Affordable Turntable Roundup
By James Grahame
The vinyl resurgence has led to an explosion of turntables on the market. As with anything in the hi-fi world, prices range from under $100 to several thousand bux for 'audiophile' styling and sound. It's possible to get excellent quality at a decent price, though. Here are a few thoughts about some easy to find units in the sub-$150 range.
In the DJ world, the Technics 1200 line (and it's brothers) are the de-facto standard. They run $400+, which is a fair chunk of change. Here are a couple of inexpensive DJ turntables that'd also work wonders with your home system:
Stanton T.60 (approx $150)
The T.60 (above) is the least expensive direct-drive turntable in the Stanton line. It offers basic features for DJing and a reasonably high-torque motor for OK scratching capability. Included are two stop/start buttons so you can mount it horizontally or vertically. You'll also find a +- 10% pitch control, removable target light, and a clever cloth dust cover. The body is weighted plastic with an aluminum platter, but that's to be expected in this price range. 33 1/3 & 45 RPM compatible.
Numark TT1650 (approx $160)
Also direct-drive, this entry from Numark is an excellent starter model. It has a strong and consistent motor, which is important if you're planning to DJ. The TT1650 can be mounted horizontally or battle-style and features an aluminum platter with plastic body, just like the Stanton. Plays 33 1/3 & 45 RPM. Competent and curvy.
Home Stereo Units
Both of the DJ models could serve admirably in a home rig, but if you're into something more traditional, several well-known manufacturers make decently priced home components:
Sony PS-LX250H (approx $100)
Sony's low-cost entry is an automatic belt-drive system with respectable sound. It features a built-in preamp for compatibility with newer stereos that don't have a phono-in jack. I bought one of these several years ago and my only gripes are a slightly out-of-true platter and the cheap plastic feel of the controls. Decent quality at a bargain price. Plays 33 1/3 & 45 RPM.
Audio Technica AT-PL50 (approx $100)
This is the lowest cost unit in the Audio Technica range. It's belt drive, which means lower torque, slippage, and potentially more rumble. Includes a built-in phono preamplifier. At this price, don't expect zillion-dollar quality; some users comment it skips quite frequently and doesn't have the best sound. Plays 33 1/3 & 45 RPM.
Quality Portable Turntables
Yes, you read that right. These little beasts are designed to travel -- great for trying out used vinyl before laying down your cash or for dropping by a friend's place:
Numark PT-01 (approx $100)
This capable little turntable plays 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM discs. It measures a very compact 12"x12"x4" (30x30x10 cm) and includes a built in speaker and protective cover. It offers up a hi/lo tone control, varispeed, and can run on 6 D batteries. My only gripe is a slightly weak headphone amp, but that could just be a sign of my impending deafness. The PT-01 is a well thought-out portable that could easily serve double duty as your main home deck.
Vestax Handy Trax (approx $125)
The Handy Trax was first in the modern generation of portables. It features a clean and powerful headphone amplifier, built-in speaker, and runs on 6 C batteries while you're out and about. Like the Numark PT-01, it plays 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM records and has hi/lo tone control and varispeed. A definite contender, although not nearly as stylish as the Numark. In fact, it reminds me of the borkish players I was subjected to in early grade school.
If I was buying again, I'd probably take a hard look at the direct-drive DJ models from Stanton and Numark. They're excellent quality for about the same cost as a lowly iPod Shuffle. Proof that good things do come to those who wait.