Welcome to the Turntables section of the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for Summer 2023.
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” — this is it.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO ($599 USD)
Here’s another strong argument for the world’s best turntables for less than a grand, 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 turntable taken to a whole new level.”
Rega Planar 3 (starting at $1,125)
The legendary P3 is a sonic powerhouse among reasonably priced turntables. One of the PTA staff just purchased the current production model in red and declares, “It’s fairly easy to setup, it’s one step up from plug and play.” Adjustments are minimal and the tonearm supports many other cartridges with a 3mm shim. “Soundstage is excellent, the table is quiet, and for those who like to tweak there are options for upgrades. The Rega P3 is a great table that spans the gap between entry-level and ultra-high end. Did we mention it comes in red?”
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 finest “record players” (just add powered speakers) you can get. Best of all, the sound quality is closer to the $4000 Technics SL-1200G turntables than the original 1200.
Andover Audio Andover-One System (starting at $1,999 USD)
The Andover-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 ‘tables 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 about this American ‘table. Winner of our Best Value Award because we still can’t believe the Gem Dandy PolyTable Sig turntables are 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 1200 turntables 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-1S (starting at $4,495 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 one of the rare high-performance turntables that can be up and running in a few minutes after the box is opened. The complexity of the design and build in the DG-1S is second to none in this price category and, most importantly, shares technology with everything Vertere has done upstream.
Thorens TD-1601 ($4,699 USD)
Have you been waiting for decades for a Thorens turntable 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 less money) 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.
Pear Audio Blue Kid Howard ($5,499 USD in gloss black with Cornet2 tonearm)
The Pear Audio Blue turntables from Slovenia are inspired by the designs of the late Tom Fletcher of Nottingham Analogue, which means a heavy platter and a low-torque motor that requires you to start and stop everything by hand. (There are no on/off switches.) The Kid Howard can be quirky and unique in its operation, but it’s also a pure music-making machine that delivers sonic miracles unexpected for its reasonable price. A Reviewers Choice award, ‘cuz the reviewer bought the review sample.
Rega P10 ($6,345 USD)
Most audiophiles are keenly aware of Rega’s top of the line Planar (so we’re not mentioning the rare Naiad or the new Naia yet) with its skeletal lightweight foam plinth and ceramic platter. The P10 offers the sound of the big turntables while being incredibly easy to live with–it’s small, light and easy to set up. “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 turntables. 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.” A Fern & Roby tonearm is included, but you can upgrade to a Schroder.
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.” One of the best values in turntables out there.
Vertere Acoustics MG-1 ($13,945 USD)
This Touraj Moghaddam (founder of Vertere 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 turntables 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 ($15,990 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 turntables 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.
Acoustic Signature Typhoon NEO ($17,995 USD)
We found that the “Acoustic Signature Typhoon NEO with a TA-5000 arm 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.
VPI Industries HW-40 ($22,000 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 a lower 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 price.
TW Acustic Raven LS ($24,000 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 $24,000 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.