The vinyl revival is in full swing. Many of you will be first-time turntable buyers looking to make a turntable the new centerpiece of your Hi-fi system, while some of you might be looking to replace your existing record player and take your audio to the next level. Whatever your reason, this list of the best record players for under $500 will help you narrow down your search.
I have previously covered my top recommended turntables for lower budgets. When your budget stretches as far as $500, however, things become a little bit more interesting. We’re no longer limited to mass-produced, OEM turntables that are all very similar in sound and design. Instead, we have some affordable audiophile turntables from the likes of Pro-Ject and Music Hall join the mix.
Without further ado, let’s take a look…
At A Glance: Best Under $500 Turntables
Best Hi-fi turntables:
- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon – best overall
- Audio Technica AT-LP5 – best with built-in phono stage
- Rega Planar 1 – best option for UK shoppers
- U-Turn Orbit Special – noteworthy mention
- Music Hall MMF 2.2 – noteworthy mention
Best for converting vinyl to a digital format:
Best for DJs:
Best Fully Automatic Turntable
Best Bluetooth Turntable
Now let’s take a look at each one in closer detail…
Pro-Ject have an extensive lineup of audiophile turntables, but it is the extremely affordable Debut Carbon that made waves on the internet upon its release. A redesign of the successful Debut III series and featuring upgrades across the board, the Debut Carbon is one of the best sounding turntables you can get for your money right now.
While it’s a simple turntable that doesn’t do anything besides play records, Pro-Ject have focused on making sure the bare necessities are as good as they can be. A heavier platter with excellent dampening properties, a silent DC motor and a carbon-fiber tonearm that reduces resonance are all designed to deliver as clean, rhythmic and spacious a sound as you’ll find for the money.
Then there is the Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet cartridge, worth $100 alone, which picks up the finer details of the music and won’t need upgrading any time soon.
Drawbacks? There aren’t many with the Debut Carbon, but it doesn’t have an auto-returning tonearm or pitch control which would be a nice touch. In addition, you’ll need to purchase a separate phono preamp since this doesn’t have one built-in.
Overall, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is the best sounding turntable you can buy for the money. That said, there are some other turntables with their own merits, so let’s keep going.
Audio Technica are respected for offering some of the best value for money on their turntables. The AT-LP5 is quite unique in that it is designed as a HiFi deck but is built around a direct drive motor assembly.
There is much debate about whether a belt-drive or direct-drive is superior, but generally speaking HiFi decks are belt-driven while DJ decks are direct-drive. Regardless, each have their pros and cons.
Besides being direct-drive, the AT-LP5 features a USB port that makes it easy to digitize your record collection. This is a feature that audiophile turntables like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Rega Planar 1 lack.
Unlike some of the other turntables on this list, the AT-LP5 features a built in phono preamp meaning you won’t have to purchase one separately. This is bypassable, meaning you always have the option of running it through a more expensive one if you wish.
The AT-LP5 houses a modified and improved AT-95 cartridge called the AT-95EX. The AT-95 is sometimes called the ‘giant killer’ because it sounds as good as carts two or three times its price. Although the detachable headshell means replacing the cartridge is a simple procedure, it’s unlikely you’ll be looking to replace the AT-95EX anytime soon.
Overall the AT-LP5 is one of the best turntable choices for those seeking high fidelity audio and want a simple, plug and play experience.
When it comes to the best audiophile turntable for under $500, many pit the Rega Planar 1 against the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. Made by a small named British firm Rega Research Ltd., the award-winning Planar 1 is a beautifully crafted turntable that is a tinkerer’s dream.
On paper the Planar 1 shouldn’t sound as good as it does out of the box. The Rega Carbon cartridge is a rebranded AT-91 and the RB110 tonearm is great but shouldn’t be a match for the Debut Carbon’s carbon-fiber tonearm. And yet, many people say the Rega Planar 1, without any upgrades, sounds superior. Overall, it seems the better build quality of the Planar 1 lends itself to an incredible sound.
Given the high quality thermoset plinth, many Planar 1 owners enjoy upgrading their Planar 1 over time. Upgrading the Rega Carbon cart should be the first priority, but over time you can go on to replace the sub-platter, platter, arm, belt and pulley. Rega themselves offer the Performance Pack to get you started on your upgrade path.
U-Turn was born out of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2012 and made a name for themselves with their highly affordable turntables. The Orbit Special sits at the top of their lineup and its higher price tag over the Orbit Basic and Orbit Plus is justified by its superior base, higher end cartridge and the inclusion of a cue lever.
Featuring a solid hardwood plinth of flatcut maple or rift walnut and a clear acrylic platter, this minimalist turntable is a thing of beauty. The external belt drive can spin the platter at 33⅓, 45 RPM and eliminates motor noise.
It features the same cartridge found in the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Danish Ortofon 2M Red. The Precision OA2 gimbal tonearm has accurate tracking and minimal distortion. Together, they produce a clean, detailed and vibrant sound.
With factory set anti-skate, setup is relatively simple and you’ll only have to worry about adjusting the counterweight correctly. You’ll also have to run it through an external phono preamp, although U-Turn do offer a model of the Orbit Special that houses a built-in preamp.
Music Hall might be better known for their high end turntables (I’m talking about those that cost upwards of $5k), but the MMF 2.2 often draws comparisons with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Rega Planar 1 for being an excellent starter turntable.
The turntable doesn’t have the flashy carbon-fiber tonearm you get with the Debut Carbon or have a big aftermarket tweaking community like the Rega Planar 1, but it has some tricks of its own that makes it stand out from the pack.
It features an adjustable tonearm that means you can adjust the relative angle of the stylus to the groove. This is technically known as adjusting the Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA). While this isn’t an essential feature, many turntable enthusiasts like to adjust the VTA until things sound best.
Besides that, the Music Hall MMF 2.2 has leveling feet that can be adjusted to compensate for small inconsistencies across a surface. This makes it more forgiving for those who don’t have a perfectly flat surface to place their turntable on.
Overall the MMF 2.2 is an excellent choice that struggles to truly stand out in a crowded entry-level-audiophile market of record players.
Many record collectors want to digitize their records so that they can save them to their digital libraries and listen to them on their PC or smartphone. The Sony PS-HX500 is the perfect turntable for those thanks to its DSD 5.6 MHz native A/D converter.
While there are no shortage of turntables featuring a USB port and A/D converter that let you rip vinyl to MP3, these ADCs are typically of poorer quality, similar to those found on regular PC sound cards. Meanwhile, this turntable’s DSD AD converter can convert the analog signal to DSD format, one of the highest quality audio formats around. When you realize that an analog to digital converter setup of this quality would cost hundreds of dollars separately, it’s clear the PS-HX500 is one of the most cost-efficient ways of digitizing your record collection to a high resolution format.
This DSD A/D converter would of course be wasteful if the sound quality of the PS-HX500 was poor. Luckily, dropping the needle produces sound full of detail and music comes through with clarity and plenty of texture.
Overall the Sony PS-HX500 is the logical choice for those wishing to convert their vinyl collection to high res digital audio and store it forever. However, you do pay a hefty premium for its A/D converter, so those wishing to simply listen to their records would do better going for a different model.
DJs can’t perform all that DJ trickery using any turntable. While sound quality matters, the ability to mix and scratch records requires a specific type of turntable.
The turntable has to be direct-drive with a motor that produces a high amount of torque. This allows the platter to get up to speed quickly. You also want things like adjustable pitch controls and strobe dots on the platter.
Released in 2019, the Audio Technica AT-LP1240-USB XP has all of that. A starting torque of >4.5 kgf.cm, +/-10% adjustable speed, a reverse control button and AT-XP5 DJ cartridge, the turntable has everything a DJ needs.
The AT-LP1240-USB XP is no doubt a Super OEM which are by far and away the most recommended kind of turntables for DJs on tighter budgets. The Pioneer PLX-1000 and Stanton STR8-150 used to reign supreme, but now this deck from Audio Technica represents the best value for money.
Lifting and lowering the tonearm is all part of the fun, but it’s perfectly understandable if you’d prefer to just press the play button and start listening to your record. Fully automatic turntables do just that, but unfortunately this luxury is usually reserved for beginner or entry-level models.
The Denon DP-300F is one of the few high-quality fully automatic turntables out there. Beginners to vinyl or those with particularly unsteady hands will appreciate the cueing mechanism which makes sure the needle isn’t worn down and the record isn’t scratched.
While the DSN-85 cartridge is nothing special, the removable headshell makes it easy to swap it out for something like a Denon DL-110 or Audio Technica AT-440 which will drastically improve sound quality. Given that the DP-300F is well under budget, buying the turntable and a upgrade cartridge will probably work out cheaper than buying the other turntables featured in my list.
Turntables with built-in bluetooth aren’t common. That’s not just because audiophiles scoff at bluetooth, but because most fancier turntable setups would be hooked up to a receiver anyway. And so it’s typically the responsibility of the receiver to stream music to your bluetooth headphones or speakers.
However, if you want a clean and almost completely cable free record player setup, you’d be doing very well with the Pro-Ject Essential III bluetooth. Few other bluetooth record players have the audiophile in mind like the Essential III does.
Despite the same price, it doesn’t quite match Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon in most areas. The tonearm is aluminium, not carbon fiber, and the Ortofon OM10 cartridge isn’t quite as good as the 2M Red. The result is slightly less detailed sound with a higher wow & flutter rating.
I would personally not recommend buying a turntable with Bluetooth built in and leave that responsibility outside the player, but I can see situations where this is desirable.
There is no doubt that there are some seriously good turntables for under $500. That’s a great thing, except for the fact that it makes choosing the right one for yourself even harder.
For pure listening, I personally think the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon offers the best value for money. It’s the only one in this list to feature a carbon-fiber tonearm, something that is typically reserved for much more expensive turntables. The Ortofon 2M Red is also one of the better cartridges here.
However, you certainly wouldn’t be going wrong with the likes of the Rega Planar 1, Audio Technica AT-LP5 or U-Turn Orbit Special either. As always, the best thing to do is try and get the chance to see and listen to them all and come to your own conclusion.
Hopefully this list has helped you narrow down your search for your perfect turntable. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please leave a comment below!