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2017 Premium Turntable Comparison

Affordable turntables are great but more money does buy some wonderful hardware

by Ed Selley Sep 20, 2017 at 6:13 AM


  • There have been various points over the last few years where I have stated that the ongoing boom in the sales of vinyl and supporting hardware will come to an end. At the time of writing (September 2017), it is showing some signs of slowing up but this fragile, expensive and wilfully obsolete format continues to be one of the most important product categories in the audio industry at the moment.
    Vinyl continues to offer the potential for high performance combined with a sense of occasion and pride of ownership that gives it a unique place in the current spread of equipment. We have already compiled a list of the best affordable turntables and some very fine models are on that list. It is important to stress that over and above almost any other product category (the exception being loudspeakers), turntables are mechanical engineering. It is very hard to ‘cheat’ an improvement out of the basic design of turntables. Genuine gains in performance are generally achieved from better bearings, tighter tolerances and higher quality materials. All of these cost money and result in there being clear benefits from spending a little more money on your vinyl source.

    MORE: Setting up a turntable


    By the time you reach this price point, you will find that models don’t automatically come as finished units. You will need to budget for phono stages and may need to make sure you can afford a cartridge too. The basic design of these models does mean that they should also respond well to upgrades in the future.

    MORE: What turntable is best for me?


    A quick note – unlike television guides, this list includes models that were reviewed over a year ago. The lifespan of a turntable is rather longer than equivalent AV lines and simply because it isn’t an absolutely brand spanking new design, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer a would-be owner in 2017.

    VPI Prime
    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Reviewed 25th 2015 at £3,500 (now £4,200)

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Reference Status

    Features: The Prime is VPI using their considerable expertise to produce an ultra high performance turntable at an (almost) sensible price. Features like the 3D printed tonearm and heavyweight metal platter result in a product that arguably feels more expensive than the already considerable list price. The performance that results is a demonstration of vinyl at its very best. The VPI has an exceptionally low noise floor, superb pitch stability and the ability to dig levels of detail from records that you might have previously expected simply weren’t there. It’s also built like a piece of lab equipment and looks fantastic.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and upgradability: The VPI comes with everything that you should need to get it up and running except a cartridge. This doesn’t mean it’s the perfect choice for someone starting out in vinyl though. Balancing the unipivot arm and ensuring it is set correctly isn’t the work of a moment. The VPI has plenty of upgrade stretch in the design though so, if you can afford one, it is likely to work well regardless of what you choose to do to the rest of the system.

    Pros
    • Exceptional audio performance in all respects
    • Superb build
    • Stunning looks

    Cons

    • Setup requires care
    • Needs some thought given to the partnering equipment
    • Big

    Read the full review

    Roksan Radius 7
    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Reviewed June 12th 2017 at £2,050

    Our Rating: 8/10 – Recommended

    Features: The Radius 7 is an updated Radius 5 and takes Roksan’s unique split, unsuspended chassis approach to turntable design and creates one of the most visually appealing turntables available anywhere near this price point. The powerful, crystal locked motor assembly ensures that the Roksan has a power and immediacy to its performance, helped in no small way by the Nima unipivot arm that looks a little odd but offers exceptional performance. Like a number of designs at the price, there is no dust cover and a cartridge isn’t included in the price but this is a seriously capable performer that also happens to look beautiful at the same time.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and upgradability: Follow the usefully comprehensive instructions and the Roksan should not prove to be too alarming for someone with at least some experience of turntables. The Nima arm is a little unusual but again, the documentation supplied should be enough for most people to get good results. The ugradeability of the Roksan is rather limited though – it isn’t a turntable with a significant upgrade path to it – but it does have the ability to do justice to some very impressive cartridges.

    Pros
    • Open and immediate sound
    • Easy to use
    • Very pretty

    Cons
    • Can be slightly bright
    • No dust protection
    • Limited upgrade potential

    Read the full review

    Linn Majik LP12
    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Reviewed April 28th 2017 at £2,930

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Highly Recommended

    Features: Having been in production for almost half a century, there are few audio enthusiasts who aren’t at least dimly aware of the LP12. This belt drive, suspended turntable (the only example of such a design AVForums has ever tested) is the most affordable of three preset ‘levels’ of LP12s… but that still doesn’t mean that we’d describe it as cheap. While the design isn’t new, dozens of ongoing improvements over the life of the LP12 ensures that this is still a seriously entertaining record player to listen to. There is a musicality to the way the Majik goes about making music that is deeply entertaining.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and upgradeability: Putting the Linn together is hard. Putting the Linn together well is even harder. As such, Linn dealers are trained to perform this rather exacting task for their customers so if you buy a new one, it isn’t something you need to concern yourself with. If you buy a Majik, one thing you won’t have to worry about is your scope for upgrade. Any LP12 ever made can be brought up to the specification of the current flagship and if this wasn’t enough, you also have a plethora of other companies making bits for them too. In short, the LP12 is a tweaker’s delight.

    Pros
    • Exceptionally beguiling and engaging sound
    • Endlessly upgradeable
    • Beautifully made

    Cons
    • Totally dependent on decent setup
    • Only plays 45rpm via an adapter
    • Clunky power switch

    Read the full review

    Technics SL-1200GR
    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Reviewed July 4th 2017 at £1,300

    Our Rating: Score 9/10 – Highly Recommended

    Features: While it was great to see the SL-1200 return to the market, the £3,000 asking price of the SL-1200G puts it outside the reach of many vinyl enthusiasts. Moved by our plight, Technics has released the slightly less bespoke SL-1200GR which simplifies the construction of the turntable and drops the price. The result is still pricier than SL-1200s of old but is a turntable that feels superbly assembled and is seriously entertaining to listen to with metronomic pitch stability and superb bass that takes many of us back to the clubs of our youth. The good news is that the many and varied improvements that Technics has carried out to the design have also improved its HiFi credentials too.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and upgradeability: The Technics is one of the very simplest turntables at this price point to setup and get running and the nature of its design means that once you have set it up, it is very unlikely to ‘drift’ out of setup again. There are some significant upgrades available for any would-be owner as well and these range from simple things like changing the headshell and mat, all the way through to some of the considerable reworkings offered by aftermarket companies.

    Pros
    • Powerful and engaging sound
    • Superbly built
    • Considerable upgrade potential

    Cons
    • Looks a matter of personal taste
    • Supplied headshell is poor
    • Many will still consider it too expensive

    Read the full review

    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Reviewed July 28th 2015 at £2,450 (now £2,950)

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Highly Recommended

    Features: If an argument that you often hear is that vinyl replay has stopped developing, a quick perusal of the Performance DC ought to be enough to provide at least a counter to this theory. The use of magnetic bearings has become something of a speciality for Clearaudio and this, combined with some sophisticated materials, makes for a very clever turntable indeed and one that includes some interesting features like 78rpm playback. It’s also one of the most effortlessly capable turntables anywhere near this price. It isn’t a romantic sounding device but it delivers a big, spacious and consistently entertaining presentation. The Clearaudio is also beautifully made so once purchased is likely to last forever too.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and upgradeability: The Clearaudio isn’t completely straightforward to set up – the magnetic bearings in the arm need to be treated carefully and fitting cartridges can be hard. Once set, it is likely to stay set however and it also needs less isolation than many rivals. Like many Clearaudio designs, the Performance DC can really only be updated with other Clearaudio parts but there are plenty of these to choose from.

    Pros
    • Utterly effortless and involving sound
    • Built like a lorry
    • Extremely easy to use

    Cons
    • Fiddly to setup
    • Limited upgrade options
    • Won’t flatter poor recordings

    Read the full review

    Rega Planar 6
    Clearaudio Performance DC
    Reviewed September 14th 2017 at £1,398

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Best Buy

    Features: The Planar 6 is an evolved version of the equally brilliant Planar 3. The arm and general layout is retained but a new plinth, platter and sub-platter are provided along with a very clever new external power supply. It might not be the prettiest Rega ever made but the result is an outstanding turntable for the asking price and one that does its best work mated to the Ania moving coil cartridge. There is no complete turntable that can currently match the Rega as an all-round proposition under £1,500 and it is a fantastic performer.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and upgradeability: The Planar 6 is very simple to install and while it does its best work isolated from the ground, it is easy to place and live with. Like most Rega designs, there is a good interchangeability of parts in the Rega stable and an interesting selection of aftermarket ones too. If you select the Ania cartridge as a factory option, it will also come perfectly aligned which is potentially worthwhile too.

    Pros
    • Outstandingly lively and engaging performance
    • Solid build considering lightweight materials
    • Excellent value for money

    Cons
    • Doesn’t look terribly exciting
    • Does its best work with isolation

    Read the full review

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