Turntables have a hard job: They spin a grooved record into which a stylus holding a tiny needle – usually a sliver of diamond, sometimes of sapphire – is lowered. That said, they don’t have to break the bank. In fact, it’s possible to find what for you is the best turntable under $200.
Turntables detects the tiniest of vibrations that corresponded with the content encoded on the record. Those vibrations move either a magnet attached to a coil or a coil that itself is magnetized (depending on the type of cartridge) attached to a cantilever. The cantilever’s movements create a small current that is sent to a preamplifier. The preamp in many cases is in the turntable.
The current is processed in various ways and eventually emerges from your speakers or headphone as Miles Davis’ “Portraits of Spain,” Leo Kottke’s “Vaseline Machine Gun” or The Memphis Jug Band’s “On the Road Again” (which, believe me, is very different than Willie Nelson’s song of the same name.)
Turntables obviously are front and center. Typically, they are defined as having five main elements: The plinth, the platter, the motor, the tonearm and the cartridge. These parts — especially the tonearm and the cartridge — can be further broken down. It also is possible to call these separate elements that happen to rest on the turntable. For the purposes of shopping, however, it makes more sense to group them all together.
Let’s a quick look at each of these elements. Of course, it’s possible to dig far more deeply into each.
The plinth serves two purposes. The main one is to isolate everything that rests upon it. That makes sense: When something as sensitive as a tiny piece of diamond is reacting to impulses from a record, you want as firm a base as possible. Its should be as substantial and rest as solidly on whatever is below as possible. The other purpose of the plinth is simply to look good. And, let’s face it, many people are quite invested in how their setups look, and the plinth is a big part of this.
The next step up is the platter, which is a much more revealing name than “plinth.” The platter is the thing upon which the record rests. Audiophiles like heavy platters that are uniform in their composition. A platter in which weight is not uniformly distributed could lead to minute speed inconsistencies. Colored Vinyl points out that platters can be weighted to increase stability and avoid unwanted movements.
[The tonearm] has to perform a few tasks simultaneously. The cartridge has to be held in the correct position- height and angle-above the record and allow it to trace the groove in towards the centre of the record. It then also applies the correct amount of weight to the stylus and ensures that anti skate force is present to prevent the cartridge shooting toward the inside of the record. Finally, it carries the cabling that transmits the signal from the cartridge out to the rest of your system.
How it gets all that done is beyond the scope of this article. What is relevant here is that folks shopping for a turntable should pay attention to what the vendors say about the care and feeding of tone arm.
Finding the Best Turntable for $200: Sony, ION, Crosley, Victrola and Audio-Technica
Note: All images are courtesy of the manufacturer. Hover over images for a closer view (in most cases). Vendors have unique short hands for specifications. I’ve more or less left these unchanged, so the capsules are a bit inconsistent. The paraphrased comments are subjective (and, indeed, sometimes contradictory). Folks sometimes use equipment incorrectly and then complain. Problems mentioned may have been addressed by the manufacturer. Amazon has a tremendous amount of information and feedback on the what it sells and is a recommended element of your shopping research. If you do shop and potentially buy from Amazon, please link to there from HiFi & Vinyl Now. If you are kind enough to do so we’ll get a small commission. (Thanks!) The price you pay remains the same.
The first candidate for best turntable under $200 is the Sony PS-LX310BT is a belt-drive. It feature wireless operation, Bluetooth and USB output.
This candidate for best affortable turntable, is black, offers 2 speeds – no 78 RPM – and has a phono preamp and 3 gain settings. It has an aluminum die-cast plater.It measures 14.5″x17″x3″ and weights 7.9 lbs.
Another possible best turntable under $200 is the Crosley C8, a two-speed belt driven turntable that uses a moving magnet cartridge. It features an MDF plinth wrapped in walnut veneer. The adjustable tonearm has a counterweight, anti-skate control and removable head shell.
The unit includes a switch preamp. There is a removable dust cover. The turntable measures 5.71″ x 17.72″ x 13.78″ and weighs 12.79 lbs.
Audio Technica AT-LP60X-BK
A strong candidate for best turntable under $200 is the Audio Technica AT-LP60X-BK. The belt-driven device operates at 33 1/3 and 45 RPM and features an anti-resonance die-cast aluminum platter. AC/DC conversion is handled outside the chassis, which reduces noise in the signal frame. The tonearm has been redesigned and now features a base and head shell designed to improve tracking and reduce resonance. The AT-LP60X-BK weighs 8.1 lbs. and measures 14.7″x14.1″x3.8″.
Victrola Pro Series USB Record Player 2-Speed Turntable
Another possible best turntable under $200 is the Victrola Pro Series USB Record Player 2-Speed. The silver unit has a dust cover and weighs 9 pounds. It features a metal tonearm and diamond stylus, RCA output jack, a : stroboscopic aluminum platter, anti-skating adjustment, pitch control with quartz lock, and removable clear acrylic dust cover. It weighs 9 pounds and measures 17.3″ x 5.6″ x 14.4″.
The ION Audio Premier
The ION Audio Pro200BT turntable offers wired and wireless connections. It is a fully automatic, belt-drive turntable with a quiet DC motor and integrated dustcover. The turntable, which operates at 33 RPM and 45 RPM, offers Bluetooth, built-in switchable phono pre-amplifier for wired connection to non-Bluetooth connection to powered speakers, headphone output and line-level RCA outputs. Accessories include a 45 RPM adapter, audio cable and AC adaptor. USB connectivity enables converting of vinyl to digital audio files. Minimal assembly is required.