At this point, it’s not exactly a secret that vinyl is having a moment. You’ve likely seen figures tossed around that record sales are their highest since the advent of the MP3 age. Vinyl has been outpacing all other physical media as well. There’s already plenty of speculation around why folks are returning to LPs. Sure, streaming a playlist directly to your favorite Bluetooth speakers is extremely convenient. But, there’s something to be said for the full album experience. And, the act of hunting for, finding, and playing a coveted album, especially if it’s not available to stream, is very gratifying. Whether you’ve inherited a vinyl collection from generations past or you’re interested in shopping around for your own records, you’re going to need a proper turntable setup.
The combination and set-up of a record player and pair of speakers is incredibly versatile, customizable, and, frankly, fun. Mix and match brands and gear to your liking. Maybe you found a beautiful pair of vintage passive speakers and want to pair it with a fresh new turntable. Or, maybe you love those vibrant orange speakers paired with an elegant, simple, record player. Pick out a top-tier cartridge. Find a glorious tube amplifier. Make your vinyl set-up your own. Our only recommendation: avoid all-in-one set-ups like the Victrola suitcase record players of old. They tend to be of poorer quality, don’t allow you to make improvements down the line, and can even damage your records. For just a few dollars more you can start off with a perfectly good set-up that’s worthy of your record collection.
Below we’ve picked out a few of our favorite pieces of gear for your future turntable setup. Whether you’re looking for high-quality budget-friendly options or don’t mind breaking the bank on your hi-fi listening lounge, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to start listening to vinyl.
The Best Turntables
When you’re starting your vinyl journey, record players tend to fall into three broad price categories. There’s the sub $500 options, the $500 – $1,500 mid-tier range, and everything above. So, having a sense of how much you’d like to spend is a good place to start.
It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with the different options. Do you want a belt-drive or direct-drive? Do you want to physically lift and lower the tonearm or would you prefer an automatic version? Would you want to switch between 33 RPM and 45 RPM at the push of a button? These are all things to consider.
U-Turn Audio and Audio-Technica make excellent entry-level turntables that perform just as good, if not better, than many more expensive options. Particularly with the U-Turn record players, there are plenty of ways to customize and upgrade elements down the line.
For a pricier turntable, check out the offerings from Pro-Ject, Rega, and Technics. Pro-Ject stands out for providing a range of turntables with sleek designs and even some experimental constructions.
And if you’re going to blow the budget, you might as well do it in style. Music Hall, Clearaudio, and higher-end options from Pro-Ject perform wonderfully and look fantastic. You can also ogle at the offerings from Transroto if you have that kind of money to throw around.
U-Turn Orbit Basic: $199
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO: $599
Rega Planar 3: $995
Clearaudio Concept Turntable: $1,800
Music Hall MMF-9.3: $2,395
The Best Speakers
Once you’ve picked out your turntable, it’s time to snag some speakers. Unless you’re hooking up the sound system at a restaurant or club, a discreet pair of bookshelf speakers will likely do the trick in whatever room you’re putting your turntable setup.
The main consideration here is passive versus powered. Powered speakers have amplifiers built directly into them so, unless you need a stand-alone pre-amp (more on that later), you can plug your turntable directly into the speakers. Passive speakers require a stereo setup with an external amplifier/receiver. While the traditional setup may have included passive speakers, there are many fantastic powered speakers which can help minimize the amount of gear filling up your turntable setup.
Additionally, there are a handful of perfectly capable Bluetooth speakers that can integrate into your setup. Sonos in particular has a helpful guide for connecting their products to your turntable.
Then, it’s just a matter of personal preference and aesthetics when it comes to speakers. For entry-level setups there are some very solid budget options. And, if you really want to build the hi-fi listening room of your dreams, you can find some stunningly powerful speakers for a pretty penny.
Edifier R1280DB: $140
Kanto YU Passive: $200
Audioengine A2+: $269
Sonos Five: $550
Audioengine HD6: $699
JBL L100: $2,000
The Best Preamp
A preamp is an all-important part of the listening experience. Some turntables will have them included, or you might acquire an amplifier with a dedicated phono input. But, the best turntables don’t have them included so you might need to pick up an external preamp. I use one from U-Turn Audio and other turntable manufacturers make solid options. Especially for those starting out their collection, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend breaking the bank on a preamp. Simply find one that suits your setup.
Bellari Rolls: $49
U-Turn Audio Pluto: $99
Cambridge Audio Alva Solo: $179
The Best Amplifier/Receiver
If you’re building out a full stereo set-up you might need to get a dedicated amplifier and/or receiver. If you’re looking to bypass the preamp, make sure it has a phono input. And, if you want your receiver to pull double duty, look for one with Bluetooth capabilities. Active/powered speaker setups (like some of the ones listed above) won’t require a receiver so consider what setup you’ll wind up with before purchasing gear like crazy.
YAMAHA R-S202BL Stereo Receiver: $160
NAD D3020 V2 Hybrid Digital Amplifier: $417
Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2: $899
The Best Cartridge
The small but mighty hero of the vinyl listening experience. The cartridge contains the stylus (or needle) that actually makes contact with your records and ultimately produces sound. Upgrading your cartridge can have the greatest effect on quality. So if there’s one item to splurge on, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted a high-quality cartridge.
Audio-Technica AT85EP: $39
Ortofon 2M Red: $99
Grado Timbre Series Platinum3: $400
Goldring 1042: $549
Everything Else You Need
Alright. You’re stocked up on the vinyl essentials. Now, there’s more gear you’ll probably need/want. You’ll definitely need the equipment to clean and care for your vinyl collection. And, you’ll need some shelving or storage to give your records a home. Below are some of the other accessories you should snag including slipmats, brushes, and more.
Technics Mirror Slipmats: $29
Boundless Audio Record Cleaner Brush: $16
Frienda 45 RPM Adapter: $9
KAIU Vinyl Record Storage Holder: $28
Vinyl Record Sleeves: $21
ONZOW ZeroDust Stylus Cleaner: $40