We put a lot of pressure on our record players, and we do it in many ways. We do it by being the reliable, loveable idiot who flies a little too close to the sun/punch bowl at parties, and gets a little too loosey goosey with that needle. We do it by being slackers (and forgetting to dust that sitch), and we also do it, somewhat inevitably, through the wear and tear that comes with the sands of time, which were very much expedited by lockdown, when that Anne Peebles record got a looooot of playtime. Next to our shoes, spice cabinet, bedding, and floors, our vinyl gets used the hardest. And no matter the size or cost of our vinyl collection (there is no earthly monetary value for The Great Muppet Caper), we want to treat ‘em good. Shopping for a new turntable is like shopping for a new mother hen, so naturally, we wanna make sure we’re only spending our hard-earned clams on the very best record player.
“The honest answer [is that] maybe that there isn’t a good record player for every budget, but there is a record player for most budgets,” explained Kris Byerly of Amoeba Music. We sought his expertise with one goal: When it comes to understanding what the best record players are, tell it to us like it is. (But also: Tell it to us like we’re broke, because some of us don’t have hundreds to drop, but still want to hop to the bops and feel more informed in our purchasing power.) “Design aesthetic,” he said, is obviously “totally subjective,” and “know that the more automatic features you find, it’s likely your table will wear down faster.” There’s a balance of convenience, aesthetics, and longevity that you have to strike.
You may be in the market for a DJ-worthy turntable with a belt drive, or a set-up that comes with two wumbo speakers. You might be a Victorian-Era ghost seeking a gramophone reproduction, or a Wes Anderson fan who needs a primary-colored, portable suitcase for crying to Françoise Hardy on a cold beach. Whoever you are today, we got you.
Baby’s first record player
Everyone is looking for a different kind of chemistry with their first record player. You could be in the market for a big turntable setup, or you might want to go with a portable, all-in-one suitcase player (that will look damn cute at the function). Your playbook is simple: Know thine needs. That being said, Byerly explained that portable record players will have their speaker close to the turntable, and “resulting vibrations from any normal level of listening will transfer from the needle back to the speaker,” making for wonky playback. Thus, such players should be “considered a novelty or introductory turntable for casual fans.” So, maybe don’t play your copy of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on those models (also, who are you???), but do have a ball with your garage sale rotation. “If you want an easy plug-and-play for jamming out to thrift store records on your back deck as you barbeque, these are the way to go,” concludes Byerly—plus, the price is daaaamn right for our broke buns.
You’re a maker of immaculate vibes
Let’s be honest: You prioritize aesthetics [all Libras have now entered the chat], and we respect that. You’re the person with the immaculate taste, and you might just want another record player for its good looks. After all, one cannot simply create a record player called “The Navigator” or “Dansette” and not expect the vibe checkers of the world to bring them home from pasture for a Don Draper-worthy happy hour. Not only do these babies come equipped with a record player and speakers, but they come with their own storage or “table,” so to speak. A deal so good, it almost feels like cheating.
One day, you might decide to buy a bunch of sex furniture, and need to put that record player up on a shelf for more… leg room, as it were. (Who knows where your main character arc will take you!) Luckily, this jet black Arktocket turntable also comes with removeable legs:
You’re ready for a mid-level commitment
You want to be obsessed when it suits you, but not heartbroken if something breaks or doesn’t go your way. Sure, you invested a hefty chunk of yourself into it all, but not everything—and yes, we’re still definitely talking about records. “[The] next level [of record player investing] is something like the Audio-Technica LP60,” said Byerly, which is limited in its design elements but “competent enough to be a good starter table.” They’re still going to need powered speakers, too. “The major drawback,” he said, “is that there is no ability to upgrade components or fix any wear issue as time goes on (other than replacing an old stylus).” What makes this a slight level-up from a Crosley Keepsake, for example, is “the quality of amplification [that] comes into play,” Byerly said. “These tables offer a surprising sound quality at factory-set levels.”
You use words such as “audiophile”
God, we love people like you. You’re the kind of person who knows not just who produced or mixed our favorite niche album, but which session musicians were in-studio, too. You’re here for the long-haul. If that’s the case, “I try to start folks off with a turntable that allows for upgrading,” said Byerly, “This means they will look for a tone arm with a removable counter balance, as well as a tone arm that allows for changing out the headshell and cartridge. These tables usually start out around $200, and still require amplification.” As a general rule, he says, “usually the heavier the better.” Belt drives will typically be better for home listening, he said, while direct drives will give you all the torque you need “to mix and match beats and get a record up to play speed,” you hot little DJ.
You’re an American Girl Doll
If you want to add some aesthetic to your dashboard, here you go. Only: None for you, Samantha. You’re kind of a narc. (Not an expert pick, obvz.)
Happy listening. Oh, and don’t forget to clean your needles.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.