Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC
The most significant upgrade to Pro-Ject’s latest Debut is found in the model’s name, which refers to the lighter, more rigid, single-piece 8.6" carbon-fiber ’arm tube that replaces the Debut III’s aluminum tube. Pre-mounted with Ortofon’s 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge, the Carbon offers all one expects from a modestly priced ’table. It doesn’t excel in any one area but gets the basics so right that it’s hard to criticize what’s lacking.
There’s a surprising amount of competition right now in the sub-$1000 turntable market. All the entrants have more or less have the same basic design: rigid plinth typically made of MDF or some other non-resonant material, two basic speeds, a non-resonant platter of acrylic or some other type of plastic, and a pre-mounted tonearm. That definitely describes Audio-Technica’s top-line LP7, but it’s not a bad thing. This basic design is more or less universal at this price point for a reason: It’s simple and it’s effective. It allows people who maybe aren’t too into the fiddling that naturally comes with vinyl playback to experience a proper turntable. As a superior example of this breed, the LP7 is a step up from your entry-level turntables, both in cost and functionality, but it is a snap to set up and use, has its own dust cover, and sounds swell.
$1600 ($1800 with Concept mm cartridge; $2400 with Concept mc cartridge)
The Clearaudio Concept turntable package does everything but unbox itself. Preset at the factory, this spinner features a svelte belt-drive chassis, a stunning friction-free, magnetic-bearing Verify tonearm, and the Concept moving-magnet cartridge. The build and finish of this German-made ’table are superior. For sheer musical engagement and superb speed stability, it’s the one to beat in this price range.
SOTA Comet IV
$1600 (with S303 tonearm)
SOTA uses internal damping to isolate the Comet from vibration; the bearing cup is made from a Teflon-impregnated self-lubricating polymer; the platter assembly consists of a high-density polymer main platter sitting atop a polymer-based sub-platter driven by a 24-pole AC synchronous motor. The result is an easy authoritative presentation that’s warm, rich, and solid, with wide nuanced dynamics and a large 3-D soundfield.
GEM Dandy PolyTable
If you’re an analog lover who doesn’t have a massive living space and/or a massive budget, this high-value, small-footprint, belt-driven turntable could be just your ticket. From setup to playback to overall musical enjoyment, JM found this American-made ’table to be user-friendly in every way. It comes with a Jelco tonearm of your choice, which allows for VTF, VTA, and azimuth adjustments. For the past few decades, George E. Merrill—whose initials make up the GEM name—has steadfastly been designing and small-batch-manufacturing turntables that offer high performance at a friendly price. With both the mm and mc cartridges JM tried, the PolyTable delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks.
Pro-Ject 6 perspeX SB
This superb mid-priced record player from Pro-Ject delivers more technology and sound quality than expected at this price. The sub-chassis is made from Corian and features a magnetic suspension; the platter has an acoustically inert sandwich construction, and the inverted main bearing is ceramic. The 6 perspeX SB is supplied with 9" Evo carbon tonearm, and can be bundled with a Sumiko Blue-Point Special. Speed stability is excellent, giving the ’table a sense of solidity. Noise levels are low.
Clearaudio Concept Black w/Satisfy Black tonearm
Beautifully proportioned, light but not insubstantial, Concept Black is a model for how a mid-priced, belt-drive turntable should look and perform. Concept Black is made like a fine Swiss mechanical watch; sonically, it offers overall musicality, image focus, transient authenticity, and dynamic conviction. Aided by the optional high-precision Satisfy Black tonearm, mistracking is rendered essentially theoretical, and speed stability is rock solid. Further, image stability is locked down with little to no smearing, even when the ’table is challenged by a tightly packed chorus or complex symphony.
Kuzma Stabi S
$2156 ($3615 with lid and external power supply)
The Stabi S is Kuzma’s least expensive turntable, but you wouldn’t know it to listen to the thing. Blessed with deep background silences, the Stabi S makes a great complement to the Stogi S tonearm. Not a good choice for rooms where footfalls will be a problem (because it is unsuspended), it is otherwise a fine mid-priced ’table.
MoFi Electronics UltraDeck+
When Mobile Fidelity decided to create a line of hardware it wisely brought in Allen Perkins of Spiral Groove to design the turntables, and those ’tables deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Setup is simple, especially with the “+” option, which comes with the Japanese-made UltraTracker mm cartridge preinstalled at the Ann Arbor factory. The belt-driven ’table features an isolated AC synchronous motor, a hefty Delrin platter, and a constrained-layer-damped chassis with feet designed by Mike Latvis of HRS. Smoothness, imaging, musicality, pitch stability, and presence emerged as strong themes. The UltraDeck is a smartly conceived and finely honed design that’s already earning its place as an instant classic.
Pro-Ject RPM 9 Carbon
The RPM 9 Carbon is Pro-ject’s “tuner” special with significant upgrades over the box-stock RM-9.2. There’s a new motor, a new DC-driven power supply that features an improved AC generator for speed stability. Plus a newly upgraded platter and carbon-wrapped chassis. Sonics were devilishly good. Backgrounds were jet black, and sonics softly tinted to the warmer end of the tonal spectrum. Presto arpeggios were liquid and articulate, and there was an impressive sense of air and lift in the upper octaves with an overarching sense of balance across all other criteria. Overall, a terrific package certain to give a great many lucky owners years of vinyl-spinning thrills.
Linn Sondek LP12
$2630 (turntable/deck only)
The original high-end turntable, Linn’s LP12 conveys the rhythm and pace that are the very foundations of music, and it gets better with age—owners of any vintage LP12 can upgrade to the current model. One of high-end audio’s genuine classics.
Well Tempered Lab Amadeus Mk2
This latest version of William Firebaugh’s inventive turntable and ’arm design has ultra-quiet background, superbly non-resonant, neutral sound, complete speed stability, surprising bass extension, easy setup and operation, and compatibility with a wide range of cartridges. Add-on isolation devices may be needed. Overall, the high end at a budget price.
SOTA Sapphire Series V
The Series V upgrade of this 30-year-old classic boasts improvements in parts, engineering, machining, fit and finish, and performance—all retrofittable to earlier versions. Its time-proven, four-point hanging suspension is still the ultimate in isolating the ’arm/pickup. For PS, the Sapphire is the least expensive turntable that suggests what “super”-turntables are all about, sacrificing only a bit of resolution and control by comparison. Recommended without serious qualification.
$3495 ($3995 w/Ortofon Quintet Black cartridge)
The combination of the C-Sharp and the Ortofon Quintet Black cartridge produced appealing sound that had rhythmic drive and made nearly everything reviewer Andre Jennings spun fun to listen to. Although the EAT lacked the ultimate resolution and neutrality of pricier analog front-ends, AJ still found its “sins” of omission more than acceptable. Indeed, he found himself spending more time listening to complete albums during the review period than what he’d originally allocated for the evaluation.
Pro-Ject Xtension 10
Long known for affordable, high-value turntables, Pro-Ject has recently entered the market for more up-scale models. And its Xtension 10 is a worthy contender. The design features a mass-loaded, magnetically floated subchassis, a 3"-tall, 12.6 lbs. vinyl/alloy platter, and the 10cc Evolution tonearm. What makes the ensemble special is its ability to get at the heart of the music, consistently providing not only a high level of musical satisfaction, but doing so in a way that delivers a powerful emotional wallop.
$3995 (with Apheta 2 mc cartridge)
The RP8 brings new levels of transparency, fine detail, soundstage definition, and drive to the always engaging (now more so) Rega sound, along with a tonal richness, weight, and dynamic thrust never before experienced from any Rega design. One of the best mid-priced record players on the market.
This turntable, which shares the historic name and appearance of the long-running SL-1200 series but is in fact a new design, offers performance at the very highest level. Its silence and speed stability are competitive with any turntable available and are far superior to most, even very high priced ones. The turntable’s sound is rock-solid, very pure, highly resolved, and quite lively in the positive sense.