Looking for a good turntable in 2021 can seem like a daunting task. There are hundreds if not thousands of models available on the market. Thank you vinyl renaissance. So how do you go about picking the best record player for you?
This post covers popular turntable models that cost under $500 USD and are brand new. What if you are completely new to the vinyl hobby and aren’t sure what to look for? Make sure to check out this very detailed beginner’s guide to turntables. It will guide you in the right direction.
Making a list of best turntables isn’t an easy task. Some folks are looking for the best looking turntables, other might be looking for a DJ turntable. Some people are really excited about a belt drive turntable while others want a direct drive. How can you possibly put all of these different pieces of equipment in a single list? Here is how I did it.
I spent loads of time analyzing different resources available online. I saved lists of “best turntables under $500” from many reputable websites such as WhatHiFi, TheVinylFactory and many others. Also I’ve studied dozens of threads posted in online communities on Facebook, Reddit and AudioKarma – all about best turntables within this specific budget. With all this information I was able to realize that about 15 of the same turntables were being talked about everywhere.
Based on how often the record player was recommended, I gave it a rating. The higher that rating, the higher the turntable is on the list.
#1. Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO
- US Version comes with the more expensive Sumiko Rainier. The rest of the world gets Ortofon’s 2M Red cartridge.
- The playback speed (33-45-78RPM) is electronically controlled assuring precision and stable speeds.
- Dampened resonance and much quieter turntable is ensured by a heavy 1.7kg platter made out of steel and TPE (thermoplastic elastomer).
- Comes in many different colors. Handmade in EU.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO is an audiophile turntable at an affordable price. There are so many details that make this piece of equipment special. It start with an 8.6″ one-piece Carbon Fiber tonearm. Pro-Ject claims that their super stiff, but lightweight tonearm delivers an insane sound quality. The turntable comes with height adjustable heavy-duty metal feet to ensure a level positioning on every surface.
You should note that the Debut Carbon EVO does not feature an inbuilt phone preamp. However this should be expected from any audiophile turntable, especially at this cost. Lastly, did you know that the word EVO in the name of this product stands for “evolution?”
The typical price for Debut Carbon is usually around $499 USD.
#2. U-Turn Audio – Orbit Plus
- Ortofon OM5E cartridge with elliptical diamond stylus.
- Acrylic platter provides improved speed consistency and clearer,Acrylic platter provides improved speed consistency and clearer playback.
- Precision OA2 gimbal tonearm for accurate tracking and low distortion. Features internal anti-skate and adjustable counterweight.
- Designed and assembled in Woburn, MA, USA.
Orbit Plus by U-Turn Audio is a minimal and gorgeous turntable. This record player is available 6 different colors so you can really pick one that fits your styling. The external belt drive eliminates motor noise and ensures speed consistency. This model doesn’t come with an inbuilt phono preamp so you need to keep that in mind.
Although U-Turn Audio was only founded in 2012, the company has managed to built quite a reputation in USA and Canada. All of the turntables sold by U-Turn are assembled in USA and most of the parts come from American suppliers.
The price for an Orbit Plus is usually around $290-$310 USD
#3. Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB
- Updated version of the already iconic AT-LP120, featuring a newer and better Direct-drive motor.
- AT-VM95E Dual Magnet phono cartridge with elliptical stylus.
- USB output allows you to connect directly to your computer and digitize your vinyl records.
- Switchable built-in phono preamp.
Audio-Technica is a Japanese company that designs and manufactures professional audio equipment since 1960’s. I own a pair of their headphones (ATH-M50X) and can’t get enough of them. Listening to music while walking around town, using them for DJing or simply relaxing at home and listening to vinyl. However, this post isn’t about headphones.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB might look familiar to you because it mimics the design of the world’s most famous Technics SL1200 turntable. When Matsushita Electric came out with the SL1200 in the 1970’s, they wanted to sell a high fidelity, reliable turntable. However, that model became very popular in clubs, discos and eventually with DJs. The SL1200 is still the most desirable turntable when it comes to DJing, thanks to its high torque motor,high quality parts and now a long reputation.
AT-LP120X certainly isn’t the SL1200 but it’s a very popular turntable for DJs and people who want a manual, high torque direct drive record player. It costs 4 times less than a new SL1200 (MK7) and it will work just as well for most people. This is one of the turntables that I would personally purchase if I was buying something brand new.
The typical price for AT-LP120XUSB is around $279 USD.
#4. REGA – Planar 1
- Hand made RB110 tonearm comes with factory fitted Carbon moving magnet cartridge.
- Ergonomically positioned on/off switch located on the underside of the plinth which by the way has a brand new matt finish for 2021!
- Built-in RCA cables but no phono preamp – so you’ll need to get an external one.
- Manufactured at the Rega facility in Essex, England.
Rega is claiming that the Planar 1 is the most user-friendly turntable the company has ever built. The preset bias force on the brand new RB110 tonearm make the Planar 1 set up a breath. Take the turntable out of the packaging, push the balance weight as far as it will go up the arm, remove the stylus guard and start playing your favorite record. That sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
Planar 1 has been a very popular piece of technology so Rega has been making adjustments, improving this record player while trying to preserve its reputation. Simple styling, super quick setup and audiophile level sound.
The typical price for REGA – Planar 1 is around $475 USD.
#5. Pro-Ject Essential III
- Diamond-cut aluminum drive pulley, a resonance-optimized MDF main platter chassis and the high-precision platter bearing result in a high quality sound.
- Comes with Ortofon OM10 phono cartridge mounted on a 8,6” aluminium tonearm.
- Comes with a dust cover, 7″ adapter and a felt mat.
- Manufactured in EU.
If you looked at the other turntables in this post, Debut Carbon, Planar 1, Orbit Plus – you might have known a trend. Very minimalist looking belt drive turntables seem to be dominating this list. To be honest I get it. Pre-Ject Essential III also looks very simply yet it packs a punch for anyone who values high quality sound.
Although the Debut Carbon EVO is higher on this list of popular turntables under $500, the Essential III doesn’t fall far behind. It’s cheaper, it looks amazing and it sounds great. The included Ortofon om10 is a good cartridge, although cheaper than the 2M Red or the Sumiko Rainier that comes with the Debut Carbon turntable. Just like the Debut Carbon this turntable also doesn’t feature an inbuilt phono preamp and you’ll need to buy that separately.
The typical price for Pro-Ject Essential III is around $399 USD.
#6. Music Hall MMF-2.3
- Comes with the Music Hall Spirit moving-magnet cartridge with replaceable elliptical stylus (built by Audio Technica).
- 8.6” carbon fiber tonearm with aluminum headshell.
- Vibration damping adjustable feet.
- Music Hall claims that their belt drive turntables are manufactured in the Czech Republic, by Pro-Ject Audio.
Music Hall markets the MMF 2.3 as an audiophile turntable at a budget price. This slogan is visible on their Amazon listings their own website and everywhere else. I think that the pricing just under $500 USD does make it quite affordable, in the AUDIOPHILE world that is. When some manufacturers try to sell “high-end” RCA cables at $5,000 a pop, a $500 record player does indeed sound very affordable.
Music Hall promises that they concentrated on the quality of sound and they have achieved it by using high quality components such as bearing, motor, and tonearm. Some users claim that included cartridge is not of very high quality and it should be the first item you upgrade on this turntable.
Detachable RCA cables are included with the Music Hall MMF 2.3 turntable however you’ll need to use an external phone preamp.
The typical price for Music Hall MMF-2.3 is around $495 USD.
#7. Pioneer PLX-500
- Comes with a silver edition PC-HS01-S headshell (cartridge and stylus included).
- USB output allows you to combine the turntable with Rekordbox DVS, a compatible DJ mixer and the RB-VS1-K Control Vinyl.
- Switchable phono preamp is included.
- Manufactured for in Taiwan.
Pioneer claims that their direct drive PLX-500 is simply a slimmed down version of the bigger and more professional PLX-1000. However we all know that similarly to Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120, the Pioneer’s PLX-500 is heavily inspired by the Technics SL1200.
No matter how you look at it the PLX-500 is a DJ turntable. Many consumers compare this turntable to the aforementioned Audio-Technica. The truth is that both items are very similar and built by the same manufacturer, Hanpin in Taiwan. Some say Pioneer feels just a little more sturdy hence justifying the higher price.
If both turntables were priced the same (often the vase in the second-hand market) I would go with Pioneer. This preference is based simply on my experience with Pioneer DJ gear. I’ve owned CDJ400, 1000MK3 and CDJ900s. DJM400, 800 and 900NXS so I simply trust the brand.
The typical price for the Pioneer PLX-500 is about $349 USD.
#8. Denon DP300F
- Fully automatic belt drive turntable, perfect for easy operation.
- Designed with a heavier base construction that helps decrease vibrations, resulting in a clean sound.
- Builtin switchable phono preamp.
- Denon’s DSN-85 cartridge and stylus are included.
The biggest complaint that people have with the DP300F is the sound quality. The included DSN-85 cartridge seems to be rather average and cheap. A higher quality cartridge like the Shure M97xE or the Audio Technica AT440MLA are excellent options and will sound better, however this turntable is not made for audiophiles.
Let’s put it this way. If you want a turntable that looks cool, sound okay, is fully automatic and comes with an inbuilt preamp, this could be an option for you. If you mostly care about the sound quality then I’d suggest looking at other turntables on this list.
The typical price for a Denon DP300 is around $329 USD.
#9. Pro-Ject T1
- CNC-machined plinth of the T1 features no plastic parts.
- The glass platter is also a heavy, zero-resonance design.
- Comes with a pre-adjusted Ortofon OM 5E Moving Magnet cartridge on a light aluminum 8.6″ tonearm.
- Hand-made in Europe, like the other Pro-Ject turnatbles.
The Pro-Ject T1 is somewhat similar to the Essential III although it’s completely different at the same time. It shares some of the internal parts with the Essential (very quite bearing for examples) but the turntable itself looks completely different. This belt drive record player comes with a built-in phono stage and Bluetooth for wireless use.
Lots of folks use Bluetooth speakers and love this feature. However, when I think Bluetooth I think “delay” and “loss in quality”. I would only connect a turntable using wires but that’s a personal preference. The Pro-Ject T1 costs just a little more than the Essential III and just a little less than the Debut Carbon Evo. Which one would you pick if you went with Pro-Ject?
The typical price for the Pro-Ject T1 BT is around $449 USD.
#10. Fluance RT85
- Features a heavy acrylic platter damps unwanted vibrations.
- Comes with the Ortofon – 2M Blue MM Phono Cartridge.
- DC Motor with Servo Controller Analyzes motor speed 500 times/sec.
- No built-in phono preamp so you would need to use an external unit.
The Fluance RT-85 positions itself as an all-analog, high-fidelity turntable. To be honest, it’s getting hard to follow everyone’s language and labels these days. Is high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) turntable same as audiophile turntable? Anyway, the RT85 is of very high quality and it produces a warm, analog, clear sound.
The included 2M Blue cartridge would set you back at least $240 USD – that’s half of the cost of this turntable! A good cartridge with a decent stylus is just a part of the game. Fluance RT85 comes with under-mounted 7-point silicone isolation, isolated motor, solid wood plinth and many other details that result in a very high quality of sound at a very reasonable price. Oh, and did I mention the 2M Blue cartridge?
The typical price for the Fluance RT85 High Fidelity Turntable is around $499 USD.
#11. Audio-Technica AT-LP140XP
- Comes with a DJ-specific AT-XP3 cartridge with a conical stylus tip, attached to the AT-HS6BK headshell.
- Target light for easier cueing in low light.
- Manual direct drive turntable without an inbuilt preamp.
- Manufactured at the Rega facility in Essex, England.
Remember how we talked about the Pioneer PLX-500 and AT-LP120 trying to copy the iconic SL1200? Well, here is another DJ turntable that has a very similar look and feel, the AT-LP140XP. This Audio-Technica turntable is often referred to as the grown-up brother of the the AT-LP120.
The AT-LP140XP is indeed more professional and is marketed as a lifestyle turntable. Unlike the LP120 this model does not have an inbuilt preamp or teh USB feature. The plinth is about 2kg heavier and the motor provides more torque. The record player has more tempo control and allows you to play your records backwards.
Although the included cartridge works great for a heavy bass and DJ application, you might consider upgrading to something like 2M Red or 2M Blue if you want a more redefined sound of your turntable.
The typical price for the Audio-Technica AT-LP140XP is around $499 USD.
#12. U-Turn Audio – Orbit Special
- Comes with the popular Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
- Solid hardwood plinth available in 2 different options (sustainably sourced US flatcut maple or rift walnut).
- Designed and assembled in Woburn, MA, USA.
Earlier in the post we talked about the very popular U-Turn Orbit Plus that looks very similar to this Orbit Special yet it costs $150 less, what’s up with that?
U-Turn has different versions of its turntables and your choice of options will indicate the final price. For example the Orbit Special comes with an elegant cue-lever. Ortofon 2M Red instead of the OM 5E cartridge. The plinth is made out of solid wood instead of MDF. Are all these options worth the extra money? They are in my opinion but it’s your decision in the end.
The typical price for the U-Turn’s Orbit Special Record Player is around $499 USD.
#13. Fluance RT81
- Comes with Audio Technica AT95E Cartridge.
- Features a a high quality built-in Texas Instruments preamp.
- Design in Toronto, manufactured in Taiwan.
Of course the RT81 doesn’t look like its bigger sibling RT85 and it doesn’t feature a $240 cartridge but it also costs half the price. The RT81 has become a favorite to many beginners in the hobby who can’t afford a $500 piece of equipment. Or who prefer to spend the extra money on vinyl records.
The Fluance RT81 is a well-buit and good looking turntable. It could definitely benefit from an upgraded cartridge.
The typical price for a Fluance RT81 record player is around $249 USD.
#14. Rega RP1
- Sets up in less than 30 seconds (according to Rega).
- Hand assembled RB101 tonearm with a factory fitted Carbon moving magnet cartridge.
- Manufactured at the Rega facility in Essex, England.
DISCONTINUED in 2021. Please check out newer REGA turntables.
There are loads of turntables under $500 on the market and new items will certainly be making their debut in the upcoming years.
Which turntable are you using? Why do you love it/hate it? Let me know in the comments below!