Many people will tell you that you have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a decent record player or turntable and, that you should bother spending anything less.
While the best record players and turntables do run into the thousands, a $300 budget will buy you a premium quality turntable.
Best Record Player Under $300 Features
Here are some tips and features to consider when purchasing a record player under $300. You want to focus on exceptional sound quality and parts when considering a brand.
Less is More
If you’re going to spend $300 a record player, ditch the all-in-one “gadgety” units. You actually want a turntable, not a record player. Your turntable should be focused on one thing, the best sound.
I have a recommendation for an all-in-one record player, but I would strongly advise spending your money on a turntable and purchasing speakers separately. Even a pair of external PC speakers will sound better than the built-in speakers of most record players. Especially those under $300.
Instead of a ton of features, you want to focus on the tonearm, cartridge/stylus and whether the turntable has a built-in phono preamp or not. That’s it!
Record players with CD players, tape cassettes, FM radio, built-in speakers, etc are just overcompensating for cheap parts. Don’t think these record players are better because they have more features.
When you have a budget of $300 to spend on a turntable or record player, you want to make sure that if something goes wrong, it can and will be fixed. You also want to buy a product with the best parts you can afford. This is why it’s important to buy a trusted brand name.
Unlike a digital MP3 player, record players and turntables require some service and maintenance. There are loads of analog moving parts working to produce an audio signal. Wear and tear is inevitable. Buying a cheap brand might mean that once those parts are worn they are unable to be replaced.
While it would be difficult to list all the trusted brands here, there are two things you can check before buying.
Cartridge, Stylus, and Needle
Your cartridge stylus and needle are the most important parts of your turntable. These parts (the needle especially) read your vinyl to reproduce an electrical signal then, in turn, converted to an audio signal by your speakers. For this reason, you want these three parts to be the best.
A good record player or turntable will allow you to swap out the cartridge/stylus while on a cheaper model this is all one piece connected to the tonearm and only the needle can be replaced.
This is a brief breakdown of a cartridge. Inside the grooves of a vinyl record are small bumps and ridges. The is needle/stylus tracks within the grooves of a vinyl record reading these bumps and ridges.
The information from the vinyl is converted by the electrical components inside the cartridge into an electrical signal. The cartridge is connected to the tonearm via four wires which convey the electrical signal to your HiFi or speakers.
Audio-Technica and Orofon are the most common stylus brands sold with turntables in this price range. Both companies produce excellent quality stylus with products ranging from budget to high end.
Buy Trusted Brands
The first thing you want to check is whether your tonearm is balanced or not. On cheap record players and turntables, the tonearm delivers one level of pressure. In some cases, this is calibrated well enough for a semi-decent sound but most of the time the pressure is too hard or too soft.
Too much pressure from your tonearm will make the needle dig in and damage your vinyl. Not enough pressure and your records will sound thin. In some cases, the tonearm won’t be heavy enough and bounce around the record, almost like a CD skipping.
This movement could scratch and damage your vinyl. So the pressure from your tonearm needs to be well balanced.
Does the brand have a website? When it comes to electronics, a brand without a website is a red flag. Electronics companies should have a website so you’re able to check out the details and technical specifications of their products. The most trustworthy brands will even tell you where their products are designed and manufactured.
After Sales Service and Support
Does the brand offer after sales service and support in the USA. After sales and support are often overlooked when purchasing electronics but it’s one of the most important things to consider. You don’t want to purchase a record player only to find you have to send it to Europe to be repaired! Or worse, there is no after sales support or servicing at all!
Best All-In-One Record Player
The Teac LP-R550USB is the best all-in-one record player under $300. This is a great modern record player, made with quality parts, manufactured by a trusted brand. Teac has excellent customer service and support throughout the USA.
The LP-R550USB features a CD player, tape cassette player, FM radio, vinyl record player as well as stereo RCA AUX input.
The CD player is also a CD writer and can record from all playback devices, except CD. A USB output connects to your PC which allows you to record from all playback devices including a CD player.
The LP-R550USB comes with 2 x 3.5W built-in speakers. There is a stereo RCA line out should you wish to connect to external speakers as well as a ⅛ inch (3.5mm) headphone output.
The Teac LP-R550USB comes in black or walnut (walnut costs around $90 more) and includes a remote control.
Best Record Player for Recording
If you want a record player which delivers both quality playback and the ability to record, then the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB is the best you’ll find under $300.
The AT-LP120BK-USB is a direct drive turntable with pitch shift and an advanced tonearm setup. As well as balance, the tonearm can be raised or lowered to compensate for the various vinyl record thicknesses. The cartridge and headshell can be swapped out for a cartridge and stylus of your choice.
Recording is achieved through the USB output which connects directly to your PC. A free version of Audacity professional recording software is included.
There is a built-in phono preamp with switchable phono/line RCA output. All cables, including USB A-B, is included.
The AT-LP120BK-USB is available in black or silver.
Best Record Player with Speakers
– Fluance RT80 with Edifier R1280T
The Fluance RT80 turntable and Edifier R1280T powered speakers is the best quality combo you’ll find under $300.
The RT80 comes in a piano black finish and single on/off rotary knob. A balanced tonearm and Audio-Technica stylus deliver exceptional tracking and playback. The built-in phono preamp means the RT80 can connect directly to the R1280T speakers.
The Edifier R1280T powered speakers are neat and compact. Although small, the R1280Ts deliver a combined 42W output. Sufficient to fill most living spaces. Two RCA inputs mean you can connect your RT80 as well as one other device. Three rotary faders control volume, bass, and treble.
Best Record Player Design
If you’re looking for design and aesthetics, the Pro-Ject Essential III George Harrison Turntable is a work of art. If you’re unfamiliar with George Harrison, he played guitar in a little band called the Beatles.
Pro-Ject Audio are an Austrian manufacturer specializing in turntables and accessories. Their range of award-winning turntables are designed and manufactured to a high standard. The Essential was named EISA’s (European Imaging and Sound Association) “Best Value Turntable” for 2017/18.
The Essential doesn’t just look pretty, it sounds incredible too. The advanced straight style tonearm comes with a high-quality Orofon M10 stylus to deliver exceptional tracking and audio quality.
The Pro-Ject Essential III George Harrison Turntable is a limited edition so get it fast!
Audiostance Best Record Player Under $300
Audiostance’s best-rated turntable is the Music Hall MMF 2.2. This American designed turntable is sleek, modern design features put it in a class of its own. The MMF 2.2 was voted “Best Value Turntable” by Absolute Sound Editors’ Choice.
“The level of musicality offered by the MMF-2.2 is going to surprise a lot of people. It sounds far better than most of the entry-level turntables of yesteryear and is a wonderful introduction into the world of vinyl. If you want to stick your toe into the analog pond without spending a lot of coin, the MMF-2.2 is a good place to start.”
The MMF 2.2 single piece straight style balanced tonearm and custom Orofon cartridge deliver exceptional sound quality.
“Turntables are really simple machines. It doesn’t cost a great deal to get a good one, and today’s turntables give you more for your money…like the Music Hall MMF-2.2.”
A budget of $300 is sufficient for a good turntable. If your primary reason for purchasing a record player is to listen to vinyl, then rather invest in a quality turntable. Listening to vinyl is a special experience, don’t ruin it with poor sound quality.
If you want an all-in-one record player, stick with the recommendation I have made in this article. Don’t fall for the aesthetic appeal of a “vintage” record player manufactured by the likes of Crosley or Innovative Technology. These should only be considered as options if your budget is $100. Even then, be prepared for the product to last you less than a year, if you’re lucky.
Always do some homework and check the after sales service and support. Remember that record players and turntables need maintenance and service. You want to be able to contact someone when issues arise. You don’t want to be told that the only option is to purchase a new one!