As a vinyl and turntable enthusiast, I have everything from cheap suitcase-style record players to audiophile turntables at home.
When someone asks me what I think is the best way to start out with vinyl on a budget, my general recommendation for a budget vinyl setup is to buy an entry-level standalone turntable and entry-level powered speakers.
I think this setup gives the most value for money and offers a good balance between cost and performance for new vinyl spinners that start out on a budget.
One popular setup that I use at home is to pair the super-popular Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBK turntable with the amazing Edifier R1280Ts powered speakers. This is a great setup for someone just starting out with vinyl.
You can see this setup in the picture above.
The most obvious alternative is to buy an all-in-one (suitcase-style) record player with built-in speakers. It will cost less than a setup with standalone gear, but the sound quality will also be significantly worse. Suitcase-style record players do however look super cute and charming. If looks and vibe are more important than sound quality, then this can be the best option for you.
Let’s look at each option in more detail.
Benefits with standalone gear
Let’s look at the primary reason a setup with a turntable and powered speakers is a better option than an all-in-one record player if you are serious about picking the best vinyl setup on a budget.
A vinyl setup with separate speakers sounds significantly better that a suitcase-style record player with tiny build-in speakers. The tiny speakers in suitcase-style record players simply can’t produce deep bass and the music sounds quite flat.
Even budget powered speakers like the Edifiers I mentioned earlier sounds dramatically better than a suitcase-style turntable that is playing through its built-in speakers.
In my comprehensive review of suitcase-style record players, I found that their small speakers are driven by a 3 Watts amplification circuit. In comparison, even budget powered speakers like the Edifier R1280T, has a built-in amplifier that provides 42 Watts, which is 14 times more. The speakers in suitcase-style record players are also tiny, unable to provide decent music volume and deep bass. Powered speakers have significantly bigger drivers. Enable to provide punch and deep bass.
So, if you are looking to play your favorite music with a decent beat and grove, a setup with separate powered speakers is the way to go.
When I hook up powered speakers to my suitcase-style record players (I have a Crosley and a Victrola), I found that the sound and bass response increased dramatically. If it definitely the tiny speakers that is their biggest weakness.
To be able to manufacture and sell suitcase-style record players as cheaply, it is inevitable that all the components (tonearm, drive, chassis, electronics and speakers) have to be of quite low quality. There is no way around that.
A setup with a standalone turntable and standalone powered speakers is built with a higher quality standard. It will not only sound better but also last longer and feel more expensive every time you use it.
Wear and Tear on Records
Suitcase style record players usually have significantly higher tracking force than standalone turntable. That means that the needle pushes harder on the record and cause more friction. Which again is reported to create more wear and tear on records over time.
Standalone turntables have more sophisticated tonearms than suitcase-style record players and needs significantly less downforce to track the grooves well. This leads to less friction and less war and tear on records over time.
If you have a record collection of high value that you want to keep in mint condition, it is probably best to not invest in a cheap suitcase-style record player. To be on the safe side. Your records deserve a decent turntable.
A turntable and powered speaker setup will cost more than all-in-on record players. But less than a traditional Hi-Fi rig with turntable, amplifier/receiver and passive speakers. It is the sweet-spot between cost and performance in my opinion.
Benefits with suitcase-style record players
Even though my top recommendation is to buy separate gear, there are a few benefits of choosing an all-in-one record player as well.
Suitcase-style record players costs around one third of a budget setup with a standalone turntable and powered speakers.
So, if you are happy with the way they sound, and can live with a little extra wear and tear on records, it might be few reasons left to throw a lot more money on separate gear. Money doesn’t grow on trees, right? At least not for most of us.
If you find out that the sound from suitcase-style record players is too flat and boring, you always have the option to invest in separate powered speakers down the line. It will enhance the sound quality dramatically.
I think one of the biggest selling points of suitcase-style record players (beside their low price) is their cute and vintage design. They simply look super cool.
Their low price and cute design are responsible for introducing vinyl records to thousands of new vinyl spinners every year. Lot of credit must be given to suitcase-style record players in that regard.
Being suitcase-style record players, the feature of being ultra-portable and easy to drag around can’t be matched with any other vinyl setup.
How to set up a turntable and powered speakers
The AT-LP60XBK Turntable and the Edifier R1280Ts powered speaker are very easy to set up.
The AT-LP60XBK turntable has built-in phono preamp.
And the R1280Ts speakers have a built-in amplifier.
So no standalone phono preamp or amplifier or receiver are necessary.
We just need to connect the two units together with a standard RCA signal cable that is included. Then connect both units to power. And we are good to go.
Both the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBK fully automatic turntable and the Edifier R1280Ts powered bookshelf speakers have received great reviews and are very popular and very high-selling models. And they give great value for money.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBK is a full automatic belt-drive turntable with built-in phono preamp.
It is probably the best-selling turntable word-wide.
It has a replaceable diamond stylus and plays both 33 RPM and 45 RPM records.
Being fully automatic, the tonearm automatically places the stylus on the starting groove with a push on a button and it automatically returns the tonearm again when the record ends.
The Edifier R1280Ts powered bookshelf speakers is a 2-way speaker system in a nice looking wooden enclosure that offers remote control, tone adjustments and dual RCA inputs.
Besides being hooked up to your turntable, they can also connect to other devices like a PC, laptop or mobile phone by issuing the other RCA input. Having dials for bass and treble adjustment, you can personalize the music experience to your personal taste.
These are highly compact speakers, measuring only 6.9 x 9.5 x 5.8 inches. But they will outperform the sound quality from any low-cost all-in-one record player by a mile while still being easy to place. The sound quality and level from these compact speakers might surprise you.
So if you look to get (back) into vinyl records as cheap as possible while keeping your records absolutely safe, buying the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBK turntable and the Edifier R1280Ts speakers are the best cheap way to play vinyl records in my opinion.
An alternative approach to a budget vinyl setup
There is another way to get into vinyl records without breaking the bank and that is to hook the turntable up to wired or wireless headphones.
This will probably only make sense if you already have a pair of decent headphones. If you will have to buy headphones, the better choice for most people is to rather spend that money on a set of affordable powered speakers.
But if you have a pair of headphones and don’t mind to use them for vinyl record listening, this might be a good option.
If you have Bluetooth wireless headphones you can buy the Bluetooth version of the Audio-Technica AT-LP60.
The Bluetooth version is called Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBK-BT.
It enables you to pair your Bluetooth wireless headphones with the turntable and listen to music wirelessly.
You can read more about Bluetooth wireless turntable setups in this article.
If you have wired headphones you will need a headphone amplifier in addition to the turntable to drive the headphones properly.
You can not connect wired headphones directly to a turntable, so a headphone amplifier is necessary. You will find a decent entry-level one for about $50 on Amazon.
You can read more about how to connect headphones to turntables in this article.
We’ve learned that the best cheap vinyl setup is an affordable standalone turntable with built-in phono preamp combined with powered bookshelf speakers.
And that choosing a setup like this will prevent you from putting extra wear and tear on records like some low-cost all-in-one record players have a bad reputation for doing.
And that this type of setup will sound much better than an all-in-one record player.
What is the best cheap turntable? The Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is probably the best cheap turntable on today’s market. It is also one of the highest selling turntables world-wide. It is fully automatic, belt drive and comes with a built-in phono preamp.
What is the best turntable under $500? It is highly debatable, but the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (DC) seems to be the turntable under $500 that gets the best reviews and the most praise from critics. It comes with a carbon fiber tonearm and an Ortofon Red cartridge. Which is quite good for a turntable under $500.