Vinyl is back in a big way. For many audio purists, no sound can compare to that brilliant moment when a stylus first sits down into a gorgeous vinyl groove. And, thanks to the current record renaissance, not only are there a bevy of classics available from your local record store, but new artists are also increasingly releasing their latest albums on vinyl, along with an MP3 download code to give you the best of both worlds — class and convenience.
If you’ve been squirreling away cash to get in the vinyl game, or maybe indulge in an upgrade, , there are now a ton of options that cater to both your audiophile cravings and your aesthetic sensibilities. For your convenience (and our pleasure) we’ve compiled a list of our favorite turntables on the market under $500 that will bring music to your ears (literally and figuratively), and some style to your pad.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon ($400)
We can actually feel you picturing this beauty in your listening room, trying to decide if you should go with a flashy color from its seven available choices, or perhaps something more resigned. Luckily, with a table this cool, there’s no wrong answer. Designed to set new standards in the affordable audiophile category, this belt-driven table boasts a carbon tube tonearm to reduce unwanted resonance, a quiet-run DC power supply, and a weightier platter to hold your records more securely and rock out optimal sound.
Rega RP1 Turntable ($445)
Sometimes the simplest things really are the most beautiful, and it’s hard to argue against the concise elegance of the RP1. This unit gets high marks for reproducing stellar sound on a budget, and boasts unique features such as a manual speed change system that eliminates wear on the belt drive, a hand assembled tonearm, and a low vibration motor that promises to outperform its price tag.
Want to know what a belt drive looks like? Our second piece from Pro-Ject, this minimalist hunk of awesome wears its belt on the outside, so you (and those you’re looking to impress) can watch the action first hand. And if you’re still not convinced, the entry-level Elemental tackles function just as well as form, with sleek features like a DC power supply for ultra-quiet running, gold-plated RCA contacts and cartridge pins, line level output to connect to any system without the need for an additional preamp, and yes, USB B output to take your collection digital. Basically, it’s a little slice of hipster heaven.
Are you sensing a minimalist theme here? Considering the simplicity of a turntable’s essential operation, it’s a fitting aesthetic. And besides, the MMF 2.2’s high-gloss lacquer finish makes minimalism look good. The high performance belt-driven player comes in black, white, or Ferrari red, and also piles on a host of options to accentuate the sound of your collection. Those include a single piece alloy tonearm for “superb tracking ability,” stainless steel and bronze bearing assembly, and an alloy record platter for stable playback.
It’s hard to argue with a classic. This hunk of sparkling chrome might not be as fashionable as the others on our list, but it still looks and sounds good, and at a very enticing price. Though it sports direct drive as opposed to the audiophile-preferred belt-driven system, this go-to starter turntable hosts plenty of features like a selectable internal pre-amp so you won’t necessarily need a phono input, a USB output to capture your vinyl in digital form, and three speeds to handle virtually anything in your collection.