I do not often write about gear. In fact, this is the first time. It’s simply not a significant part of the vision behind my blog. However, I have found a way to justify it. Within the world of theology and Christian practice there is this subcategory that I love called aesthetic theology.
While the phrase may sound complicated, it may not be so difficult to comprehend. Think back to a moment when your senses were overwhelmed with a surreal gratefulness and you just had to write or pray about it. Or maybe consider a time when you were at church worshiping and something about the hymn resonated with a deep part of your being and you simply felt at peace in God’s presence. If you’re someone like me who loves the outdoor world, think back to a time you saw a cascading waterfall or sweeping mountain vista, then think about the goosebumps. Love it or hate it, that powerful connection we feel to God through our senses and our imagination is called aesthetic theology.
For me, music is indeed a vital aspect of how I connect to God. I wouldn’t want to project this feeling on others, but I would certainly think plenty of folks would resonate with how I feel. Music, by its very existence, is a tiny clue, a step in the journey of understanding and trusting in the presence of our great God.
To justify writing about musical equipment, a guy needs reasons! Yes, vinyl happens to be one of my several hobbies, but I also need to keep my blog on point! Ok, on to the turntables.
The factors that go into my list are several, but in descending order they include quality, value, aesthetic appeal, and reasonable cost. Toward the end of the list, I compromised on the reasonable cost factor.
If you’re willing to put together a few hundred bucks, you can make one of these tables work long-term for your home audio situation.
1. Pro-Ject Debut
Without a doubt, you’ll come across Pro-Ject when you take seriously the search for a quality turntable. The Debut series has been an enduring product line that has diverse options for any number of needs. Starting at $299 for the Debut III and ranging up from there, these Austrian-built ‘tables will suit the needs of most listeners and integrate well with any home audio system.
I personally own a Pro-Ject RM5 SE, another stellar performer in the sub-$1000 range, so you may consider my choice biased. However, thewirecutter.com, a respected also loves the Pro-Ject as one of their best-rated options. A host of other reviewers agree, including Stereophile and UK-based HiFiChoice. It outperforms the other tables they review, and though thewirecutter.com selected another table as their “number 1” it was because of price, not sound quality.
Another fantastic choice if you like the Pro-Ject Debut is the Music Hall MMF 2.2. It’s made in the same factory but has some great features, even though it’s a bit more expensive. For the record [pun intended], 6 years ago, when I first got into viniyl, Music Hall was my first love-but they led me to my soulmate, Pro-Ject.
I wanted to give a solid nod to Music Hall since I didn’t officially list one of their tables.
2. Rega RP1
The British are fanatics about vinyl. Made in southeast England, about 120 RP1 units are hand built daily to meet the demand of listeners around the world. This particular table is rather similar in design to Pro-Ject’s Debut, with a single plinth [the big square part of the turntable that everything is mounted on] and hidden motor. It’s $299, which is ragingly cheap for a solid product from a reputable company.
The Planar 1 is another great choice from Rega.
3. U-Turn Orbit
I would be remiss not to mention U-Turn’s Orbit table. Made in the greater Boston area, and again, with a single plinth, they utilize an exposed belt. This adds visual appeal while maintaining the isolation of the motor. Oh-if you aren’t sure what isolation means, no worries, I’m not some elitist. Motors makes a small amount of noise that can carry through to the needle, and since the needle vibrates to produce sound, you don’t want your motor interfering.
Starting at $179, this is probably the market’s cheapest ‘table that is a serious contender in terms of quality. The tonearm is the low point, in my opinion, but the overall design is solid and needle upgrades are always an option if you are looking for more nuanced sound.
4. Edwards Audio TT1
Reinforcing every stereotype [pun intended] about our British friends, this table is strikingly similar to the Rega RPM1’s no-frills design. That’s because the companies are related somehow. Unfortunately, I cannot tell exactly how. Go figure it out, I didn’t take the time.
Regardless, the TT1 is a great table. It comes with an acrylic platter, which is good both sonically and visually. The big issue with this ‘table is with its solid feet, it does not provide much sound isolation. Meaning, you’ll need to keep this thing on a heavy, solid table and away from any vibration.
5. Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB
To my eye and with all my biases, this ‘table is hideous. Really, it’s a table meant for DJs both in features and appearance. However, I wanted to include it on my list because of two reasons: it’s a direct-drive ‘table [the motor attaches straight to where the record sits] and it does USB recording. I’m not personally interested in either of these two options, but some folks want to spin/scratch and do DJ work. Others want to record and import their vinyl collection to their computer so they can stick the songs on their portable music player.
Indeed, there seem to exist two kinds of vinyl listeners: 1. those who enjoy the tactile aspect of having a hard copy of their favorite artists and 2. those who used to listen to vinyl back in the day who now want to combine the portability of an iPod with the nostalgia of their favorite tunes. I fit into the first of those two categories. It goes back to that aesthetic theology factor; when I take the time to dig out records and fire up my tube amp, I just love every little detail that composes the experience.
So, against my will, I’m including this hideous monstrosity on my list. At $249, it’s fairly cheap, and it gets the job done. For all you no-nonsense folks out there who aren’t concerned about appearance, this ‘table does come through. I can’t tell where it’s made, maybe Japan or somewhere in China. Not sure, the corporation is enormous. If you’re looking for something more attractive from Audio Technica, check out the AT-LP5. It’s a bit more expensive but a lot less hideous.
6. Gramovox Floating Turntable
Made in Chicago, Gramovox prioritizes aesthetic appeal and simplicity. Yes, the ‘table sits upright, but that’s it’s one unnecessary-yet visually arresting-aspect. It’s purely minimalist design, very tactile, quite lovely with a walnut case. The other big thing about the Floating Turntable is that it is an integrated system, which means the speakers and pre-amp are all rolled into one. For $499, you get it all.
For some, this is great. Others, however, want to upgrade these components. If you want to upgrade, you are in luck-the integrated system can be bypassed. But why would folks want to do such a thing?
The pre-amp in particular is an important part of a system because it boosts the tiny signal from the needle and makes it loud enough for the amplifier to boost to the speakers. In other words, it’s a bottle neck within the signal path [the signal path is the route from the needle, through cables, through a pre-amp, though an amp, through more cables, through speakers, and eventually to your ear].
People spend money on amps, speakers, cables, needles, and pre-amps because all of these matter for overall sound.
Fortunately, with its bypass feature, the Floating Turntable doesn’t force you to use its integrated speakers, pre-amp, and amp. This is one beautiful yet functional American designed and built ‘table.
7. Trntbl by Vnyl
Ok, elites will hate me for listing this one, but hey-don’t hate, just read. This ‘table streams music. And it only streams music. Meaning, there are no cable outputs. To me personally, this is a big turnoff. But to others who prefer using Bluetooth speakers, it’s great.
The social features are where the Trntbl really shines. The unit identifies music it is playing-straight from the record-and allows the user to share this with friends or followers. Or, you can connect with others via Spotify and your friends can listen in to your music.
The Trntbl is available only for pre-order at $351, so it is yet to be tested extensively, but it appears to have decent components. Again, the quality will almost assuredly not compare with Pro-Ject or Rega, or even Audio Technica, but it has some interesting features that will surely stand out to certain listeners.
8. Pro-Ject RPM 10 Carbon
Twice I’m listing a ‘table from Pro-Ject. Why? It’s an incredible product. Yes, it’s $2999, and I get it, you have sticker shock. But this is one powerful and eye-catching means for spinning records. Look at that carbon fiber grain, the massive thick plinth, the belt, the sheer size. Plus it has an outboard motor which, just like an outboard boat motor, means the motor sits completely separate from the ‘table itself. The platter, where the record sits, is gorgeous and heavy. Gorgeous, because… well… people [like me, anyway!] love beauty. Heavy because it allows the records to play evenly without fluctuations in speed.
The RPM 10 comes with a heavy base to further isolate it from any sound or vibration in the room or neighborhood. Yes, jackhammers and construction equipment can indeed affect a needle. Plus, the base looks sick.
Oh-and did I mention? It’s tonearm is the carbon fiber Pro-Ject 10 cc. It’s essentially an upgraded version of the one that my RM 5.1 came with [props to me?].
9. VPI Classic
A new old-stock Classic table is currently around $2800. Yes, paying close to three grand may seem like a lot, but I include this bad boy in my list because it’s a beautiful example of an enduring company that really cares about the details. Like the Pro-Ject RPM 10, it’s a true audiophile table. I mean, for goodness sake, it’s 65 pounds!
Made in Cliffwood, New Jersey, VPI is a robustly American company using an old-school paradigm that prefers all-American components. They stick to their principles, and yes, they have expensive ‘tables. But the Classic is an enduring legend within the audiophile world. My father in law, John, has sold [and loves] audio equipment professionally and recommends this ‘table for the price point. Yes, it costs as much as a used ’01 Toyota Corolla. But can that CD deck compare with this hoss?
I think not.
10. Origin Live Sovereign MKIII Turntable
Don’t go buy one of these unless you’ve got way to much money-and no kids. It’s $7300, and that doesn’t even include a tonearm! But it’s one gorgeous, powerful machine. I won’t say a whole lot about it, but if you’re curious you can go learn more about it on your own. Once you’re into this $5,000+ category, there are a surprising abundance of options, and all of them probably have some great characteristics. Most of them look like something from the set of Alien or the new Halo movie. You half expect the tonearm on this one to morph into a laser or photon cannon. But, after reading the specs carefully, I’m afraid it does not.
Like fine wine, if you connect this ‘table to the same pre-amp, amp, and speakers, most of us couldn’t much of a difference between this and any of the budget models in my list. But then again, folks who buy this table are going to buy all of their gear commensurate with the turntable’s quality.
And they, unlike me, probably don’t have toddlers around.
This is only one of many elite ‘tables out there that are visually and sonically arresting.
Personally, I’ve hit my sweet spot. With a beyond-entry-level Pro-Ject RM 5.1, Jolida tube amp, and great inherited speakers and sub, my system is rocking. I doubt if I’ll change much, if anything. Maybe I’ll get a better pre-amp at some point or get fresh speakers, maybe a new set of tubes, but that’s way down the road.
My system looks good, yeah? I’ll fish for a complement. I’m not above that. Not a good picture, but a great system. I hid the pre-amp and all wires underneath, naturally.
Now if I were someone out there with a few hundred bucks looking to get a solid system going, there are numerous choices in my list. I listed the Debut first because I really do think it’s the all-around best choice for the money, well ahead of the U-Turn on quality [see thewirecutter.com where the Debut strides far ahead of both U-Turn and Audio Technica]. I felt like I had to list models from Rega and Audio Technica because they’re perennial picks for good sound and enduring quality. The Floating Record player from Gramovox was a playful decision, as was the Trntbl, though they are both great for particular situations.
There may be a few folks out there with $5000-10,000 [or more] to sink in to a system, so I threw in a couple highlights from the very-high-end options that exist. There are so many out there, and it’s not really my area, so I only listed a couple.
A great many more ‘tables are out there that I didn’t list, spinning or maybe even scratching away. Can’t list ’em all, I suppose.
Enjoy music, folks, especially vinyl. May it, almost like a sacrament, remind you of the God who created the folks who creatively designed these machines, who created the folks who make the music that they faithfully reproduce.