Have you got the vinyl bug? If so, you’re far from alone. Vinyl records have defied the move to digital downloads and streaming music, notching years of growth and recently hitting 25-year highs in terms of the number of units sold. To take full advantage of the vinyl revival, you need a decent turntable. While it’s pretty easy to pick a $1,000 turntable that’s going to sound great, it’s a little tougher when you have a budget. If you’d rather spend your hard earned cash on records than hardware—but still want the best listening experience possible—here are four picks for the best turntable under $500.
Best nostalgia/ all-in-one turntable: Victrola 370B 7-in-1 Nostalgic Belt Drive Turntable
There’s something to be said for an old school record player. Not a turntable, but an all-in-one unit that combines a record player, speakers and other functions in a wooden cabinet. If you want that nostalgic, all-in-one look, the Victrola 370B is a great option. You can play your records (even old 78 RPM vinyl) with no need to connect to a stereo system. Plus this Victrola also plays cassette tapes and CDs, and it even has an AM/FM radio with a rotary tuning dial.
It’s not all nostalgia, though. You can also stream your music to this system using Bluetooth, and it has USB output to digitize your record collection.
Best Bluetooth turntable: Audio Technica AT-LP60XBT-BK turntable
One of the more recent innovations in turntables has been Bluetooth connectivity. While it sounds like a contradictory idea—taking the warmth of analog audio, digitizing it and then compressing it for wireless transmission—this is actually a surprisingly useful feature.
Not everyone has a stereo system to physically connect a turntable to. Because of their affordability, compact size and portability, Bluetooth speakers tend to be much more common than traditional stereo systems these days. So being able to enjoy listening to records on a Bluetooth speaker makes vinyl accessible to more people. I’ve tried out a number of Bluetooth turntables, and while you obviously miss out on some of the nuance of a physical connection to a stereo system, much of the experience still carries over. As an added bonus, cable clutter is eliminated. This approach also works well if you want to put on a record and listen to it with your Bluetooth wireless headphones.
Audio Technica is a respected brand with one of the longest histories of making turntables, so it’s probably no surprise that the company makes a great Bluetooth-capable turntable in the AT-LP60XBT-BK.
This is a two-speed, belt drive turntable with an integrated switchable phono pre-amplifier. In addition to Bluetooth you can connect to an amplifier’s PHONO input, or the AUX input on virtually any stereo system. Key features that make for solid vinyl playback include a dual moving magnet cartridge with replaceable diamond stylus and a die-cast aluminum platter.
Best direct drive audiophile turntable: Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB-SV turntable
Some vinyl fans—especially those with DJ aspirations—prefer a direct drive turntable over a belt drive.
Audio Technica is one of the favourites among professionals, and the company makes a great direct drive turntable that comes in well under $500. The Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB-SV is a three-speed, manual turntable with adjustable dynamic anti-skate control and a built-in switchable phono pre-amplifier. The included AT-VM95E Dual Magnet phono cartridge with an elliptical diamond stylus ensures that your records will sound their best.
It’s also loaded with features that professionals will appreciate including an S-shaped tonearm with hydraulically damped lift control, a retractable target light for cueing up tracks in dim lighting, quartz speed lock with variable pitch control, and a 12-inch professional-grade, die-cast aluminum stroboscopic platter with speed indicator. There’s also USB output and a code to download Audacity recording software (for Mac or PC), to digitize those vinyl rarities.
Best belt drive audiophile turntable: Pro-Ject T1-BTXW Belt Drive Turntable with Bluetooth
The final choice on this would be my personal pick: the Best Buy-exclusive Pro-Ject T1-BTXW.
This European manufacturer has been designing turntables for the audiophile market since 1991. It makes some of the best out there, and supplies premium components for boutique audio companies. I’ve had the opportunity to test a half dozen turntables that are either made by Pro-Ject, or manufactured using Pro-Ject components and they always deliver. In fact, I’m in the process of evaluating the Pro-Ject T1-BTXW right now, so watch for the review to be posted shortly …
The T1-BTXW is the latest release from Pro-Ject and it does a great job of delivering audiophile-level features and performance at a price that comes in nicely under that $500 ceiling. First of all, it’s a belt drive, which isolates motor rumble for improved sound quality. The tone arm is aluminum, with low friction bearings. Its CNC-machined plinth is stylishly thin, but there are no hollow spaces that would cause unwanted resonance (it’s also covered in a handsome walnut finish). And Pro-Ject equips the T1-BTXW turntable with two key audiophile components you would typically pay extra for: a heavy, 8mm blasted glass patter and a pre-mounted Ortofon OM5e cartridge.
The icing on the cake? Instead of the usual basic RCA cables that you’ll usually get with a turntable, Pro-Ject includes its own high quality, super-shielded, low-capacitance phono cables. Whether you use its integrated amplifier, or connect directly to the PHONO input on an amplifier, the audio delivered by this turntable will impress. And with the option of Bluetooth connectivity also included, you can listen to your vinyl collection on virtually any sound system.
Next steps …
Hopefully there’s a turntable for you in this list, but if not don’t worry—Best Buy carries all the latest models from the top brands, no matter what your budget might be. If you want to learn more about how to choose the perfect turntable for your audio system, be sure to read my guide on how to buy a record player.