Introduction

Vinyl isn’t in a resurgence – it’s back, and while many have stuck with the format for decades, for anyone who’s getting into it for the first time, it can be a daunting experience to lean the more technical terms.

Vinyl playback is an enjoyable experience, but getting to that point is not always easy, so whether you’re an experienced old hand or someone new to the format, only the best turntable will do.

For many turntables are the way to play back music. You can’t replicate the sound of analogue as well in a digital format. And then there’s the x-factor of vinyl physical records looking a lot cooler. Part of the passion is picking it up as you go, getting deeper into the various options available.

And we share that passion with this list of the best record players currently available. They’ve been examined in regards to how easy they are to set-up, their feature set, build quality, ease of use and, of course, the most fundamental aspect, which is their sound quality. Those that pass the muster will feature on this list.

These are the best turntables we’ve tested, but we’re always looking to add more options on a regular basis if they deserve to be, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for now, check back down the line to see if we have a deck that scratches that vinyl itch.

How we test

How we test

Our audio experts use every turntable they test as their primary home music player for weeks while testing.

During that time they compare against competitors in the same price range, using a variety of partnering hi-fi components and different genres of music, from classical to dance. Where appropriate, turntables are also tested with a variety of different cartridges.

Ratings are based mostly on sonic performance, but also take into consideration build quality, ease of setup, and features.

Rega Planar PL1 (2021)

Best turntable

Pros

  • All the essentials – motor, tonearm, cartridge and so on – are judiciously specified
  • Open, full and informative sound
  • Wears the right badge

Cons

  • Could have even greater low-end alacrity
  • Sound can be just a little laid-back

If we’re talking about the best value turntable then the Rega Planar PL1 (2021) is at the top of the list. Pound-for-pound it offers great performance for its £275 asking price.

There is little to say about the PL1’s design, which we found to be very simple and doesn’t mess around with the formula turntables have been laying down for decades. There is a choice of matte white or matte black options, which is a change from the Planar 1. While there’s little in terms of design flourishes, our reviewer found the build quality to be more than acceptable for the price.

Where more substantial refinements have been made include the RB110 tonearm, which is pre-fitted with a Rega Carbon cartridge and offers an integrated clip for securing the arm as well as automatic bias adjustment. Inside is a new, powerful synchronous motor with a redesigned PCB and aluminium pulley, the first time it’s been placed in an entry-level Rega deck. The new EBLT drive belt has been moulded, cryogenically frozen, and then barrelled to be perfectly round. All of this is integral for accurate speed and stability for the best tracking and performance possible.

On the sound front, the PL1 offered up a big, wide soundstage with some excellent separation and plenty of room for every element of a song to breathe, making Rega’s entry-level record player an enjoyable and easy listen. The low end offers texture and detail with treble equally as convincing, while the mid-range is packed with detail and character. Our reviewer found there was a unity to the PL1’s performance that made it an engaging listen. In every meaningful respect, the Rega delivers the performance you’d want for an entry-level model.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Rega Planar PL1

Clearaudio Concept Active

Best audiophile turntable

Pros

  • Potent, revealing and spotless sound
  • Helpful specification
  • As close to ‘plug and play’ as these things ever get

Cons

  • Not all that adept rhythmically
  • Headphone amp is nothing special

The Clearaudio Concept Active is a record player that aims to making playing records more convenient but still exude high-end style. The deck has been nicely finished and looks excellent in whichever colour it comes, and we found it was little surprise the Concept Active offered no compromises with the quality of its design.

The integrated phono stage stacks up well against standalone alternatives, although our reviewer felt those separates have a little more feel for rhythmic expression. As is the norm for Clearaudio, the feature set is good: the plinth is designed to reject resonance and the driver decoupled to protect against vibrations.

It’s at this point where the Active model diverges from the standard Concept deck, the ‘active’ aspect of the player allowing for a more straightforward plug and play functionality. There are several rocker switches to deal with: one to turn a subsonic filter on and off to minimise low frequency background noise, another to change the gain control and a third to switch between passive, variable and active inputs for the RCA output.

Choosing passive bypasses the integrated phono stage, while variable allows for use of it but enables control over volume with an amplifier. Active uses the on-board phono stage and playing with the volume using the deck’s roller control. Once the configuration/switches have been sorted, it’s simply a case of plugging in and playing music.

As a listening experience, we found the Clearaudio to be an informative and expansive listen with a wide soundstage produced. They’re a precise-sounding record player but not in the sense that they lack passion. A play of Pixies’ Bossanova had our reviewer raving about the accuracy they offered, alongside the animated and engaging telling of the track. There’s plenty of ‘oomph’ to the low end, while the mid range is expressive and acts as a vital component of the wider frequency range; the top end is refined, filled with plenty of substance and detail. Not as great is listening to music through the headphone output, which does not offer the most engaging performance.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Clearaudio Concept Active

Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2

Best Bluetooth turntable

Pros

  • Extensive specification by turntable standards
  • Poised, detail and engrossing sound
  • Built to last

Cons

  • Not the last word in audio excitement
  • Sounds better when hard-wired
  • lots of price-comparable alternatives

The Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2 follows on from the original, offering wired and wireless Bluetooth streaming for connecting to wireless speakers or headphones. The Alva TT V2 is one of the few that can offer (lossy) Hi-res Audio streaming at a 24-bit/48kHz in aptX HD. that offers more convenience (and higher quality playback) for those who find the world of vinyl a little disorientating.

Not much has changed on the design front with its aluminium platter, chunky platter, and direct drive design. Where it has changed is the new design for the tonearm, bringing counterweight adjustment and anti-skate features; and the headshell is detachable coming pre-fitted with a Cambridge Audio moving coil cartridge. There are dedicated inputs for stereo RCA connections, along with support for 33.3 and 45rpm speeds.

Our reviewer found there was a remarkable consistency to the Alva TT V2’s delivery over wired and wireless connection. There’s weight and detail to its sound, and while the top end can sound understated, there’s still plenty of attack and bite. The low end has a good level of extension, and the mid range packs in lots of detail. We found there was a remarkable cohesion and unity to the overall sound of the Alva TT V2, too.

We did note that a hard wired connection provided better handling of lower frequencies but for those who prefer convenience, then Bluetooth playback is a simpler solution than hooking up various separates. If the price strikes you as too high, a more affordable option to consider is the Sony PS-LX310BT or Cambridge’s own Alva ST player.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2

FAQs

What is a preamp?

A preamp amplifies the weak signal generated by a turntable into a stronger signal so it can used by a receiver to create the audio you (eventually) end up hearing.

What’s the difference between 33, 45 and 78rpm records?

This relates to the speed (rotations per minute) that a turntable is meant to spin a record. It also refers to the size of the records, with 33rpm record the smallest and the 78rpm the largest.

We also considered…

Specs compared

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Manufacturer

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ASIN

Integrated phono stage

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Speeds (rpm)

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