The Vinyl Revival: Ultimate Guide
But within the past few years there has been a completely unexpected resurgence of vinyl. There are no easy explanations as to how the revival of the turntable began, but with over 40 million units sold and sales nearing $1 billion for the first time this millennium, it is safe to say vinyl is back.
So there’s no better time than now to experience what it is like to pick out a record, slide it out of it’s sleeve, place it on your turntable setup and watch the needle spiral through your favorite tracks. Sounds awesome right (…maybe that’s why turntables are back.)
The Best Turntable Setup Overview & Results
We took a deep look into the best turntable setup for three different budgets:
- $200 budget
- $500 budget
- $1,000 “budget”
Best Budget Turntable Setup Under $200
This setup pairs an amp with a set of passive bookshelf speakers. Passive speakers require an amp to function. Amazingly, this setup should total just under $200. If you have a lower budget, then this is the best turntable setup under $200.
Audio-Technica AT-LP60 Turntable
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is a great budget turntable. It is the cheapest turntable we can recommend. The Audio-Technica AT-LP60 comes with a built-in preamp, which lets you avoid purchasing an extra piece of hardware. This turntable will function perfectly fine for a beginner looking to get into vinyl, and it is easy to see why we included it in our budget best turntable setup. But, there are several missing features that would steer serious enthusiasts toward more premium turntables, like those featured below.
- Built-in preamp
- No counterweight
- No standard mount or P-mount
- High tracking force
- Cheap belt drive system
Micca MB42 Bookshelf Speakers
The Micca MB42 Bookshelf Speakers are excellent budget bookshelf speakers. They provide excellent sound for the price. They are well made from quality materials. The MB42’s are passive speakers, so they require an external amp. The Micca MB42X Bookshelf Speakers are a nice upgrade from the MB42, offering better crossover hardware, magnetic grill plates and a matte black finish. But, the MB42X will put you slightly over $200 total.
Micca MB42 Pros
- 4-inch carbon fiber woofer
- Silk dome tweeter
- Grill plates included
- 5-way binding posts
- Compact size
Micca MB42 Cons
- Require an amp, which reduces compactness
- Poor crossover on tweeter
- Struggles with very low bass
Lepy LP-2024A+ Stereo Amplifier
The Lepy LP-2024A+ Stereo Amplifier is as compact as they get. It provides plenty of power to drive a pair of passive bookshelf speakers like the Micca MB42. Two knobs give you control over bass and treble frequencies when Tone mode is enabled. We recommend leaving the LP-2024A+ in direct mode for more accurate playback. The volume knob has a smooth, quality feel to it. This is a well constructed little amp.
Lepy LP-2024A+ Pros
- Compact size
- Quality construction
- EQ adjustments
Lepy LP-2024A+ Cons
- Cannot drive a subwoofer
- No banana plug input/output ports
- Very bright blue LED when turned on
- Large wall power adapter
Best Turntable Setup Under $500
You can’t go wrong with this mid level turntable paired with a quality powered speaker. The JBL LSR305 requires no external amp, which saves space, wiring and money. The RT80 by Fluance has all the desirable features of a high quality turntable at an even more desirable price. If you’re interested in starting a vinyl collection and want a solid starting point that you won’t need to upgrade this is the best turntable setup under $500, for you.
- Dual TS to RCA cables – Available here
- Stereo Male to 2RCA Male Cable – Available here
- Fostex PC-1e Computer Speaker Interface – Available here
Fluance RT80 Turntable
The Fluance RT80 has everything you could need out of a mid-range turntable.
The RT80 comes equipped with an Audio-Technica AT91 Stylus. This stylus provides just 2.0 grams of tracking force.The S-Type tonearm is constructed out of aluminum. It also features an adjustable counterweight system. An advanced anti-skating system prevents record wear and scratching.
Gold plated RCA line outputs, and a high quality preamp ensure high fidelity audio. Grounding is also possible through a rear terminal.
Isolation feet on the bottom of the Fluance RT80 help prevent any outside vibration from muddying your listening experience or damaging your vinyl records.
Fluance RT80 Pros
- Great price
- Replaceable, high quality cartridge
- Auto-off feature
- Counter weight and anti-skate
- Grounding terminal
- 2 year full manufacturer’s direct warranty
Fluance RT80 Cons
- It may require some time to “break in”
- Higher wow and flutter
JBL LSR305 Powered Monitors
The JBL LSR305 is a highly recommended entry level audiophile speaker, and for good reason. Sporting a 5″ woofer this pair of speakers will have plenty of kick. As this is designed to be a studio monitor, it will have a relatively flat frequency response. It’s quite hard to find a better speaker at this price point.
The only caveat is that the LSR305’s require an external volume interface, due to the fact that they’re meant for studio use. The Foster PC-1e Computer Speaker Interface, listed above under Necessary Hardware, is a perfect solution. It is plugged in between the turntable and speakers.
JBL LSR305 Pros
- Designed for near field listening
- 5″ woofer, 1″ tweeter
- Powered, no need for an amp
JBL LSR305 Cons
- Power switch is on the back
- External hardware necessary for volume interface
- “Flat” frequency response might sound different to some listeners
Best Turntable Setup Under $1,000
This setup has everything you need for an amazing audiophile-grade listening experience. A quality preamp such as the Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box will enable you to piece this turntable setup together beautifully. The Audioengine A5+’s have been my favorite speakers, through daily use over the past two years. Pair these amazing speakers with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and there’s really nothing bad you can say about your setup. This is the best turntable setup under $1000.
- Speaker wire – Available here
- Banana plugs – Available here
- (2x) 2RCA male to 2RCA male cables – Available here
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon gets its name from the 8.6″ carbon tonearm, which offers increased stiffness resulting in reduced resonances. A larger, heavier platter and precision belt drive with synchronous motor provide smooth rotation, with low wow and flutter.
Audioengine A5+ Speakers
The Audioengine A5+ speakers have been sitting atop my desk for 2 years now, and man are they awesome. They deliver an excellent near and far field listening experience. Around the $400 price point, powered bookshelf speakers do not get much better than the Audioengine A5+.
Audioengine A5+ Pros
- Remote control with mute, volume, power buttons
- Volume/power button on front
- Black, white and a stylish bamboo color options
- 5 inch kevlar woofers, silk tweeters
- Built in amplifiers
- Comes with pull-cord bags to cover if moving
Audioengine A5+ Cons
- Heat-sink on right monitor extends out of the rear a couple inches
Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC Preamplifier
The Pro-Ject Phono Box DC connects your turntable to an amplifier or receiver. A flat RIAA equalization curve with 60dB of gain (MC), and 40dB gain (MM) produce high fidelity sound for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. This will ensure that your vinyl record is delivering sound to your speakers exactly as the artist (or audio engineer) intended. A solid preamplifier is key to having the best turntable setup.
Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box Pros
- Sleek, modern design
- Ground wire connection
- Great RIAA EQ curve accuracy (0.5dB max, 20Hz-20kHz)
- 40dB gain MM, 60dB gain MC
- Comes with RCA cable
Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box Cons
- Static capacitance setting
The Anatomy of a Turntable Setup
Turntables use a stylus or “needle” to convert the grooves on a vinyl record into an analog electrical signal. This analog signal is then amplified and played through a speaker creating sound. There are several parts that make up a turntable. This information should help you make a more informed decision when choosing from our selection of the best turntable setup for various budgets.
Turntable Drive System
A turntable spins the record sitting on it’s platter with it’s drive system. There are two major types of turntable drive systems, belt drive and direct drive. Cheap drive systems can introduce a minute amount of noise to the playback. Neither one is definitively better than the other, though cheaper belt drive systems are often found in lower end turntables. As a result, direct drive is often preferred.
Turntable Tonearm System
The tonearm system is what holds the stylus to the vinyl record allowing it to track through the grooves. A perfect tonearm system allows the stylus to steadily track over the record with minimal wear to both the cartridge and record.
Having an adjustable counterweight allows the user to offset the mass of the cartridge. A calibrated dial is used to “zero” the arm to a perfectly balanced position. This also optimizes the tracking force, or the force of the cartridge exerted on the record, and heavily reduces the wear on records.
Many modern arm systems also provide an anti-skate system. An anti-skate system is used to keep the force exerted on the groove walls by the cartridge to an absolute minimum, ideally zero.
Turntable Pickup System
A cartridge is the housing at the end of the arm that holds the needle. Magnetic cartridges are most commonly used today. By moving the magnet or coil about the magnet, depending on the specific cartridge, an electrical signal is created through the principle of electromagnetic induction. This signal closely follows the sound waveform engraved into the vinyl record. Once processed and amplified, this signal becomes your music!
The two most popular standards for cartridges, found on the best turntables, are the P-mount and a 1/2 inch mount. P-mounts plug directly into a slot in the tonearm. The 1/2 inch mount uses two small screws to bolt the cartridge to a “headshell” which then plugs directly into the tonearm.
The amplifier, or amp, is what takes the electrical signal and makes it strong enough to drive your speaker system. Quality, audiophile-grade amps can be quite expensive, so for all except the $200 best turntable setup we chose speakers that have built-in amps. These speakers are known as powered speakers.
A preamplifier is just an amplifier that converts a weak signal into a stronger one (pretty self explanatory right ). The stronger signal is then able to be processed further by additional amplifiers. The analog signals that come from turntables are weak and require a preamp to do this initial processing or else the final sound would be distorted and full of noise.
The best turntable setup will involve some type of preamp. Make sure the preamp compensates for the RIAA equalization curve.
Speakers fall into two major categories today, passive and powered. Passive speakers require and external amplifier to drive them, while powered speakers come with an amplifier built in. Powered speakers also offer an advantage in having less equipment to organize and less wiring necessary. Passive speakers are lighter and cheaper, but you will more than likely offset your cost savings with a quality external amplifier.
Something to look for in a good speaker is the quality of the crossover hardware. Crossovers are the circuitry responsible for splitting frequency ranges and sending them to the proper speakers. Bass frequencies should go to the larger speakers (woofers, subwoofers), and treble frequencies should go to the smaller speakers (tweeters). Quality crossovers will give a much better sound.
Speaker wire is what you use to connect your speakers to each other, and to your amp, if necessary. Basic speaker wire usually consists of two wires running through a larger, hollow tubing. These two wires, almost always red and black, are used as positive and negative terminals.
Quality speaker wire should be at least 16 gauge for short runs. Copper is the ideal material, steer away from copper coated aluminum (CCA) and other conductors. Oxygen free copper (OFC) provides improved conductivity, but is not absolutely necessary.
Banana plugs are what you fit to the end of your speaker wire into higher end audio equipment. Banana plugs are easy to remove and ensure a secure fit. Additionally, they provide better conductivity than regular speaker wire clips and springs. Gold plated banana plugs are preferred.
Vinyl is an awesome way to listen to your music and we’re glad it’s back in style. The best turntable setup is the one that fits in your budget. There are a million combinations of fancy equipment out there, but we have shown that having one of our picks for “best turntable setup” is totally achievable.