The Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB is the best turntable for under $500. Improving upon its popular predecessor, the AT-LP120, the latest “X” iteration still delivers great sound, while sporting valuable features like an onboard phono pre-amp and a USB connection, making it the obvious entry-level choice for most people.
Our team has been toiling in the consumer and pro audio salt mines for a collective 50 years, and some of us never abandoned vinyl, even in the face of the digital music onslaught. It’s our belief that the Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB will delight you, but if you’re not feeling it, we’ve picked four alternatives that each bring something unique to the (turn)table, yet still respect the $500 budget ceiling.
Note: Some of these turntables include a built-in phono pre-amp, while others do not. A phono pre-amp is a device that boosts the signal from the turntable so that modern electronics can play it. While many older receivers have a phono input, some newer devices do not. Whether or not you need a pre-amp will depend on your receiver/amplifier and favorite speaker setup.
|Best turntables under $500||Category|
|Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB||Best turntable overall|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon||Best-sounding|
|Stanton T.62 M2||Best low-cost option|
|U-Turn Orbit Plus||Best-looking|
|Sony PS-HX500||Best for ripping vinyl|
The best turntable overall: Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB
Why you should buy this: Simple functionality, classic looks, and USB connectivity.
Who it’s for: The new vinyl enthusiast who wants an affordable and great-sounding turntable that will last for years.
Why we picked the Audio Technica AT-LP120X-USB:
The classic Audio Technica LP120 has long been the go-to starter turntable for budding vinyl enthusiasts, and we’re happy to report that that hasn’t changed with the updated version. The AT-LP120X-USB features a reliable direct-drive motor, which allows for fast start-and-stop functionality, as opposed to the belt-driven system some audiophiles prefer at this price point. But just because it’s an entry-level model doesn’t mean it’s short on features. A built-in, selectable phono pre-amp allows you to plug the turntable into a pair of powered speakers or your home stereo, whether it has a phono input or not. You can also switch the pre-amp off and add your own external phono pre-amp, if you so choose. The included cartridge and stylus are changeable as well, and if you’re looking to digitize your dad’s rare Beatles collection, there’s a USB output that allows you to directly connect the turntable to your computer. You really can’t go wrong with this reliable, well-priced deck.
The best-sounding turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Why you should buy this: A carbon-fiber tonearm, Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, and hefty platter.
Who it’s for: The aspiring audiophile who hasn’t quite landed a corner office, but demands the highest-quality components for the money.
Why we picked the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon:
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, a weightier platter to hold your records more securely, and an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge to help you rock out to optimal sound. Not only does this table sound amazing, but it also looks fantastic. You’ll have to decide if you should go with a flashy color from its seven available choices, or perhaps something more restrained. Luckily, with a table this cool, there’s no wrong answer. If you’re looking for the best sound for the money, there is absolutely no better buy.
The best low-cost turntable: Stanton T.62 M2
Why you should buy this: Simple functionality and long-term upgrade potential.
Who it’s for: The new vinyl listener who wants a well-constructed table to launch into their new hobby.
Why we picked the Stanton T.62 M2:
Many entry-level turntables boast more features than the Stanton T.62 M2, but they lack the overall quality of this beginner deck, which offers a stable direct-drive motor and a well-constructed tonearm with replaceable cartridge. Because it was designed with DJs in mind, the T.62 M2 is an extremely rugged turntable that should last for years, and the replaceable cartridge means that buyers can eventually upgrade their sound with a fresh purchase from Audio Technica or Ortofon. The T.62 M2 is also easy to use, with a large play/pause button and speed adjustment mechanisms. The basic black-and-blue build doesn’t make this the flashiest model in the entry-level price bracket, but it should complement your hi-fi just fine. If you need the best turntable for the lowest dollar amount, look no further.
The best-looking turntable: U-Turn Orbit Plus
Why you should buy this: Great sound and gorgeous design in multiple bright color options.
Who it’s for: The style-conscious vinyl enthusiast who wants great looks as well as superb sound.
Why we picked the U-Turn Orbit Plus:
U-Turn’s Orbit Plus is among the best-sounding and most beautiful turntables you can buy for under $500, and that’s largely because of its simplicity. There’s no USB connection, no automatic tonearm return function, and there’s only a built-in phono pre-amp if you specifically order one (for an extra $70 over the $290 base model). In fact, it’s so streamlined that there’s not even a cue lever on the base model (though you can pay $40 extra for one and install it yourself), so most users will have to manually set the needle, as well as manually adjust the belt to switch between 33 and 45 RPM speed settings. All of this may be daunting for newcomers, but those who can accept that will find a sturdy turntable that runs quietly and sounds great, with elegant design cues like the above-board belt that allows you to watch the motor spin your favorite discs. The fact that the table is available in such a stripped-down form is a sign that U-Turn is extremely focused on quality. It gives you everything you need and nothing that you don’t. The Plus comes with an excellent Ortofon OM5E cartridge, which you can also upgrade from, and the high-mass acrylic platter will keep your vinyl spinning smoothly, making for a beautiful long-term investment that will shine for years to come in your listening space.
The best turntable for ripping vinyl: Sony PS-HX500
Why you should but this: An exceptional onboard analog-to-digital converter and USB connectivity.
Who it’s for: The audiophile who wants to preserve rare records at the highest-quality digital resolution.
Why we picked the Sony PS-HX500:
Those with the rarest stacks of wax will love the Sony PS-HX500 for its preservation abilities. Though it has the chops to play back your favorite records with brilliant clarity and warmth, it’s specifically designed for those who want to digitize their rarest analog music in high resolution.
Paired with a special high-fidelity recording app, the player utilizes a quality Texas Instruments analog-to-digital converter that transfers at a bare minimum of 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD-quality resolution. From there, the sky is virtually the limit in terms of conversion: Sony’s deck can transfer files up to 24bit/192khz and even 5.6MHz DSD — the highest quality of any USB turntable of its kind. The price is on the high side, but if you want to preserve your vinyl for the virtual age without fancy outboard gear, this turntable is the way to go.
How we test
To get the best, most comprehensive results, we’ve tested these turntables in a high-quality A/V testing lab, as well as right in our own homes. This allows us to get a feel for technical specifications along with the everyday user experience. A usual testing period is about three weeks, where we play music from different genres, styles, and time periods.
Typically, each turntable is connected to a wide variety of high-end speakers and our favorite stereo amplifiers, and compared side by side with other options in the price range when possible. We also test each turntable with both its inboard (where applicable) and outboard phono preamp, allowing us to hear the sound of the turntable via both inboard and outboard gear.
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