Best record players for under £350: A Buyer’s Guide

Records are back, people. Vinyl is in and music lovers couldn’t be happier - stop missing out and get yourself set up today.

Record Player Turntable Playing Vinyl Record LP

by William Austin-Lobley |
Updated on

People are rediscovering analogue music in their droves, and vinyl LP records are witnessing a huge resurgence. But, why in a digital world are people turning to the old way of listening? We reckon that one reason is that in a world of streaming, wireless smart speakers and cloud-based technology, it's owning something real. Especially if that something is home to your most beloved music, feel truly special. What's the Best has put together the ultimate guide to the best record players for gifting this Christmas.

Another undeniable cause for the growing popularity of records is their sound, which is incredible. There's nothing quite like it. The depth and warmth of the audio achieved by a single needle and a little vinyl is something that cannot be understood until experienced. And, now people have, they can’t get enough.

If you're looking to set yourself up with a turntable it can be a daunting process. Researching online will likely confuse the process. No one gives a straight answer and contradicting claims will be made on what to avoid, what not to buy and what not to do. Well, we’ve put together a simple guide to tell you what you can do. You can get yourself a set up with a decent turntable and get listening to and enjoying your favourite music – which is what this is really all about.

The rediscovered importance of sound quality to consumers has been picked up by streaming services. Amazon Music HD is a new service which delivers the highest quality audio wirelessly, proving a stream rate of 3730 kbps, as opposed to the standard 320 kbps. You can now enjoy near-analogue quality audio while you’re away from your home setup. If you’re hitting the streets, or even just trying to not upset the neighbours, listening to both vinyl and ultra HD streamed music only hits the spot with a great pair of headphones.

These record players are all easy to set up and get running with. Of course, some people will take their turntable setup very, very seriously. Why? Because it is extremely rewarding and fun to try, you don’t worry if this isn’t for you. You don’t need to be a pro to set up and appreciate vinyl records.

What do I need to consider when looking for a vinyl player?

Sound - How is the sound? Are you looking for something loud, modern and exciting, or something vintage, crackling and mellow? Often, built-in speakers may lack great sound quality. Luckily, some modern players allow Bluetooth compatibility, meaning you can connect speakers without any plugs. However, amps and classic speakers are a great idea, too. It just depends on what you have to hand or what you can afford.

Design - Next, think of the style. If you're gifting, what would work best with their home? Do they like something technical and they're not really bothered with something aesthetically-pleasing? Or - do they prioritise some style with nice colours or a wood effect? Luckily, manufacturers produce plenty of players of every kind.

Compatibility - Next, we have compatibility. If your loved one has Bluetooth speakers at their disposal, make sure not to get them a player that has only amp-connecting capabilities and vice versa. Make sure to pick a versatile player that will accommodate 7, 10 and 12-inch vinyl records, too. You want to ensure they can play their entire collection.

Extra Features - With modern technology infiltrating something as classic as vinyl, there are bound to be some upgrades. Of course, Bluetooth is one of them. But you can even record your vinyl to MP3 if they're not on streaming services, connect to the radio and more. If your loved one fancies themself a lover of tech, go for something flashy.

Best record players and turntables - UK 2022

So whether you’re buying a record player for the first time and looking for something affordable, or you’re on the hunt to upgrade the one you’ve currently got, keep reading as we round up the best players on the market…

Or perhaps you're shopping for a retro-obsessed loved one. Well, you're in luck.

Plus, at the bottom of the page, you’ll find FAQs that'll help you work through some of the jargon.

If you're looking to purchase your first-ever record player, then this is a good inexpensive option that still boasts high quality. The built-in Bluetooth allows you to stream your favourite vinyl to any Bluetooth-enabled speaker. There's even a USB slot for connecting up your record player to the computer, so you can turn your favourite tracks into digital files too.

Pros: Good value, great finish
Cons: Sound could be better

Customer Review: "I love the design of this record deck, it feels sturdy and well made, and looks good. My only criticism is that it didn't sound great through a Bluetooth speaker, but that could have been the speaker! However, through my amp it's excellent.”

Sleek and stylish
The SONY PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Bluetooth TurntableCurrys

As well as looking sleek and stylish, this record player is super easy to use too. It can be paired with up to eight Bluetooth devices, just simply hit the Bluetooth button and let it connect to your device. If you don't have a Bluetooth speaker, don't worry, the built-in pre-amp lets you plug directly into your speakers too. Easy peasy!

Pros: Super simple to set up, connects to Bluetooth
Cons: Tricky on/off switch placement

Customer Review: "Delighted to be able to play my record collection again. This is certainly a step up from my little portable record player. We have connected it to our Panasonic stereo system, and it gives a great sound. The on/off switch at the back is a little awkward but the other controls are easy to use. The automatic arm works really smoothly. It looks sleek and smart in our lounge.”

Top Pick
Lenco LS100 Wood Turntable & Speakers
Price: £109.99 (was £139.99)

hmv.com

If you're looking for a record player with all the bells and whistles of a high-tech music system, but with a retro record player feel, look no further than the Lenco LS100 Turntable. Whether you're dusting off your vinyl collection or connecting to the music on your phone via Bluetooth this option gets a big thumbs up from us.

Pros: Super simple to set up, looks stylish
Cons: None

Tried & Tested by Commercial Content Writer for What's the Best, Piper Huxley:
"I’m such a big fan of vinyl. My collection seems to grow by the month. So, if you’re looking to invest in a mid-range vinyl player, I couldn’t recommend the Lenco LS100 more. Not only is it swish, attractive and totally fits my aesthetic, but the set-up is super easy. I’m not very tech-savvy, so this worked for me. Simply, plug and go. It’s really that easy.

Moving away from built-in speakers was a big step but honestly, the experience is better. There’s nothing better than hearing your favourite albums on a wood-effect vinyl player with good sound. However, it still retains the crackling quality of vinyl which we all love and appreciate. Adjusting the speed and volume is very easy. The Bluetooth capabilities are more of a fiddle, but worth it.

Overall, this record player is solid.”

Another wallet-friendly option from Audio Technica has been making award-winning audio equipment for over 50 years. Pairing up to your devices is quick and reliable, requiring just the touch of the Bluetooth button, which will then turn blue once your record player is connected. It promises outstanding audio too and plays both 33-1/3 and 45 RPM records.

Pros: Fabulous sound
Cons: Controls are a bit basic, no lock on the stylus arm

Customer Review: "It looks great. Just played it for the first time, very easy for beginners to set up and use. The sound quality is superb, far better than any other model I have owned. I had a problem in setting up as I put the belt on wrong, a further instruction should have been included, nevertheless, I got there. Overall, for the price, it is excellent value, and I can highly recommend it.”

Fenton RP165B Lightwood Record PlayerElectromarket

This retro-feel record player has a grain wood finish and comes with a pair of dual 50-watt speakers that can be placed on either side of your turntable, or underneath it. It also has a built-in stereo amplifier and comes with Bluetooth, so you can stream music wirelessly too.

Pros: Good value
Cons: Needs amp for sound

Customer Review: "Lovely sound, great aesthetics. Very well made.”

ION Audio Max LPAmazon

Rrp: $89.00

Price: $69.99

The Audio Max is easy on the eye and ears.

It features two small built-in speakers on top of the plinth that deliver punchy, crystal-clear sound and also RCA outputs, so you can connect it to larger speakers if desired. There’s an aux input too, so you can play music from your phone or MP3 through it, as well as a headphone output. You can also convert your favourite tracks into digital files with the included ION audio EZ conversion software and this stylish record player also comes with a dust cover, 45 adapters and a felt slip mat - bargain!

Pros: Great for new vinyl owners
Cons: Poor standalone sound

Customer Review: "I’m just getting back into collecting vinyl after many years. Was looking for an entry-level deck before investing in a higher-end system. This system ticks all the boxes for me, stylish, has great sound and easy to use. If you’re interested in collecting vinyl, then I would recommend this to everyone.”

VICTROLA Empire Junior VTA-240-MAHEUCurrys
Price: £139

This record player may look vintage, but the sound quality is far from it. The built-in speaker will fill the room with your favourite tunes, while the RCA line-out provides the option for external speakers too. The Victrola Empire Junior plays all three record speeds, comes with Bluetooth and you can listen to the radio too. And – a cassette! Does anyone still have cassettes?

Pros: Versatile, timeless design
Cons: Heavy

Customer Review: “This record player is everything and more. I really recommend it. The sound quality is magnificent and such good value for money. In the video, I didn’t even have it a quarter-way full. It is a really beautiful piece and everything works perfectly.”

According to Louder Sound, the Victrola Vintage portable record player is one of the highest-rated record players. Its suitcase style is perfect for minimal space and can be easily transported around your home and also benefits from a 3-speed turntable, built-in Bluetooth, and speakers and can play records of any size.

Pros: Simple, nice sound
Cons: Built-in speaker is average

Customer Review: “Fantastic unit, with a beautiful sound and easy to use, three speeds for singles, LPs and 78's. With headphones the sound is exceptional, and a good choice.”

Play your favourite tunes wherever, whenever, straight from this vintage-inspired seafoam green portable record player. As well as coming in this easy-to-transport leather case (which is also available in white and blue too) Crosley has been making record players since 1992, so you can trust its standard will be high. The three-speed turntable also comes with built-in speakers, Bluetooth and RCA outputs, so you can hook it up to a receiver or powered speakers too.

Pros: Stylish and
Cons: None

Bush Wooden TurntableArgos

If you're lacking side space then this portable record player which also comes with legs could be the perfect option. As well as its fantastic price point, the Bush wooden turntable also comes with a built-in pre-amplifier, and Bluetooth and can play vinyl, no matter what size disc.

Pros: Stylish and a centrepiece
Cons: Vintage sound

Customer Review: “A nice vintage-style turntable that's ideal for a small space since it comes with legs. The sound is good for what it is. Old records sounded good on this - not when turned up too loud though. Don't expect modern sound - this is for the aesthetic really, and chilled listening.”

If you're getting set up with a new record player, remember that you're going to need the best bookshelf speakers around to ensure that you extract the true beauty of vinyl.

FAQs

When was the record player invented?

The great-grandfather of the record player as we know it today is the phonograph, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, which recorded and played back sound from a soft metal drum. Ten years later, in 1887, the phonograph was developed into the gramophone by Emile Berliner and played back recorded sound from a rubberised disk. Fast-forward through the next century and a bit, which was full of revisions and refinements of this basic turntable concept, and you end up pretty much where we are today.

Do you need speakers with a turntable?

That all depends on the turntable. Some options do come with internal speakers, but these tend to be entry-level or travel units. The majority of record players do not come with internal speakers, so will require you to use an external speaker set. This isn’t a bad thing though, as external speakers are larger and will deliver a much fuller audio profile and are capable of achieving higher volumes.

How do record players work?

It’s a complicated process with many steps, but here are the basics.

Sound is a series of waves, and these waves can be etched into a material and later played back with the correct apparatus – this is the simplified essence of Edison’s discovery. Sound is impressed as grooves onto a vinyl record, which can then be placed onto a turntable.

The turntable spins, moved by either belt or direct drive, and a stylus (a specialised needle, often diamond tipped) on the end of a tonearm is then placed into the record’s groove and picks up the vibrations as stored in the grooves. These vibrations are transferred through the stylus and into the cartridge head, which converts the stylus’ vibrations into electrical signals, which then run along the wires house within the tonearm.

These signals are then passed into an amplifier which boosts the power of the electrical signals, before finally converting these boosted signals into sound which blasts forth from the speakers. Voilà – beautiful, analogue music.

What's belt drive?

A belt-drive turntable has the motor off to one side, typically a corner, and links to the platter by a belt. This distance helps isolate the sound and keep record playback as clean as possible. Due to the use of a belt, belt-driven turntables take a few seconds to get up to speed – not a problem for those simply listening to records.

Belts can dry, crack, twist or snap, so they will likely need changing every so often (most users will be able to go years between changes), but the belts are inexpensive and easy to replace.

What's the direct drive?

Direct-drive turntables have a motor directly underneath the platter, driving the platter while negating the need for a belt. Direct-drive motors tend to start up quickly, and allow you a more refined control over the RPM speed – hence the inclusion of pitch controls, which are not found on belt-drive decks. For these reasons, they are the drive choice for DJs.

Some users believe that the direct-drive format can increase audio interference as the motor operates so closely to the stylus and record.

What's the USB port for?

USB outputs on record players are typically used to digitise vinyl records through the use of free audio-editing programs like Audacity. This is great for keeping electronic copies of your favourite vinyl, classics or rare pressings.

This is not a needed feature for some, as many new record releases come with codes for electronic downloads.

What’s anti-skate?

Anti-skate is a simple mechanism that applies an outward force to the tonearm, as they tend to “skate”, or swing, towards the platter centre. This feature is adjustable on many record players anti-skate is adjustable. It is recommended to follow the manufactures guidance when adjusting any settings such as this.

Anti-skate is needed to give a good channel balance to keep an equal volume from the left and right channels, lessen distortion, and lessen stylus and record wear. It in effect works for your all-around benefit.

What's tracking force?

Tracking forces is the amount of weight your cartridge sits on a record when it’s playing; basically, how hard the arm presses down into the record. You want to make sure that the ideal weight is selected to ensure good-quality playback and to minimise wear on the record.

Different cartridges have different optimum weights. Follow the manufacturer’s guidance at all times when setting your record player up to ensure correct use.

What’s pitch control?

This refers to the controls over the turntable speed in RPM. Typically, records are cut and pressed to play at either 33, 45 or 78 RPM. Some users will like to fine-tune this to get the best out of their setup. This is a feature found on direct-drive turntables – it’s popular with DJs as they can match song tempos with greater accuracy, a method known as beatmatching.

What’s a phono preamp?

A phono preamp, or preamplifier, converts weak electronic signals into stronger signals that are suitable for speakers, and therefore, your listening.

What’s hydraulic-lift control?

A hydraulic-lift control, or queuing bar, is a bar (often rubberised) that allows you to place the tonearm above a record and gently lower the cartridge into contact with the record by switching a lever. This is a great feature, as not only does it help when trying to accurately select a new song, but it also lessens the risk of needle dropping, scratching or bouncing – all of which can seriously damage a record.

What's a passive and an active speaker?

Active speakers have a power amplifier built-in, and just need the main power source to work. Passive speakers need an external power amplifier to operate. You need an amplifier for passive speakers, you don't for active speakers. They both have their benefits, but it all comes down to personal choice! Purists tend to prefer passive speakers, but active speakers are much simpler and more affordable to set up – and nowadays they can deliver equally as good audio.

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