Vinyl records are a wonderful hobby, as there’s little that can compare to the tactile experience of placing the stylus into the groove of a record and hearing your favourite song come alive through bookshelf or tower speakers. But despite being a wonderful hobby, it’s certainly not a cheap hobby. Although we’re living in a world where both CD’s and a monthly subscription to Spotify cost about £10, brand new vinyl records can run over £30, while high-end turntables can cost thousands. Yikes.
So, if you’re looking to get into vinyl on a budget, I’m going to give you my recommendations for how you can make the jump to the world of spinning records without having to drain your bank account.
Finding a Good, Cheap Turntable
Let’s first begin with the most important part of the equation when it comes to vinyl records—the turntable. Now, a lot of people that are starting out with vinyl records like to purchase a Crosley record player. On the surface, it’s easy to understand why.
Crosley Record Players
Crosley record players have a fun, retro aesthetic. They can often be found for less than $100. They have built-in speakers. And they’re portable, so you can pack them up and take them over to a friend or family member’s house.
Personally, I don’t like to recommend Crosley record players. Not because they are inherently terrible (although they are cheaply made with ceramic cartridges and no adjustable tracking force, which is definitely a concern), but because you can find better quality record players on the market for just a bit more money.
So, if the Crosley Cruiser (£50) is on your shortlist, I’d instead recommend spending $100 on the Audio Technica AT-LP60. With the AT-LP60, you still have some limitations in build quality and the lack of tracking force adjustment, but at least you’re getting a turntable that comes with a dust cover, is fully automatic, and has a built-in phono preamp.
Now, if you’re willing to spend a bit more money (and are fine with a higher quality, manually operated turntable), you should strongly consider the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 (£300), U-Turn Orbit Plus (£300) or the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (£400). All three are great in their own right and don’t cause you to spend more than £500 for a very solid turntable.
I like the AT-LP120 because it offers so many options—from pitch control to the ability to digitize your entire vinyl record collection by hooking the turntable up to your Mac or PC. The U-Turn Orbit Plus is built by hand in Boston, MA and boasts an acrylic platter. And the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon features a carbon fibre tonearm that has an Ortofon 2M cartridge attached to it. If you ever wanted to upgrade that cartridge by purchasing the much more detailed 2M Blue (about £240), installing it takes just 30 seconds—simply slide out the 2M red stylus and insert the 2M Blue.
What About a Phono Preamp?
As mentioned before, if you get a turntable with a built-in phono preamp (such as the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 or AT-LP120), you can begin listening to your vinyl records as soon as you plug in the RCA cables to the back of your receiver or integrated amplifier or powered speakers.
For those that acquire a turntable that doesn’t have a built-in phono preamp (such as the U-Turn Orbit Plus or Pro-Ject Debut Carbon), you’ll have to buy an external phono preamp. I’m a fan of two phono preamps that are relatively cheap (under £500).
#1 Schitt Mani Phono Preamp
The first is the Schitt Mani (about £130), while the other is the Vincent PHO-8 (about £300). The Mani is small but packs a great punch for its cost. It works with both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges and has four adjustable gain modes.
The sound of the Mani is excellent for the price. And while you won’t get a house-thumping bass with this preamp, you’ll be very impressed with the mid-range as well as the clarity of the treble.
#2 Vincent PHO-8 Phono Preamp
The Vincent PHO-8, by contrast, is a different beast entirely. For just £300, you get two audio components. The first is strictly the power supply, while the second is the actual phono stage, which includes the phono inputs and outputs, as well as the ground wire connection.
The Vincent PHO-8 provides a more neutral sound to your records but also makes your records sound more tight and punchy. And if you choose to swap out the supplied (but detachable) power supply cable and replace it with something like the Pangea Audio AC-14 power cord, you’ll likely be shocked at the improvement in the bass response. I know I was.
What About Budget Speakers?
Speakers are always a bit tough because everyone has different wants and needs. Some people prefer bookshelf speakers, while others demand towers. Some want modern speakers while others prefer vintage. Some listen to music in a small dorm room, while others are rocking out to their vinyl collection in a mini-mansion. With that said, because this article is catered towards the budget conscious, I’m going to recommend one pair of speakers that’s under £300, and another that’s under £800.
The Elac B6 speakers, at around £280, will provide far more bass than you would expect for its price point. On top of that, these speakers are designed by speaker giant Andrew Jones, who has worked for the likes of KEF and Infinity. If anyone knows speakers, it’s certainly Mr Jones.
Now, if you were looking to truly splurge on your two-channel speaker setup, I also like the PSB Imagine Minis (£760). No doubt stretching the budget, if there’s one area where you should be willing to open up the wallet a bit, it’s for your speakers.
The Imagine Minis pack a wallop for the price. Vocal clarity is really superb here and if you match these speakers with a nice turntable or amplifier, you’ll really begin to hear more mid-range separation and high-end definition.
Vinyl is a fun hobby, but it’s not cheap. But with a little shrewd shopping, you can have a very nice turntable setup for a reasonable price. Once everything is bought and setup, all that’s left to do is to sit back, relax and enjoy the vinyl bliss.
Michael Moore is the owner of Devoted to Vinyl, a website built to help beginners in the vinyl hobby better understand everything they need to know so they can enjoy spinning records as soon as possible.
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