped lift control and lockable rest
- Built-in switchable phono/line pre-amplifier with attached dual RCA output cable
- Switchable modes for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges
- AT91R Dual Moving Magnet™ phono cartridge and AT-HS3 universal headshell
- Anti-resonance, die-cast aluminium platter with 4.5 mm thick rubber mat
- Damped base construction for reduced low-frequency feedback colouration
Cambridge Audio Alva ST
A worthy upgrade that blends high-end audiophile quality with plug-and-play wireless versatility, the Alva ST is a belt-drive turntable with built-in phono stage, hi-res streaming aptX HD Bluetooth and a superb Audio Technica AT-VM95e moving magnet cartridge.
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.