When discussing turntables, audiophiles tend to bristle if you utter the expression “entry-level.” But the reality is that the brands offering turntable packages understand that the vast majority of first-time buyers see $500 as their ceiling. And that $500 turntable is expected to plug-n-play, be reasonably well made, and sound phenomenal as well.
Established high-end audio brands like Pro-Ject, Rega, and Audio-Technica have decades of experience building high-performance turntables and wisely chose to embrace this new generation of listeners with entry-level packages that can stand the test of time. Affordable audiophile-grade turntables have taken massive strides in both build and playback quality – making them worthy analog sources that will bring justice to your record collection at a price that won’t break the bank.
U-Turn Orbit Custom
U-Turn Audio was one of the first American turntable manufacturers to take advantage of the resurgence of vinyl with affordable tables hand-built in Massachusetts made from American-sourced parts. Fast forward seven years to 2019, and we find this upstart brand offering entry-level turntables priced below $500; that have real hardwood plinths, acrylic platters, and their internal Pluto phono stage which can be bypassed if your existing amplifier already offers a phono pre-amplifier. U-Turn offers a limited selection of moving magnet phono cartridges from Ortofon, Audio-Technica, and Grado Labs to finish off your table. The Grado Black1 keeps this remarkably confident-sounding entry-level turntable affordable and audiophile approved.
Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB
Pro-Ject Audio Systems are the leading manufacturer of audiophile turntables in the world; their brand-new manufacturing facilities in Slovakia and the Czech Republic produce 100,000 audiophile tables a year for both the Pro-Ject brand and many others. That level of volume allows them to offer turntables like the T1 Phono SB which includes electronic speed control, dustcover, built-in phono pre-amplifier, and Ortofon OM5e moving magnet phono cartridge for only $349. It’s rare to find a heavyweight glass platter on an entry-level turntable, but Pro-Ject has provided the T1 SB with that added level of performance that makes it stand out against the competition. The one-piece aluminum tonearm is not as fancy as the carbon fiber variety that Pro-Ject supplies on its more expensive tables, but it works well with the supplied cartridge.
Rega Planar 1 Plus
Rega have been building audiophile-approved turntables in the United Kingdom for more than 40 years; the RB-300 series tonearms are one of the best-selling high-end audio components in history. The Planar series turntables are considered a benchmark in affordable high-end design – products that are known to play nicely in the sandbox with a wide range of cartridges, and big on what the Brits call “PRaT’ (Pace, Rhythm and Timing). Rega tables run a little fast creating that boogie factor, something that you’ll notice about the Planar 1 Plus that includes a Rega Carbon cartridge, internal phono pre-amplifier based on their excellent FONO stage and RB-110 tonearm. Some Rega fans view the entry-level package as a step-down in quality from a basic Planar 1, but it’s hard to dismiss the quality of the overall package that is true to the Rega creed.
Audiophiles often dismiss entry-level tables for using MDF plinths, cheap tonearms, and bargain-basement cartridges, but none of those criticisms could be leveled at the Fluance RT85. With a solid wood plinth, acrylic platter, 9-inch aluminum tonearm, and pre-installed Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, the RT85 is a genuine audiophile turntable that delivers speed stability, a dynamic sounding presentation, and a lot of performance for the money. The only item not included in the box with the Fluance RT85 is a phono pre-amplifier which will run users between $130 for a Schiit Audio Mani or Moon by SimAudio 110LP V2 which retails for $399. Both work exceptionally well with the Ortofon 2M Blue and would elevate the sound of the RT85 to end-game table performance for most people assembling an entry-level high-end audio system.
Audio-Technica AT-LP5x USB
Audio-Technica turntables are very popular for a simple reason; they offer great bang for the buck. They may not offer the construction quality of the better entry-level tables from Pro-Ject or Fluance, but they come standard with quality moving magnet cartridges that can be upgraded for a small increase in price. Audio-Technica makes uber-expensive phono cartridges like the AT-ART1000 which retails for $4,999.95 so the brand is not without high-end credibility. Just released at IFA 2019 in Berlin, the AT-LP5x USB turntable is a direct drive turntable equipped with a die-cast aluminum platter, external power supply, pre-mounted AT-VM95E cartridge, support for 78 RPM playback, internal phono pre-amp, and USB output for those who want to digitize their vinyl. The AT-LP5x USB is well-built, quiet in the groove, and sounds balanced and forceful at a very affordable price.
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