“A good pizza starts at the bottom”, were the wise words Mario once spoke. With Mario’s wisdom in mind, we have tested six turntables in the price range of 200 to 550 euros; a popular price range for those who want to give vinyl a try. We are very curious to see how these models will do in the multitest because there are some solid brands among them: Rega, Pro-Ject, Pioneer.
We have tested turntables that fit into a conventional audio system, or source >> amplifier >> speakers. There are also turntables for sale with built-in speakers, in a suitcase format or as a cool retro cabinet, for about 200 euros. These look nice, but the sound is not very good. Often the cartridge used is of poor quality, so your records will wear out quickly. If you see vinyl as more than a nice gadget, read on because for the same money or a little more there are serious alternatives available.
Before we cover the six players we tested, we want to briefly run through some points of interest with you so you can become somewhat at home in the world of vinyl.
Analog and digital masters
When the compact disc was introduced in 1982, most recordings were not yet digital. CDs at that time were labeled with the codes AAD, ADD and DDD which labeled the recording or master analog or digital. These digital (re)masters are also the versions found on streaming platforms.
With vinyl releases, the process is the other way around again. New albums are recorded and mastered digitally. For a modern vinyl release, a separate vinyl master is created that often actually sounds different. We’ve listened to “25” by Adele side by side and the digital version is quite different from the version on record. This makes sense because the dynamic range of a digital recording is much greater than that of a vinyl record. A vinyl master should solve these limitations.
For these reasons, vinyl usually sounds better when playing old analog recordings. The engineers in the studio were used to dealing with the limitations of vinyl and sometimes the craftsmanship is very clearly audible. An analog master made in the digital era (and therefore the dynamic range is much higher than with analog) and then converted back to an analog master for vinyl reissue usually sounds really inferior. Especially if the dynamic range has been lovelessly (read : automated) reduced, you can hear it right away. It’s kind of like autotune but for dynamics and timing.
The beauty of records is that based on the serial number of the release and the number engraved around the label of the record, you can find out which release you have in your hands. On online platforms like Discogs or Allmusic, you can find more information about recording and record pressing.
String or direct drive
In this test we have belt-driven (belt drive) and direct drive record players. Belt drive has been around for more than 100 years and has the advantage that the hum of the motor is dampened by the belt. The disadvantage is that the belt can break or stretch and the record does not rev up as quickly. Not useful if you want to quickly start a dance track, which is why brands like Technics and Pioneer have introduced the Direct Drive turntable to the pro and consumer markets. The motor is connected directly to the turntable and starts immediately.
Element, arm and weight
Then the tone arm. It must puy the cartridge and needle straight into the groove, follow the groove as nimbly as possible, provide sufficient needle pressure and at the same time not so much that the needle and/or record wear out too fast. In addition, the tone arm is pulled ever more firmly toward the center of the record, where again the transverse pressure compensation comes into play.
That sounds like a daunting task. And it is. But know that it really matters how the arm is adjusted. Too low a weight gives a thin sound, too high a thick unwieldy sound and wear. And sometimes the arm takes on a life of its own toward the center point. Nice for physics experiments but not when you want to play a nice record.