Whether you're looking for a hit of nostalgia, or want just a little more retro in your life, there's no better time to catch the vinyl addiction then now. With all the advances in technology, there's still not been a suitable replacement to pulling a record out of cover and laying it on the platter.
Now while you may have been under the impression that these were only for the 1%, we've pulled together a list of the best record players under $100. That's right, you are now able to spend your free time and hard earned cash at your local record dealer finding the freshest album to show off to your friends. Your days of listening to distorted MP3s recordings off YouTube are over!
If you are new to the game, researching record players can seem like you are learning a new language. You can quickly get lost in jargon such as platter, torque, RPM, stylus, and RCA, just to name a few. Well luckily for you, we're here to guide you through your first foray into the world of vinyl.
It's really easy to be convinced into buying something based upon price alone. I highly recommend buying something that offers a 12-month warranty. I've read too many reviews complaining about a lack of build quality for record players at this price point.
We'll make sure you understand the key features you want to look for, the type of outputs and inputs you should be thinking about, and everything else that comes along with owning a record player. We've written this article to be as beginner friendly as possible. So sit back, relax, and let us introduce you to the world of vinyl!
Considerations When Selecting The Best Record Player
Welcome to the world of vinyl. We hope your world will ever be changed from here on forward. There is nothing that compares to the smooth and warm sound of a good vinyl record. When you are first starting out, things can be a little intimating. We'll attempt to clear things up so you can confidently move forward in selecting the best record player for you. Below are some of the considerations to make when shopping for your record player:
Belt Drive vs. Direct Drive
This is a contentious issue. Opinions will vary, but direct drive is seen as a more premium feature, whereas belt drives are usually found on less expensive units. I feel the automatic assumption that direct drive is better than belt drive is just not true. First, let's quickly explain the difference.
A record player must turn. The method of turning the platter (the piece the record is in contact with) is either accomplished through belt drive, or direct drive.
With belt drive systems, the motor is not in direct contact with the platter. Rather, the motion is transferred using a belt. This isolates the platter from any motor vibration and provides a smooth listening experience. This is ideal for record players that are trying to be budget friendly. It can be difficult to manufacture a motor that is precise enough to directly control the RPM of the platter and still come in under $100.
Belt drives usually have less torque compared to direct drives. This is usually not an issue (except for DJs), however, it has the potential to result in inconsistencies regarding your playback. The belts are also susceptible to stretching, heat fluctuations, and cracks.
Direct drive systems attach the motor directly to the platter. The direct drive systems are thought to have more control with less potential for skipping. Direct drive units are also used a lot for DJ as they have more torque resistance. Due to technology advances the quality of electric motors is at the point where vibrations are no longer an issue (if you can afford it). This really negates the need for a belt. However, these motors won't come cheap. You'll be hard-pressed to find anything in the under $100 category.
Direct drives are also seen as more reliable with increased durability. That being said, there are many audiophiles who still believe belt drives sound better.
All of the drives we feature in the article are belt driven. This is perfect for any audiophile or beginner.
Records are set to turn at a specific speed. This is measured in RPM (revolutions per minute). There are essentially three speed options you need to consider: 33 1.3, 45, and 78 RPM. Each record will be labeled with the playing speed, so it important that your record player is able to match the speed required for your records. Records are commonly played at 33 or 45 RPM but you will occasionally run into records requiring 78. We will specify the capability of each unit we review.
The cartridge on the record player is the electro-mechanical device that translates the physical information on the vinyl into audio signals that can be amplified by your speakers. The common moving magnet cartridges use a cantilever attached to a stylus to read the vinyl. As the cantilever is moved, the magnet vibrates and the magnetic field around the coils is altered. This is how the voltage signals are created that are in turn sent to your amplifier.
The cartridge places a crucial role in determining the sound quality of your turn table. This topic is best saved for the advanced audiophile and isn't something you really need to be worried about in your entry level record player. For your information, most of the record players on this list use a ceramic cartridge.
Most record players these days will provide a number of different input/outputs to suit different needs. A basic USB output allows you to sync your record player to your computer to transfer your files from analog to digital. There are always the typical RCA outputs that can be used with active speakers (or computer speakers) for most cases. Most units will provide an AUX jack and a headphone jack if you want to do some private listening.
There are a number of units that are now offering Bluetooth. Don't be fooled into thinking that the record player will output Bluetooth. This is a simple function that allows you to stream Bluetooth signals from your device to the built-in speakers on the player.
Most of the record players will come with an all-in-one package that includes built-in speakers. While at this price range, the speaker quality is not the best, they do provide a great, do-it-all option. If you are particular about your sound, there is always the option to upgrade to external speakers for each unit. There are a few options that come with external speakers that are much better suited to fill medium-sized rooms. Look for something around 50 Watts for a medium-sized room. 10 Watts will be enough for a small office or room.
If you find your record player lacking, you can always consider hooking it up to a decent quality Bluetooth speaker. If you need some volume, you can consider checking out the loudest Bluetooth speakers on the market!
- Automatic vs. Manual Tone Arms
You'll run into two different options when it comes to what happens at the beginning and end of your record. Many of you will be familiar with manual tone arms - record players that require you to place the stylus onto the beginning grove of the record. This also will coincide with manual stops. In other words, your record will continue to spin until you turn it off.
There are some record players that offer automatic start and return. This is where your tone arm will return to the rest once the vinyl is finished playing - not a huge deal for some, but is nice to have if it's included.
In addition to the basics, there are a few technical details you may want to know about. You may come across people mentioning the speed stability of the record player. This is referring to the ability of the unit to maintain a consistent rotation speed. This is important as the tempo of each record is meticulously set, and listening to an unstable record player will create shifts in tempo and pitch - potentially ruining the listening experience.
This can be avoided with pitch control. Unfortunately, only a few record players on our list offer this function.
You will also want to be aware of the tracking force. The tracking force refers to the pressure in which the stylus (the portion of the tone arm touching the record) pushes down on the vinyl. Too much tracking force and your record will become grooved and unplayable, while too little and your record will be prone to skipping. This can be adjusted with some models. Be careful if you aren't sure what you are doing. A heavy tone arm will have adverse consequences on your vinyl collection.
For those of you unfamiliar with audio equipment a preamp is a device used to boost the audio signal. When you first convert the audio information from the physical into a voltage signal the signal is very weak. This is where preamps come in. They are used to amplify the audio signal to a level that can read by other equipment in the audio chain (namely, speakers).
Now, this can be incredibly intimidating for anyone jumping into vinyl. The good news is, all of the record players on this list come with a preamp already installed! This saves all the hassle of mixing and matching your own audio chain.
If you do decide to go the route of a turn table you may need to pay a little more attention. Some turn tables will require a separate amplifier to be routed to your speakers. This is usually the case if you are using active speakers. Here's an article I wrote covering the best preamps under $200.
Record Players Under $100 vs. High-End Record Player
Check out the video below for an A/B comparison of an under $100 record player vs. something on the high-end.
Hopefully, this gives you a little more information to arm yourself with when selecting the record player. If you are looking for something simple, then the all in one option will be a great choice. If you are someone who is picky about their sound quality, we have one option below that will satisfy your needs! Take note:
Look for a record player that offers a 12-month warranty! After all the research I've done for this article I've noticed a number of people having trouble with quality issues. Remember, you can always send anything back you buy from Amazon for a full refund.
While audiophiles tend to be very picky when it comes to sound quality, a majority of the population will find it difficult to tell the difference between high-grade audio equipment and the run of the mill. It takes time to refine your ears to pick up on the subtleties. There are always a few different ways you can upgrade your sound (speakers, or stylus for example) without having to upgrade your entire unit.
I highly recommend buying based upon build quality and customer service. I have read too many reviews that complain about faulty record players.
Record Player vs. Turntable
This is sometimes a point of confusion for beginners. Simply put, a record player has everything you need built-in whereas a turntable only reads the audio information off the record. In other words, record players usually have built-in speakers. Turntables have many of the same functions as a record player with the exception of speakers.
Now, before we go any further, I must admit that by definition one turntable has snuck onto the list below. I just wasn't able to put a list together without including the AT-LP60 from Audio Technica. It's simply the best product on the market right now for this price point. It also made our list of the best turntables under $200. You can check it out here.
You may also be interested in portable record players. Similar to record players, they come with everything you need to play the record. The only difference is they usually come in a more portable form - usually similar to a suitcase.
If you decide to purchase a turn table be sure you have the correct audio chain to follow. You can make things easy on yourself by using active speakers.
However, if you do decide to use passive speakers you'll need to start looking at amplifiers to go with your setup.
Our Top Picks For The Best Record Player Under $100
A Quick Note on Storing Your Vinyl
While I have you hear, I think it's best to provide you with a few quick tips on storying your vinyl collection. If your records aren't stored correctly there is a good chance they will slowly degrade overtime.
1. Store Your Records on Edge
Never stack your records on top of one another. This is the easiest way to warp all of your records to the point where they are unusable. The best storage position is standing vertically on edge. A stack of records can be quite heavy. Any jostling or movement of the record increases the chances of the record grooves wearing down.
The easiest way to accomplish this is with a dedicated record shelf. Alternatively, you can use pre-made record storage containers that help you organize and maintain your records.
2. Store at Room Temperature (or even slightly lower)
Vinyl will naturally degrade over time. Any deviation from room temperature will increase this process and lead to unnecessary damage. Try to avoid attics where there is greater temperature variations over the year. Additionally, keep the records away from any heat sources such as radiators or baseboard heaters.
3. Use the polyethylene sleeves
Storing the record in the cardboard sleeve will have negative chemical impacts on the record. Your safest bet is to use the plastic polyethylene sleeve that every record comes with. If you need to transport them you can purchase record transporting bags that are specifically designed to maintain your records integrity.