Vinyl just sounds better. This is an increasingly common opinion amongst audiophiles, especially in an age where music has been commodified almost to the point of lunacy.
However, a vinyl record will only sound as good as the turntable it's being played on, so if you're looking to get into the wonderful world of vinyl (and why wouldn't you?) then you're going to require some decent hardware. Of course, you don't need to spend hundreds on a serviceable setup, but conversely, if you're looking to really get into the world of high quality vinyl, you might want to set aside a little extra, because in the world of turntables, a little extra goes a very long way.
If you want to know how to choose the best turntable, then please continue onwards...
What you need for a turntable setup
You have a few options here:
You could opt for an all-in-one vinyl record player. These are retro-styled designs that have become more popular in recent years, and contain everything you'll need in one (often rather portable) box, including speakers the turntables itself and a built-in amplifier.
The most common option, however, is to purchase a stand-alone turntable to add to your existing stereo setup. As most people probably already have some semblance of a stereo system knocking around their homes somewhere, this is often the better option. It's also significantly more flexible. Accessories you might need on hand will include stylus replacements, as your stylus will wear down over time. You might also want to consider your turntable's 'stock' stylus with a more durable option. It's also possible that the cartridge, which converts the information from the record itself into music, might need replacing, so it's always a good idea to keep spares on standby.
Of course, there are also many other accessories you could consider, such as stylus cleaning products, replacement turntable mats and drive belts, but for the beginner, everything you need to get started should be included with the purchase of the turntable itself.
What makes a great turntable?
This is a question that's up for debate, but in general, a great turntable is reliable, stable and attractive.
Which of those three criteria matter most to you will probably factor into your eventual purchasing decision. There are some turntables which have stood the test of time, and have spent decades at the top of every stereophile's 'must own' list, but then there are also plenty of more recent models - pretenders to the throne - if you will, that have sprung up in the last few years, as the format has been enjoying something of a renaissance.
Best turntable under £100
If you're on a budget, or only require a turntable for the occasional decadent listening session, and don't plan on splashing out on much vinyl in the future (just a few favourite releases), there is a surprising wealth of options available.
One of the better affordable turntable brand is Ion, whose turntables have proven time and time again in reviews and during award season that budget price doesn't have to mean budget sound.
The first thing to note is that a budget turntable will not ruin your records. This is a myth. What is true, however, is that a budget device probably won't give you the best representation of records. There are various components that make up a turntable: The tonearm swings over the record and controls the needle that reads the vinyl itself, the rotating platter spins the record, the cartridge/stylus feeds the information from the record into your amplifier of choice, and the plinth acts as a foundation for the whole thing.
These components are obviously going to be of slightly lesser quality in a more affordable device, but that doesn't mean they won't work efficiently. If you're looking for something to look good in the corner of your living room and play the odd record at parties, a portable turntable from Crosley, Ion or GPO will more than suffice.
For those wanting something with a little more substance, meanwhile, Lenco offer a variety of affordable, well-built, but admittedly quite basic models that will definitely get the job done.
Best turntable under £200
Now we're moving away from the budget market and into the hobbyist market.
Many of the aforementioned all-in-one systems will fall under this price bracket, as will some of the more fully featured standalone offerings from the likes of Sony, Audio Technica, Pioneer and Denon. Many models in this range, it should be noted, also come with added features such as USB connectivity, which can connect to your computer, or even CD recorders. This means you can rip audio from your vinyl collection at near-perfect quality; excellent for bedroom producers and those hoping to make a digital catalogue of their collection.
In our opinion, however, in this price range, the best bang for your buck will be found with the Pro-Ject Elemental Turntable, which has won countless awards, looks fabulous, and combines plug-and-play ease with boutique aesthetics and sound.
Best turntable under £500
There are plenty of options here. Indeed, it could be argued that this is the perfect price range, offering a balance between affordability and quality.
Most professional DJ turntables belong in this category, with models by established brands such as Audio Technica falling into the price range. Indeed, if you're considering getting into the DJ game, and fancy keeping it pure and authentic (none of this 'just push play and pump your fists nonsense!) then AT is probably the best possible brand to go for, as their turntables have been keeping dance-floors full now for generations! They are also built like tanks, so will be perfectly able to withstand the rigours of the road.
The home market, meanwhile, are also spoilt for choice in this price range. Pro-Ject, one of the most respected turntable manufacturers in the world, have a number of models at this price range, and whilst they might not have the bells and whistles of their more expensive brothers and sisters (see below), you can be safe in the knowledge that your turntable will last (almost) forever, and will sound wonderful doing so.
Best turntable under £1000
If you're looking to shell out this much on a turntable, you must be seriously passionate about the quality of your music.
In truth, there are precious few turntables in this price range, but the few that do exist will give you some seriously transcendent tones. The two brands you'll find mentioned here quite a lot, wherever you do your research, are Pro-Ject and Roksan. Pro-Ject, as mentioned above, are a particularly respected brand, whose higher-tier turntables are built from the finest materials, and are built in incredibly low numbers to keep the quality at a premium. As a result, you'll be paying top dollar. The technology behind these turntables, however, is absolutely astonishing, with anti-vibration technology assuring the cleanest, smoothest and most detailed playback possible. They also tend to look magnificent, like pieces of genuine modern art, that also happen to sound like choirs of angels singing. Even if you're playing Slayer!
Perhaps the most elaborate home turntable, however, is produced by Roksan. The Radius 5.2 is the smoothest turntable on the market. It might look like something from a 1950s sci-fi film, but once you hear it in action, you'll probably never want to hear anything else again.