Pro-Ject RPM 5 Carbon
$1499 (includes Sumiko Blue Point #2 factory mounted and aligned)
This isn’t a plug-and-play deck—one that you stick on the shelf and forget about. (You could do that, of course, but this ’table was designed to be tweaked and upgraded.) It uses a minimalist plinth that hugs the edges of the big acrylic platter and tonearm board, cutting out anything that isn’t necessary. The motor itself sits on a massive little stage and is entirely separate from the main platter’s plinth. This decouples it, making for a much quieter ride. The main platter and plinth are pretty massive themselves, with tip-toe feet that can be adjusted in order to perfectly level everything. In sound, reviewer DK was both impressed and incredibly pleased. The Pro-Ject was at least a match for, if not better than, his own reference deck, and a clear and obvious step up from budget ’tables like the U-Turn or the Rega Planar 1.
Rega Planar 6
$1595 w/o cart, $1995 w/ Exact2 MM, $2195 w/Ania MC
Rega’s Planar 6 offers the same phenolic-resin “double brace” found in the Planar 3, the same RB303 ’arm, and a whole lot more. Replacing Rega’s traditional glass platter/felt mat is a two-piece, 16mm-thick flywheel/platter made of two joined pieces of float glass. An outer ring adds mass to the circumference, increasing the platter’s natural flywheel effect, thus improving speed stability, accuracy, and consistency. The new subplatter adds an aluminum “top hub adaptor” with six-raised plateaus to ensure the flattest possible surface for LPs to rest on. The aluminum/rubber feet, too, are a step up from Rega’s standard rubber-cup-like units. Moreover, the Planar 6 comes standard with the TT PSU power supply, a must for top performance. Note the large improvements in dynamic nuance and explosiveness, tonal and textural detail, size and depth of stage, and sheer musicality.
$1600 ($2000 with Concept MM cartridge)
Clearaudio’s Concept turntable and cartridge offer a hugely rewarding analog experience at a very attractive price. The sleek, belt-drive ’table and magnetic-bearing Concept ’arm, which the company calls “friction free,” sell for $1600; when bundled with the Concept MM cartridge, the pre-set-up package sells for a trim $2000. And though the Concept’s performance may not equal that of the very finest out there, its combined strengths in resolution, dynamics, low-noise, and sheer musical engagement won’t leave you wanting. Couple this with terrific German build and finish, and the Concept is a hands-down bargain.
SOTA Comet IV with S303 tonearm
$1750 in wood finish
SOTA, which stands for State of the Art, has been building some of America’s finest turntables for well over 30 years. Its top-end models use the company’s well-known floating seismic isolation system, which hangs from a four-point sprung suspension. Because that technique is costly to execute, SOTA’s more affordable models, such as the Comet, use internal damping to isolate the chassis from vibration. Rounding out this excellent design is the Comet’s bearing cup, which 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 resulting sound is at once easy and authoritative, warm, rich, and solid, with wide and nuanced dynamics, and a large 3D soundstage. A great sounding ’table at a great price.
GEM Dandy PolyTable Standard
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: SA-250, SA-750D, or 10" SA-750E (the Japanese maker’s SA-250 ’arm was supplied with the audition unit). Like any ’table/’arm worth its salt, the PolyTable allows for VTF, VTA, and azimuth adjustments. Deceptively simple in design, it avoids fuss and frills, boasting a sleek, modern form, while its elegant two-piece platter, easy-to-install bearing, and adjustable feet (with a built-in bubble level) make for streamlined functionality. With both the mm and mc cartridges JM tried, the PolyTable delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks. A gem, indeed.
$1799 ($1999 includes Sumiko Blue Point Special Evo III)
This mid-priced record player (turntable, ’arm, and Sumiko Blue Point Special Evo III cartridge) offers a significant step up from the company’s vast array of lower-priced products. The upgraded features include an acrylic plinth and Corian subchassis that is magnetically suspended for greater vibration isolation, along with adjustable isolation feet. The conically shaped carbon-fiber armtube is mounted on an inverted bearing. The 6Perspex has very low noise and good speed stability, and is easy to set up and use. The review sample was fitted with a Sumiko Blue Point Special, but this turntable is good enough to support a significantly better cartridge.