Can a Cheap Turntable Sound Good?
Is it necessary to spend a lot of money on a turntable or record player?
Or will a cheap turntable sound good enough for most people?
The short answer is that a cheap turntable will sound good enough for most people if it is of decent quality and connected to external speakers.
The absolute cheapest record players that come with tiny speakers built into the cabinet, do however provide a sound quality that is below what we can categorize as good.
Also, some of the absolute cheapest record players have a reputation for destroying records because they are designed in a way that makes the needle dig into the records too hard.
So, when buying a cheap turntable, it is crucial to steer clear of the bad ones. And buy a turntable that is not only cheap, but also good.
We’ll look at how in a second.
In the sections below, we’ll look at three brilliant ways to get into vinyl records without spending a lot of money.
I will also compare my cheap, but very good, Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT turntable with my 10 times more expensive Rega Planar turntable and describe how a cheap turntable sounds compared to an expensive one.
Option #1 – Buy the best cheap turntable
It is probably not rocket science, but the best option is to buy a cheap turntable that is also good.
And enjoy it without thinking about spending money on a turntable ever again.
The crucial thing here is to steer clear of all the cheap turntables that aren’t good.
And what we need to avoid, if we want good sound, is all kinds of cheap all-in-one record players with small speakers included in the cabinet.
These turntables are made to look cute. Not to sound good.
Their speakers are way too small to deliver good sound, and the overall design is usually of very low quality.
What we need to focus on, if we are looking for good sound, is a standalone turntable that needs separate speakers.
Even very affordable powered speakers will deliver a sound quality that is many times better than the tiny speakers that are built into all-in-one record players.
If you are looking for good sound on a low budget, this combo is the best option in my opinion.
My top recommendation for an affordable turntable, after spending hundreds of hours researching turntables, is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X.
It is one of the best selling turntables in the world and continuously receives good reviews from owners and Hi-Fi critics.
It is without question my favorite cheap turntable.
After reading so much good stuff about the AT-LP60X for years, I recently pulled the trigger and bought one myself. Even tho I really don’t need another turntable.
I actually bought the Bluetooth version that cost a little bit more than the standard version that is called AT-LP60XBT. Bluetooth make it possible to connect it to Bluetooth speakers or wireless headphones without a cable.
You can hook it up to affordable powered speakers, like the Edifier R1280DB, and it will sound a trillion times better than a cheap all-in-one record player with tiny speakers built-in. It will also keep your records safe from being damaged.
To extract the full sonic potential from the AT-LP60X, better speakers than the Edifiers mentioned above will be required. But these speakers can be a good starting point, if you don’t have speakers already.
Option #2 – Buy a cheap turntable that is easily upgradable
This is the route I took when I bought my very first turntable.
I bought a relatively affordable AT-LP120XUSB. It is a turntable that is very popular among vinyl enthusiasts. It sounds good out of the box, but not great.
After a while, I upgraded it with a VM540ML cartridge combo kit that made it sound very good.
If you take this route, you can spend a bit of money now, then save up and invest in a better cartridge later.
The cool thing about the AT-LP120XUSB is that it comes with a tonearm where it is very easy to swap between cartridges. So it is one of the popular turntables that allows for a very easy cartridge upgrade.
Route #3 – Buy the best midrange turntable
It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to go from a turntable that is decent to one that is really good. A turntable that can be your trusted and good-sounding turntable for decades.
One example is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC.
It is not cheap compared to the lowest prices all-in-one record players you’ll find at Target and Walmart, but still cheap compared to what many vinyl enthusiasts spend on their audiophile rated turntables. Which is often thousands of dollars.
The Pro-Jet Debut Carbon DC is a great midrange turntable that comes with a quite good cartridge as standard. It is known to sound great and can be hooked up to quite good stereo systems without becoming the weak link.
Cheap and expensive turntable comparison
I just spent a few hours passionately comparing my $130 AT-LP60XBT turntable against my $700 Rega Planar 2 turntable with its $600 Rega Exact cartridge.
So this is a comparison between a cheap ($130) turntable and an expensive ($1300) turntable and cartridge combo.
(The prices might be different today, but this is what I paid. Please use the links above if you want to check current pricing.)
I use an expensive Denon receiver and expensive B&W speakers to highlight the differences between the turntables as clearly as possibly.
If I had used affordable powered speakers for this comparison, then the speakers may become the limiting factor, and the differences between the turntables would become less noticeable.
So, how do they compare?
I must say, the cheap AT-LP60XBT surprised me again. It has a sound quality that I believe will satisfy most casual vinyl spinners. And used for casual vinyl spinning, I think very few people would even think that this doesn’t sound ok.
When I switch to the 10 times more expensive Rega Planar 2 / Rega Exact combo, the sound qiality definitely changed. And audiophiles would probably notice that the sound is significantly better.
But I am not sure if people that aren’t that passionate about sound quality would think that the difference is huge. Or worth the 10X higher cost.
The music definitely sounds more authentic, more present and more dramatic with the Rega Planar 2. The music opens up and becomes more real in a way. There are better details and more snap throughout the frequency range.
And for passionate music listening, that is very cool. It makes the whole music listening experience feel much more like listening to a live concert.
But the AT-LP60XBT might do a good enough job and sound good enough for most people.
The AT-LP60XBT is definitely a bargain. The value for money is unreal.
What is the best budget turntable?
If you are looking for a cheap turntable, and want as much turntable as possible for your money, then the best option is probably the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X as already recommended above.
It is a very popular turntable that has stood the test of time. A very safe option to go for.
Are there cheap ways to make a turntable sound better?
A cartridge upgrade is probably the best way to make a turntable sound better. For awesome tips on this, please check out my The 7 Best Cartridge Upgrades for Turntables article.