That $400 limit is rather low! You will still need a good phono cartridge! For cheap the Grado Black Prestige is a good recommendation! Needle Doctor has this, along with a wide assortment of increasingly costlier cartridges.
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The U-Turn is a better-built turntable than the entry-level Pro-Jects and Music Halls.
That said, assuming a max budget of $400, you're better off getting a vintage direct-drive table from the likes of Pioneer, Yamaha, Technics, Denon or Micro Seiki. A nice example will set you back between 2 or 3 hundred. They will outperform nearly all entry-level belt-drive tables IME. Join the Vinyl Engine.com forum so you can research the model and read reviews. If buying online, just make sure the seller has experience in safe shipping of turntables (removal of platter from table, removal of counterweight from tonearm, securing of tonearm etc.)
For a good, inexpensive cartridge, I like the Sumiko Pearl. It doesn't have any huge shortcomings, is neutral in tone, and mates well with a wide variety of tonearms.
For an inexpensive preamp, one can do a lot worse than the ART DJ Pre. Better yet, search for a pre-owned or closeout Parasound Z-Phono.
In 2013 I went to an audio store to audition some speakers. I took along a recent MoFi Sinatra remaster/reissue. The store's LP playback system was a Pro-Ject Carbon (before the "DC" improvement) played through Naim electronics (phono stage and integrated amp). I was mightily impressed with the sound. I'm sure the electronics had something to do with it, but the Pro-Ject was up to the task and the Naim electronics showed it at its best.
Soon afterword, an audiobuddy told me he was in the market for a better (budget) turntable and I recommended the Pro-Ject Carbon. He bought the upgraded Carbon DC version and was really happy with the results.
2. With respect to your budget $400 is too low. I would continue to save and get that budget up a bit higher because you need a few things:
1. a turntable
2. a cartridge
3. a stylus brush
4. a record brush
5. a phono preamp (either separate or built in to the turntable. I recommend the former as it can be upgraded and usually is of better quality)
6. phono cables and a ground cable
3. Concur with U-Turn Audio as a good entry level option.
4. You may have to wait a bit more, but Schiit is going to be coming out with their Sol turntable which as per the rear of the gear, will likely be good bang for the buck.
In the Pro-Ject line, I would not go any lower than the Debut Carbon Esprit SB. Big benefit is the built in speed box and acrylic platter. But that's a couple hundred over your budget. It's a solid entry level TT. But I found the included Ortofon 2M Red cart way too bright. When I had one, I swapped out the Ortofon for a Nagaoka MP110. So another $100 there.
$400 isn't a lot to get started with. Might be better to wait and buy a better TT, otherwise you may be upgrading it in 6 months.
I recently purchased the Music Hall MMF 2.2 from Music Direct for $225.00 on sale, from $450.00. This table has a Project arm and I believe the table and arm is made in the same factory that makes the turntable you are considering. I also believe they are quite similar. The included cartridge with the 2.2 stunk and I replaced it with the Grado Black. I also purchased the acrylic platter and this along with the Grado cartridge made the 2.2 listenable. Of the 4 turntables that I have inherited or purchased since getting back into vinyl after 35 years, (Music Hall 2.2, Onkyo cp1280f (DD), Harmon Kardon t65c and the Marantz tt15s1) I really believe the value or the best table for the money are the two vintage tables. (Onkyo and HK) The Harmon Kardon that I purchased for $270.00 off craigslist combined with a Denon DL110 is my favorite table. (The Marantz tt15s1 is no slouch either) In its day the HK received the nickname the "poor man's Linn Sondeck". Harmon Kardon also made the t55c and t60c. All are nice vintage units. If you must buy something new, I agree with roberjerman, the Pioneer PLX 1000 with a Denon DL 103 or 103r would be a nice combination. If you need to stay in the under $400 category I would look at a vintage table. If I had it to do all over again I'd bypass the new entry level tables. The vintage tables have the look and feel of a quality made product.
However, a lot of us are just like my 19 year old son...hard headed... me included!
Best of luck with your audio journey!
I would personally save up for the pro-ject the classic turntable with the 2m silver cartridge. It will set you back $1099., but it will be worth it not only for the sound, but for the beautiful aesthetics of the table itself. I think you will be glad you did....
Alternatively, you could also save up and grab the thorens td240 fully auto turntable....I know some will bash it but they probably have not heard it. Its built similar to the dual turntables and at least to me sounds terrific and adds convenience of full auto operation. I scored one for just $835 brand new in the walnut veneer with the ortofon om10 cartridge installed in a super light arm. Beautiful table....
Just an added thought....grab a usb camera on Amazon for $19 bucks...best thing I ever bought. It is unreal how well it works for the price. It will make seeing the stylus tip and cantilever so much easier when aligning a new cartridge. Using this device, even a novice can set up a cartridge like a pro. I use it with my lap top and I’m amazed by how clear a picture it provides.
I bought my son the project debut carbon Ortofon 2M Red for xmas from Best Buy, $399 last year. He had the Audio Technica LP120 Direct Drive prior and was debating if he would like the belt drive, but told me he really likes it's simplicity. His house has old wood floors, so he upgraded feet to these Isolation feet, https://mnpctech.com/turntable-feet-replacement-isolation/
With that kind of money two things are going to happen: You will love vinyl play back and upgrade pretty quickly. Or you find vinyl is not for you and sell it. Advice, get a TT with a tonearm that has a removal headshell. You are going to change the cartridge quickly and change outs are easier with that type of arm.
Your money goes a lot farther when you go vintage. A decent Technics direct drive turntable such as the SL-Q2 sells for $100 to $200 and often included a cartridge, but ymmv. Put an Audio-Technica VM540ML cartridge on it and call it a day with fantastic sound quality within $50 to $100 range of your budget.
Don't think you can do better than this for $500 with an Ortofon Blue. Backordered now, but worth the wait. May give you time to save that extra $100. : https://www.fluance.com/rt85w-reference-high-fidelity-vinyl-turntable-natural-walnut
I started with a Project Debut 3 ( last model made before the Debut Carbon ) when I got back into vinyl about 7 months ago and really liked it. Great for the price and comes with a good cartridge. I have since upgraded to a MOFI Ultradeck +M which is excellent but much more expensive. I really enjoyed that project though, and it made me really appreciate vinyl again. If it wasn't for that I never would have bought the Ultradeck.
I flip turntables as a hobby and have sold numerous turntables to people in your situation. Quality vintage decks can definitely be had in your price point, but honestly, if you don’t know what you are looking for, you can end up with a turntable that needs work that you may not have originally bargained for. People may heckle your $400 price point, but if that is where you are budget wise, don’t be ashamed to stick to it. Vinyl is a slippery slope. If you really get into it, this will not be your last turntable. The turntable you purchase may be the steppingstone to something higher end, or help you determine vinyl isn’t for you (that would be most unfortunate). Bang for the buck, the Debut Carbon is hard to beat. The U-Turn was mentioned in an earlier post. The U-Turn sounds shockingly good for its simplicity, but I think overall, The Pro-Ject will take you further on your vinyl journey. The 2M Red on the Debut Carbon is a good Swiss Army knife cartridge that will will be a good start on your vinyl journey. The one thing I would recommend changing on the table off the start is to get rid of the silly felt may and get a good rubber cork mat from Sleeve City. Other mats are fine too. An earlier post recommended getting a carbon brush etc. That is very wise council. I consider a good record brush and a stylus cleaner non negotiables. There are numerous good brushes out there. As far as a stylus cleaner, use a Zerodust style cleaner. Skip the stylus brush. A turntable amplifies the information it is given. You could have the most expensive turntable in the world, but dirty records sound like dirty records. Keeping everything meticulously clean will give the best opportunity to let your music shine without distracting ticks and pops. Whatever you go with, enjoy the music and keep it spinning.
Research more research with plenty of patience especially if buying used
Vintage prices for TT's are not what they used to be with allot of gear being bought up and shipped overseas, the demand is exceeding the supply but keep looking you might get lucky.
https://www.hifido.co.jp/?G=0301(the English translation is in upper right corner), Audiogon, and ebay are excellent options for online searching for a vintage TT. If you have quality audio repair shop within driving distance this would be a positive if you go this route.
I would take a vintage Stanton 681 cartridge any day over any cartridge mentioned thus far.
A Spin Clean Record Washer MKII would be a excellent choice for bringing your original issue records back to life.
Well good luck to you and keep us posted...
The MMF 2.3le is comparable to the Debut Carbon. The tonearm on the MMF 2.3le has VTA adjustment which the Debut Carbon does not. While the adjustment is a bit rudimentary, it allows for more options if you change your mat or cartridge. I have never used their Spirit cartridge, but I can’t imagine it isn’t on par or better than the 2M Red. The suggestion of a record cleaner is a good one. I did not suggest it earlier because I didn’t want to take you too far into the weeds. Hopefully your vinyl collection has been well cared for and is not too dirty. On another note, the interconnects that come with Pro-Ject and Music Hall turntables are OK at best, even the ones they supply with their high end tables. Blue Jeans Cables make great cables for the money. They have different quality levels and will build to order. Beyond what they make, to get a noticeable quality increase, the price goes north quickly. While this buying process may seem a little overwhelming at times with all of the options etc., remember to have fun with it. This is buying hifi, not getting a tattoo. There is no reason you can’t change your mind to other products in the future. Keep it spinning!
Go used and buy the newest/best you can afford that say Synergistic Research on them. Unlike most others that work like band-aids or tone controls the wire from Synergistic Research actually delivers improvement in every area across the board evenly and without regard to associated equipment. They've been so far ahead of the rest for so long now that even some of their stuff from 15 or more years ago is still awesome only now its actually affordable.