Q: What do you think of buying a budget turntable new, instead of a vintage turntable from Craigslist or eBay for the same amount or less?
A: I have mixed feelings about vintage turntables, perhaps because my experience is mixed.
You make a good point about new pricing vs. vintage pricing. If you’re considering a new turntable, don’t buy one of the plastic cheapies found at big-box stores.
The best turntable value is the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB, which you can buy online for $240 or less. It looks like a clone of a Technics SL-1200 and is extremely well-made for the money. An excellent budget cartridge is pre-mounted, and it has a built-in phono preamp and USB connection for use with any audio receiver or computer.
If you want to spend more, there are lots of higher-performance options available, but that is a subject for another column.
Compared with this, a vintage turntable on Craigslist for $80 to $100 might seem like a good deal. The problem is whether you are actually getting a good deal, and many items on Craigslist are horrendously overpriced. Sellers think it’s worth far more than what it is actually worth, or they are looking for a sucker.
A name brand is no assurance of quality due to the cyclical nature of ownership of many electronics companies and brand licensing. For example, when Marantz started out, it was a high-quality brand. The name was sold, and Marantz became a lower-quality mass-market product for a period of time, finding itself largely known for inexpensive rack systems in the 1980s. Eventually, Marantz was purchased by an entity that made it a high-end brand again, and today its products are among the best.
As for my experience with vintage turntables, I can cite two examples, one good and one bad.
The good example was a Philips turntable I bought on Craigslist for $20. It needed a cartridge, but other than that it was a solid piece of equipment. I mounted a new cartridge and it sounded fantastic. It eventually found its way into the home of a friend, and he is enjoying it to this day.
The bad example concerns a turntable that should have been much better than the Philips. When I was in college, I lusted after the beautiful Kyocera turntables with their attractive wood side panels and gunmetal-blue accents with red striping. Fifteen years later, I found a used one on eBay and bought it. Nothing I did ever made that turntable sound good. It looked great on the outside, but the bearings were worn and it led to a noisy, low-quality listening experience. I ended up dumping it for the value of the cartridge I mounted on it.
This brings up another point about buying an old turntable. It will probably need a cartridge. Mounting one correctly is no small task.
If you’re thinking about buying a vintage turntable, find an audiophile friend to help you so you get good value and a solid performer — and get help mounting a cartridge, too. Good cartridges for $50 to $100 include the Audio-Technica AT-95E, the Grado Black, the Shure M97xE and, my favorite, the Nagaoka MP-110.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.