A few years ago, if you were looking for an affordable standalone record player that had the potential to be something you used for years to come and offered great performance, your choices pretty much began and ended with Pro-Ject and Rega. Now, your choices for the best record player are bewildering and getting more complicated all the time. New record player models are hitting the market at blistering speeds and your choices are getting more complicated over time.
By chance, the last few months has seen a great many of these relatively affordable turntable models pass through my system and after a truly monumental amount of unboxing, fiddling, comparative listening and reboxing again, I'm in the position to try and make sense of a few of the models available to you for under $1,000. This is not a completely exhaustive list—it doesn't include a member of the Pro-Ject Debut family for example, as these are due for some tweaks and revisions, and neither is there an example of the very capable U-Turn Orbit because it doesn't exist in the UK. Nonetheless, if you are looking to buy a new turntable at this price point, you might find the answer to your questions here. For the sake of neatness, the list is broken down into two parts. Part 2 comes out tomorrow.
The Akai is a slightly confusing device in that 'Akai' as a domestic brand, ceased to exist at the turn of the century and this is in fact a product of Akai Professional who are a different organization entirely. Things get even more complicated when you look at pictures of the Akai and the TEAC TN-300 record players together as the two models are to all intents and purposes identical- or at the very least have a common point of evolution. As such, the comments about the Akai apply to the TEAC as well.
For the asking price—which can frequently be completely ignored if you shop around—this is a really very well finished turntable indeed. It is also a very well-specified one too. You get an internal phono preamp which can be switched out of the circuit if you wish and the ability to switch speeds automatically which is always welcome. You also have the opportunity to use the Akai as a means of digitising your vinyl as it has a USB connection on the rear panel that ensures you can connect it directly to a computer.
It sounds pretty respectable too. The Akai comes fitted with an Audio Technica AT95E, which can be a little on the bright side in some conditions, but on the end of the Akai manages to sound civilised and refined with pretty much anything you play on it. For the price that the Akai/TEAC is available for, this is an awful lot of record player and one that looks and feels like it is going to be around for a fair amount of time.
What's not so good?
The Akai manages to get good results out of the AT95E but this seems to have been achieved in part by voicing the phono preamp to deal with some of its little foibles and this means that for best results, you'll probably want to bypass it sooner or later if you change the cartridge. Doing this is easy enough but the height of the amp cannot be changed, so you will need to be careful what you choose. Otherwise, for the price it frequently crops up at, this is a bit of a bargain and a very capable turntable.
The LP5 is a domesticated version of the company's semi pro models. It retains the direct drive motor used in a few of these models but puts it in a simplified plinth without the DJ accoutrements and uses a J-shaped rather than an S-shaped arm. The result looks pretty businesslike if not terribly pretty and comes with a decent spec. You get an internal phono preamp which can be switched out of the circuit (and unlike some other Audio Technica designs where this is notionally possible, it does genuinely switch out of the circuit) and the ability to output over USB. You don't get a lid though unless you pay a bit extra.
Out of the box, the LP5 record player is a very capable piece of kit. Thanks to the direct drive setup, it has excellent pitch stability and a get up and go to its performance that can be lacking in some other models. It makes use of an improved version of the AT95E cartridge seen on a few models in this list that manages to sound a fair bit better than the stock model. It also responds well to upgrades which means you should be able to enjoy it for a good few years.
What's not so good?
As we've already touched on, a lid costs extra which is a little tight. The arm's height can't be adjusted which means you will need to choose other cartridges carefully. Compared to some of the other models in this list, the LP5 can feel a little rough and ready and there are some designs for similar prices that have a slightly more delicate and refined presentation. This is still another fine choice at the price though.
Edwards Audio Apprentice Mk2, approx. $600
Edwards Audio is the affordable wing of British audio brand Talk Electronics. They now produce a range of turntables of which the Apprentice Mk2 and Apprentice Lite Mk2 are the newest members. Both models are identical in plinth and basic setup but the Lite uses a simpler tonearm. Both models look smart and minimalist and the sculptured plinth is a nice touch. One interesting feature of both units is the platter. It might look like glass but it is in fact acrylic and designed to work without any form of mat.
The Edwards is a simple piece of kit but everything that goes into it is of extremely good quality and this results in a player that delivers an extremely honest and open performance with just enough fun to make it consistently engaging. The materials used in the Apprentice Mk2's construction result in it sounding lively and clear with less sense of congestion to busy music. You can also select from some factory specified upgrades to boost performance and the arm used on the Edwards should support a few different cartridge choices.
What's not so good?
In the USA, the Edwards is something of a rarity which can make hearing it in the first place quite tricky. This is also a simpler design than many rivals on this list and this means that it doesn't have a phono preamp on board meaning you'll need to have one already or budget for one in your purchase. Otherwise, only the presence of some even more talented models on this list really counts against it.
Elipson Omega 100- TBA
The Elipson has been mentioned in the blog before but is now on sale in Europe, and this French designed and built turntable has been something of a pleasant surprise. With the honourable exception of the cartridge which is an Ortofon model, the Elipson is entirely bespoke and borrows nothing from other models. You also get electronic speed control from the software driven motor assembly and a unique carbon fibre arm that combines the horizontal and vertical bearings into a single 'knuckle' and then applies the antiskate to this point which is pretty clever.
There are three 'levels' of the Omega 100 record player. The basic level is simply a turntable and will need an external phono preamp to function. The Omega 100 RIAA adds a preamp to the chassis making the deck more plug and play while the 'RIAA BT' model takes the preamp and adds the ability to transmit the output via apt-x Bluetooth which may or may not be useful to you but Elipson does at least give you the option whether you want it or not.
The Elipson has been designed over the space of the last few years, taking into account developments at this price point. The result is a beautifully engineered turntable that offers genuinely excellent performance at the price combined with a level of design and build that is also relatively unusual. The existence of three different models adding features also means you have the choice of buying the one with the features you actually need. As a further bonus, thanks to carefully thought out packaging, the Elipson ships almost completely setup which should make life simple for a beginner.
What's not so good?
The Elipson's tonearm is extremely clever and very elegant but does without an armlift, meaning you need to manually place it on and lift it off the record which won't suit everybody. The only other real issue for the Elipson is that it isn't on sale in the USA, which is something that Elipson is working on at the moment.