HERVinyl sales have steadily soared in recent years, with more than five million albums sold in 2021, an increase of eight percent. Additionally, vinyls accounted for 23% of all physical albums purchased last year.
How to choose a record player
For the uninitiated, choosing a record player is not always easy – even John Lewis offers several models. All high end, Naim Audio’s Solstice turntable, costs £16,000 and if you can afford it, it’s worth every penny. But for most beginners, a budget of £150-400 will suffice, with brands such as Pro-Ject, Audio Technica and Rega brimming with quality designs.
All modern turntables will play records at 331⁄₃ rpm and 45 rpm, but if you’ve collected or inherited the classic shellac recordings, you’ll need a setting of 78 rpm. Some turntables with pitch-shift can get by, but will require a 78 RPM stylus. An exception is the Rega 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 built-in preamp. This boosts the signal to a level that can drive your speakers. There are plenty of separate preamps available from around £150, and although that means more bulk, these units can be upgraded.
However, there are alternatives. Bluetooth streaming decks such as the Sony PS-LX310BT (£249; curries) can stream audio to up to eight compatible speakers, while the Jukebox E (£499; project-audio.com) has a built-in preamp and power amp – so you just need to add speakers.
The boom in vinyl sales has also seen a revival of the all-in-one record player, often featuring retro looks and built-in speakers. These are fun and affordable, but they usually sound horrible and can prematurely wear out your records, which is unforgivable. Some exceptions exist, however, including the new Vitrola V1 (£399; victrola.com) which has higher quality components, a Bluetooth receiver and a separate subwoofer.
The turntables come with a phono cartridge (with stylus), which is the key to 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 coils (MC), with MM cartridges being the most common and hard wearing, while MCs provide more detailed and accurate sound, at a price. Luckily, if you choose a turntable from a reputable brand, you can easily upgrade the cartridge and stylus later.
The best turntables on the market today
Pro-Ject Audio A1 PLC
I would happily recommend any Pro-Ject turntable, but this one, their first fully automatic design, ticks all the boxes, with its 8.3-inch aluminum tonearm, built-in phono stage, mechanical precision cartridge Ortofon OM 10 and its handmade construction, plus trial and error-proof, fully automatic operation.
Key features include;
- Fully automatic turntable system
- Electronically controlled reading speeds (33 and 45 RPM)
- 8.3″ aluminum tonearm with carbon fiber reinforced anti-magnetic headshell
- Pre-tuned Ortofon OM 10 cartridge with elliptical stylus profile
- Precise mechanics for the automatic start/stop system
- Integrated 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 fully automatic two-speed (33-1/3, 45 RPM) belt-drive player with a built-in switchable phono/preamplifier and dual AT91R moving magnet. phono cartridge.
Key features include;
- Fully automatic belt-driven turntable operation with two speeds: 33-1/3, 45 RPM
- Balanced straight tonearm with hydraulically damped lift control and lockable stand
- Built-in switchable phono/line preamplifier 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 aluminum platter with 4.5mm thick rubber mat
- Damped base construction to reduce low frequency feedback coloration
Cambridge Audio Alva ST
A worthy upgrade that combines high-end audiophile quality with plug-and-play wireless versatility, the Alva ST is a belt-drive turntable with built-in phono stage, aptX HD Bluetooth high-res streaming, and superb Audio Technica AT -VM95e moving magnetic cartridge.