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#1 Pick: Pioneer PLX-500-W.
While CD sales have been steadily falling in recent years (generally replaced by digital music and streaming services), vinyl records have seen surprising growth in popularity. Whether you’re looking for a DJ turntable or a just simple option to listen to your vinyl records, you’ll benefit from electronics companies investing more capital into their vinyl products.
That means more options on the market, more features, and competitive pricing as the companies vie for your business.
However, given the surge in vinyl products, sifting through the various options online can be a daunting task for beginners. What features are essential? What brands are reputable? Do you need additional equipment, such as an amp and speakers? To help you weigh your options and get the most bang for your buck, here are a few important features to look for, and a little background info on the 5 best turntables for beginners.
- Size and portability – before you dive into the technical details, consider how you plan to use your turntable. If the turntable will never leave your home, then size doesn’t matter. If you’re planning to take the turntable to parties, studios, and venues, then you’ll definitely want to go with a product that is portable
- Belt Drive – when using a turntable, the record sits on a spinning platter that rotates the record. With a belt drive, the platter rests on a bearing, and the platter spins using an elastic belt attached to a motor. This method isolates the record from the motor, which results in less noise transmission to the tonearm. The elastic belt also absorbs shock and prevents vibrations generated by the motor. Though it’s not always the case, music purists usually say this results in better sound quality. However, a belt drive turntable may have a less accurate playback speed (due to the elastic band), and you’ll need to replace the band every few years
- Direct Drive – a direct drive turntable ditches the elastic belt and connects the motor directly to the platter. This usually results in more consistent playback speed, less sound distortion, and (most importantly for DJs) the ability to spin the platter backwards for special effects. Sometimes a direct drive turntable can generate unwanted vibrations that lower sound quality, but a shock absorber between the platter and the motor can easily solve this problem
- Automatic vs. Manual – for beginners, it might be best to stick with automatic turntables. However, music purists generally prefer manual operation, so it really depends on your playstyle. As you go up in price and quality, you’ll notice that most turntables are manual, as that allows the highest degree of personalization
- USB Output – Many modern turntables include a USB cable that allows you to connect the turntable to your computer, so you can digitize your vinyl records and record your mixes
When it comes to beginner-turntables, the Pioneer PLX-500-W is the cream of the crop. The PLX-500-W is a direct drive turntable that produces high quality analog vinyl sound that’s optimal for DJ performances and rekordbox dvs. The high-torque deck is fantastic for scratching, and the setup comes with a cartridge, stylus, slipmat, and USB cable for digital recording.
The audio routing from the stylus to the output is engineered to be as short as possible, reducing distortion and allowing direct connection to your sound system or speakers. The layout is based on the PLX-1000 professional turntable, which is widely considered one of the best professional turntables.
The AT-LP1240-USB is another great option on the higher end of the beginner spectrum. This product has a direct drive, high torque, multipole motor that’s built for professional DJs. It’s a 3-speed, fully manual operation with start and brake control adjustments.
The turntable also boasts a professional anti-resonance, damped die-cast aluminum platter with a DJ-style slip mat, and a balanced S-shaped tone arm with hydraulically damped lift control, anti-skate, height adjustment and lockable rest.
Similar to its older sister (the PLX-500-W), this option is also a direct drive turntable that’s engineered to produce warm and clear analog sound. Where the PLX-500-W is geared towards professional DJs, the PLX-500-K is a more-affordable in-home turntable (though it can still perform well for beginner-DJs on location if need be).
It’s a great choice for beginners who want to learn to manually operate a turntable, or just listen to records with high-quality sound. The PLX-500-K has top-notch vibration damping, crystal clear audio playback, and a high-torque deck. It also has a USB drive, so you can connect to your Mac or PC.
The TT250USB is a professional turntable that’s built to withstand heavy and frequent use. It boasts a quartz-controlled direct drive motor that delivers quality, speed, and accuracy, and the high-torque motor has the right amount of resistance and feel for scratching effects.
As a nod to professional DJs, the TT250USB has adjustable support feet for height manipulation, a 1/8-inch input for remote start, and a target light the illuminates the record in low-light situations (which is really helpful to see the record’s current speed).
The Stanton T55USB is simple yet powerful. It’s the only turntable on this list that uses a belt drive, which delivers a more classic and consistent sound—although it sacrifices some torque in the process. It includes a USB outlet for digital recording, and as a bonus it comes with software to transfer and edit the music (which is great for removing the pops and clicks that sometimes come with vinyl recording).
You’ll also get the professional Stanton 500.v3 cartridge for ideal sound quality and compatibility. Beginner-to-intermediate DJ’s will enjoy a straight tone arm for improved scratching, two playback speeds (33 or 45 RMP), two start/stop switches for switches or battles, RCA stereo outputs, and a manual pitch control fader.
All five of these turntables are excellent for beginners. The primary determining factors in your decision should be (1) belt drive or direct drive, and (2) your budget. In addition to purchasing a turntable, you’ll probably need to purchase an amp and stereo speakers to complete the system, so your decision will need to involve those options, too. Most audiophiles recommend spending about 50% of your spending limit on the turntable, as high-quality speakers and amps can’t compensate for a shoddy turntable.