The Technics SL-1500C is a direct-drive turntable with a built-in phonostage. Its shiny aluminum top plate sits on a matte black body of ABS mixed with fiberglass, which Technics says helps with rigidity. The tonearm is the same S-shape version found in the 1200 Series, with adjustable height and an extra counterweight for use with heavier cartridges and headshells. On the back is a switch to defeat the auto tonearm lift, two sets of RCAs, and a switch to change between the built-in phono preamp and straight line output. Sound is absolutely fantastic for this price point, especially through a separate phonostage rather than the internal phono preamp. Overall, an absolute bargain and a pleasure to use.
Pro-Ject RPM 5 Carbon
$1499 (including Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 high-output mc cartridge)
The RPM-5 Carbon turntable from Pro-Ject is possibly the first and last turntable you’ll ever need. The aesthetics are gorgeous but also functional: the heavy, detached motor and minimalist yet still substantial plinth mean fewer potential vibrations. Pace and timing are spot on, while the surprisingly quiet backgrounds and the sheer depth of soundstaging elevate playback to that next level. Music flows in an incredibly precise and pleasant way, never lagging or falling behind. The RPM-5 will accommodate solid upgrades down the signal path for years to come. It’s an easy and obvious step above the rest and highly recommended.
Rega P6 with RB330 Tonearm
$1595 ($1995 with pre-mounted Exact cartridge; $2195 with pre-mounted Ania; $2495 with pre-mounted Ania Pro)
The belt-driven unsuspended P6 doesn’t deliver the ultimate punch, detail, or transporting emotional thrill of the very finest vinyl playback gear money can buy, but that’s hardly the point, or the design goal. The point is that like all of the best and longest-lived audio gear, the P6 compels us to play record after record, to revisit music we love, and explore music we have yet to discover. To say that the P6 sets a new standard for Rega ‘tables at this price point is not damning with faint praise; it’s instead high praise for what Rega has accomplished—and continues to.
$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
$1750 (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.
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, we 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 has steadfastly been designing and small-batch-manufacturing turntables that offer high performance at a friendly price. With both the mm and mc cartridges we’ve tried, the PolyTable Standard9 delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks.
Pro-Ject 6 perspeX SB
$1799 ($1999 with factory mounted Sumiko Amethyst mm cartridge)
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.