Recommended first turntable?

I'm in need of a turntable! I've never owned one and don't have a very large record collection yet, so I'm not keen on spending more than say...$250. The turntables that people recommend to me (ie Rega, Thorens, Ariston) all seem very pricy in the used market.

For those of you who helped with my amp search, I finally got a Parasound HCA-1000A and its matching pre-amp, the P/HP-850.

Not to be a killjoy but I dont know if you are going to give vinyl a fair shot at that budget...its just much more costly to get fair sound. I went thru 4 tables in range from $100 to $800 used and was close to giving up because like you I dont have the extra cash, now I have a SOTA table ($600 or so used) a Rega RB300 arm ($250 used) a Audiotechnica cart ($400) and a Musical Surroundings Phonomena stage wich can be had used around $350 so that comes in at $1300 and it still has flaws, I like it but lets not fool ourselves. I and you will also need a cleaning machine, atleast I do as I buy alot of used albums. If you can double our budget you will be happy and happy longer without flipping tables...all my opinion of course but I think it is valid and I am trying to help.
If you're not willing to spring $400-475 for a Technics Sl 1200, I recommend you get the Audio Technica DD all-manual knockoff AT PL120 ( or the automatic belt drive Denon DP300F (

Both have a built-in phono preamp if you want to get up and running into a line-level preamp or receiver.
how about a vintage table as a starter? something like a nice clean Luxman PD-26x, 27x, or 28x direct-drive springs to mind. pop a new grado or AT cartridge on it and you're there. more knowledgable folks could speak to other recommended vintage tables.
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That's the spirit. Guy wants to try something new and you all out and out discourage him.

So, after 15 years without vinyl (this is 4 or so years ago), I got curious to hear it again. Bought a used Yamaha table for $35 on ebay. Bought a Bonnie Raitt record for $1 at the local used cd store. Used the built-in phono stage of a cheap HT receiver. Presto -- the unique sound of vinyl was pleasing my ears again.

Was it better than a state-of-the-art cd transportdac? Hell if I know, because I'm a middle-class person on a "tight" budget. It sounded nearly as good as my Nad c541i cd player though.

Four years later, I'm using a vintage Ymaha YP-D8 DD table that I love. Had a Thorens TD-320 for a couple of years first -- it was BD and I loved it too.

My table cost me about $250 shipped. Picked up a Bellari phono stage used for $130. Bought NOS carts on Raul's recommendation -- Empire EDR.9 for about $130; Empire 750LTD for about $100. Have had a used Orotofon K-B and a used Denon DL-103R to get to know the MC sound.

Over the years I've been buying vinyl, mostly used, and my collection has leveled off at about 600 LPs.

Don't let the snobs and perfect ears guys put you off. Give it a shot. Is my system good enough to do vinyl "right?" Who gives a sh** -- life's short and good music sounds good any which way. I've gone to fancy audio salons and listened to big bucks equipment (for laughs) and I know one thing -- the $30,000 systems I heard didn't sound even remotely like real live musicians. The gap between my modest rig and those $30,000 systems is much smaller (infinitely smaller) than the gap between those big rigs and real music.

Go ahead -- get whatever you can afford. And enjoy it as much as you can.


Oh yeah -- and I do not clean my records with an expensive machine. If you buy 'em cheap and they're in good condition, play 'em. If they're beat, toss 'em. The in-between ones can be cleaned up pretty nicely by hand with about $5 worth of materials.

(Now I'll sit back and wait to be flamed.)
Winegasman...Great post. Also, maybe one of the most honest. Although, if Ledhed2222 could possibly increase is budget by $80,000 or so maybe the neighbor lady or the guy six blocks away could come running over and ask if he had changed cables or some other nonsense.
All of your info is helpful; I appreciate it! What do you think of Grado cartridges? My preamp has an MM input (but not MC) so I was leaning towards Grado. As far as the argument of "elitist audiophiles" vs. "regular guys", I don't much care at the moment! As a college kid, I don't have $1000 to spend and I know for sure that a $250 set-up won't be so bad that I disregard vinyl forever. I'm not going to wait five years just to hear the records I've inherited! Regardless, thanks for everyone's input, it's all welcome.
I like Rich's (Winegasman) answer. Bought an older Mint cond. Pioneer Direct Drive PL-670 for around $40 and replaced the stock conical cart. w/a Audio Technica AT-311 EP cart. for $40 new and it's so easy to use and sounds just fine. (I do not miss the $600+ new retail TT had previously.) Also, Project makes a nice entry-level TT as well. (Comes w/a fine Sumiko cart. I believe.) Do look into the Pioneer. Good luck! Bill
If you do get an older (and/or cheaper) table make sure it is set up properly before you use it, or sooner or later it will damage your records. You also need to learn enough about it that you can keep it set up. (On a low budget, an experienced technician my not be affordable.)

Similarly, if a record is very dirty it is better not to play it until you have cleaned it, or some of the dirt may be ground deeper into the groove.

With those two warnings heeded, you should be able to get nice music for relatively little money.
One way to integrate some of the above sugestions is to consider waiting and saving up a bit more so you can stretch upwards on your budget. You'll be happier in the long run.

One advantage to the Rega is that set up couldn't be simpler. If you're technically minded and willing to do a bit of research, that might not be an issue. Even the bottom of their line, the new P1, is $350 with cartridge and you won't be likely to find one used quite yet since they are so new. A used P2 will be about the same price.

The above suggestions are good ones. Are you thinking $250 just for the table? What will you be using for a phono stage? The Grados are warm and full. The cheaper ones have a bit of tizz on the very top. You might do better depending on your taste and the table/arm.
I agree with Piedpiper above. My first high-end turntable was a Rega Planar 3 and it was way better than an automatic Yamaha I previously had. IMO it is a lot more important to set up the table properly than to worry about which inexpensive table to buy. The Rega is user-friendly and easy to set up. Or you can get something from Pro-Ject or Musical Fidelity or Thorens, but you will need some setup tools from Wallytractor or other aftermarket setup hardware. Another suggestion is to buy a table from a dealer skilled in analog setup if there is one near you. And I would also highly recommend some type of vacuum record cleaner, especially if you want your records to last.
Another thought: You are much better off putting virtually all your budget into the table/arm and getting the cheapest possible stop gap cartridge such as the cheapest Grado with the assumption of upgrading as funds allow. The quality priority sequence goes table, arm, cartridge, phono stage, etc.
$250 on the right day here could land you a used Rega P1. I've seen probably a half dozen here used in the $250-280 range over the last few months. Like Piedpiper, I didn't think I'd see them used for a while, but they're starting to appear. Rega sells a LOT of tables.

06-09-07: Ledhed2222
All of your info is helpful; I appreciate it! What do you think of Grado cartridges? My preamp has an MM input (but not MC) so I was leaning towards Grado.
The Grado Prestige line isn't a bad place to start, but there are other viable alternatives in the same price range, including the Ortofon OM 5 or OM 10 (depending on the sale price), the Shure M97xE (I paid $99 for mine but some on this forum have seen them as low as $50), and Audio Technica AT95E at under $50 or AT440MLa at about $85 if you get a lucky score on your turntable.

When you start putting the rest of your system together some of the people here may be able to help you pick the cartridge that best complements your downstream gear.

Sometimes you can get lucky. I got a Yamaha belt-drive semi-automatic turntable at a garage sale in Feb. for $2. It uses a P-mount cartridge. I replaced the cartridge with an Ortofon OMP 10, added an anti-static mat, and set the turntable's feet on Vibrapods and got a very musically satisfying player in return. Certainly not the highest resolution, but the P-mount arm virtually guarantees your cartridge is tracking at 1.25 grams, which should go easy on your records until you can afford something better.

About 3 weeks later I did buy a Technics SL1210 M5G, and enjoy the difference very much, but really, I could have gotten by on that old Yamaha pretty well if I'd chosen to.
I didn't realize that turntables have to be set up. Where can I find more information on set up and maintenance?
Sorry, I had more to say. What the story with cleaning records? Sounds like a good idea to me, does it require any special or expensive equipment?
The setup varies based on the turntable. The easiest is a Rega--basically remove from a box and fling (well not LITERALLY) onto a level surface. (There are a few more steps--but it's easy that anyone can do it.) At the other end of the spectrum, there are turntables with spring suspensions. The springs have to be adjusted to level the platter, and often one needs to do some tuning. Thus, the setup will vary based on what you end up with. Every common turntable has information on the Internet (a quick search of Vinyl Asylum at is a good place to start.)

Cartridge mounting and alignment is the bigger issue--there are instructions all over, including on Vinyl Asylum. Vinyl Engine ( has protractors for the alignment available for download.

Cleaning is another possible nightmare. The Real Audiophile--the one using a $5,000 turntable as "the daily listening turntable" will insist on using a combination of products that costs more than your total turntable budget. Basically, the "preferred" approach involves a fluid that's applied to the record, and then vacuumed off with a record cleaning machine (most common: VPI and Nitty Gritty.) You can find plans to build your own record cleaning machine using a standard vacuum cleaner or a Shop Vac.

Some clean using various manual systems. Disc Doctor has its fans ( no "www"). Some use other methods including dish soap and running water.

Others content themselves with just a simple carbon fiber brush. The brush alone might be all you need IF you have records that are in decent, fairly well-maintained condition. If you start collecting records that aren't in such great condition, then you realistically should move up to some other system.

The most important cleaning is the stylus. There are various schemes--many of which cost money. A small bottle of liquid and brush for $20 plus. A much cheaper system is using Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. This is hot--many posts on Vinyl Asylum and here. I use these myself.

As for turntables, my vote is for finding something older that's in good condition. Turntables can turn up in thrift shops and garage sales--but you have to be careful to make sure you're buying something decent. Used turntables often have a cartridge included. It's probably best to replace the stylus. Some would suggest replacing the whole cartridge, but I think it's worth investigating the cartridge model and how much a stylus might run. A top flight cartridge from years and years ago might perform better with a new stylus than a rock bottom entry level cartridge of today. There's an article on Positive Feedback that's worth reading. (

As for the Grado, I have mixed feelings. Grado cartridges have a good midrange. But they do tend to be a bit fussy with setup. Other cheap cartridges that are worth considering are Ortofon, Audio-Technica, Shure, and Stanton/Pickering.

I think your budget of $250 is far from hopeless. Theoretically, if all went really well, you could end up with spending LESS than $250. What you need to do is find good buys, prepared to do research, etc. The advantage is that you'll probably have a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of analog better than a person who only knows how to whip out a Visa card. This understanding will serve you well in years to come.
Good overview, Jc2000. I would add that even a brand new record benefits from a serious record cleaning. Also, if you're using running water, which is a good minimal measure, final rinse with reverse osmosis filtered water if you have it. It's worth getting an RO filter, for you and your records. Although not as good as it gets, RO is way better than tap. If you're on a minimal budget, at least plan on washing your records with dish soap and thoroughly rinsing under the faucet, drying with a soft lint free cloth. Getting a stylus cleaner such as Last is worth it just to get the brush, and the stuff lasts forever if you remember to close the cap tightly.
You can buy a new Rega P1 right on audiogon for $350 and you would not have to buy used the rega will be a great place to start.
Thanks for your positive comments about my last post.

I should have added some comment about using some sort of water that's more pure than tap water. Some people do use just running water from the tap, but it does seem logical that some sort of purer water would be better.

Overall, I think it's a good idea to plan to get a record cleaning system in from the start. It's not necessarily critical for new records, or records that are known to be in good condition. But it is important for used records. And a big advantage of analog is buying used records. At $10 per CD (or CD equivalent iTunes download), you can buy 26 records at $1 each in a thrift store, and save the cost of this $250 investment.

The LAST stylus cleaner is probably worth considering. The advantage of the Magic Eraser approach is that the Magic Eraser is cheap. LAST also makes record cleaners that might be an attractive "get me started" option.

I was originally thinking of getting a used table, but after reading some of the posts here I realize that turntables are awfully fragile. I'm worried that I might get a used table and find that it's in bad shape. So now I'm thinking new. So I'm looking at the following tables, what do you think and what others should I look at?

Pro-ject Debut III
Rega P1
Sorry, here's the full list:

Pro-ject Debut III
Rega P1
Goldring GR 1.2
Music Hall MMF 2.1
Audio Technica PL-120
Thorens TD-158

The Dual that's for sale here on Audiogon is looking pretty nice too...I'm just worried that it would arrive damaged.
I don't think turntables are necessarily super fragile. If cared for, a turntable can last and last and last without trouble. But, buying used does present a risk, and to minimize that risk, you have to be careful with buying.

As for shipping, a turntable (if properly packed) should be OK. Insurance is probably a good idea.

You can try buying locally. Craigslist might have a turntable--although there will probably be one gem, mixed in with thirty buys along the lines of "seventies record player with integrated 8 Track Player! Works--well, most of the time time!" You might also have luck with audio dealers. (This can be a challenge, too, since many dealers don't want to deal with people interested in keeping a budget.)

Buying new like you're thinking of doing does reduce the risk of buying a total lemon. Once you've had experience with analog, you'll be able to chase that elusive great buy.

As for the turntables you're thinking of, I have had no experience with the models you list. However, here are some thoughts based on my experiences with other turntables from the same companies, not to mention having spent too much time reading forums such as this:

Of the choices you have listed, I think the "safest" is probably the Rega P1. It should be well made, durable, and have good resale value. Plus--and this is a big plus--it has an Ortofon OM5 cartridge included, which should be a lot better than some other "included" cartridges I can name.

Pro-Ject has its fans. I don't think the build quality is as high as a Rega. But, the Debut has the advantage of being cheap--and since it's not a Rega you might get the best deal here. The Debut also comes in a range of colors, should that strike your fancy.

The Audio Technica interested me because it has a 78 rpm speed. However, it appears to be a DJ product, and I have yet to hear anything about it. However, it should be durable, it's cheap ($200 at!) and with a better cartridge and possibly a little tweaking (a better mat, etc) it might be a good buy.

The Dual you mention is, I assume, the CS5000? Those were a big budget buy twenty years ago or so. I'm guessing here, but I'd guess the Dual could perform better than a new Pro-Ject Debut. It's certainly worth considering. If carefully packed, it should ship OK.
Sigh, ANOTHER question. What do you all think of Systemdek turntables, especially the IIx? I've heard that parts for this table are hard or even impossible to find, and that turns me off.
The Systemdek design was a good one, and I would consider a IIx in good condition as my first low-budget choice... with the parts proviso, of course. However the design has been revived by Audio Note and it might be possible to source parts from them. Alternatively, a new AN TT might be an option.
I've heard about Audio Note and I'd love to get one, unfortunately the TT1 starts at about $950! I can't justify spending that much on my first turntable.
I think analog is the only way to go, I am hearing so much more than digital and it's more natural sounding. But if you are going to go analog I suggest to do it the right way. I picked up a used vpi tnt about two years ago and tweeked the sh*t out of it. What i am hearing at home is as good as the best at the expo that just passed in nyc. I strongly suggest vpi they give you the biggest bang for the buck.Remember also the phono stage is critical I suggest the ear 834p simply awesome and sumiko blue point special evo III cartridge is the bargain of the century for quality. good luck, take your time and save up for decent stuff don't throw money away just to get something for the time being.
"...take your time and save up for decent stuff don't throw money away just to get something for the time being."

I second that motion, but I wouldn't assume you have to go to a TNT or any other VPI. Lot's o fish in the sea. Given your disposition, I would think Rega but consider moving up from the bottom rung. If you were to really splurge (for you) and get the new P3/24, you would have a significant upgrade path without replacing anything, not to mention WAY better sound right off the bat than the P1.

As I've often said before, if you want to keep the budget down, get the best table/arm you can get and skimp on the cartridge and phono stage for the short run. You can get a cheap Grado or Sumiko for $40 and the Rolls phono stage for $75, and replace both in a year with something comensurate to the table, at a loss of $50 if you sell them.

If budget is not a problem and you're just being conservative, I can appreciate that but I suggest you're over doing it. You're not doing yourself any favors by selling yourself that short. You'll save money by upgrading now rather than later at a loss, and you'll be enjoying much better music in the mean time.
Pedrillo and Piedpiper,

I understand and appreciate your point, but at $300 I'm already spending a lot for me. If I can find a used P3 or a VPI for around that price, great! But entry level is not $700. Otherwise, it really doesn't make sense to splurge; I have maybe 20 records. As far as a phono stage goes, I won't get one yet. My pre-amp has a MM input and I plan on getting a decent MM cartridge. I've never listened to vinyl on better than a mass-market table and I still prefer it. While expensive tables probably will sound better, it's just overkill for my needs.
makes sense to me. I can only guess where you're coming from 'till you spell it out. Just remember, a $400 table/arm with a $40 cartridge will give you better sound than a $300 table with a $140 cartridge, assuming the components are well chosen. Enjoy!
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Tvad, what about the TD 180, is it good? Also, how does a used Thorens compare with a new Rega P1? Finally, how can I be sure that a used turntable is in good condition? I had no problems buying my amp used, but what about a turntable? Thanks, and sorry to ask so many questions.
Well, here's the easy answer to your question. How about a new-with-warranty over-achiever on sale at Audio Advisor for $255 including mounted and aligned cartridge? You can get the Goldring GR-1.2 at for $249.97. List price is $425, which is what they sell for at Acoustic Sounds.

I recommended one of these to a friend over his vintage belt-drive Dual and he appreciated it so much he bought me the Monk/Coltrane-at-Carnegie Hall LP to say thanks.
I have the Goldring and paid $425 (gulp) through Needle Doctor. I didn't know about sites such at this one; sure wish I did.

06-15-07: Sbrgr12
I have the Goldring and paid $425 (gulp) through Needle Doctor. I didn't know about sites such at this one; sure wish I did.
It's a matter of timing. Audio Advisor doesn't carry these all the time. The last time, they carried 'em for $299 and had a demo closeout for $217 a year ago. That's the one I passed on to my friend.

This current batch is very limited and I think they may be B-stock.

But it's always worth checking out Audio Advisor when you're in the market for something. They don't always have a deal, but they might.

In my HT big rig, I got a B-stock Adcom GFA-7700 (5x175 watts) from them for about $743, a $1K Mirage sub for $543, and a $600 pair of Mirage surround spkrs for $277. In my living room 2-channel system I got a $500 Mirage sub for $250. All from Audio Advisor.
i got a rega planar 3 at at garage sale a few years ago for $15. I got a sony 350lx this year at garage sale for $10