The best vintage turntables have a charm often missing in modern turntables. Whilst modern turntables are aesthetically minimalistic, which suits some, vintage turntables have a warm aesthetic that pleases the eye.
What’s more, vintage turntables are talking points within a room, or match decor within a house. A brand new Rega would stand out like a sore thumb in a 1950s era house with wooden floorboards and antique furnishings.
Therefore, vintage turntables provide a superb alternative to new turntables. The best vintage turntables are at least as good as modern turntables at the same price point. It must be said that the real upper echelon audiophile turntables are a great deal better than anything made 20 years ago, but vintage turntables are competitive right up until around the ten thousand dollar mark.
This article will only discuss the best vintage turntables, so if you’re after something more affordable, perhaps check out the Dual section, as they provide just about the best bang for buck from a vintage turntables perspective. Here’s the great news though: if you’re handy at restoration, or want to gradually upgrade a turntable, the best vintage turntables provide excellent and varied upgrade paths that will keep you busy (and keep you wanting more) for years.
So without further adieu, here are the Top 8 vintage turntables.
Linn LP 12
The Linn LP 12 is without a doubt the turntable with the biggest and best reputation amongst audiophiles. The LP 12 is an absolutely magnificent looking beast, with its wooden exterior providing a warmth characteristic of vintage turntables. Reading reviews of the Linn LP 12 can be a confusing matter, since just about every review has a different set up – different power supply, tonearm or other component that makes a little difference. There in lies the attraction of many towards the LP12 – the upgrade paths.
The Linn LP12 has numerous modifications and parts available, which means that you can buy a ‘cheap’ LP12 (think around $800 USD) and gradually destroy your bank account over the next few years by upgrading anything and everything. The thing about an LP12 – of which there are countless variations since it has been in production for 30 odd years – is that it is a real cult classic, and is priced accordingly. A base model LP12 won’t cost you an arm and a leg by any means, but they sure slug you a lot for ‘optional extras’ such as…a dustcover.
The Linn’s sound is characterised as rhythmical, with excellent time adherence. It has a relaxed warmth about it that matches its appearance well. For sheer musicality, the Linn LP12 is hard to pass up, even when compared to more expensive, state of the art turntables.
The TD-124 and TD-124 Mk II are the competitors to the Garrard 301 and 401 in the realm of idler drive turntables. The TD-124 is perhaps a little more detailed on the highs than the Garrards, and the Garrards weightier in the bass. The original TD-124 when made in 1957 must surely have been a magnificent turntable for the time, and they are still highly sought after today amongst idler drive fans. Like the Garrards, the need to be plinthed well as their motors are very powerful to drive their heavy-as-a-boulder platters and thus create some vibration.
Two similar turntables that justify being under the same banner, the Garrard systems are some of the best vintage turntables when correctly supported by a plinth.
Despite the fact that Rega turntables are still being manufactured, vintage Rega turntables are some of the best vintage turntables around. Of course there are better turntables in the Rega lineup than the P3, but in terms of value for money, the P3 remains the best turntable in terms of value for money till this day. At the time of this article being written, the Rega turntables are the best turntables available for value for money in the present-day.
Acoustic Research XA/XB
The Acoustic Research early model turntables were magnificent achievements when they were released in the early 1960s. Sonically, they were ahead of their time thanks to excellent engineering. They look very nice in an understated way, and can still produce some pretty solid performance. Compared to something a little further on chronologically, an XA or an XB won’t stand up as well to a Thorens belt drive (TD-125 and beyond), but it will still provide the user with a great deal of listening enjoyment. This turntable makes our best vintage turntables list because it is such a hallmark table, but it won’t provide a listening experience anywhere near the LP12. Also, the tonearm on these turntables are awful and need replacing.
The suffix after SP doesn’t matter all that much – the SP-15 could have easily made the list as well. What the SP-10 represents is sheer direct drive brilliance. When the direct drive vs belt drive war was at its peak, direct drive fans pointed to the Technics SP and SL series as cases in point. No one got it quite as right as Technics did with direct drives and the SP-10 is the best of the bunch. In contrast to many turntables on this list, in this author’s view, the SP-10 is downright ugly. Looks matter, but nowhere near as much as sound, which is lucky because the Technics SP-10 is the ugly nerd with the brilliant mind.
The Technics 1200 ranks slightly below the SP-10, but it is still a brilliant turntable that is consistently underrated by audiophiles. Perhaps this is because it is so popular as a DJ turntable. The Technics 1200 does not take much set up to be an excellent hi-fi turntable, and its durability is fantastic. Those of us who are not DJs will find the price a little much these days, especially when compared to other contenders on this list. A base level LP12 is nearly the same cost as a second-hand Technics 1200 these days.
Japan sure can do direct drive turntables, and the Sansui SR-838 is a fine example. Originally made in 1979, the SR-838 is a lot more modern looking than most turntables on this list, and its unique looks will probably be what makes you love or hate this turntable. Unfortunately this turntable and its cousin the SR-929 are found very rarely on the second-hand market so getting hold of one is a difficult task. Incidentally, the SR-929 is preferred by some listeners but if you surveyed enough people, the SR-838 would be the overall winner.
Vintage turntables sound great, but have a unique flavour.
If you ask me, the turntables on the best vintage turntables list above have a great deal more character than modern-day turntables. The sleek designs of Rega and Pro-ject look great, but in a different way. I listen to vinyl for its warmth and character, and listening on one of the best vintage turntables amplifies that feeling.