We’ve all heard audiophiles raving about the specs on their favorite record player, how they have extra cartridges, and the different styli they’ve tried out while playing their vinyl. Maybe you’ve entered record player forums and gotten lost in talk of spin-speed adjustments and cartridge technology when all you were looking for was a record player that you can enjoy for casual listening.
Vinyl is hyped right now, as the Millennial generation has taken it upon themselves to become experts in this previously arcane, analog musical form. This is good news for you, because it means that parts and players are affordable and readily available while the demand is high. But it also means that you could get lost in all the technical talk.
If you’re thinking that every once in a while you might throw your vinyl on, and you don’t want to shell out a lot of money for DJ turntables, and cartridges the promise to never skip, then here are a few basic record players that are easy to get to know and that will look good while playing your music. What more could you want anyway?
First, let’s discuss some record player specifics to help you narrow down your search.
Manual or Automatic?
Do you want to move the tonearm to start the record, or do you want to push a button and have it start for you? If you want to simply push a button, then you are looking for a fully automatic turntable. If you want the whole experience of moving the tonearm on and off the record, then you need a manual turntable. Want it both ways? Some automatic turntables will still allow you to manually drop the needle on when you want to.
There are a few reasons that I can think of for why built-in speakers might appeal to you. The first is that record players with built-in speakers are super convenient. You don’t have to bother with getting your own speakers, and you don’t have to hook anything up. You just plug in the record player model and start setting up the record player to go.
The second reason is the price point. You’re buying one item for less than you would spend for both speakers and record player. It seems like a good deal when you add in the convenience factor as well.
The third reason is an issue of space. Maybe you live in a dorm, a studio apartment, or just rent a room somewhere. Whatever the case, you just don’t have room for your record player to have multiple components. In this case, an all-in-one unit might be right for you.
But there are drawbacks to built-in speakers. Firstly, these speakers are almost always going to be lower quality than a decent pair of speaker that you can buy separately. Secondly, it’s almost impossible to upgrade the unit, and it’s difficult to replace the speakers if something goes wrong with them. In this case, messed up speakers could total your player or force you to make some hodge-podge adjustments to your unit just to get it playing again.
If this is important to you, I suggest reading my article about the best record players with built-in speakers here.
A built-in pre-amp function for your record player means that you can plug your speakers directly into the turntable without having to run them through an external pre-amp. This makes using your record player with external speakers very convenient, and I highly recommend investing in this convenience. In addition to using the built-in amp for your record player, some models will allow you to plug other players into the turntable’s pre-amp so that you can use your speaker with other musical devices.
You may not want to use a turntable’s preamp if you have a whole mess of speakers and sound systems that won’t easily plug into the preamp. If this is your case, you will probably want, or already have an external amp. In some cases built-in preamps give a record player a murky sound quality, and using an external pre-amp would allow the sound quality to be more crisp and clear. Both of these issues are usually not problematic for the casual record listener.
You may also want to purchase an external amp and bypass the preamp if you intend to share the speakers between other music players. The pre-amp, in this case, would not hinder your use of an external amp, but it’s not something you want to pay extra for.
If you want to cover all your bases regarding what kind of records you can play, you’ll need all three-speed settings: 33, 45, and 78 RPM. Singles, which are 7” records, play at 45 RPM. Full albums and EPs are 12” records and play at 33 RPM. Any turntable that you buy will have these two settings, and they are the only two that you’ll need to learn about unless you’re a collector seeking rare records from the early 1950’s and before. The third speed is 78 RPM and it is designed for older-style 10” records.
- Fully Automatic
- Phono Pre-Amp with RCA output
- Colors: Black, Silver, or White
- Two Speed: 33, 45
- Dual Magnet Audio-Technica Phono Cartridge
- Diamond Stylus
To start this model playing, you need either a stereo receiver to connect your speakers, or, better yet, a pair of powered speakers. Powered speakers are speakers that plug into an outlet and also plug into the turntable. For the most versatile option, you can look for powered bookshelf speakers with Bluetooth capabilities. This means that while these speakers are plugged directly into your turntable, they will also be able to pick up a Bluetooth connection and play music from your Bluetooth device.
Small, light-weight at 8.5 lbs, sleek and modern, Audio Technica’s LP60 is an amazing value for your easy-to-use, casual-listening turntable. Use it automatically or place the needle on yourself, you have the choice. On this model, you can close the dust cover while the record is still spinning, allowing you to keep your turntable clean and saving you more time on cleaning and maintenance. The sound quality on this model won’t be as clear and pristine as a higher-end model; however, of all the models listed for casual listening, the AT-LP60 will be the best deal for its price point.
In addition to a responsive customer service department, Audio Technica has a strong following and user base of both casual listeners and die-hard audiophiles. Other users can help you to find guidance on any problems that you may have with your turntable, as well as upgrades, and fine-tuning tips. Audio Technica also has branded replacement and upgrade cartridges and styli, so that the replacement pieces you’re buying are always optimized for your model.
- Built-in dual speakers
- AM/FM Radio
- CD Player
- Two Speed: 33, 45
- 3 Speed: 33, 45, 78
- Sapphire-tipped ceramic needle
- Genuine wood
This is an attractive vintage-inspired all-in-one device, including a CD player, radio tuner, and Auxiliary input that will allow you to play on its speakers from your laptop, MP3 player, or tablet. This is a great buy for someone who only wants one music gadget in their home. The vintage-inspired wood finish would allow it to go well in almost any surrounding.
As far as playing records go, it does the job. It plays with a warm, only somewhat noisy sound that will give its listener the occasional vinyl style and tone fix. This is not the sort of record player that will make you understand all the beauty and sound quality that listening to records has to offer, but it makes up for that with that vintage atmosphere that many people look for in a record player.
This Electrohome Winston is not optimized as a record player so much as a stereo system. The speakers are not as good as external speakers would be. The record player itself has little protection against skipping and should be placed on a solid surface. While this model does offer a headphone jack, it has no output to external speakers, meaning you are limited to the unit’s own speakers for playback. The CD player has been known to malfunction as well. Nonetheless, if you are a casual vinyl enthusiast, and you listen to other music media as much or more than you listen to records, this wooden beauty might be a good fit for you.
- Records to MP3
- RCA Output
- 3 Speed: 33, 45, 78
- Ceramic Cartridge
- Built-in Speakers
- Natural Wood
Musitrend’s 3 Speed turntable with built-in speakers is an incredibly easy-to-use turntable for the casual listener. Since it’s not encumbered by all the bells and whistles of the Electrohome model, it can focus its strength on the versatility of its record playing function. The vintage-inspired wood finish also gives it a point of departure from Audio Technica models, which are normally super modern in their metallic design.
Unlike the Electrohome model, which is limited to using its own built-in speakers, this Musitrend has an RCA output. This output would allow you to use external speakers for the record’s playback. At 6.6 lbs, this record player is extremely lightweight, and therefore somewhat portable.
Drawbacks of this model include sub-par speaker quality. The sound might be thin, compared to the nice full sound you would get for a turntable with external speakers. The audio output is functional with a home stereo system, but it does not guarantee good sound quality because the internal speakers do not turn off even when external speakers are playing.
In spite of these drawbacks, the price of the Musitrend turntable makes it a good, easy to use first record player for someone who is not sure just how often they are going to listen to records and wants to be sure to have an attractive piece in their house.
- Audio Technica dual magnet cartridge
- Diamond Stylus
- Belt Drive
- RCA outputs
- Two Speed: 33, 45
- S-shaped tonearm
- Solid wood cabinet
- Colors: Walnut, Piano Black
This beautiful model offers the best sound quality that you’re going to get, before hitting a professional price point. It is highly adjustable, but once you have made your pitch adjustments, you can sit back and listen to it easily. It has an RCA output and pre-amp for easy use with powered speakers, and the quality of its cartridge and stylus ensure that you won’t have to fuss with any of its parts for a long time.
This is an elegant model that maintains a sleek modern appearance without the metallic finish of the Audio Technica line. For the price, you get excellent sound quality and a statement furniture piece that shows your love of vinyl’s analog elegance.
Some drawbacks include lack of ability for direct headphone plug-in. Also, this unit will have some spinning inconsistencies. Although to be fair, this is true to a certain extent of all belt drive models, and this model will not exhibit much pitch modulation because of spinning inconsistency, but if that possibility bothers you, then you should consider purchasing a direct-drive model.
By the way, if you want some tips to tune your record player, please check out my article on tuning your record player.
When buying your record player for casual listening, you’re not just concerned about sound quality, playback, and price, though those do rank highly on your list, appearance is also a key factor. A die-hard audiophile can have the ugliest turntable that exists, but as long as it plays exquisite music with unparalleled sound quality, that audiophile can justify it. Casual listening is a different story, for a casual listener the record player not only has to justify itself by playing records well, but it must also justify its spot in the home as an attractive piece of furniture.
When considering your turntable, you have to ask yourself whether you want it to have external speakers or built-in speakers? A pre-amp, headphone output, and RCA output functions? Manual or automatic? 2-speed or 3-speed?
You also need to ask yourself what would fit best in your home, a metallic finish or a wooden one? Vintage-inspired or modern style? Once you decide what you want, the models above should cover all your bases, while giving you some more options along the line.