Next-level high-end turntables aren’t known for sporting a lot of gadgets or automatic functions. These beauties are meant to play music with astonishing sound quality. But that’s not all they do! They are also statement pieces, developed for a minimalistic and elegant design. Upping your budget to just below $1,000 means that you get a turntable that has astonishing sound reproduction and is also a sleek, modern work of art.
For the most part, the better sound quality you invest in, the more manual your turntable will be. The upside of this? Manual turntables will be more upgradeable and customizable in the long run. With these models, it’s worth it to make that upgrade to a full diamond stylus, a high-end cartridge, and a super light-weight tonearm. You can also keep upgrading your speaker system and amp without disrupting the device.
How to Get Your Turntable Playing—Speakers and Receivers
There are no built-in speakers in this category. Built-in speakers are often on the lowest end of sound quality. These turntables, with their spec-ed out cartridges, ready to produce the most accurate sounds, deserve great speakers. That being said, if you want something easier on the wallet, check out our review of the best record players with built-in speakers.
In addition to external speaker systems, you won’t find any internal pre-amps in these models. Built-in pre-amps have been known to give off muddied sounds and to be a detriment to the overall sound quality, even when they are bypassed for an external phono receiver. You will need either a receiver with a phono input or a preamp and receiver to get these turntables going.
A good external pre-amp will give you better sound quality than one built into your receiver, so if you’re aching for some tonal modification that comes from the speaker side of things, this might be the best place to start.
While speakers and amps are an added expense to the turntable’s overall set-up, they are money well spent for the kind of sound quality that these turntable models can produce.
The Cartridge, the Stylus, and the Tone Arm
When looking for your higher-end turntable, you’ve probably come across the term “Hi-Fi.” This is simply a shortened term for “high-fidelity,” meaning that the sound this turntable system plays back is a true reproduction of the original. In terms of your turntable, Hi-Fi is contingent on consistent spin speed, tracking, stylus, and cartridge excellence.
So what are we talking about when we mention the cartridge? Popularly referred to as the turntable’s “brain,” the cartridge electro-mechanically transfers the information unlocked by the record’s vibrations to an amplifiable electrical signal. This electrical signal, when amplified, makes music.
The stylus is the only part of the tonearm and headshell that touches the record. As it traces the record’s grooves, the cantilever vibrates. These vibrations travel from the stylus to the magnet, and as the magnet vibrates, its magnetic field also changes. These magnetic fields generate voltage in small coils inside the cartridge and then travel through the phono pre-amp, which converts the electrical signal into music.
For the most accurate tracking, you want an elliptically shaped stylus. Styli with the elliptical shape make less contact than the conical shape, and are therefore more accurate.
As for the tone arm, a lighter-weight tone arm will give you the best sound reproduction. This is because the lighter tonearm is able to track with less resistance. It moves more quickly and accurately in the record’s grooves. Each of the models below feature light-weight tone arms.
Ideally, a tonearm made of carbon fiber should produce less tonearm resonance and therefore clearer sound. This is difficult to hear, so the most important thing to look for is that the tonearm works well in assembly with the rest of the turntable including its counter-weight and damping.
Pro-Ject – 1Xpression Carbon Classic
This elegant turntable is shrouded in a lot of audiophile jargon, deepening the aura of mystery around it. Let’s take a second to demystify some of these terms.
The AC motor is not only optimized for speed stability, but also isolated for low noise. Meaning that, even though this is a belt-driven motor, which means that you will get some speed variation, overall, this motor has been developed for tone stability.
Evo Kardan rings refer to the counterweight. The design is of a tube with an outer vertical ring and an inner horizontal sheath. The platter is made of aluminum alloy and thermo-plastic elastomers (TPE). This means literally that the underside of the aluminum platter is embedded with a thick rubber ring.
The Carbon Tone-arm is low mass, meaning that with counterweight in place, it is more able to move with the grooves of the record. The Ortofon cartridge 2M Silver sports pure silver coils, allowing for a more dynamic playback compare to conventional moving magnet cartridges. High trackability due to special suspension, silver coils, and an elliptical stylus all promise excellent sound quality.
In order to switch between 33rpm (full albums) and 48 rpm (EPs and singles), you’ll need to manually pick up the platter and switch over the turntable’s belt. In fact, everything about the model is manual, including moving the tone arm. You’ll have to both drop the needle, and remove it at the end of the record.
All reports say that this model has amazing sound quality, and great manufacturer support. Some note that this is the best turntable on the market which can be classified as both a beginner turntable and an audiophile turntable. It’s optimized straight out of the box, and yet still has some upgradeable growth in terms of replacement cartridges.
This turntable is gorgeous and minimalist. Its lack of levers and dials gives off a professional appearance. The manufacturer pre-settings allow it to come together quite easily right out of the box.
Rega Planar 2 Turntable with Dust Cover
The Rega Planar 2 is a fun, easy-to-use turntable whose sleek, knobless appearance will make your records appear to float on air. There are very few markings on this manual turntable, so you’ll need to be sure of how many times you turn the tracking weight and that the belt is set to play at the correct speed.
The planar 2 is outfitted with a RB220 tonearm. This is a low-resonance aluminum tonearm with ball bearings to allow it low-friction movement. This gives truer tracking, and therefore amazingly clear sound reproductions.
The Rega Moving Magnet Carbon Cartridge is a great, true cartridge. The carbon component helps to isolate the vibrations picked up with no feedback or reverberation. For this reason, this turntable is known for having a balanced, musical sound with great tonal distinctions. In addition, the low noise, low vibration motor has been designed for minimum interruption to the player’s tracking and sound pickup.
The convenience of this model comes with one or two minor drawbacks. In addition the manual speed change, this model will be more difficult with cartridge upgrades in the long run. This is because of the preset bias on the tonearm, which angles the tonearm specifically for the Rega Carbon Cartridge that it comes stocked with. Nonetheless, the Rega Carbon Cartridge is a very good cartridge, and gives honest clear sound reproduction.
The Rega Planar 2 is easy to set up straight out of the box, all you need to do is balance the tonearm, make sure of the speed setting, and plug it in. The low-maintenance, elegant design, and beautiful sound-scale will be sure to win you over.
Pro-Ject – Debut Carbon Esprit SB
The Pro-Ject debut also offers Hi-Fi sound with its light-weight tone-arm. Again, this means easier, more responsive movement in the record’s grooves, allowing for truer sound reproduction. In addition, the carbon fiber keeps the tone arm from resonating with the vibrations, allowing for a sound that is clean, clear, and true.
The tuned motor and precision-based power supply are there to make sure that, even though this is a belt-driven turntable, it spins as consistently as possible. Switching between 33rpm and 45rpm is as easy as flicking a switch with this model. However, to switch to a vintage 78rpm record, you’ll need to switch the belt to a different setting by lifting out the platter.
While this model originally came with an Ortofon OM10 cartridge, buyers consistently upgraded to Ortofon’s 2M Red. They found that this one step improved the Pro-Ject Debut’s sound tremendously. Pro-Ject now sells the Debut with this upgrade straight out of the box and included at discount int the price listed above.
It is a moving magnet cartridge with an elliptical diamond-tipped stylus. In addition, the 2M Red has a split pole, disallowing magnetic memory, so that the stylus moves more cleanly around the record without attempting to travel back to where it was. The 2M Red is more responsive and therefore can offer better clarity. It also has a higher output.
In terms of gadgetry, the debut tends to be bare bones. Fans understand that they’re paying for sound quality rather than for gadgets. The highly minimalistic design of the machine speaks to its manual components. Measures along the tone-arm remain unmarked and must be tuned by ear. All of this gives the impression that whoever owns this machine is not just a turntable enthusiast and a modernist in style, but they are also a pro at turntable operations.
Recommended Stylus Upgrade for Ortofon 2M Red:
Installing a diamond stylus, otherwise known as a “nude” stylus, on the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge will greatly cut down on surface noise, audibly improving sound quality. Almost all users agree that this upgrade from red to blue audibly increases a high-end record player’s sound quality. However, since the diamond stylus is so sensitive, it is not recommended for a lower end model (say something priced at ($300 or below), because the tone arm of those models will not be as light-weight and optimized for a sensitive cartridge and stylus.
- Picking your high-end turntable under $1000 is a matter of appealing to style and sound quality.
- These models are all manual to fully manual, making these truly analog turntables.
- Higher-end turntables have fewer obvious knobs and specs written on the design, so you will need to read the manual to make sure that you are setting them up correctly.
- Because these models are highly sensitive, some, such as the Rega Planar 2 and the Pro-Ject 1Xpression come mostly assembled for easy set-up.
- This is where the individual specs or your tonearm, cartridge, and stylus become important.
- Isolated motors in these models allow for lower quality-cost due to fewer vibrations.
- Each of these models is highly upgradeable, especially the Pro-Ject models.