Best Turntables Under $300
If you are experienced with turntables and vinyl records, you know that a quality turntable and sound system can provide you the great sound quality that you desire. Many assume that you need thousands of dollars to build your own great sound system, but as better and more widely-available technology is implemented into turntables, quality equipment is starting to become much more affordable. There are numerous turntables that won’t leave your bank account empty. Here are the best turntables under $300.
What Is A Turntable?
While some of you may have already bought a turntable in the past and know what is going on, some others are just getting into the vinyl record game and are looking to spend a bit more in order to get a turntable that will last longer. For that reason, a short explanation on what a turntable is may be helpful.
A turntable, in simple terms, utilizes amplifying technology to change vibrations into music. It does so through a combination of parts, starting with an engine housed in a unit (generally made of a steel, ceramic, or plastic material) that turns a pad upon which the vinyl record sits. This causes the record to “spin.” On top of the unit is an arm with a needle attached, technically called a “tone arm” and a “stylus”: this combination is placed on the record, where the stylus picks up the vibrations carved into the vinyl record, sends that down wires to an amplifier housed in the unit, which is then amplified to larger sounds in the form of music.
The way the stylus and amplifier pick up and broadcast the sound creates a variation of sound types that need to be understood prior to buying a turntable and vinyl records. In fact, this has created the two broad categories of vinyl record sound: monophonic and stereophonic. Before getting into both, it is best to understand what is happening with sound in general. Sounds are nothing more than physical waves emanating from a source, traveling through the air, and being picked up by a receiver. In the case of music, the instrument creates vibrations in the air which are then picked up by the ear. More complex music involves multiple instruments, playing at different timing, which are then picked up by the ear.
Some vinyl records combine these waves into one to be played simultaneously out of the speakers. Thes turntables and vinyl records are called “monophonic” sound systems and are the first category. Monophonic sound systems were the original turntables to be developed out of phonographs and gramophones. They play the music as one, which often leaves out the depth that many people enjoy with music.
The second category is stereophonic sound, which returns that depth. Stereophonic sound, depending on the capabilities of the components of the turntable, can split the vibrations’ sources, allowing the music to contain those different time signatures, tempo, rhythm, etc. When vinyl lovers discuss their love of the depth of the music, they are likely talking about stereophonic sound, which, since 1958 when it was developed, has provided unparalleled sound experiences.
The Best Turntables For Under $300
Now that you have a rough (or further) understanding of turntables, you can start to understand why the following turntables are the best for their price. On top of the units included in this list are dozens of other really good turntables. After checking these out, do some more exploring: there may be a turntable that is better for you.
Audio Technica’s AT-LP120 is one of the best that Audio-Technica offers and one of the best on the markets. It is a high-torque professional turntable whose components offer a great sound quality while also lasting a long time. Initially, this turntable was created for DJs, but with the inclusion of USB and multiple other output modes, it has become particularly popular amongst those listening at home. Because it was initially created for DJs, the modifications that can be made on it are almost endless, allowing for speed control, pitch adjustment, and tonearm adjustment.
Because this turntable was created for DJ use, the options that you have for customization are almost endless. You will be able to adjust the components on the turntable to play any record, and get great sound quality out of it. Moreover, the turntable comes with numerous output options. The most commonly used is the USB, which allows the turntable to be plugged into a computer (where the included Audacity software can record your vinyl records) and played through computer speakers, but the unit also has RCA capabilities as well.
The lasting power of this turntable is in question. While the components are made of materials that should last for years, many customers are reporting that it wears out after two years. And by “wears out” we mean “just stops working.” However, it appears that Audio-Technica is really receptive to problems like this and will help you replace the turntable.
Hands down, the Fluance RT81’s components are the best compared to the other turntables on this list, but as we will see in the cons below, some of the problems witnessed with this unit don’t make it number 1. It comes with a high performance AT95E Audio Technica cartridge (again, Audio Technica makes really good components). The stylus is a diamond elliptical and is attached to a tonearm that has great pitch adjustment and anti-skating functions.
The components make this unit a winner. The quality of those components are comparable to those units that will cost you upwards of a thousand dollars. The best component that is unmentioned though is the preamp, which is designed and engineered by Texas Instruments, providing a superb sound quality for whatever type of record you are playing. Finally, the unit is designed with a walnut finish, making it really classy looking.
While the Fluance RT81 has superb components, the speed can be off for some reason, particularly when playing 33s. When playing those, the engine either turns it too slow (around 30 RPMs) or too fast (around 35 to 36 RPMs). Moreover, the tonearm isn’t much removed from the other components, which often results in any type of vibrations hitting the unit (say, for example, you bump it with your arm or you walk too hard next to it) causing the stylus to skip, which can scratch the record.
This one makes the list simply for that s-shaped tone arm with adjustable counterweight. As you probably have figured out by now, one of the key components is the tone arm (which the stylus connects to). The better the tonearm the better the sound will be. That adjustable counterweight ensures that when the stylus hits the record, it records the vibrations to be as true as possible. That stylus as well is really good, coming with a diamond tip that helps prevent the buildup of dust and debris and prevent that from getting on your records.
Based purely on those components alone, this turntable is great, but it comes with other components that make this a must-see on your consideration list. It includes both auxiliary and RCA phono outputs, allowing you to plug into most speaker systems. It comes with a transparent lid that can be placed over the record while playing or while it is off to prevent dust from getting on the record or into the unit itself. Finally, the unit itself is housed in an ABS construction, which is a type of plastic polymer; this helps prevent outside vibrations from affecting the record while it is playing.
One of the major problems that turntable creators make when they construct a turntable with this type of tonearm is that they tradeoff the quality of the tone arm with a retention clip that can be terrible. In other words, it will often lock the tonearm in place or will not lift the tonearm when it gets to the end of the record. Beyond this, there are not many faults that significantly affect the quality of the unit as a whole.
The Denon DP-300F is an all-around great product. It comes with a unit that decreases vibration through the material is is composed of and it comes with the components that many customers desire in a turntable. This includes a great tone arm with advanced functionality, a moving magnetic cartridge that can be replaced, and a motor that ensure that the speed of the record stays as true as possible. For those customers looking for a unit that will provide quality components up-front, the Denon DP-300F is a great choice, also allowing them to customize it at some point in the future.
The components that are included in the unit are really good. Starting with the unit itself, Denon used a heavier base construction using a steel construction to help dampen outside vibrations. Inside that unit, the engine uses high-tech components in order to ensure that the speeds required for different types of records are as true as possible to those required speeds. The tone-arm, though not being a s-shaped which is the more preferred tone-arm, does come with an extra component that allows it to remove itself at the end of a record. These components are making this unit really popular amongst customers.
The biggest downside with the Denon DP-300F is that tone-arm lift functionality. When it is placed on automatic, it often doesn’t lift high enough to be able to effectively remove the vinyl record. Moreover, when it is in that position, in order to clear it the stylus scrapes across the surface of the record. It seems that the best thing that can be done is to simply turn off the automatic return to make sure none of your records get scratched. Another downside of this product is the cartridge: while the other components of the piece are really good, the cartridge itself (that piece that holds the stylus) is pretty subpar. Many are opting to switch it out immediately with a better stylus, which can be done for pretty cheap.
Pioneer makes great sound systems and turntables, and the Pioneer PL-30-K is included in that grouping. Much of the strength of a Pioneer unit comes from the inclusion of multiple layers of materials to dampen outside vibrations. This allows for the stylus to pick up vibrations from the record alone without picking up outside interference. Beyond this, the PL-30-K comes with a lot of components that are high quality, including a built in phono equalizer, a high-performance magnetic cartridge, and a belt-driven system that is lower in height to contain as much energy as possible.
As a whole unit, the Pioneer combines the finest components in a manner that will ensure that the unit won’t just work well but will last you for years. The fully-automatic operation ensures that this system is relatively easy to use and allows you to incorporate many of the different functions that higher-end, more customizable units allow. Finally, as many customers are raving about this piece, it is a well-designed unit that doesn’t allow excess vibrations while also including a dust-cover. This allows for beautiful sound along with protections against outside dust and debris.
For some odd reason, Pioneer decided to hardwire the speaker jacks right into the system rather than giving you the opportunity to buy cords that have better length. While this will still work for many, if you were looking to have your own phono wires (which they claim is in a “port” on the unit) you will be stuck with the one that is included since it is hard wired. On top of this, the included RCA cord tends to be on the shorter side and will require some work on your part to plug into speakers that are farther away from the unit.
While these are the best turntables under $300, there are many more that are available that might work better for you. Knowing what you want and what is on the market can help you decide which turntable is the best for you. Consider these turntables and if you would like to continue looking, check out some other turntables to make the best sound system for you!