The best turntable for beginners in 2020
If you haven't already, check out our articles on what you do want to and don't want to see in a good quality turntable.
We're now left with the question: what's the best record player for someone who's just starting to get into vinyl? It needs to sound great, but also should be affordable.
A lot of the time these imperatives come into conflict, but not with a model called the Primary E from world-renowned turntable brand Pro-Ject. We sell it on Instant Classic starting at $332.
Here are some key take-aways about why we chose this as one of our main offerings:
- Made in Europe (a very rare thing for a model at this price)
- Minimalist design available in Matte Black, Matte Red and Matte White, suiting the look of any existing equipment in your system
- Pre-fitted with an Ortofon OM cartridge and stylus - these are made in Denmark by the world’s leader in phono cartridges, and this part on its own is worth around $100!
- Optional built-in phono stage which is also switchable (in case you later add an outboard phono stage)
And there's more.
- Supplied with an RCA cable to connect up to an amplifier or powered speakers, and felt mat to insulate and protect your records
- Plug-and-play with pre-set counterweight and anti-skating on the lightweight, precision aluminium tonearm (no fiddly set-up required)
- Composite wooden materials in the platter and plinth, with no plastics, as well as vibration-absorbing feet with rubber suspension
- Sapphire tonearm bearing with exacting tolerances to ensure smooth spinning of the platter
- Cueing arm that lets you lift and drop the tonearm in a controlled way
Now, I told the boss that I’d only do these write-ups if I could be brutally honest. So I also want to mention what this turntable doesn’t have and make sure you're comfortable with that. Ultimately, we want you to love this deck and come back to us in the future as you build out your audio system, so honesty is the best policy. Weird for a retail website I know…
There’s no electronic speed control to switch between 33 and 45 rpm records. Instead, you do that by adjusting the belt onto a different rung on the pulley. Most people are only playing 33s so this is no biggie, and switching it if you need to takes seconds.
It doesn’t have automatic tonearm return, so yeah you do need to get up and lift the arm when the record’s finished (good exercise!), but as mentioned before, this is a positive for sound quality and keeping the cost down.
There’s no Bluetooth on board (for folks who want to send the turntable signal to a Bluetooth speaker). I know some of you are looking to do that, so you can add it on via the dropdown menu on our Turntable Builder page (look for the "External Bluetooth sender and phono stage" option) if that’s the way you want to play it.
And lastly, the belt can take a few minutes to put on the first time, but you get used to it pretty quickly - just try to avoid swiping it off with your fingers as you change records. The belt is positioned the way it is around the platter to make sure there's minimal transfer of motor noise (rumble) to the record. It looks hella cool this way!
There you go, warts and all. I don't profess that this turntable does everything. If you have more dosh and want more features, check out the rest of our range.
What this DOES is give you the lowest-price option to play records in a serious and credible way!
What do others think of the Primary E Phono?
The Primary E has been on the market for a couple of years and is roundly recognised by reviewers and users as an excellent entry-level hifi turntable.
The leading audio review publication What Hi-Fi gave the Primary E a rare 5 stars, saying "For purists at the head of the beginner’s vinyl revival path who have a £150 budget and aren’t fussed about features such as record ripping and automatic operation, the Pro-Ject Primary E could be just the ticket."
Noted critic and reviewer Paul Rigby says: "The difference between most turntable designs of this price point and the Primary is that they don’t focus on sound as a priority: the Primary does. Everything about this deck is designed to maximise the sound quality from your LPs and it does this with a great deal of success. For those looking for a first turntable or if you’re coming back to vinyl and cash is short, then the Primary is a cracking entry point into the glorious and terribly cuddly world of vinyl."
HiFi Choice said: "The Primary E can be relied upon to play records long term without wearing them out – something of an issue with some similarly priced but non-hi-fi rival vinyl spinning designs – and has engineered out some of the flexibility of the older models in the pursuit of hitting a new low entry-level price point. But what is most surprising about the Primary E, is its ability to deliver a genuinely satisfying musical performance at such a very attractive price and make it an ideal turntable for any new or retuning fans to the format."
And here's what some customers think:
What about the alternatives?
Research is a really important part of shopping. We’ve done as much as we can for you, but you’re likely to be doing your own.
Here are the other models that are both good quality and considered ‘budget’ in hifi land:
- Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB ($599) - this has a glass platter and inbuilt phono stage and speed control, so would be your next logical step up
- Rega Planar 1 ($599) - a competent turntable from the UK (no inbuilt phono stage)
- Audio-Technica LP120XUSB ($599) - has that great Technics SL-1200 DJ vibe and definitely a decent option for its price if you're into that style
- U-Turn Orbit (not available in Australia, but $400-500+ if you manage to import it here) - a nice deck, but even at that price doesn't come with an Ortofon cartridge like the Primary E does
Generally when you read reviews about good quality entry-level turntables, these are the guys that get mentioned. But what do you notice? They cost a lot more than the Primary E.
We’re talking about a $332 turntable here. Really the closest other popular model you could get at this price level is the $269 Audio-Technica LP60X - but the plastic plinth and more basic tonearm and cartridge don't come close in the quality department.
The Primary E is for folks who can’t or don’t want to jump up to $500+ prices, but still want to get a good quality audiophile deck. We reckon the value is impossible to beat.