I Want to Buy a Record Player
April 22, 2016 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a record player as a gift and have a soft budget of $150. Where do I begin?

The recipient mostly wants it for the nostalgic value of having a record player. She also has a small library of 1970s vinyl she likes to play. It would be great if the unit also had an AM/FM radio. It doesn't need to be a DJ-grade set up- it's just for listening. It MUST be new and able to be shipped.

Aside from Amazon reviews, I don't know where to begin picking one out. Is there a good brand? Are there accessories that make a turntable even better?

I saw this question but it seems I might want one step up from those suggestions.
posted by thewestinggame to Shopping (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of vinyl geeks would say that at that price point, your best option is to find something used.

After messing around with some really bottom-tier options for awhile, I finally got this Audio Technica turntable about three years ago, and I still use it all the time and love it. It might be a little over your budget, though.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:38 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

"One step up" from the $100ish Audio-Technica LP60 is out of your $150 budget, FYI.

The next level up is the entry level from U-Turn and Pro-Ject, which start around 200 and 300 respectively, or the AT LP120 at $250.

We have the LP60 and it does a fine job; automatic start/stop is nice (which you don't get on the higher end turntables typically).
posted by a halcyon day at 1:39 PM on April 22, 2016

I have a beautiful, beautiful record player cabinet. It's on Amazon for exactly $150 right now - look up Grace Digital. I adore it and have for years. It also plays cassettes, CD, and does radio.
posted by corb at 1:51 PM on April 22, 2016

I don't think you need or want a standalone turntable. The ones mentioned above will require that your friend has an amplifier that will accept a phono input, as well as external speakers for that amp. If the recipient just wants to play old records sometimes, something that has built in speakers or bluetooth will be much easier to use. It's not audiophile quality, but it's nice looking and straightforward. Here's something on Fab, and a couple (all-in-one) of ideas (connects to external speakers) from Amazon (uses Bluetooth for wireless connectivity to any speaker).
posted by homesickness at 1:58 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Urban oufitters has some cutesy-retro ones that appeal to the nostalgia aspect at least.
posted by celtalitha at 1:58 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a Crossley, the same brand that's in in celtalitha's link. It cost about $130 when I bought it in 2012 and still works, good as new. It is mono, though honestly that doesn't matter to me. Mine does not have a radio attached, but it also doesn't require an amplifier (it's a standalone one-piece thing). I ordered it from Amazon, IIRC. I would totally recommend this purchase, even though it doesn't come with any audiophile cred.
posted by Sara C. at 2:20 PM on April 22, 2016

Crosley needles scratch the heck out of your records. The cartridges are proprietary and therefore impossible to replace - usually you can just walk into an audio shop and walk out with a new cartridge when your needle gets damaged/worn. They're cute and easy but I would highly recommend against them for that reason.

Does the recipient already have a reciever/speakers, or is the $150 budget for everything?
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:34 PM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just as an anecdotal data point, going into Decibel in Chicago and buying a used receiver, used speakers, and a $20 turntable off a friend, I ended up spending about $200 to get my turntable set up working.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:42 PM on April 22, 2016

For what it's worth I haven't experienced any of those problems with my Crossley in years of using it. My records have stayed in great shape, and I haven't had to replace the needle in four years of using the thing. And, I mean, for $130, four solid years of use is pretty great. I paid more for my smartphone, which will need replacing after a year or two.

I think if your friend is a potential audiophile who wants a technically perfect and extremely flexible record playing experience, they are going to need to spend more than $150 to get what they want. If they want to drop about $100 on a thing that plays records, mostly for fun, Crossley is absolutely fine. I've been happy with mine for four years now, and would definitely buy another if this one died.
posted by Sara C. at 3:06 PM on April 22, 2016

It would be well worth it to spring for the extra $50 and get a U Turn. The wait can be a bit long as they're built to order.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:43 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Second hand is a solid option. I bought a Pro-ject Debut II with a lid for about £150 a while ago on eBay, and am very very happy indeed.
posted by 0bvious at 5:10 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unless you want to go down the hi fi rabbit hole, a Crosley or similar all-in-one unit will be fine. Crosley needles may be proprietary, as just about every needle has ever been, it seems. (If you ever look at a vintage Radio Shack catalog, you'll notice that there were hundreds of styli, some manufacturers using many different ones.) But they aren't impossible or even difficult to find and replace by any means. In fact, modern record players of that style seem to use very common needles, by my observation. You may want to make sure you have a diamond needle vs a cheaper sapphire, but i don't know how common sapphire still is.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:57 PM on April 22, 2016

Please, please, please do you friend a solid and don't buy them a Crosley. Yes, Crosleys get a lot of hate from audiophiles, but. All I will say is that where there is smoke, there is often fire. All of the money you pay for the Crosley is for the fancy retro casing. The rest is flimsy plastic crap that will damage records with its floppity tone arm and inexcusable stylus.

I will second roll truck roll's suggestion of the Audiotechnica ATLP120 despite being, yes, a little above your budget. Audiotechnica also makes a turntable that is one "notch" below that one (the ATLP60), but I think the 120 is worth the price difference. Sturdier equipment and better sound.

Note that the Audiotechnica ATLP120 is pretty much a knock off of the classic Technics 1200. There are other knock offs of the Technics 1200, but if you're going to get a knock off, this is the one to get.

Question: does your friend already have an amplifier and speakers? It's not clear from your question if your friend wants a turntable for a component stereo system (turntable + separate amplifier + separate speakers), or if you're seeking out an all-in-one. Knowing this might help us out with giving you the most appropriate answers.

If you really want to keep it under $150 but not give in to the devil's temptation that is the Crosley, I'd strongly suggest finding someone on Craigslist who is an audio junkie and has lots of component stereo equipment laying around in their garage- see if they can fix any of it up for you and give you a good deal. (My sister splurged on a dang blasted Crosley without telling me, and I couldn't help but freak out given that my partner and I have tons of vintage stereo equipment we could have gladly cleaned up and put together for her for free.)
posted by nightrecordings at 10:09 AM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, I also want to second Lutoslawski's suggestion for the U-Turn. I'd take one of these over a Crosley (or - shudder - an ion) any day of the week. And at $179 it's not much higher than your budget.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:15 AM on April 23, 2016

The LP120 also has a built-in pre-amp, so you can run it through a standard pair of powered speakers, like you'd use with a computer. For the first few months with mine, I was using it with an inexpensive Crosley radio, ironically.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:16 AM on April 23, 2016

I will go ahead and concede that Crosley's are about the only thing that fit your

-under $150
-easy to just ship and have her plug in

requirement. I still think they're terrible, and I think it's a shame that to treat her collection that she's loved enough to hold on to for 40 years that way, but I can see where everyone recommending them is coming from.

If you clarify whether you're looking for a standalone turntable/record player, or a full stereo system, that will help us figure out a solution for you. But those are a tough three requirements to fill - I'm not saying that budget is unworkable, but it's the kind of budget where you're calling around on Craigslist and taking used stuff off your friends, as previously noted.

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120 that was mentioned right at the beginning of the thread was named The Best Turntable for Casual Listening by The Wirecutter. As they note:
Most modern receivers lack a phono preamp (which is necessary to hook a turntable into a sound system) and even fewer people own an external one, so it’s convenient that the AT-LP120-USB has one built in. That means that straight out of the box, the Audio Technica can plug directly into a soundbar or external powered speakers that have an analog input. This saves you $50+ and reduces the complexity of your system.
However, they're $250, and you may have to buy her some sort of speaker that takes USB or analog cables (she might have this already - does she have one of those charging docks for her phone with speakers attached, etc?). If you have to buy the speakers for her, we're looking at probably double your budget.

I'm price-sensitive, myself, not really having a lot of money but wanting to have things even if I can never afford "the best." If you know this is really gonna make her happy, and you know that ~$300 can get her a really nice turntable stereo set up, but you just can't do it, and you CAN do a cheaper Crosley, then you have my blessing, not that it matters. Money is a real thing, and easy options that don't require a trip to your local audio store for little things like a preamp and cable are maybe best for a gift given long distance.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:31 PM on April 23, 2016

The Numark TTUSB is on clearance for $139 at Amazon and Guitar Center. It has a built-in preamp like the AT120, and actually allows you to set the vertical tracking force (you will need to buy a gauge) and anti-skate. It has a standard headshell so you can switch cartridges if you want. I bought a used one for $70 and it didn't sound bad at all. It is a Technics SL-1200 knockoff, and I later bought a used one of those for $400.

Do not buy a Crosley.
posted by rfs at 2:01 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have an LP60 at work, and an LP120 at home.

Were I to do it again, I'd get another LP120 at work. It is a dramatic difference in quality. I don't see why "belt drive" has to mean shoddy, but in this case it absolutely does.
posted by billjings at 8:35 PM on April 23, 2016

I had a Crosley and it had terrible muffled sound, then broke within a week of owning it. I would definitely recommend staying away from Crosley's, despite their super-attractive exteriors and convenience. Then I bought the AudioTechnica table and the sound was good but I found the make of the table itself to feel a little chinsey. It seemed plastic-y to me and I was really wary after my bad Crosley experience.

After I returned both of those and did a ton of research, I bought this Orbit U-Turn and I absolutely love it. It is so sleek and cute and the sound is fabulous. In order to play it, you also need a pre-amp and speakers. I was confused about this because I just wanted an all-in-one music player but I'm really glad I took the time to figure it out. I was working with a low budget and I bought this $50 pre-amp, these $70 - $100 speakers, and this $5 cable. This page has a nice graphic showing how this set up works under "2.1 Simplified Turntable Setup with Active Speakers."

This set-up would take you a bit over budget, but I have been so so so happy with it and I love my little record nook. I just use it for listening and dancing. I have been using it for about 2 years. Apparently you can custom order the U-Turn with a built in pre-amp for another $70, and then you would only need to separately buy powered speakers (and possibly a cord to connect). That could be a great option for you!
posted by sweetjane at 12:11 PM on April 24, 2016

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