Best Cheap Turntables
Published on By Maralyn Edid
Ion Audio TTUSB 10 Review
From $125 Best
The TTUSB 10 boasts a turntable with an adjustable anti-skate feature and a built-in preamp that's useful if your stereo receivers lack a phono setting; it also comes bundled with Audacity recording software that digitizes vinyl recordings. Reviewers note the double on/off switches are not necessary and the Audacity software sometimes has trouble with Macs.
Experts and users rave about the deal you get with the Ion Audio TTUSB 10 (starting at $125). With anti-skate and tonearm counterweight adjustment, users' records are safe from the wear and tear that would occur in the absence of either critical feature. CNET finds that the lack of unnecessary features is a blessing with this simple but capable turntable.
Many Ion Audio TTUSB 10 reviews on Amazon.com are upbeat about the bundled software, which includes Audacity and a program called Gracenote. In an Ion Audio TTUSB 10 review, one user says Gracenote is "remarkable" because it actually names the tracks for him without having to enter anything manually. This type of feature is rare with USB turntables overall, as most software forces users to split tracks and name each one themselves. ION Audio TTUSB 10 reviews by CNET experts are less enthusiastic about the software package, saying the basic software is too simple and the advanced is too complex. CNET notes, however, that the ION Audio TTUSB 10 has decent sound and recording quality, although an ION Audio TTUSB 10 review in Everythingusb.com is less impressed with the sound quality.
While the features and software included make this USB turntable a solid package overall, and probably the best cheap buy out there, its plastic parts and lack of automation set it a notch below several higher-end models.
Numark TTUSB Turntable Review
From $90 Good
This plug-and-play turntable from Numark is distinguished by a 1/8 - inch stereo mini-jack input connector that digitizes cassette tapes as well as vinyl records. Like other USB turntables, it has an anti-skate feature and comes bundled with Audacity software and additional software that can filter out the pops of old vinyl. On the downside, the turntable is completely manual, and the power switch is set in the back, which can be awkward to reach with a record on the platter.
Numark's TTUSB (starting at $90, Amazon) turntable gives users many essential features, such as a moving magnet cartridge, anti-skate adjustment, and an offset tonearm. The built-in 78 rpm software support lets users digitize 78's without a hassle, as a Numark TTUSB review notes on Amazon.com. Like many other cheap USB turntables, the Newmark TTUSB features Audacity software for digitizing vinyl. As one Numark TTUSB reviewer writes on Numarkturntables.com, users can even digitize old cassette tapes using a 1/8-inch jack connector.
In a Numark TTUSB review on Epinions, a user writes that the MP3's created from vinyl spinning on this platter are the same quality as MP3's made from ripping a CD. Although there's always a slight loss of quality from the original recording when creating an MP3 on any device, the Numark TTUSB does the job at least as well as others. That said, another Numark TTUSB review on Epinions suggests upgrading to a better needle in order to improve the sound quality.
The Numark TTUSB boasts solid construction for the price, although it doesn't measure up to the steel design of more expensive models. But consumers looking for a cheap solution to digitizing vinyl or just listening to records will be pleased with the value-to-price ratio.
Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable Review
From $90 Think Twice
Experts and consumers can't seem to agree on the worth of the iPTUSB. Experts see it as a great inexpensive buy, but most consumers only see the hard-to-overlook flaws: no anti-skate adjustment, no dust cover, and poor quality parts, all of which make many consumers unhappy.
While Ion Audio iPTUSB reviews by CNET experts praise this cheap turntable, consumers don't always agree. In an Ion Audio iPTUSB review, CNET says the 7-inch record adapter and lightweight portability (it will run on six D-cell batteries) are huge pluses, and the audio quality is impressive for a turntable this size. On the other hand, the Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable uses a ceramic cartridge and lacks a counterweight adjustment, which poses a risk to your record collection. An Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable review on Amazon.com bemoans the lackluster sound and says the turntable picks up ambient noise when ripping vinyl. Other gripes focus on poor connectors and a plastic tonearm that an Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable review on ZZounds.com describes as flimsy.
The software bundled with the iPTUSB (starting at $90, Amazon) includes the usual Audacity as well as EZ Vinyl Converter, which only work with PCs, and the EZ Audio Converter, which only works with Macs. One user posting an Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable review on Amazon.com says the Mac-friendly software easily converts vinyl to MP3 format but doesn't do much for the vinyl noise; for that task, he says, Audacity does a nice job after you've learned to use it.
Because the Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable lacks certain critical features, such as anti-skate adjustment and a decent needle, the iPTUSB is not a good option for users keen on preserving their records. While its portability and 78 rpm capability are appealing, that's not enough to make this a bargain worth chasing.
Sony PS-LX300USB Review
From $110 Think Twice
The most common gripe voiced by consumers and experts alike about Sony's PS-LX300USBturntable is the included software's incompatibility with Mac computers. Users also complain of frequent skipping when digitizing vinyl.
As a Sony PS-LX300USB expert review on Gadgetguy.com says, you could buy a sound card for a computer and plug in an analog turntable and probably get superior results than you would with this model, and all for about the same price. Despite what Gadgetguy says, users posting reviews of the Sony PS-LX300USB on Amazon.com seem to like this USB turntable, both for its sound and price. The Sony PS-LX300USB (starting at $110, Amazon) does have a decent feature set, including an offset tonearm and a moving magnet cartridge, but it's missing several critical features, such as anti-skate and tonearm counterweight adjustment.
The bundled software will cause problems for Mac users, because this model is simply not compatible with that platform. Some users make this mistake and buy this inexpensive turntable anyway. A Sony PS-LX300USB user review on Amazon.com claims that if you download Audacity, the turntable will interact with a Mac although you won't be able to change any settings; another user found "VinylStudio" software on Apple's website that did the trick of making the two pieces of hardware interact.
Despite the instantly recognizable Sony name, and support for the product from some users, you might want to think twice about this turntable. Those missing critical features could cause some grief down the road.
With the music industry in flux and CD sales falling daily, the full, rich sound of vinyl records is sparking a replay for this "old" media. The MP3's floating around online are generally poor quality and don't match the warmth of a record, so more consumers are starting to invest again in vinyl. This surge of new record buyers has generated a need for cheap turntables for casual listeners. Although we mention a few affordable analog turntables in this buying guide, our focus is on good quality USB turntables costing less than $150.
Cheap Turntables Buying Guide
A USB turntable can connect to your stereo system or use a built-in amplifier and speakers to deliver instant digitized listening pleasure. Alternatively, it can connect to a computer (through a USB port) and digitize records, so you can listen to your favorite music anywhere. The other option for vinyl aficionados is an analog turntable, which retains all the warmth present in vinyl because it reads the physical bumps and indentations on a record and doesn't alter the sound in any way. Although you can convert an analog turntable into a USB turntable by installing the right sound card in your computer and using a phono pre-amp, this is rarely an economical proposition. The majority of analog turntables are much more expensive than USB models and bypass the budget niche overall. The cheapest analog turntables generally start at about $250, compared with cheap USB turntables that retail for as little as $80.
USB Turntable Features.Turntables come in different categories: analog or USB, and direct drive or belt drive. There are only a few manufacturers that specialize in cheap turntables, and sell under brand names such as Numark, Ion, and Gemini. Each category has different technology behind it, but they all include similar features that should be considered before purchasing. Many of the newest cheap turntables incorporate a lot of these features to varying degrees of success, so here's what you should be aware of before buying.
Belt Drive vs. Direct Drive.All turntables, USB and analog, are either belt drive or direct drive. Belt-drive USB turntables, such as the Numark TTUSB (starting at $90) and the Ion Audio TTUSB 10 (starting at $125), are based on a cheaper design and are cheaper to build. Holding down the cost further, belt-drive turntables are not always automated; manual operation requires users to place the needle down while the record is spinning, which can damage the vinyl unless you have the proper amount of patience. Another disadvantage of belt drive is that the belt driving the platter's spin can stretch or break over time, so you'll eventually have to replace it; the cost of a replacement belt ranges from $14-$80, depending on the quality of the turntable. Belt drives can't withstand much wear and tear, so if you're looking to "scratch" records for fun, you'll have to raise your sights and opt for a direct drive turntable. Direct-drive turntables, such as Numark's TTXUSB (starting at $395) or Gemini's DJ TT2000 (starting at $250), are more expensive than the belt-driven models and generally outside the Cheapism niche. They have a built-in motor that starts the platter spinning and places the needle down automatically, which saves you from inadvertently dropping the needle and possibly ruining the record. Direct drive is the sole choice of professional DJs and many audiophiles. A notable downside of direct drive, besides the higher cost, is that the platters are usually much lighter than those on belt-driven turntables. This lack of weight can actually produce ringing feedback at times, not to mention the noise that the motor itself makes when running, and these irksome sounds can be picked up when digitizing tracks with a USB turntable.
Most analog record players are direct drive and most USB turntables are belt drive. Still, there are some exceptions. The Stanton T92USB (starting at $300) and the Numark TTXUSB are examples of direct-drive USB turntables and the Denon DP-300F (starting at $329) and the Pyle PLTTB1 (starting at $80) are examples of belt-drive analog turntables.
Tonearm.If you're listening to vinyl records, with all their bumps and grooves, the shape and weight of the tonearm matters. An expert at Knowzy.com points out that a straight tonearm centers the needle in the record groove, a position that only a DJ could love because it's better for "scratching" but hard on the record. A casual listener or vinyl archivist should opt for an offset tonearm because it works with the record's grooves instead of forcing the needle to center -- as a straight arm does -- thus saving the needle and the record from wear and tear. The majority of cheap USB turntables, including the Ion Audio TTUSB 10 and the Numark TTUSB, have offset arms; but there are straight-arm models out there, like the Sony PS-LX300USB (starting at $110), so know what you're buying. Regardless of shape, the tonearm should have an adjustable tracking weight. Both the Ion Audio TTUSB 10 and Numark TTUSB are equipped with counterweights, unlike the Ion Audio iPTUSB Portable (starting at $90), which is lacking in this dimension. Experts at Turntablebasics.com, explain that a counterweight is necessary to prevent tracking problems (e.g., the needle digging into the record as it plays, or the tonearm running too light and barely reading the record). Finding the middle ground is important for each individual turntable. This adjustment isn't a complex task for a decent turntable: Start by turning the dial at the end of the arm to zero, then turn the counterweight away from the pivot point until the tonearm is hovering level with the record's playing surface, and then change the counterweight until it reads the mass specified by the manufacturer. As a turntable review on Amazon notes about the Ion Audio TTUSB 10, a simple bit of trial and error and the tonearm was ready for play in about three minutes.
Anti-Skate Adjustment.When choosing a USB turntable, one of the most important features is anti-skate. According to the experts at Knowzy.com, anti-skate prevents records from being damaged and worn down, and minimizes extraneous noise by stabilizing the needle in the record groove. The Numark TTUSB Turntable and Ion TTUSB both include anti-skate adjustment for protecting records. The Ion iPTUSB lacks this critical feature, although an expert turntables review on CNET still gives this cheap turntable a somewhat positive appraisal. Note: without these adjustable counterweight and anti-skate features, you run the risk of seriously destroying your records.
Cartridges.Most audiophiles insist on turntables without ceramic cartridges. There are cheap USB turntables on the market equipped with these cartridges, so be on the lookout and pass right over these models. As the turntables expert at Knowzy emphasizes, manufacturers install low-cost ceramic cartridges because it's cheaper than adding a pre-amp device, which is a critical feature if you want good sound quality. Ion's iPTUSB is an example of a USB turntable with a ceramic cartridge, which partially explains why its price is so low. Most USB turntables don't use ceramic cartridges. Any other type of cartridge, such as a moving coil or moving magnet, produces fine sound quality; the Ion TTUSB 10 uses a moving magnet, as does the Numark TTUSB. Make sure that a cartridge is included with the cheap turntable you select because there are deals out there that exclude the cartridge altogether.
Digitizing Software.Most cheap USB turntables, like the Ion TTUSB, include a bundled digitizing software suite. These pieces of discrete software interact to capture the analog audio being played on the turntable in real time, convert it to a digital format that is sent on its way through the USB port to be played later on a computer or portable music device. Sometimes the digitizing software includes plug-ins that can clean up the audio, allowing users to fix any vinyl-exclusive noise, such as pops or clicks; this is a huge bonus when trying to get quality tracks. The Numark TTUSB Turntable includes a bundled version of Audacity digitizing software that works with a Mac or PC. Sony provides the powerful Sonic Foundry Sound Forge LE software with the PS-LX300USB, but the suite isn't compatible with Mac computers.
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Analog turntables, especially direct drive models, seem more solid and substantial than USB turntables. But there are reasons for this. The parts are more expensive and direct drive motors are pricey. Usually there's a lot of steel instead of plastic parts, and the overall look of analog turntables is decidedly slicker. They're less apt to break easily and are generally more durable. Obviously, they cost a lot more than USB turntables. Although USB models are usually made with plastic throughout, and the belt-driven models can wear out quickly, you can still find some cheap USB turntables that provide decent audio and acceptable longevity.
Sound/Recording Quality.In the dimensions that matter -- recording and sound -- several cheap turntables stand out. A CNET expert turntables review says the performance of the Ion TTUSB 10 is more than adequate given its low price. A turntables review by a CNET consumer applauds the sound quality and solid tone of the straight playback on the Ion TTUSB 10, but concedes the sound of the digital transfer doesn't quite compare. A turntables review at Everythingusb.com agrees, saying the recorded vocals sound somewhat harsh although playback on a stereo is warm and free of distortions. Turntable reviews by users also sing the praises of the Numark TTUSB. If you start with a high-quality recording, writes one user in a belt-drive turntables review on Amazon, the sound will surpass what you hear with CDs. Sound quality gets even better, comments one turntables reviewer on Epinions, if you invest in a higher quality cartridge.
The Sony PS-LX300USB, on the other hand, is panned in an expert review on Gadgetguy.com for producing poor quality sound because of the way in which it captures the audio and converts it to the MP3 format. A consumer posting on Amazon isn't pleased with the sound coming from the Ion iPTUSB, commenting that it neared around eight bits of resolution per second, which is less, even, than an MP3; knowledgeable listeners will be much happier with at least 16 bits per second.
As noted above, the prices for direct drive turntables are generally out of the Cheapism range, but several lower-priced models are worth mentioning. The Stanton T92USB appeals to serious casual listeners and not-so-serious DJs. It produces "nice" audio quality, according to a turntables review by a user on Musician's Friend, but would benefit from a better cartridge. Consumers use this model for straight playback as well as digitizing 33 rpm and 45 rpm records; one user posting on Amazon happily says a 30-year-old recording of his high school varsity band album sounds like his memories, but he grumbles about the software and an uneven platter. The analog DJ-grade Gemini TT-2000 produces decent sound but users report on VirtualDJ.com about struggling to get it to "scratch" properly; one user post on Musician's Friend complains about noise coming through the pre-amp.
Reliability.Inexpensive USB turntables seem to be at their best right when bought because the platter can warp over time and the belt will wear and eventually snap after many hours of play. The platter itself may even be lower quality than the rest of the hardware, as noted in a Numark TTUSB turntables review on Amazon. The Stanton T92USB is noted for its price and as a user at Amazon comments, it's platter isn't perfectly flat but that's to be expected at this moderate price point. In general, cheap USB turntables are somewhat less reliable than higher-end turntables over the long run. As an expert turntables reviewer writes on AVguide.com about one older belt-driven USB model, wear and tear is inevitable given the plastic construction. There's something to be said for direct-drive turntables if you've got the budget for them. The Numark TT200 is a relatively inexpensive direct-drive analog model that a turntables review at Clubsguide.com calls a good model for beginners. Another decent direct-drive analog deck is the Gemini DJ TT2000, although it has its limitations; a user review of analog turntables at JR.com grouses that it doesn't support 78 rpm records. USB direct-drive turntables, such as the Stanton T92USB or the Numark TTXUSB are also valued for their solid construction, ability to digitize records, and almost-cheap price. An expert review of the Numark TTXUSB at Skratchworx.com notes it has way more features than other models in the same general price range and should appeal to consumers looking for more control, whether digitizing records or enjoying regular playback.
Digitizing Software.The software included with most cheap USB turntables is the same as what's included with higher-priced models, so there won't be much difference in the ability to digitize vinyl. There are many different software suites available for USB turntables, but most bargain models offer a similar package. Although some of the software is quite simple, a new user may need assistance. Indeed, some software is not as amateur-friendly as others, and could wind up costing you real money if you choose the wrong turntable. Shortly after purchasing the Sony PS-LX300USB at Best Buy, for example, a customer ran into trouble when attempting to digitize a record, but the retailer's tech support wanted $30 to help him out. In a Numark TTUSB review on Amazon, a user writes of struggling a bit with the bundled Audacity software until he got the hang of it. Many software companies are hard to reach by phone, but online forums and guides can often answer your questions. By the way, don't forget to keep your software updated; these updates often improve performance. An Ion TTUSB 10 review on Amazon notes that the bundled Audacity software is simple to use, even without the instruction manual; the reviewer particularly appreciates the feature that fixes any vinyl noise. The quality of these software suites ranges from inoperable to thorough, depending on the features and ease of use. One user posting a turntables review on Amazon reports that the software can be touch-and-go until you get the hang of it, and the only downside noted is the need for a special plug-in that must be downloaded to export into an MP3 format.
Needles.As happens with any type of turntable, the needle on cheap USB turntables eventually wears out, and some users report that needles on low-cost turntables break easily. For the most part, you can find replacement needles online, such as the Ion Audio iCT04RS DJ Stylus (starting at $23), which can replace needles on the Ion TTUSB 10 and the Ion TTUSB. The replacement needle for the Numark TTUSB, ST-09D Replacement Stylus, starts at $17. But finding a replacement can be costly, not to mention difficult. A user review of cheap turntables on Amazon notes that Sony doesn't even make replacement needles for the PS-LX300USB and the Sony-certified stores in her area would not fix the turntable. In sum, USB turntables are quite affordable, but some inexpensive models are pieced together poorly, with plastic parts and/or bad needles. To insure you're getting the best deal, look for all the necessary features, such as anti-skate and tonearm adjustments. Also, because you want to preserve a record collection instead of wearing it down, research which type of cartridge is included (avoid ceramic cartridges), and check out the ripping software before buying to make sure all the critical features are present.
Additional Products We Considered
Gemini TT2000 Review
Gemini's DJ TT2000 (starting at $250, Amazon) is an affordable direct drive analog turntable with many attractive features, including anti-skate and counterweight tonearm adjustments, 78 rpm capability, and an aluminum platter. Direct drive turntables appeal to DJs, although this one features an offset tonearm, a design most record jockeys could do without (straight tonearms are their top choice).
Gemini TT2000 reviews are scarce. One Gemini TT2000 review on It.virtualdj.com says this turntable produces decent sound but the slip mat makes it hard to "scratch." If you're not looking to nurture your inner DJ, however, this shouldn't be an issue. Some other issues emerge in a Gemini TT2000 review on Musiciansfriend.com, where the user grumbles about a warped platter and noise coming through the pre-amp.
Still, for the price and feature set, the Gemini DJ TT2000 is a good buy. There are very few analog direct drive turntables in this price range, and this one is a solidly-built model that delivers decent playback.
Numark TTXUSB Review
The Numark TTXUSB (starting at $395, Amazon) is a USB direct drive turntable that offers loads of features, including an interchangeable tonearm system with both straight and offset options. With other standard features like anti-skate, pitch control, and a solid steel construction, this USB turntable is one of the best mid-price direct drive models on the market. The adjustable torque is also a big selling point, says one Numark TTXUSB review on Sweetwater.com.
This high-end turntable is an all-around winner. An expert Numark TTXUSB review on Skratchworx.com awards it top grades for build and sound quality, features, and value for the price, although he hedges just a bit on the performance of the S-shaped tonearm. A Numark TTXUSB review on Amazon.com agrees that the turntable is a sound buy even though it doesn't come with a cartridge. This consumer also recommends buying a software package, such as Nero, for "heavy duty" recording because in his opinion, Audacity isn't up to the task.
The TTXUSB is one of the few USB direct drive turntables offering a full set of features as well as solid construction. It's a good value if you're willing to spend the necessary extra to get direct drive.
Stanton T92USB Review
Stanton's T92USB (starting at $300, Amazon) is a USB direct drive turntable that features a pre-mounted cartridge, high torque motor for playback, and Cakewalk software for digitizing vinyl. A professional-grade turntable, the Stanton T92USB also boasts pitch control, 78 rpm capability, anti-skate, and an S-shaped tonearm that minimizes wear on your records. In a Stanton T92USB review on Musiciansfriend.com, a user concludes that this is the right turntable for folks who fall somewhere between exacting professionals and casual listeners.
The Cakewalk software bundled with the Stanton T92USB works with both PCs and Macs. Although some consumers like the software package, a couple of users posting Stanton T92USB reviews on Amazon.com suggest downloading Audacity freeware, instead; one reports his first try with Cakewalk caused multiple crashes. In all, though, users seem thrilled with the ability to transfer their old vinyl to CD or MP3 formats, noting that audio quality is better than decent.
While the feature set may not be as rich as that offered in higher end models, for a direct drive USB turntable, the Stanton T92USB is an affordable and worthwhile buy.
Denon DP-300F Review
Denon's DP-300F (starting at $329, Amazon) is a belt-drive automatic analog turntable with a straight tonearm, a moving magnet cartridge, anti-skate, counterweight adjustment, and dust cover. The turntable is well built and sturdy with a weighted base to prevent vibrations. It also features a built-in phono amplifier for stereo use.
The stylus on this analog turntable is better quality than what you find on many cheaper turntables, and passes muster with some consumers but not others. Several Denon DP-300F reviews on Amazon.com report satisfaction with the audio quality, although reviewers who have upgraded the stylus say the improvement in the sound and overall listening experience is remarkable. Denon DP-300F user reviews posted on the J&R site generally praise the sound quality and its user-friendliness, although one adds that a stand-alone pre-amp is worth the investment. An expert Denon DP-300F review by Electronicsme.com concludes that this relatively cheap analog turntable stands its own against some of the higher-priced competition in terms of features and performance, although an expert turntables review by Testfreaks.com concludes that the noise isolation is only so-so.
Users and experts appreciate the build quality of this turntable. A user posting a Denon DP-300F review on Crutchfield.com comments that it didn't skip once, even when his children jumped around in front of the deck. So if you're looking for a balance between affordable and high-end, the Denon DP-300F is a good buy even if you need an upgrade on the needle.
Pyle PLTTB1 Review
The Pyle PLTTB1 analog turntable (starting at $80, Amazon) is a basic, manual model that might appeal to beginning DJs despite its belt-drive technology. This cheap turntable features an offset tonearm, adjustable pitch control, anti-skate function, counterweight adjustment, two playback speeds and a strobe light for precise speed setting. It also comes with a dust cover.
Users seem to like this cheap turntable on the whole, but are muted in their opinions. Pyle PLTTB1 reviews at Radio Shack praise the decent sound, affordable price, and easy controls.
Over at Amazon.com, Pyle PLTTB1 reviews also say this is a good deal, but a few consumers grumble about shoddy construction, including a warped plastic platter, a stylus that gave out after less than 10 hours of play, and problems with the channel balance. A consumer review of the Pyle PLTTB1 turntable on Buzzillions says the turntable is decent but you need a phono input to make it work with a computer and this is not clear in the product description.
Overall this manual belt drive analog turntable is a decent value. But compared to higher-end decks of the same type, it just doesn't measure up.