In the first part of this epic run through of sensibly priced turntables, We covered the front half of the alphabet and, so as to avoid a level of madness creeping in the list, has been split into two. Here then is the second half of the list of models that have passed through the testing process in recent history. The list is intended to try and make sense of some of the many options open to people shopping at the $3-700 point for a new record player and what might be best for you.
The Numark is aimed squarely at the semi pro market and comes littered with features that are relevant to this- pitch controls, cueing light and strobed platter chief amongst them- but it is hard to ignore that under this is an awful lot of turntable for the money. The Numark is a direct drive design with on board phono preamp and S shaped tonearm. It comes with lid, cartridge and everything you need to get going for very reasonable money indeed.
As well as being very attractively priced, the Numark is well built, easy to setup and just as simple to use. It avoids some of the more common worries of semi pro turntables in that it is free from rumble or hum, tracks at perfectly sensible weights and has no nasty surprises in geometry terms. More importantly than any of this, it sounds pretty good too with a lively and energetic presentation that finds plenty of detail in records. Within reason, it will benefit from some upgrades too.
What's not so good?
The Numark comes supplied with a 'Groove Tool' cartridge. While you can set it up to track at a reasonable weight and it sounds more than reasonable for the price, you can definitely do rather better for not a lot more money. It is also fairly easy to argue that the Numark looks a bit less elegant than some of the models on this list but equally, it costs less than almost all of them too.
The Essential range sits below the Debut series in Pro-Ject's hierarchy and is intended to be more affordable while still offering the features needed to be flexible and easy to use. To this end, the Essential uses a metal tonearm rather than a carbon fibre one and does without some of the niceties of the Debut. In return, you get an internal preamp, USB connection for digitising your records if the fancy takes you and like almost everything that Pro-Ject makes, setting the Essential up for the first time, is very simple.
The Essential is designed to sit below the Debut and is cheaper as a result but quite a bit of the money has been saved by using older Debut parts like the arm and by cutting back on the prettiness of the finish. The result of this hard work is a turntable that still sounds more than respectable. The Pro-Ject sounds fast and lively but never at the expense of tonal accuracy. The internal phono preamp is quiet and has plenty of gain and while an Essential can't be stretched as far as a Debut, there are still aftermarket Pro-Ject parts for it.
What's not so good?
The Essential is well built but doesn't feel as elegant as some of the models on this list and some features like the belt that runs around the edge of the platter are a bit crude. The phono preamp can't be bypassed which might limit your choices in terms of cartridges and the deck can be prone to a little hum depending on the connections you use. There's no arguing though that this is still an awful lot of turntable for the asking price.
Rega has been making affordable turntables since the point when vinyl vied with cassette to be the mass market format of choice. The Planar 2 for 2016 is an all new model that only shares a name with the older models although the basics of the design are almost unchanged. The Rega uses a rigid plinth into which a high quality bearing is mounted that has a sub platter for a belt and a main glass platter for the record. The RB220 tonearm is an evolution of a model that dates back almost thirty years and the whole package is designed to be easy to assemble and sound good.
By and large, the Rega does everything that it sets out to do. This is a well built, handome and easy to use turntable that sounds consistently excellent. The Rega is another design that manages to balance good tonal accuracy with a real sense of excitement to it and there are very few genres of music that it won't do a fine job with. If you want to stretch the design, Rega offers the Performance Pack which will improve performance further and there are also any number of third party options that will work on the Planar 2 to boost performance further.
What's not so good?
The Rega is another design that does without a preamp being fitted so you will have to ensure you have one as part of your system. Otherwise the Rega is admirably free of flaws and it is only the presence of the Edwards and Elipson (in the UK anyway) that prevents it claiming all the accolades and disappearing into the middle distance- this is a seriously good turntable.
On the face of it, the very idea of Sony making a turntable at all in 2016 is pretty mad but the good news is that the PS-HX500 is not a me too product. The Sony appears to be a largely bespoke piece of kit that offers belt drive, electronic speed selection and easy setup. You also get a switchable internal preamp and a USB output. This output is the Sony's party piece. While other turntables have them, the Sony is able to convert vinyl to high res digital up to and including the format of the moment DSD. Not only can it create the files, Sony also bundles software to make turning them into streaming friendly material too.
If you are into digitizing vinyl, the Sony is, by roughly the distance of the earth to the sun, the class of the field. Nothing else on sale makes the process so logical or self explanatory and the Sony itself can produce some lovely sounding rips. It does this by sounding pretty good in its own right with a well balanced and detailed sound that should suit a wide variety of music. The basic design looks suitable for a few upgrades and installation is very simple to do.
What's not so good?
Next to many rivals, the Sony looks and feels dull. It is symphony of black and lacks much in the way of visual flair. It can also be slightly lacking in gain when producing rips of some material and this is not easily addressed in the otherwise very comprehensive software.
The Thorens is a bit of a victim of exchange rates here as it is rather more competitively priced relative to the other models in the list when calculated in Europe. Quibbles over the price aside, this is an interesting piece of equipment as it is one of a very few models on sale today outside of the pure budget category that offers semi automatic operation. If you move the arm over the playing surface of the record, the platter will start to spin automatically and once the arm reaches the end of the side, it will lift automatically. Otherwise, everything about the Thorens is bespoke and finished to a very high standard.
If you are the sort of person that tends to leave records running at the end of the side having forgotten about them, the Thorens is the turntable for you. The really good news is that the TD240-2 doesn't sacrifice anything in terms of performance to do this- this is a very well balanced and pleasing sounding turntable that will work in a wide variety of systems.
What's not so good?
There's no hiding from the fact that the Thorens is quite a bit more pricey than the Rega and Elipson models on this list and can't really pull out any form of performance advantage over them. Looks are also a matter of personal taste but for many people the TD240-2 avoids the 'retro cool' section of styling and goes straight to old fashioned. Equally, it is worth pointing out that Thorens has a reputation for longevity that suggests that the TD240-2 should give you years of service.
So there you have it, a marathon journey through many of the affordable choices on the market. The one truly positive thing you should take from this list is that the are choices for every budget and every requirement. If you need any further advice, remember, we have a forum of keen souls who between them, own pretty much every model on this list and will be happy to share their experiences in order to help you find the model that rocks your world.
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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