Guest post is written by Michael L. Moore of Devoted to Vinyl.
Vinyl records are a very fun hobby—nothing quite compares to the tactile experience of touching an album cover, or placing a large disc made of vinyl onto a turntable’s platter. And in an age of MP3’s and streaming services, being able to actually touch your music has become so retro that its back in vogue.
Although vinyl is enjoying a strong resurgence, the format’s resurrection comes with a price. Although CD’s and month-long subscriptions to Tidal or Spotify can cost a mere $10, a brand new vinyl record can cost anywhere from $20 to $40.
And then there’s the price of equipment, where a high-end turntable can set you back thousands of dollars.
With that said, if you’re someone that’s been bitten by the vinyl bug, but have a limited amount of disposable income, don’t worry—you’re not out of luck.
In this article, I’m going to provide you with a handful of affordable equipment options that will allow you to start spinning records in no time—without leaving you in massive debt.
Searching for a Good, Cheap Turntable
Here’s the good news about turntables—although many cost more than a thousand dollars, there are just as many that cost significantly less.
Now, a lot of people that are first starting out with vinyl records prefer to purchase a Crosley record player. And on the surface, it’s easy to understand why.
They have a fun, retro aesthetic. They can often be found for less than $100. They have built-in speakers. And they’re portable, so you can pack them up and take them over to a friend or family member’s house.
Personally, I don’t like to recommend Crosley record players. Not because they are inherently terrible (although they are cheaply made with ceramic cartridges and no adjustable tracking force, which is certainly a concern), but because you can find better quality record players on the market for just a bit more money.
With that said, a Crosely record player is certainly a fine choice for a specific kind of person. If you’re someone that’s only casually interested in vinyl records, or really can’t spend much more than $50 on your first record player, I think it’s definitely worth considering something like the Crosley Cruiser (approximately $50).
It’s far from the best available turntable on the market, and you will want to upgrade to a better record player in the near future once you commit to the hobby. But the Cruiser will certainly play your records, and while you won’t get great sound from the built-in speakers, the “all in one” approach Crosley takes with their players gives you the satisfaction of knowing you won’t have to pony up additional cash for external bookshelf speakers.
A Better Alternative to Crosley
If you have an interest in vinyl and a little bit more money to spend, I’d highly recommend you begin your search with the the Audio Technica AT-LP60 (approximately $100).
With the AT-LP60, you still have some limitations in build quality and the lack of tracking force adjustment, but at least you’re getting a turntable that comes with a dust cover, is fully automatic, and has a built-in phono preamp.
A built-in phono preamp means you can hook your turntable directly to an amplifier that doesn’t come with a built-in phono stage. You’d also be able to directly connect your AT-LP60 to a pair of powered speakers, as well.
Now, if you’re willing to spend even more money (and are fine with a higher quality, manually operated turntable), you should strongly consider the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 ($300), U-Turn Orbit Plus ($300) or the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon ($400).
All three are great in their own right, and don’t cause you to spend more than $400 for a very solid turntable.
I like the AT-LP120 because it offers so many options—from pitch control to the ability to digitize your entire vinyl record collection by hooking the turntable up to your Mac or PC.
The U-Turn Orbit Plus is built by hand in Boston, MA and boasts an acrylic platter.
And the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon features a carbon fiber tonearm that has an Ortofon 2M cartridge attached to it. And if you ever wanted to upgrade that cartridge by purchasing the much more detailed 2M Blue (about $240), installing it takes just 30 seconds—simply slide out the 2M red stylus and insert the 2M Blue.
Acquiring a Good Phono Preamp
As mentioned before, if you get a turntable with a built in phono preamp (such as the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 or AT-LP120), you can begin listening to your vinyl records as soon as you plug in the RCA cables to the back of your receiver, integrated amplifier or powered speakers.
For those that acquire a turntable that doesn’t have a built-in phono preamp (such as the U-Turn Orbit Plus or Pro-Ject Debut Carbon), you’ll have to buy an external phono preamp.
I’m a fan of two phono preamps that are relatively cheap. The first is the Schiit Mani (about $130), while the other is the Vincent PHO-8 (about $300).
The Mani is small but packs a great punch for its cost. It works with both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges, and has four adjustable gain modes.
The sound of the Mani is excellent for the price. And while you won’t get house-thumping bass with this preamp, you’ll be very impressed with the mid-range as well as the clarity of the treble.
The Vincent PHO-8, by contrast, is a different beast entirely. For just $300, you get two audio components. The first is strictly the power supply, while the second is the actual phono stage, which includes the phono inputs and outputs, as well as the ground wire connection.
The Vincent PHO-8 provides a more neutral sound to your records, but also makes your music sound more tight and punchy.
And if you swap out the supplied (but detachable) power supply cable and replace it (with something like the Pangea Audio AC-14 power cord), you’ll likely be shocked at the improvement in bass response.
Recommended Budget Speakers?
Speakers are always a bit tough because everyone has different wants and needs.
Some people prefer bookshelf speakers, while others demand towers.
Some want modern speakers while others prefer vintage.
Some listen to music in a small dorm room, while others are rocking out to their vinyl collection in a mini-mansion.
With that said, because this article is catered towards the budget conscious, I’m going to recommend one pair of speakers that’s under $300, and another that’s under $800.
The Elac B6 speakers, at around $280, will provide far more bass than you would expect for its price point. On top of that, these speakers are designed by speaker giant Andrew Jones, who has worked for the likes of KEF and Infinity.
If anyone knows speakers, it’s certainly Mr. Jones.
Now, if your budget is a bit higher than average, and you were looking to truly splurge on your two-channel speaker setup, I also like the PSB Imagine Minis ($760).
After all, if there’s one area where you should be willing to open up the wallet a bit, it’s for your speakers.
The Imagine Minis pack a wallop for the price. Vocal clarity is really superb here, and if you match these speakers with a nice turntable or amplifier, you’ll really begin to hear more mid-range separation and high-end definition.
Playing vinyl records is a fun and engaging experience, but it’s certainly not cheap. But with a little shrewd shopping, you can have a very nice turntable setup for a reasonable price.
And once everything is bought and setup, all that’s left to do is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the vinyl bliss.
Michael L. Moore is the owner of Devoted to Vinyl, a website aimed at helping beginners in the vinyl hobby better understand everything they need to know on how to get started.