Welcome to the Best Turntables section of the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for Summer 2022.
The Guide is more than “We heartily endorse this [fill in the blank].” This collection represents our enthusiasm. Every product listed in this guide is beloved by at least one team member. These products have elicited responses such as “I was gobsmacked every minute I spent with this” or “The shipping box was wet with the tears of my lost innocence” or, too often, just “Take my money!” In other words, this isn’t about high-end audio products that we merely like. These are the products we love — and we think you will, too.
No list like this can ever be complete since we’re bound to forget something that has duly impressed the heck out of us. We’ve attempted to capture a moment in time — one year — and collect together, in one place, all of those products that we want to have and hold and use in our own systems right now.
If you’re looking for our list of “the best stuff to check out right now” — the best loudspeakers, CD players, amplifiers, turntables, cartridges, preamplifiers, DACs and more — this is it.
The Best Turntables
These entries represent the best turntables we’ve heard. They are organized by price in ascending order. Enjoy!
Andover Audio SpinBase and SpinSystem (starting at $299 USD)
Andover Audio, maker of one of the finest all-in-one “record players” we’ve heard–the Model One–has introduced a more a la carte version for vinyl newbies trying to get into this hobby for a reasonable amount of money. The SpinBase ($299) is the core control unit, and you can add the SpinDeck (Pro-ject and Ortofon) turntable for $349, the SpinSub for $299 and the $199 SpinStand for the complete and satisfying SpinSystem.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO ($499 USD)
Here’s another strong argument for the world’s best turntable for $500 or less, though Pro-Ject had the advantage of a tested design and continuous modifications applied over the years. The EVO version sports a new motor suspension, height-adjustable damped aluminum feet, a new steel and TPE-damped platter and a Sumiko Rainier cartridge. “This is a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon table taken to a whole new level.”
Technics SL-1500C ($1,199 USD)
Although priced like an original SL-1200 before it was discontinued in 2004, the SL-1500C is a very different turntable package–the very reasonable price includes arm, an Ortofon 2M Red and a built-in MM phono pre. You won’t find the DJ features such as the pitch control or the strobe, but you’ll find that the 1500 is is one of the best “record players” (just add powered speakers) you can get. Best of all, the sound quality is closer to a $4000 Technics SL-1200G than the original 1200.
VPI Industries Cliffwood ($1,500 USD)
Named for the city of Cliffwood, New Jersey–the Cliffwood turntable celebrates the city of its manufacture and the people who make it. Built with the same care and quality as the more expensive offerings from VPI, the Cliffwood is true plug-n-play, ready to rock right out of the box. Our own Eric Franklin Shook sticker-bomb‘d his Cliffwood (as seen in the picture above). Eric says the Cliffwood’s durability makes it as portable as the workhorse Technics 1200 of yore, himself using the Cliffwood for record store events, house parties, and public social gatherings.
Andover Audio Model One System (starting at $2,000 USD)
The Model One Record Player from Andover Audio is an elegant one-box solution that contains a Pro-Ject turntable and tonearm, Ortofon cartridge, amplifiers, speakers and lots of digital connectivity. This, so far, is the most impressive version of the “good old-fashioned record player,” but it might be difficult to define if you’re the person who needs this–at least until you hear it and you just want it so bad for an office or a bedroom or a vacation spot. Options include a powered subwoofer and additional LP storage racks.
Gem Dandy PolyTable Signature ($2,995 USD)
When fitted with the Sorane TA-1L 12.7″ tonearm and the ZYX Ultimate Airy X, this George Merrill-designed turntable instantly became one of the best turntables we’ve heard under the $10K threshold. “George Merrill knows how to use simple, elegant engineering and knowledge of material sciences to get the little things done, the things that make sonic differences,” we concluded, and we still think about this wonderfully odd-looking American ‘table. Winner of our Best Value Award because we still can’t believe the Gem Dandy PolyTable Sig is only $3K.
Technics SL-1200G and SL-1210G ($4,000 ea USD)
From a distance, the Technics SL-1200G looks just like the old SL-1200, which was the best-selling turntable in history. When you see the G up close, you start noticing little details—especially in the fit and finish. Once you tear it apart, you’ll discover it’s been completely redesigned. For those of us who never liked the sound of the 1200 or thought of it as only a DJ ‘table, the new generation of Technics 1200s is a shock to the system—while still a direct-drive design, it now sounds fantastic courtesy of the new non-cogging motor and upgraded plinth. We compared the SL-1200G to the lovely black-and-gold Technics SL-1210GAE (now available as the SL-1210G) but found no significant differences, except for the fact that the limited-run 1210 is more collectable.
Vertere Acoustics DG-1 (starting at $4,099 USD)
The Vertere Acoustics DG-1 (Dynamic Groove) is a plug-and-play turntable system that costs just $3,995 USD complete with arm, DFi cable, and cartridge. It’s a rare turntable that can be up and running in a few minutes after the box is opened. Plug-n-play turntables are common at the low-end, but at this level it might be one of the best turntables to fit this description. The complexity of the design and build in the DG-1 is second to none in this price category and, most importantly, shares technology with everything Vertere has done upstream.
Thorens TD-1601 ($4,299 USD)
Have you been waiting for decades for a Thorens table that’s as good as classics like the TD-124, TD-125 mk. II and the TD-160? Here it is, the TD-1601, a sprung semi-automatic turntable that will remind you great designs from Linn, Ariston, AR and any other rig that bounces. Based somewhat on the TD-160, the 1601 (and the TD-1600, which offers completely manual operation for $3K) achieves rare and lofty performance at this price point–the fact that the price includes a solid Thorens tonearm makes this deal even sweeter. An Editor’s Choice winner.
Rega P10 ($6,345 USD)
Do you remember Dave McNair’s review of the Rega P10, his first for PTA? You should, since it was one of the most widely-read reviews PTA has ever done. Most audiophiles are keenly aware of Rega’s top of the line Planar (so we’re not mentioning the rare Naiad yet) with its skeletal lightweight foam plinth and ceramic platter. Dave, a mastering engineer working in the digital domain, wanted to get back into vinyl and this is what he chose and ultimately purchased for himself. “For a lot of folks, this might be as good as it gets.”
Fern & Roby Montrose ($7,500 USD)
Fern & Roby’s Christopher Hildebrand specializes in “heirloom quality” high-end audio, and nowhere is this more evident than with his Montrose turntable and arm combination. Precision machining and industrial materials guarantee that this analog rig looks and sounds like no one else’s. The sound is balanced and sure-footed, and the build quality is so high that “you can leave this virtually indestructible machine to your children or grandchildren in your will.”
Well-Tempered Lab Amadeus 254 GT ($7,800 USD)
This unusual turntable design–does Well-Tempered Lab make any other kind?–seems to rub against some of our firmly held ideas about analog. And yet the proof is in the listening, since the Amadeus “has a liveliness that resembles a live performance.” Every little so-called quirk, such as the now-famous golf ball at the tonearm pivot, results in a thoughtful improvement in sound that we grew to appreciate and even love during its stay.
Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas ($7,995 USD w/Cornet 2 Tonearm)
“No-frills and kinda plain,” this turntable is based on the well-received Nottingham designs of yore and focuses on performance rather than frivolous bling. The double plinth contains a layer of Sorbothane, and the platter is a heavy monster, but the sound is “lovely” and especially dreamy with the human voice. Overall, we thought that the Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas was the turntable that sounded most like a 300B vacuum tube, if that makes sense. It does to us.
Clearaudio Innovation Basic ($8,500 USD w/TRACER Tonearm)
Clearaudio’s patented Ceramic Magnetic Bearing gives the platter a sense that it’s floating on air. Easy to assemble and maintain, the Innovation’s only flaw seems to be the “Basic” designation—we found that this affordable combination, with the Hana ML cartridge, was “anything but basic.”
Palmer 2.5i (starting at $9,490 USD)
For decades we’ve heard from a small contingent of knowledgeable audiophiles about the superb listen-ability of the Palmer turntables from the UK, and now we can officially confirm. Now built by Acoustic Signature in Germany with higher parts quality, the Palmer stands out as one of the easiest of the five-figure (with Audio Origami tonearm) turntables to own–it’s easy to set-up, stable, reliable and so solid in the groove it feels like it will run forever. And did we say it sounds great? Because it does.
Vertere Acoustics MG-1 (starting at $9,995 USD)
This Touraj Moghaddam (founder of Vetere Acoustics) design has a multi-level acrylic plinth but still provided a more focused, deeper connection to the music in the spirit of some higher-mass turntables. “Along with its dead quiet rendering of vinyl, it brought a great certainty and ease to anything [we] played,” we concluded. Winner of the Reviewer’s Choice Award.
Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird ($14,540 USD)
The Firebird stands out from the other ‘tables in this German company’s line because it has three motors, and because it can accommodate two arms. Dr. Feickert’s turntables are easy to set-up, thanks to a built-in protractor and ingenious arm board that lets users attain perfect alignment quickly and with less fuss. The Firebird has a solid, powerful and confident sound that comes from the geometric alignment of the motors, and the reduced surface contact in the bearing allows even more music to come through.
Brinkmann Taurus ($15,000 USD)
This direct-drive turntable offers the next level of precision, isolation and stability for a playback device and offers sound quality that is notably more solid and focused than belt-drive ‘tables at its price point. The nearly 80-pound dedicated platform from Harmonic Resolution Systems ($3900) is considered by Brinkmann to be essential for the best performance. One of the finest and most purposeful turntables we’ve used. A Reviewers Choice winner.
VPI Industries HW-40 ($15,000 USD)
The HW-40, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of VPI Industries, is very similar to the awesome $30K direct-drive DD model that impressed everyone a few years ago. This new model is offered at half the price, a result of buying parts in bulk and learning a few tricks along the way. Plus, you get the latest version of the new Fat Boy tonearm included in the newly reduced price. Despite all this talk about “discounts,” this is a first-class turntable and is capable of a sound that few analog rigs can capture.
Acoustic Signature Typhoon NEO ($15,595 USD)
We found that the “Acoustic Signature Typhoon NEO with a TA-5000 arm at $23,490 gets you near-perfect German engineering—direct off the Invictus lineage.” This three-motor deck with digital motor control is exhilarating to the point where we almost reached sensory overload, with every LP sounding just soooo goood. A Reviewer’s Choice award winner.
AMG Viella V12 ($17,500 USD)
When we asked the owner of a million-dollar system why he chose his AMG over any/every other ‘table in the world, he simply replied “It’s the only one that made sense sonically.” The German-built AMG offers such a refined and beautiful sound from such a compact design—the secret to the success of this ‘table is the extraordinary attention to detail and precision engineering.
TW Acustic Raven LS ($19,500 USD)
TW Acustic, the German company known primarily for their high-end turntables and tonearms, delivers big time with their newest turntable in the Raven series, the Raven-LS. The 88 lb. Raven (including its 22 lb. platter) is firmly in the high-mass camp of designs. For a $19,500 turntable (with tonearm, standard platter, and single motor option, full copper platter, 3 motor option extra), we feel that it represents some of the best sound we’ve heard at any price. Review forthcoming.
SME 30/2 ($44,900 USD w/V Tonearm)
This massive turntable is a triumph of precision engineering, borne from an English company that started off making precision aviation parts and instruments. This attention to detail results in a turntable that offers incredible pitch stability, dynamics and anything else you can think of that’s essential to the flawless spinning of a record. SME turntables and tonearms are all established designs based on decades of experience in the field. While newer “state-of-the-art” turntables come and go, the SME 30/2 has reserved its place in analog history.