Choosing a turntable under $500 means you’re no longer looking for entry-level equipment. While the budget of $500 is a far cry from what audiophiles pay for their record players (often over $1000 only for the turntable), it’s budget that allows you to choose from a variety of devices that reproduce sound really well. In other words, sound that you’ll get from devices in this price range will be really good. At least for users who don’t consider themselves audiophiles. If you’re not an audiophile with a trained ear, you simply won’t hear much difference in sound quality between devices in this price range and high end ones. Unless you’re really serious about investing money into record-playing equipment, there’s no point in buying even better and more expensive players.
When looking for a turntable under $500 you should notice a couple of things. While inexpensive record players often have features like built-in speakers, CD players or additional inputs, the more expensive models don’t have any of those. That’s because those devices were created with only one purpose – to reproduce music from vinyl records and to do it as well as possible. There’s no place for any of those additional features. That’s why turntables described below seem pretty minimalistic in contrast to those under $100.
When choosing a turntable in this price range you need to have at least a home stereo system so you can plug in record player’s output to it. Please note that some of the turntables have only phono-level output and not every stereo system has a phono input. In fact, few of them have. To solve the issue you need a preampfiler that turns the phono-level signal into line-level signal that then can be used by the stereo system. Also, if you want to get an even better sound quality and you’re using the line-level output from the turntable, consider buying a preamp and using the phono output. Built-in turntable preamps are rarely of good quality so changing a built-in one to a dedicated device can help significantly.
Best Turntables Under $300
- Top quality for a reasonable price
- All possible outputs: USB, line, phono
- Supports all 3 record speeds
As in other “best turntable under” lists we start with an Audio Technica device. And we do it for a reason – it offers great quality for a fair price. Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is a direct-driven turntable that can operate at all three speeds: 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM so even if you want to play those really old 78s won’t be an issue. If you’re looking forward to playing 78s often, consider buying a needle that’s optimized for 78 records. Since it’s a direct-driven turntable you can change the speed while it’s operating. As an added bonus you can change the pitch by using the pitch control slider (+/- 10 and +/- 20 percent).
When it comes to what the device outputs, it has everything you need. USB output and the ability to play records on the computer (plus the software you need)? Got it. Line level output so you can plug it into your home stereo system or speakers using RCA cables? Covered. What about phono output for those who have a more sophisticated system that can utilize phono-level input? Got it, too. All of that plus it sounds really great.
If you’re looking for the best bang for the buck in this price range, AT-LP120-USB seems to be the way to go.
- Quality audio
- Fully automatic (for those who like automatic players)
- Doesn’t support 78 records
Pioneer PL-30is another option for someone looking for a turntable for under $300. This sleek-looking belt-driven turntable offers pretty much everything you are looking. It allows you to play 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM records, so unless you have a collection of old 78s, you’re covered. It’s a fully automatic record player, which means the tone arm is automatically positioned above the first groove and lowered onto it when you press start and returns to base once the record finishes or you press stop. If you’re looking for convenience of use it doesn’t get any better than that.
When it comes to output, it can output both phono- and line- level signal. That means you can either use your own preamp (if you have one) or use the built-in one and simply connect the device to your home stereo system. If you’re considering replacing the cartridge in the future, you should be happy to hear that that’s not an issue.
As you can see, it’s a very similar device to others in this price range. It has one the most important features as its sole purpose it to play vinyl record. No fancy features like cd players, radio or additional inputs.
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- Fully automatic
- Outputs phono-level and line level signal
Denon DP-300F is a another quality turntable in this price range. It’s a belt-driven device that plays 33 1/3 and 45 RPM records. Unlike most turntables on the market, it operates automatically with a push of a button. You just need to press start and the device will do everything else for you. No worries about cueing the record. Also, when the record is finished the tonearm returns to the armrest automatically. Falling asleep while listening to your favorite records is no longer an issue and won’t result in damaging the needle and the vinyl.
DP-300F outputs phono-level and line-level signal (using built-in preamp) so a typical home stereo system is all you need to listen to records. Obviously, if you have a preamp in your system you’re free to use the phono-level signal and make your preamp do the heavy lifting (and possibly provide better sound quality than the built-in one).
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Best Turntables Under $500
Below there are a few hand-picked devices that are definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a turntable for under $500. When searching, start with those.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
- Great choice if you have a home stereo system in place or plan to buy one
- Plays only 33 1/3 RPM out of the box
Pro-Ject Debu Carbon is another great option in this price range. It’s a belt-driven turntable that out of the box plays only LPs (33 1/3 RPM records). If you’re interested in singles (45 RPM) and 78s, however, all is not lost. You can buy additional accessories that will make playing those records on this turntable possible.
Debut Carbon outputs phono-level signal. That means that to hear the music you’ll need a good preamp and a stereo system or a more advanced system with a built-in preamp (it if has a preamp, it’ll have a “phono” input). This device is a great choice for someone who already has a quality home stereo system in place and is looking for a minimalistic turntable that will just take care of spinning the record and sending the signal to the stereo.
Best Turntables under $500: Comparison
|Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB||33 1/3, 45, 78||Direct||Manual||USB, phono, line (aux)||Pitch change slider|
|Pioneer PL-30||33 1/3, 45||Belt||Automatic||Phono, line(aux)||–|
|Denon DP-300F||33 1/3, 45||Belt||Automatic||Phono, line (aux)||–|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon||33 1/3, 45, 78 with additional accessories||Belt||Manual||Phono||–|
Is a $300+ Turntable for Me?
If you’re a beginner just looking into turntables and record players, spending $300+ on your first device doesn’t seem like a good idea. While turntables and vinyl records are a quite expensive hobby, you can always start small and go from there. There are many good players available under $200 and even under $100. If you’re just getting started, get one of those, a couple of vinyl records, and see how it goes. If you love it, you can always upgrade your system later on, when you’re ready to commit to a big ticket item.
If you’re currently using an inexpensive player and looking for an upgrade, devices in this article are all great choices. Just read the description, check out some customer reviews and you will surely find the perfect one for you. Remember that before buying one of those you should already have a phono preamp or a stereo with phono input.
Tools for Vinyl Care
While you are not entering the high end of the audiophile experience, you still would be well advised to care for your vinyl with some of the following items. While they are not especially expensive, in the long run they will save money and your precious records. Also, check out our article about turntable accessories.
- An LP record cleaning brush to get rid of foreign objects from the surface of your record
- A disk washing system, that includes a cleaning solution and a buffer for cleaning the grooves
- Plastic sleeves to protect your records from scratches and keep some of the dust off them.
- A stylus alignment protractor, with instructions on how to use it.
- A turntable anti-slip mat.
- Keep your records in a place where they will be safe from accidental damage.
When choosing a turntable under $500, you need to keep in mind the big picture. You do not want to have a pricey turntable with lesser quality components. This will inevitably make your sound less than optimal, and lead to dissatisfaction with system performance. Appearance is a factor, along with performance. If your system will be in an area where people will see it, you would want to have something good-looking, at least. Nice cabinetry and shelving for component systems, and good finishing on self-contained sets.
The setting for your sound system should be not only comfortable, but acoustically acceptable. You would not put a high quality system in a house trailer, for instance. You would not enjoy listening to it. Conversely, a small system in a huge space would not work, either – the music would be lost. Achieving a balance in ALL the parts of your system is important to your continued enjoyment to the magic of vinyl sound.
(Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser / https://unsplash.com/lukechesser)