Q: I want to buy a record player for my granddaughter. She likes the Crosley, but the reviews are terrible. She will need something compact, a suitcase type, and I would like it to be easy on the vinyl because the records she will use are mine. In college 50 years ago I had one with good sound that treated records well. Does such a thing exist today?
A: No. It does not exist, at least if you want to buy a brand-new one. The portable, suitcase type record players currently on the market use ceramic phono cartridges, which typically have heavy tracking force, a stiff cantilever (the part that holds the needle) and low-quality diamonds for the stylus (needle). This deadly combination will wear out your records much quicker than even a very inexpensive magnetic phono cartridge. (One audiophile message board called it "shaving your records.") If you want to use one to play kids' records you find at a thrift store, I think it would be OK, but I would be hesitant to play good vinyl on one. Lots of the inexpensive USB turntables on the market also use ceramic cartridges, so buyer beware!
Good-quality turntables are precision instruments, so putting one in a suitcase and toting it around is counterproductive. Vinyl was pretty much the only music media source in widespread use when you were in college 50 years ago, so you had a lot of variations in turntables, including some good-quality portable record players. I've seen some interesting ones, but hunting down a vintage record player of this type is not practical and could be very expensive.
Some turntables can handle being moved around better than others, and, fortunately, one of them is also the most affordable. I've long said the $99 Audio-Technica AT-LP60 is the only turntable under $100 worth considering, and nothing has been introduced that changes my conviction about this. If you lock down the arm and remove the platter, you will be able to move it around without much problem.
It's just a turntable, though, so you need to connect something to make the sound. Last year I wrote a column describing how to combine the AT-LP60 with a $69 Dayton Audio speaker-amp bundle to get a nice-sounding vinyl record system for less than $170. I have a page on my website at tinyurl.com/lp60system that describes this system and how to set it up.
You also could connect a portable Bluetooth speaker to the output of the turntable with a miniplug connection. This would provide even more flexibility because you can play sound from the turntable as well as from Bluetooth. The $30 OontZ Angle 3 would be a good one to try if you want to keep things portable and inexpensive. You can see it at theoontz.com.
Finally, at the Consumer Electronics Show, I saw a Bluetooth version of the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 called the AT-LP60BK-BT. It has the wired output as well as Bluetooth so it can be used directly with Bluetooth speakers or headphones, or it can be streamed to audio receivers with a Bluetooth connection. It will sell for $179, and based on the buzz around it, it could end up a smash hit (audio-technica.com).
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.