For millions of music listeners, the smartphone has become their primary source component; digital music streaming services now represent close to 80% of the market with more than 50 million subscribers in the United States alone. Consumers put greater value on convenience vs sound quality and that shift has been a rude wake-up call for the high-end audio industry that has marketed expensive separates, loudspeakers, cables, and accessories for decades.
The reality is that consumers no longer see a need for so many expensive boxes; wireless active loudspeakers and one-box integrated amplifiers which include both wired and wireless digital streaming connectivity have made them unnecessary. The good news for consumers is that while prices at the top end have escalated beyond the cost of a luxury automobile for some audio components, there have never been as many affordable high-end components than what is available right now and that makes it a great time to assemble a system.
Fluance RT85 ($499.95)
Entry-level turntables priced below $500 represent the majority of turntable sales, but the reality is that very few are made well, or are capable of delivering a level of sound quality that makes the investment in vinyl worthwhile. With its acrylic platter, 9-inch aluminum tonearm, solid wood plinth, and pre-installed Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, the RT85 from Fluance is a well-made turntable that delivers speed stability, an engaging presentation, and the music in the grooves that you are simply not hearing from lesser designs. BUY NOW
Pro-Ject X1 ($899.95)
Pro-Ject builds more audiophile turntables than any other brand in audio, and their ability to invest in R&D that trickles down from its most expensive products into turntables like the X1 gives it a real edge. Handcrafted in Europe with eight layers of luxurious high-gloss finish, the X1 features a resonance-free acrylic platter, and 8.6-inch carbon/aluminum tonearm that comes factory-mounted with a highly regarded Sumiko Rainier MM phono cartridge. The X1 offers speed stability, dynamic punch, and a somewhat restrained presentation that gives it a little more flexibility with system matching. BUY NOW
Vinyl Nirvana TD-160 Super (From $1,700 depending on finish/tonearm)
Turntable restoration is an art form, and few do it as well as this boutique shop in New Hampshire. Focused primarily on Thorens and AR restorations, Vinyl Nirvana will take a used TD-160 Super, TD-125, or even TD-145 and bring the table back to life, improve the suspension, and install your choice of tonearms and cartridge from Ortofon, Grado Labs, or Dynavector. Plinth options include a number of exotic solid wood finishes, and their customer service is second-to-none. Musicians, celebrities, and customers all over North America have made Vinyl Nirvana the best option if going used. BUY NOW
MoFi Electronics UltraDeck ($1,999.00 with no cartridge)
MoFi Electronics spent a few years getting its first turntable models right before they were introduced into the market, and the results have exceeded even their own high expectations. Manufactured and assembled in Michigan, the UltraDeck has been lavished with praise from audiophile publications around the globe; both for the quality of its parts which include a dense Delrin platter, inert plinth, and high-end isolation feet that never show up on a turntable this affordable. The UltraDeck has a warm tonal balance, excellent dynamics, and its tonearm works well with a wide variety of cartridges. MoFi offers its own cartridges as well that have great synergy with the table. BUY NOW
Luxman PD-151 ($4,690.00)
Luxman’s flagship PD-171A is considered to be among the elite when talking about complete turntable/tonearm packages that won’t run you the cost of an automobile. For most people, its price tag put it well out of reach. The less expensive PD-151 offers a substantial taste of that high-end analog playback quality with a few interesting features like a proprietary brushless DC motor, machined aluminum platter, and custom Jelco aluminum tonearm. Luxman builds tables with exceptional speed accuracy that are worthy of the world’s best phono cartridges. BUY NOW