So you’re ready to go analog, but you don’t know how. Let’s start with the basics. This is how it works: grooves in a record cause tiny vibrations of a turntable’s needle, which are received by the turntable’s cartridge and transmitted into an electrical signal. That electrical signal is warmly boosted twice on its path, first by a preamp and then again by an amplifier (or, on some modern amps, these steps are combined), until it reaches speakers and fills up a room with warm noise. To the ear, it’s sublime.
At every fork in this simple flow of electricity, there is a buying choice to be made — an upgrade or a compromise. To play an album, an audiophile might spend roughly the cost of an entry-level Toyota, while a casual buyer might tack $90 on to their Amazon cart. We dissected three approaches on the seemingly infinite spectrum for building a vinyl setup.
As a display and storage solution for any record set up, try the Symbol Audio Aero LP Storage Cabinet (pictured in lead).
The Entry-Level Setup
Starting Down the Path to Audiophile
While the spendy, collector ethos of vinyl appeals to some, the hobby needn’t be prohibitively expensive to all. For those looking at a high-quality entry setup, start with the striking Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable. The Debut Carbon is readily upgraded down the line and it’s a player that will look stylish on a bookshelf, even if it doesn’t get daily use. The Pro-Ject turntable can pair with the PM5005 amplifier, which utilizes Marantz Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module technology. This gives balanced stereo sound across all volume levels, while controlling distortion at high volumes. The Wharfdale Diamond 10.1 speakers, for the price, give top-value performance. And for this first foray into vinyl listening, try essentials like J Dilla’s Donuts or Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable $399
Marantz PM5005 Amplifier $499
Wharfdale Diamond 10.1 Speakers $299
Total Price: $1,197
The Modern Setup
Classic Sound, Contemporary Design
This setup starts with the sleek and iconic Technics SL-1200 MK2 turntable. Before being discontinued in 2010, the reliable SL-1200 line was the industry standard for DJs spinning vinyl and earned cult status among home listeners. The turntable is only available as deadstock for now, but the company has teased a 2016 revival. The rock-solid SL-1200 will play well into the Rega Elex-R dynamic amplifier and out through the balanced, detailed Vienna Acoustic Bach Grand speakers. This setup deserves modern tunes with an air of timelessness, so try spinning the 180-gram vinyl copies of Jack White’s Blunderbuss or Toro Y Moi’s Underneath the Pine.
Technics SL-1200 MK2 Turntable $478
Rega Elex-R Amplifier $1,695
Vienna Acoustic Bach Grand Speakers $1,799
Total Price: $3,972
The Vintage Setup
Featuring the Rolls-Royce of Turntables
For the audiophiles who love vintage equipment, the ultimate setup starts with a Thorens TD124 SME 3009 Series II. The 1966 Hi-Fi News notes, “The TD124 has long been recognized as the Rolls-Royce of transcription motors.” Amping the Thorens is a vintage McIntosh C-20 preamp, which feeds into two McIntosh MC-30 tube amps, leading to pure tube warmth from a legendary hi-fi brand. To complete the setup, a pair of Tannoy GRF Speakers 15-inch speakers will deliver incredible clarity. With such a quality hi-fi setup, two albums should be essential listening: Stone Flower by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One by The Kinks.
Thorens TD124 SME 3009 Series II Turntable $4,500
McIntosh C-20 Preamplifier $2,600
Pair of McIntosh MC-30 Tube Amplifiers $3,300
Tannoy GRF Speakers $9,750
Total Price: $20,150
Additional contribution by John Zientek.