Vinyl LPs are nothing but 12 by 12 wall hangings without a turntable to bring them to life. I remember my older brother taking me to buy my first turntable. He was working full-time and living at home, so he had lots of disposable income to spend on high-end audio equipment. I was the beneficiary of lots of attention even as a 14 year-old because of my brother’s spending habits.
It wasn’t the most sophisticated turntable, but I loved my Dual 1225. It sadly met its demise in a move from Toronto to Ottawa. When my youngest son started to get into vinyl, I managed to buy a Dual 525 from a neighbour – a nice piece of nostalgia.
Now that vinyl is experiencing a resurgence, let’s look at some good choices when purchasing a vintage turntable.
So, why buy vintage (ok – used) when you can buy a new turntable that has some new features like USB out so you can rip some of your vinyl to MP3. While there are some very good turntables out there that have some more advanced features like USB out, you’ll pay a premium for the better quality ones. If you opt for a bargain USB turntable, you’ll get a few features wrapped in plastic and poor quality sound. Worst case scenario, you get something that will damage your vinyl.
Dollar for dollar, a quality used turntable will give you superior sound quality and ensure the longevity of your treasured vinyl collection.
Another great aspect of a vintage turntable is pure esthetics. Many new turntables have beautiful minimalistic designs. If that is your taste and decor, you may want to go new purely for esthetic reasons. If you don’t have a minimalistic zen decor, then the warmth of some of the wood casings of vintage turntables may very well appeal to you. Some Dual and Thorens could fit the bill for you.
When looking at recommendations for vintage turntables most experts point to the obvious – go for a reliable brand name like Thorens, Rega, Technics or Denon.
The Technics SL-1200 is a regular favorite. If you like deep bass, the SL-1200 will deliver. There are also ample upgrade kits for the tone arm and stylus that will make the4 SP-1200 a fine turntable.
The Rega Planar 2 or 3 are also excellent choices. You should expect to pay a bit more for a Rega than a Technics, but there will be an improvement in quality. If you like the Rega you could also consider a NAD 533 which was built based on the Rega Planar 2.
Thorens faded when vinyl faded in the 90’s, but they are back now and making very high quality turntables. That said, if you can find a vintage Thorens, you’ll probably be very pleased with the price and quality. The Thorens TD180 is a good recommendation.
A few pointers for making a choice about what turntable to buy. Generally speaking, heavier is better. It is usually an indication of higher quality motor and a heavier platter. A heavier turntable will help reduce unwanted vibration. Don’t spend too much time worrying about belt-drive versus direct-drive. Both are good. If you find a seemingly good belt-drive expect to put a new belt on it for $10-20. It is an easy job for anyone who is moderately handy. If you’re not comfortable with changing a belt, you may want to opt for a direct-drive model. You should also expect to put a new stylus on your new-to-you turntable.
Look for a counter weight on the tone arm. This is a heavy piece of metal on the end opposite to the stylus. This is necessary to properly balance the tone arm. Do not buy any turntable without a counter weight.
Places to look for a vintage turntable are the obvious ones – Kijiji, Goodwill and the Salvation Army Thrift shops and the summer yard sales.