Spend Less Than $500

5 Affordable Turntables That Even Audiophiles Would Want


September 30, 2019 Tech By Photo by Fluance

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

This turntable is upgraded with a Grado Black cartridge and a Pluto Phono pre-amplifier, both of which can be added when purchasing from U-Turn Audio’s website.

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.

Fluance RT85

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.

The Best Phono Cartridges to Upgrade Your Turntable

Vinyl records have a warmth, crackle and pop that digital audio files can’t replicate. And that’s part of the reason we love listening to them. Read the Story

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Ian White

More by Ian White | Follow on Contact via Email
Start Your Week
with Daybreak
Productivity hacks, coffee recommendations, workweek style inspiration and more.

By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy and to receive email correspondence from us.