The 17 best turntables of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime (2024)

By Ketan Bharadia, Harry McKerrell

last updated

We're nearly 50, you know. And yes, we know we don't look it. But that doesn't mean we can't reminisce...

The 17 best turntables of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime (1)

While many of the best turntables you can currently buy have certainly left a positive impression on our hearts and ears, there are a few decks from decades past that have managed to attain a truly lasting legacy. As we're currently celebrating Vinyl Week in the build-up to Record Store Day this weekend, we're looking back at the iconic, once-revered and even new models that have helped define and shape the history of the turntable, with every entry on this list adding to the story of vinyl playback in its own unique way.

Some record players make an impact through their forward-thinking designs, while others earn a place in the annals of history because they bring vinyl replay to the mainstream at an attractive, democratised price. Crucially, all of the players below share one thing in common: they sound fantastic, giving your beloved records the exceptional sonic treatment they deserve

Delving back into the foggy recesses of the 1970s and moving through to the groundbreaking mastery of present-day pioneers, these are the turntables that have made a profound, lasting impact across What Hi-Fi?'s proud 48-year history.

  • The best turntables of the 21st century
  • 13 debut decks from iconic turntable brands

Linn LP12 (1973)

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Linn's LP12 turntable was first introduced in 1972 and immediately proved popular with audiophiles. The range of compatible arms and cartridges the company made meant keeping this vinyl player up-to-date was satisfyingly easy.

Almost every aspect of the design has been revised over the years, and while the early breed of the LP12 had a round and rich balance, modern incarnations have moved towards a more neutral, even-handed sound.

Technics SL1200 (1976)

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Perennially the DJ's favourite, the SL1200 is known for being built to a supremely high standard. There was plenty of flexibility when it came to positioning and cartridge-matching too, so you had a fair bit of choice in making this turntable feel (and sound) like your own.

Tough, fuss-free, with solid sound quality, this player is worthy of its legendary status as it turns 50 this year (and has a limited edition model to show for it).

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Rega Planar 3 (1978)

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Since its introduction in 1978, the Rega Planar 3 has been a go-to turntable (and its modern incarnation, the RP3/Elys 2, is still going strong). The Planar series is well-known within hi-fi circles, combining a simple yet elegant design with some ever-dependable build quality and that signature Rega sound. You can't do much better for the price.

A respectable mid-market record player, the Planar 3 remains an easy-going, low-cost piece of kit that continues to keep our vinyl spinning – and since the company keeps refining the product, we imagine it'll stay that way for a while yet.

Dual CS505 (1981)

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Who says that you can't get good quality on a budget? Not us, that's for sure. And it was as true in the 1980s as it is now, thanks to Dual's CS505 player. It was a tidy, well-balanced performer that managed to bring a decent amount of detail to the table without exposing the entry-level kit it usually worked with.

While it might have looked a little inelegant in the beginning, later versions looked more refined thanks to smarter wooden plinths. But no matter how it looked, this Dual delivered satisfying results. And going by the latest Dual CS 418 and Dual CS 518 reviews, its decks still are today.

Michell Gyrodec (1982)

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In 1982 the Gyrodec was a combination of great sound quality and artistic design. Bring the clock up to date and this player is still available – and it's a testament to its quality that it's essentially the same machine. There aren't many decks from the early 1980s that still have a place in today's modern market, after all.

When it's up and running it sounds detailed, expressive and graceful, ready to put down other products costing plenty more. It's not plug-and-play – some assembly is required – but the instructions are clear, and there's a logic to its design that means it'll be spinning your discs in no time.

Read our Michell Gyrodec SE/TecnoArm A review

Systemdek IIX (1990)

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The Systemdek IIX became our Product of the Year in 1990, and it held that position for the next two years. The technical highlight was a sprung sub-chassis that isolated the playing surface from sonically damaging vibrations from the support and environment.

The Systemdek's sound quality rose well above that of its closest rivals – timing was confident, and music sounded tuneful and easy-flowing, leading to accolades and acclaim from both critics andlisteners alike.

Pink Triangle Tarantella (1997)

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The first time we heard this turntable, we awarded it a dismal two stars. We were unable to get vinyl turning steadily at 33rpm – which, we're sure you'll agree, is a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to playing LPs.

But Pink Triangle brought the deck back to us with all problems solved – and we were thrilled to hear the Tarantella's open sound and refreshingly clear dynamics. It was an immensely exciting listen and a complete reversal from what we'd heard when the superbly-named Tarantella entered our doors.

Although the Pink Triangle company closed in 2003, there's no doubt the London manufacturer's legacy lives on.

Pro-Ject Debut (1999)

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Despite its name, the Debut isn't the first product to come from Pro-Ject – but it's certainly one of its most significant. It's simple to use and great value for money, partly because of its European construction – the turntable was designed in Austria before being manufactured in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

20 years of steady improvements brings you the impressive Debut Carbon and Debut Carbon Evo, but it's with this original that Pro-Ject came to the fore. To prove the health of the Debut lineage, the superb Pro-Ject Debut Pro is our current What Hi-Fi? Award winner, moving the range more upmarket with sublime results.

Read our Award-winning Pro-Ject Debut Pro review

Roksan Xerxes 20 (2006)

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You should never judge a book by its cover, and the same can be said for turntables. The Roksan Xerxes 20 looks to be your conventional, run-of-the-mill wooden-box turntable, but it is packed with clever engineering.

A motor that turns on its axis to compensate for torque fluctuations, a bearing designed to minimise noise and rubber suspension tuned to dampen specific frequencies are just some of the little tricks Roksan's engineers built into this player.

And they worked, winning our Temptations tournament at the time. The Xerxes 20 got all the essentials right – this is a player with first-class dynamics, and exceptional timing and rhythm.

Read our Roksan Xerses 20 Plus (Package) review

Thorens TD160HD (2008)

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20 years after the original Thorens TD160 turntable came through our doors, the TD160HD made its way to us in 2008, a year that in itself now feels like a lifetime ago.

While it might appear chunky, this turntable's performance is anything but. It treats the subtleties in a song well, ensures the vocals are full of life, and provides a sound full of bass and depth – yet you'll be surprised at how tight your vinyl sounds. Ultimately it's a faultless, five-star performance, and has us hankering for the new TD160 iteration.

Read our full Thorens TD160HD review

Clearaudio Innovation Wood/Universal/DaVinci V2 (2010)

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One of our reference pieces of kit for several years, and with good reason, this high-end turntable sounds as good today as when we first heard it.

Innovation by name, innovative by nature: the ceramic magnetic main bearing minimises friction and noise, its high-quality DC motor and electronic speed governor switches between 33 1/3 to 45 or 78rpm at the push of a button.

As audiophiles, we always hope for transparency in our music, and the Innovation delivers. It's built superbly and a joy to use – a compulsory feature of this list – and remains in our hearts despite no longer being a fixture in our testing rooms.

Read our full Clearaudio Innovation Wood review

Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S (2010)

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A uniquely designed turntable, Kuzma's Stabi S is a minimalist, beautifully engineered piece of kit. Its uni pivot design, silicone damping system and two-piece counterweight on its arm – to name but a few design choices – all help it deliver top-notch sound quality.

Insightful, dynamic, natural-sounding and able to deliver vocals with real passion, this turntable is something special.

Read our full Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S review

VPI Prime (2015)

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VPI Industries has a long history of producing great turntables, and 2015's Prime player is no exception. The MDF chassis, steel plate and simple-to-use design all help towards its splendid sound quality.

It's a wonderfully confident-sounding product, with plenty of punch and impressive dynamics on scales both small and large. Of all the products VPI has made since its 1978 founding, the Prime is one of the very best.

Read our full VPI Prime review

Audio Technica AT-LP5 (2016)

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As an Award winner of its time and one of our favourite budget turntables, the LP5 has something special to it, in both design and sound quality.

Its J-shaped tonearm harks back to those used by Audio-Technica in the 1960s and ’70s, while the AT95EX cartridge is exclusively designed for this turntable. Its sound quality is what really makes it shine; it's rhythmic and dynamic, with more than enough detail to keep us satisfied for hours of playtime.

A turntable you can plug straight into your amp, with the added bonus of USB output, the LP5 is a winner, and that formula has proceeded to win our favour with the newer Audio Technica AT-LP5x too.

Read our full Audio Technica AT-LP5 review

Technics SL-1000R

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A quality publication needs a quality turntable to get its records spinning. The beautifully made SL-1000R has been a fixture of our reference set-up for a while now, initially earning our favour with its unmatched sonic stability and breathtaking sense of insight and drive, especially at the lower registers. For the handsome sum of nearly £20,000 / $20,000, it really is the turntable that sets the standard at this premium level.

It's also wonderfully made. Weighing in at over 40kg (carrying isn't a one-man job), the SL-1000R is a stunning piece of engineering that, while never showy or attention-grabbing, exudes the sort of class and poise that gives you the confidence your records are getting the best service possible.Not only is the deck capable of a seriously high torque output, but Technics also boasts an astonishingly low 'wow and flutter' figure of 0.015 per cent.

Read our full Technics SL-1000R review

Vertere DG-1 Dynamic Groove (2020)

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Vertere Audio may not have the heritage of brands such as Rega or Linn just yet, but the brains behind the company have decades of experience in the field, and that's readily seen in the DG-1.

This may be the company's entry-level deck but it's still packed with the clever engineering that's so easily seen in the rest of the range. There's the flat tonearm, which is made of a triple-layered, aluminium alloy/polymer sandwich to minimise resonances. The plinth echoes the arm’s sandwich construction, but this time it’s three layers of acrylic reinforced with a steel chassis to give a rigid yet well-damped structure.

The list goes on, but the important thing is that this isn't just doing things differently just to be different, all these unusual ideas result in a deck with a class-leading performance that even pricier alternatives struggle to match. The DG-1, with the supplied Magneto moving magnet cartridge, produces a dynamic, rhythmically secure and massively entertaining sound.

Plus, the core DG-1 DNA lives on with the exceptional updated model – the DG-1 S/Magneto, a deck that's so good it's our current What Hi-Fi? Award winner.

Read our Vertere DG-1 Dynamic Groove review

SME Model 60 (2022)

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We apologise for using the sort of disgusting cliché normally reserved for air-headed panel judges on shows such as The Masked Singer, but the Model 60 really does have the coveted "wow factor". Built to be as exclusive as a Rolls Royce Phantom and almost as luxurious, the super high-end Model 60 was tested by our experts a couple of years back for £49,950 / $50,519 / AU$72,484. Believe it or not, it's absolutely worth it if you have the scratch.

A sublime engineering achievement, the Model 60's top-tier construction and immaculate build result in one of the finest-sounding turntables you'll find anywhere. From its precision-machined aluminium body to its advanced polymer resin 5A tonearm, the SME heaps quality onto quality, resulting in audio that delights with its exceptional resolution and outstanding control.

Read our full SME Model 60 review

MORE:

See the What Hi-Fi? Vinyl Week reviews, news and features

Check out the 30 best hi-fi speakers of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime

And the 19 best stereo amplifiers of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime

How about the 25 best CD players of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime?

The 17 best turntables of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime (19)

Ketan Bharadia

Technical Editor

Ketan Bharadia is the Technical Editor of What Hi-Fi? He's been been reviewing hi-fi, TV and home cinema equipment for over two decades, and over that time has covered thousands of products. Ketan works across the What Hi-Fi? brand including the website and magazine. His background is based in electronic and mechanical engineering.

3 CommentsComment from the forums

  • Posaunepeon

    What Hi-Fi? said:

    The best 16 turntables What Hi-Fi? has reviewed in its lifetime...

    The 16 best turntables of What Hi-Fi?'s lifetime : Read more

    How could you possibly have not mentioned the Oracle from Canada in your favourite turntables? Have you not heard one?

    Reply

  • 12th Monkey

    Probably not. It's a UK-based magazine, and will review what's provided for it. I doubt that includes anything from Oracle.

    Reply

  • Cougar

    The original Thorens came out long before 1988 as you say in the article. I had a TD160 that I bought in about 1975. It's a great turntable.

    Reply

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