Diamonds in the Rough: 5 Used Turntables Worth Searching For

On July 20th 2016 » By Ed Selley

If you wanted an indicator of just how dramatic the resurgence in vinyl has been in recent years, the choice of new turntables at pretty much any price point you can imagine is larger that it has been since the early ‘80s when vinyl was the default format for home use. The variety is bewildering and this alone would be enough to keep many people poring over the choice available without wanting to consider other options. There are other options though and they can be excellent value.

I am of course referring to the second hand market. The nature of this has changed in recent years—the golden age of extremely good quality turntables being sold off as end of life scrap has come to an end- but in its place has come a much more consistent arrangement where owners upgrading to new models will seek to offset some of the costs of doing so by selling their old turntable. The models on the market will be as variable as their owners but some models are a little more likely to crop up than others.

We’ve already talked about some holy grail devices but these are some more commonly encountered models that might work out as being useful alternatives to a new turntable. So without further ado, here are some second hand heroes that are worth seeking out.

Pro-Ject Debut Series- from $150

This is a slightly complicated entry because there have been almost as many members of the Debut range as there are Pokemon (and to take this analogy to breaking point, like Pokemon, you can take some members of the range and turn them into others). The Debut has been around for nearly twenty years and all models are unsuspended plinth type designs that use belt drive.

The major change between models is the arm. The original models used a slim arm now discontinued from the Pro-Ject lineup. This was replaced by the thicker metal ‘8.6’ arm which is also still in use on the Essential model. More recent models have also been offered with the carbon fibre arm and the Ortofon 2M cartridge instead of the cheaper OM5e model. As the age and RRP of these models has varied enormously, the used prices will vary too.

Why would you choose a used Debut over a new one? Simply put, as a basic rule of thumb, solid used examples of the Debut can be found from about $150 which compares favorably to the $400 and upward that new models cost. At the same time, as Pro-Ject is still making the Debut, all of the parts are still readily available. Try to ensure that any example you are looking for has its original packaging and look for the standard signs of wear and tear- although as noted, all the bits are there if you need them.

Technics SL1200 From $400

It is hardly a surprise that the Technics makes this list but I need to make a few observations about the abilities and reputation of this semi legendary device. First things first, the SL1200 is a great design, but some of the attributes people ascribe to it are slightly on the hysterical side. There is a vast selection of aftermarket modifications available for it and some of these are comfortably more expensive than the price of a solid used example. It is vitally important not to get carried away but what the Technics can do- depending on the cartridge used, it is a great alternative to new turntables in the $800-1,500 range. It is not a giant slayer that makes everything with a belt look like a Rube Goldberg machine.

The good news is that now you can buy a new SL-1200 again, a fixed upper limit of pricing has been established and the price of used examples has calmed down a bit. This means that prices for solid used examples go from about $400 for a unit in the United States. With the SL1200, the trick is finding a unit that has been used for playback rather than DJing which puts more stress on the motor and bearing. Units with lids are a little rarer but well worth seeking out. The important thing to stress about buying a used SL1200 is that controls and cosmetics and even parts like the arm can be secured without too much effort. Replacement motors and power supplies are rather harder (not impossible I stress) to sort so you need to make sure that the basics of a unit you find are solid.

If you find a well maintained example, the Technics is capable of providing a lifetime of good service. Its effortless pitch stability and powerful sound are highly regarded and ensure that it can still give a great account of itself. If you need a piece of bulletproof vinyl playback, look no further.

Rega Planar 3/P3/RP3 From $500

If the truck-like Technics seems a little on the sudden side, there is an alternative. The Rega has been around for a very long time- Planar 3 sales started in the 1970s and they have been sold in the thousands. The models have changed over time but in essence, what ties them together is that they are unsuspended, belt driven designs with a full size plinth and a lid. The basic ingredients aren’t necessarily anything to get excited about but the performance of the Rega has always been unfailingly enjoyable and a fine example of the ‘British school’ of audio design which places emphasis on the rhythmic presentation of the music.

As the Rega has been in production for a very long time, there are many different versions on sale. The oldest versions have an S-shaped arm but these are fairly rare and more commonly encountered versions will have a straight arm in the form of an RB300 or its descendents. All of these straight arms are largely bulletproof, simple to use and work on and easy to replace in extremis. Rega has moved the basic design of the arm on but hasn’t stopped making replacement parts.

Where the Rega comes into its own is that it is an easy design to tweak and customize. If you follow the Vinyl Me, Please Instagram feed, you’ll see that one of the subjects that crops up from time to time is a modified Rega RP3. Pretty much every part of the fabric of the unit can be changed, upgraded or otherwise improved on so if you are looking for a turntable that can be bought with an initial spend and then improved over time, this is a fine choice. As with the other models in the list, look for original packaging and that the glass platter is free of chips and cracks.

After this point, there are two further designs to discuss but it is important to mention straight off that while the three models above can be found on eBay, Craigslist or other relatively straightforward methods, these two will require you to do a little more searching.

VPI Scout- from $1,000

VPI is a US based manufacturer of turntables and a company that has made some truly excellent record players over the course of their history. The present line-up of models includes a Scout Junior and a Scout but this section refers to the original Scout which sat between these two models and was produced for roughly a decade.

The Scout has many of the key features of the VPI brand. It uses a very solid, mass loaded plinth but unlike the present models which have metal platters has an acrylic one. More importantly, it uses a slightly older version of VPI’s distinctive unipivot arm. This is a slightly strange device to use for the first time in that it has no bearings and instead balances on the head of a spike (this is why the cable comes out the top of the arm). It looks and feels a bit odd but it sounds absolutely superb. The advantage of such an arrangement is that the arm doesn’t have any inertia to it. A good unipivot arm can sound incredibly open and make no mistake, the VPI unit is a very good unipivot indeed.

Scouts are not common turntables. While they sold well judged by the standards of VPI models, they aren’t exactly clogging up the online classifieds. If you want one, it will take careful search and quick responses once you do find one. The good news is that as it is robust, they generally hold up to use rather well. As the Scout cost a fair amount of money new, it is highly unlikely that a used one will have been abused and generally, they only come up for sale if the owner is buying something cooler still. If you can get one, you’ll be in possession of a capable yet compact and easy to use turntable that should see you good for years.

Linn LP12 From $1,000

Like the Technics SL1200, there are some strange opinions doing the rounds about the LP12 (sometimes referred to as the ‘Sondek’). A number of otherwise sane people believe it is the greatest record player ever made and that nothing else can do what it does. Both of these views are wrong but it doesn’t stop the LP12 being a great used turntable.

In essence, the LP12 is a belt drive suspended (ie, it has springs in it) design that has been in continuous production since 1972. As it has been in production for so long, it has been produced in so many versions that you’d need a book to cover them all but every single LP12 sold has something in common- they can be updated to any other specification that takes your fancy. Generally, unless you’re a retro fanatic, try to ensure that one you buy has the Valhalla power supply and either the Ittok or Akito tonearms. One easy way to tell roughly how old a unit is, is if the wooden plinth has ‘flutes’ (little ridges) on it- if so, this makes it a seventies/ early to mid eighties model while flat sided plinths are later.

If you want a turntable that will offer the potential to be upgraded to almost any level you see fit, look no further. A new LP12se is in excess of $30,000 and if you really wanted to, you could take any used LP12 to this spec. On a more sensible level, for $1,000-2,000 you can buy examples that sound genuinely good, look nice, are easy to secure parts for and that have an almost unlimited selection of upgrade options. If you are feeling spendy, see if you can find one that has parts from British brand Naim Audio fitted to it- notably the Aro tonearm and Armageddon power supply (I’m not making any of these names up) which can sound absolutely fantastic.

There are of course dozens of other models on sale and the general advice about buying used apply to all of them. These five models are the equivalent of a ‘cosmological constant’ though- they turn up often enough to provide some sort of guideline for buying them. If chosen carefully, used turntables can be a huge saving over a new model and give years of happy listening.

Ed Selley

Ed Selley

Ed is a UK based journalist and consultant in the HiFi industry. He has an unhealthy obsession with nineties electronica and is skilled at removing plastic toys from speakers.

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