While many in the music world have been panicking in recent years about low sales due to the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, one segment of the industry is still setting record highs: vinyl. Driven largely by millennials, vinyl is in the middle of a Renaissance; in 2015 vinyl record sales increased for the tenth straight year, and climbed 30% from their 2014 total with almost 12 million records sold. Despite the downward spiral of CD sales, there is still a desire from the listening public to have a physical copy of their favourite music, and their medium of choice is vinyl.
Record players are also having something of a moment. At this year’s CES, Sony, Panasonic, and Audio-Technica all made a splash with announcements of new models due out in 2016. Most notably, Panasonic revealed the return of the renowned SL-1200, the industry standard for DJs until their production was suspended in 2010. If you’re an aspiring ?uestlove, hoping to spin records in dance halls to get people moving, then you might want to wait until this summer when the SL-1200GAE is available. But for the those who simply want to listen to their records with hi-fi sound, or get into collecting for the first time, I’ve collected some of our favorite turntables for audiophiles of all stripes below.
Your first record player
There is no sense in spending an exorbitant amount of money on your first record player. Sure, you’ve heard of the warm sounds vinyl provides, but unless you are a certified audiophile, the difference in sound quality between a standard starter record player and a top-of-the-line unit with souped up speakers will not be worth the difference in price. Further, there are plenty of reasonably priced options for the vinyl novice that look good, and they are just as capable of playing your records as their expensive counterparts.
This was the first record player I owned. It served me very well, migrating with me from my high school bedroom to my college dorm. It has everything you need in terms of a music media device; while playing records was clearly its primary purpose, I found myself using the FM radio more than I thought I would, and it was nice to know that if I ever saw a cassette tape I really liked I would have a means of playing it. The highlight here for beginners is that the speakers are included right in the unit, meaning this is a one-stop shop to get your records spinning and songs to your ears.
Another popular Crosley model for beginners is the CR8005A-GR because it’s currently carried at Urban Outfitters. While the pairing of record players and a clothing store might seem odd to the outside observer, the union makes a ton of sense, as UO is the number one physical retailer of vinyl in the United States, discounting Amazon. While it lacks the multi-media functions of its sister unit, the Cruiser still has internal speakers, making it easy for anyone to immediately start getting into their music. I also think it has a pretty cool look to it, although tastes vary from person to person.
I’m of the mind that if you’re brand new to the vinyl game, there’s no real reason to spend money on a record player and speaker set before you know it’s going to be a long term hobby when you can get an all-in-one unit like the two above. With that said, if you already have a nice set of speakers and simply need a unit that can play records to hook up to it, or if you are adamant about the idea of creating your very own stereo setup, the AT-LP60 is a great budget option for you. Another plus about this model is that you can upgrade it by purchasing a higher quality stylus or belt if you find yourself becoming more of an audiophile in pursuit of sonic perfection.
Once you’re ready to invest
Perhaps you already own one of the units featured above and are ready for an upgrade. There are a lot of great record players out there for you to spend on, but it’s important to choose wisely when making such an investment. I would recommend having a hard budget in mind that includes what you want to spend on a turntable, speakers, and any other additions you want included in your stereo setup; you don’t want to overspend on speakers and leave yourself without enough funds remaining to buy a turntable that do them justice or vice versa.
This is the big brother to the LP60, but there are numerous differences between the two models. While both are sturdy, durable turntables, the LP120 works with a direct-drive motor as opposed to a belt drive. Also, it comes with a USB drive, allowing you to save your vinyl files onto your computer in case you want to take your warm tones with you on the road. And because the Audio-Technica is one of the most popular turntables on the market, there’s a large online community of people with different tips and tricks to perfecting its sound.
The Rega offers great sound for a reasonable, mid-range price, and a simple, beautiful design. Also, many fans of the turntable highlight the fact that you can upgrade the mat, belt, or other aspects of the player to coax sound that would rival any hi-fi system. If you hook it up to a couple hundred dollars worth of speakers, it will sound great; but if you hook it up to a couple thousand dollars worth of speakers, it will sound phenomenal.
As an art piece
If you’re interest in vinyl stems more from the visual aesthetic as opposed to the sound quality, there are now record players that basically serve as art pieces on their own. Here’s a few of the designs I’ve been most impressed with.
It’s quite possible that this is the greatest advancement in record-player aesthetics that we’ve seen in 40 years. The Gramavox Floating Record is something you simply can’t keep your eyes off of.Starting as a Kickstarter with a goal of $50,000, the group raised over $1.5 million online and are still backordered for 10-12 weeks. But if this is something you need to have, it might be best to get in line now.
Built by the same Pro-ject mentioned above, this is my favorite table to watch turn. The exposed belt and open bottom draw in your eyes. The sound quality also stands up for the most part to its family counterparts.
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