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The Best Turntable Setups at 3 Different Budgets

Shopping for stereo equipment is one of life’s great pleasures unless you have no idea what you’re doing. If you don’t have a lot of experience with turntable setups, the search can quickly become confusing.

Should you only pay attention to specifications? Not really, although they can be useful.

Should you lean toward established brands? Sort of, but that doesn’t mean a small company can’t compete with the big names.

And what about those people who say that everything sounds alike so just buy what you want? Well, you should definitely not listen to anyone who tells you that.

If you’re looking to build a turntable setup from scratch, then this guide is here to help. There are three levels: good, better, and best, with a somewhat arbitrary but realistic budget for each. Each level includes every piece of gear you need to plug in, connect, and listen to your favorite records.

These picks are all based on actual experience or intense research. I’d happily attend a record night that had any of these systems, but I probably wouldn’t take my white label promo of Never Mind the Bollocks to the “good” party. Sorry, but that’s a bridge too far.

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Good Turntable Setup Under $500

Audio-Technica AT-LP60X Turntable


Audio-Technica AT-LP60X

The Kanto YU4 Powered Speakers were not negotiable; these offer too much audio quality. And that brings us, perhaps inevitably, to the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X. It may not look like much, but it’s the only decent record player available for $129.

Audio-Technica has made some structural improvements to the LP60X, but it’s still a basic player with a built-in phono preamplifier. Plastic plinth, cheap tonearm, and a decent starter cartridge in the ATN3600L. The LP60X will play your records and not do any harm, but it definitely won’t give you all of the information in the grooves.

PriceWhere to Buy
$149Turntable Lab
Kanto YU4 Speakers


Kanto YU4

The Kanto YU4 powered speakers, at $369, are exceptional speakers that offer 70 watts per channel of Class D amplification, a surprising amount of bass, tone controls, a full-function remote, and Bluetooth aptX. This means you can sit around and stream music from your phone when the world has robbed you of all motivation. They even have a built-in phono preamp, which means you can upgrade later to a U-Turn Orbit or Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable. The Kanto preamp might be better than the one in the LP60X, so you’ll have options.

The YU4s sound far bigger than you’d expect and are engineered to cover a bunch of audio sins by boosting or cutting certain frequencies. The result is a hyper-friendly sound that will both begin and end the party in style.

It would have been nice to include the beloved Audio-Technica LPW40WN. However, it costs $329 and that would mean cutting significant corners on the sound quality and versatility of the speakers.

PriceWhere to Buy
$419.99World Wide Stereo

Better Turntable Setup Under $3,000

Cambridge Audio AXR100 Receiver


Cambridge Audio AXR100

The Cambridge Audio AXR100 is doing a lot of the work. Cambridge Audio has specialized in high-quality gear at affordable prices for decades. Amps are the British company’s specialty and the AXR100 combines features, power, and sound quality for what feels like a ridiculously cheap price. Watts per channel is an overrated stat in general, but having too much is preferable to having too little. The AXR100 has 100. That’s enough for virtually any type of speaker except for planar or electrostatic, which need massive amounts of power.

The Cambridge is unbeatable when it comes to features. There’s a moving magnet phono input, a 24-bit/192kHz DAC, AM/FM tuner, 5.0 Bluetooth connectivity, subwoofer output, toslink and coaxial digital inputs, a headphone jack, a 3.5mm input on the front panel, and three standard RCA inputs. The only input it lacks is a standard USB for connecting a laptop and streaming music via the DAC (although there is a charging USB port, which seems extraneous).

PriceWhere to Buy
$639World Wide Stereo
Pioneer DJ PLX 1000 Turntable


Pioneer DJ PLX 1000

While the Pioneer DJ PLX 1000 isn’t the most elegant turntable, it offers a ton of build and sound quality for $699. It very specifically improves upon the iconic Technics SL-1200 design with a far more powerful motor (twice the torque!) and quite a bit of attention paid to dampening resonances.

It does not come pre-mounted with a cartridge but with this $3,000 budget, you can drop as much as $500 on one. If it were my money, I’d go with the Grado Platinum3 for $400 and spend the extra $100 on a dust brush and a handful of records.

PriceWhere to Buy
$739Turntable Lab
PSB Alpha T20 Tower Speakers


PSB Alpha T20

PSB is one of the great modern loudspeaker companies and designer Paul S. Barton has built an empire of speakers ranging from very affordable to five figures. The PSB Alpha T20 is a better version of PSB’s multiple-award-winning bookshelf speakers, the Alpha. This is a floor-standing speaker with a pair of 5-inch woofers per speaker and a 3/4-inch aluminum dome tweeter. They deliver bass to a very satisfying 36Hz and the PSB house sound is extremely inviting.

PriceWhere to Buy
$849Audio Advisor

Best Turntable Setup Around $10,000

Vincent SV-237MK Hi Fi Amplifier


Vincent SV-237MK

The heart of the system is the Vincent SV-237MK. I love Vincent products, most of which are hybrid designs combining elements of tubes and solid-state. With the SV-237MK, you get solid-state power that’s been massaged by tubed preamplification.

There are three tubes, one 12ax7 and two 6N1P, in the preamp section. The 6N1P are long-life tubes rated at 10,000 hours while the 12ax7 is extremely common and easily replaceable. The enormous toroidal transformer handles output power rated at 150 wpc into 8 ohms and 250 into 4 ohms, which is plenty for all but the most extreme situations.

I’ve put in a lot of hours with the original SV-236 and it’s crazy good. The 237MK has several circuit design changes, different tubes, and adds a built-in DAC for streaming, but everything I’ve read about it confirms that the basic sound signature remains unchanged: big, warm, powerful, and detailed. It retails for $2,800 but can be found for $2,600.

Where to Learn More
VPI Prime Scout Hi Fi Turntable


VPI Prime Scout

One of my current turntables is a VPI Scout 1.1, which is several generations of refinements behind the Prime Scout. By all accounts, the Prime Scout retains the classic Scout sound, which is robust, smooth, and detailed, but dials everything up.

PriceWhere to Buy
$4,800Upscale Audio
Hagerman Trumpet MC Phono Preamp

Phono Preamplifier

Hagerman Trumpet MC

After years of trial and error, I feel like a phono preamplifier should be tubed. There are great solid-state phono stages, but tubes and vinyl are made for each other. To meet, or almost meet, my self-imposed budget, I went with the Hagerman Trumpet MC, a bargain at $1,089.

PriceWhere to Buy
$1,289Hagerman Audio Labs
Shelter 501 MKIII Record player needle cartridge


Shelter 501 MKIII

Since MC is in the Trumpet’s name, let’s go with a moving coil cartridge. There aren’t many better than the Shelter 501 MKIII at $2,500 and under. The Shelter, which I own, retails for $1,295 and is a glorious little beastie that’s comfortable with all types of music, especially with acoustic jazz.

PriceWhere to Buy
$1,295Upscale Audio
SVS Ultra Tower Speakers


SVS Ultra Tower

SVS, based in Ohio, made its reputation with subwoofers, but in recent years, its line of bookshelf and tower speakers has been getting a lot of attention. At the 2020 EISA Awards, SVS became the first manufacturer to win both best loudspeaker (Prime Pinnacle) and best subwoofer (SB-2000 Pro). For this top-of-the-line system, the only choice was the SVS Ultra Tower.

These things are special, especially for $2,600, with proprietary drivers, real wood veneer, and the kind of attention to detail that usually costs a lot more. They have a frequency response of 28 Hz-32 kHz (+/-3 dB), a very friendly sensitivity of 88 dB, an even more friendly nominal impedance of 8 ohms, and they look stunning in piano gloss black.

The Ultra Towers are the real deal and I suspect that SVS is keeping the price down as the company gets more established in the loudspeaker market. The same thing happened with GoldenEar Technology, which offered extraordinary speakers for unreal prices until the good reviews started to pour in.

PriceWhere to Buy
$2,598World Wide Stereo

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