If you want to start getting into vinyl or are looking to upgrade that piece of crap turntable that (perhaps) you got as a gift, then this is the post for you. There are a couple of good general rules when shopping for a new turntable.
First thing's first....budget.
Determine your budget. Below is a recommendation of a good place to start based on budget. We will pick the most common budget ranges that most vinyl beginners have to work with.
Less than $150: Keep saving! No, seriously. I know you're excited to start playing records but the last thing you want to do is waste your money on something that will not sound good or, even worse, ruin your records. Save just a little more, it'll be worth it. Don't trust all those reviews on sites like the one named after that rainforest in Brazil, unless it's an audiophile / hi-fi oriented site you are taking your chances with reviews from generic retail sites written by people who may not necessarily know what makes a quality turntable. Just because it's a "best seller" it doesn't make it a quality product. Any turntable will essentially "play records", but it's being able to identify which record players will not potentially damage records or skip for no reason that can be difficult for a novice to discern. Many general retail brick and mortar stores only stock cheap record players that, in the end, aren't worth a second look. If it costs $99 or less (not speaking vintage, but brand new), then run.
You can get a U-Turn Orbit Basic for $179 (pre-shipping cost) but I strongly recommend adding the cue lever for an additional $40. The cue lever ensures that your records won't get accidentally scratched by an uneasy hand. The lever allows you to raise and lower the tonearm without having to actually touch the headshell. A cue lever really should be standard on every turntable so don't consider this an option, it's really a MUST. So, the real cost is $219. For a little more, you can also customize your own U-Turn and upgrade from the basic model based on budget or get an Orbit Plus. But these upgrades can also be done as your budget allows later on. For the barest essentials, the Orbit Basic w/ cue lever is the way to go. Avoid getting a built-in preamp, I will discuss preamps in a bit. There may be a couple others in this price range, but I feel most comfortable recommending the Orbit Basic since everyone I know with a U-Turn loves it.
The U-Turn Orbit Plus has a pre-shipping price of $289 but you'll still need to add that cue lever that was mentioned previously, which brings it to $329. I'm not going to get into detailed specifics, but the Orbit Plus has a much better stylus (aka "needle") and an acrylic platter.
Another pretty solid option is the Audio Technica LP-120. Even though this one does have a built-in selectable pre-amp, it can be modified to be quite a stellar machine. The retail price for this one is around $299 and can pretty much be found anywhere that sells decent turntables. Just make sure you get one that was manufactured after 2011 (due to an inferior stylus/cartridge on older models). The number one thing to do is to yank that pre-amp! A pre-amp allows you to run the turntable through an aux/CD input instead of a phono input (since some receivers don't have phono inputs). The problem with built-in pre-amps in turntables is they are typically junk and limit the signal. Even if you bypass it (turn it off) and run it through a receiver/amp that has a phono input, your signal will still be affected because it has to flow through the capacitors of the pre-amp regardless and this is where the problem lies. Refer to this video on YouTube to do the pre-amp modification. It's super easy to do and if you (or someone you know) can solder then it's a simple process. This is the single biggest improvement anyone can do to the LP-120. The difference is like night and day!
$350 or more:
Well hello Mr. Fancy Pants. You have a leg up on most people and have a much bigger selection of quality turntables to chose from. Congratulations! You have a lot of research ahead of you. In addition to what was already mentioned, you also have Pro-Ject, Rega, Music Hall...and probably others to chose from. There is also a U-Turn Orbit Special as well. We suggest consulting an actual audiophile site such as Analog Planet for detailed reviews of some higher-end turntables.
This is what you will need if you don't have a stereo amp/receiver with a phono input. I recommend the TC-750 as it is affordable and audiophile quality. You can get it direct from the manufacturer here for $48.50 (it's also advised to get the "premium" power supply found here.)
Other Possible Upgrades / Purchases To Make:
Replace stock platter mat with cork or leather (for tighter bass)
Carbon fiber brush (with velvet pad between bristles)
Record cleaning unit (e.g. Record Doctor V or Spin Clean) - you need something other than a carbon fiber brush to clean records, even new ones. Brushes are mainly for surface dust.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Will do my best to answer.
Disclaimer: We are not a review site nor are we affiliated with any turntable manufacturers. This post is meant to be informational only.