Cheap and Expensive Turntable Comparison (Sound Test)
To get a feel for how an entry-level turntable sounds compared to an audiophile turntable.
Is the huge premium for an audiophile turntable worth it?
In my experience, there is definitely a sonic difference between cheap and expensive turntables. But it might not be worth the huge premium for casual vinyl spinners.
Before we drill deeper into the actual sound comparison, let’s have a quick look at the main differences between cheap and expensive turntables.
Differences Between Cheap and Expensive Turntables
For a turntable to sound good, it must perform two key tasks with excellence.
It must read the grooves that are carved into the record with high precision. Capturing all the details in the music without leaving anything out.
And it must not add sounds or noise that aren’t produced into the record.
In short, pick up what’s in the record with precision without adding anything extra.
To perform these tasks well, a turntable needs four key things.
1) A low vibration cassis and motor.
2) A motor with stable speed and low noise.
3) A low resonance tonearm that moves freely.
4) A high quality phono cartridge.
The big premium you pay for an audiophile turntable gives you a higher quality design in all the four key areas above.
An audiophile turntable will have a chassis that deals better with resonances and a higher quality motor with low noise and stable speed.
It will have a well-engineered tonearm that is made with high-quality materials and expensive high-precision bearings.
And it will usually come with a high quality phono cartridge that is able to read the grooves in the record with high precision.
So, when we pay a premium for an audiophile turntable, we get a design that is made with high cost and high quality parts across the board.
How does this translate into better sound?
Let’s find out.
My Rega Planar 2 is upgraded with a Rega Exact cartridge that makes it a $1300 turntable in total.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT costs about 1/10 of that. Even less for the model without Bluetooth.
(I have the Bluetooth version. But I won’t use the Bluetooth functionality in this test.)
I also use expensive B&W speakers and an expensive Denon receiver in this test to be able to clearly hear the differences between the turntables.
First, let’s play some music with the cheap Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT.
How does it sound?
Quite good, to be honest.
It impresses me again.
In the context of being a turntable you can pick up for hundred bucks or so, it simply sounds great.
It doesn’t have the clarity or dynamics we expect from audiophile Hi-Fi gear, but the sound is definitely at a level where I think very few people would complain.
For passionate music listening, many of us might want a bit more than what the AT-LP60XBT offers.
But for simply playing music, it does a good job.
Alright, let’s see what happens when I switch to the 10 times more expensive Rega Planar 2 with the Rega Exact cartridge.
Does it sound better?
Yes it does.
In what ways?
The first thing I notice is that the sound is clearer.
Where the sound of the cheaper AT-LP60XBT is a bit boxed-in, the Rega sounds open and lively.
The artists sound more present in the room.
When I listen to the song ‘Mother’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, the acoustic section in the beginning sounds clear and present.
When the song picks up, the bass and drums that come in have more snap and dynamic than they had when using the AT-LP60XBT.
The music sounds more engaging and dramatic.
Listening to music with the cheap AT-LP60XBT is a nice experience.
Listening to music with the expensive Rega Planar 2 is an emotional experience.
More clarity. More snap. And more drama. More engagement.
I guess the big question is this.
Is the better sound worth the big price premium?
If you have the passion and budget, I guess it is.
But if you are on a budget or just starting out with vinyl, then a cheap turntable will give you a lot of sound for the money.
A cheap turntable does definitely not sound bad. It sounds quite good, in my opinion.
It is just that an expensive turntable sounds even better.
Do Expensive Turntables Sound Better?
OK, time for a conclusion.
There is a noticeable sound difference between a cheap and an expensive turntable. An expensive turntable has a sound that is more authentic, detailed, dynamic and engaging. But a cheap turntable does absolutely sound good enough to give an enjoyable music listening experience.
Who is Cheap Turntables for?
Buying a cheap turntable is great if you are just starting out with vinyl and want to see if spinning vinyl is for you. You will definitely be able to enjoy records without an expensive turntable.
Also, if you are a casual vinyl spinner that like listening to music without being overly picky on sound quality, then there is no reason to throw a lot of money on an expensive turntable.
A cheap turntable is also great for kids and teenagers, as they might not handle it that carefully. An expensive turntable is a fine-tuned instrument and should be handled with care.
Who is Expensive Turntables for?
If you are passionate about sound quality and have the money to spend, then an expensive turntable might be a good investment for you.
A quality turntable will usually last for decades if used correctly.
And, as we have seen in this article, will provide for a better and more emotional music listening experience than a cheap turntable.
Also, expensive turntables do require good speakers and electronics to sound up to their potential, so if you spend a lot of money on a turntable, you’ll need a good stereo to pair it with.
What is the Best Cheap Turntable?
I believe the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT, which I have used in this test, is the best cheap turntable.
I don’t know of any entry-level turntable that gives more bang for the buck.
I bought my AT-LP60XBT after reading so many good things about it during all my research on stereo and turntables that I eventually had to buy it and test it myself.
It is a bargain.
You can also check out my 5 Great Beginner Turntables article if you are looking for a great cheap turntable.
How Much Should You Spend on a Turntable?
You will find many good and affordable turntables between $100 and $400. This is a good price range to look for good affordable turntables.
Midrange turntables cost from about $400 to $700. In this price range there are many good turntables that can be your trusted vinyl spinning companion for decades.
Audiophile and High-End turntables start at about $700 and can cost all the way up to $5,000 and more.
Below is a chart that that can be used as a guideline for turntable prices.
Will a Cheap Turntable Damage Your Records?
Some super-cheap record players are reported to damage records.
There are mostly all-in-one record players with small speakers built into the cabinet that have this reputation.
The reason is that they are designed with very high tracking force that makes the needle dig into the record too hard.
If you have a big record collection that has a huge economical and emotional value, then don’t buy a $50 all-in-one record player. If you do, your records might be in danger.