Vinyl records have made a huge comeback in recent years, with music lovers rediscovering the unparalleled analog sound you can only get from a turntable playing your favorite records. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of vinyl listening, getting a turntable with a built-in preamp is the easiest way to get started. The preamp takes the guesswork out of setup and lets you just plug and play.
In this post, we’ll highlight the top 5 turntables with built-in preamps that provide great quality and value. We’ll also discuss how to choose the right turntable with built-in preamp to match your listening needs and setup. Let’s dig in!
Spinning Up with Built-In Preamps
A turntable uses a delicate stylus to physically trace the grooves of a record, picking up vibrations that get converted into an analog audio signal. This tiny signal needs to get amplified and equalized by a phono preamp to boost it to line level for playback through speakers.
Many turntables require you to buy a separate standalone phono preamp, but models with built-in preamps offer an all-in-one solution. The preamp is matched and tailored to that turntable’s cartridge, providing just the right gain staging and EQ for optimized performance.
Built-in preamp turntables provide several benefits:
- Convenience of a ready-to-play plug-and-play setup
- Eliminates guesswork of choosing an external preamp
- Simple connection to powered speakers or an audio receiver
- Often better matched to the cartridge than external preamps
Now let’s look at the top choices that offer great quality and value.
The Top 5 Turntables with Built-In Preamps
Audio-Technica AT-LP5x – Versatile Performer
The Audio-Technica AT-LP5x is a sophisticated, mid-range turntable with a quality built-in phono preamp. Some key specs and features:
- Belt driven with anti-resonance die-cast aluminum platter
- Selectable phono preamp with RiAA equalization
- S-shaped tonearm with hydraulically damped lift control
- Supports moving magnet cartridges
- Adjustable dynamic anti-skate control
Reviewers praise the excellent audio quality for the price, with clear and detailed sound across vinyl genres from jazz and classical to rock. The tonearm tracks well and the sturdy construction and vibration damping delivers a clean, balanced sound.
The AT-LP5x sports a sleek, minimalist design in a choice of finishes like black, white or walnut. The build quality is very good for the price point. Setup is quick and easy thanks to the built-in preamp. At around $350, this turntable punches above its weight for features and performance.
Pros: Great sound, easy setup, good build quality, adjustable controls Cons: No auto start/stop or 78 RPM speed
Fluance RT85N – Feature Packed Value
The Fluance RT85N offers outstanding performance and features for a very reasonable price. Key specs:
- Belt driven with aluminum platter and dust cover
- Texas Instruments phono preamp with gain control
- S-shaped tonearm with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge
- Servo controlled motor for speed accuracy
- Auto stop and adjustable feet for isolation
Listeners consistently remark on the warm, detailed analog sound and excellent stereo imaging reproduced by the RT85N. The Ortofon cartridge and tonearm combination produce very clean tracks across a wide frequency range. Motor noise is also extremely low thanks to the servo motor.
Aesthetically, the RT85N looks great with its glossy finish and cherry wood veneer sections. The build quality is solid and vibration damping works well. Setup takes minutes, and the preamp makes dialing in the right gain easy. Overall an amazing value at around $500.
Pros: Superb sound quality, extensive features, easy setup Cons: Manual speed change is inconvenient
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO – Audiophile Level Performance
Stepping up to the $600 range brings you to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO, a high performance turntable that punches well above its class. Notable features:
- Belt drive with TPE motor suspension
- 8.6” carbon fiber tonearm with EVO cartridge
- Heavy steel platter with TPE damping
- Built-in phono stage with MM/MC input
- Precision speed control
Listeners and critics universally praise the exceptional audio fidelity of this turntable. The carbon tonearm and moving magnet EVO cartridge combine for incredible tracking capability and sonic accuracy. The platter’s mass and TPE suspension provide excellent vibration damping and speed stability.
From a design perspective, the Debut Carbon EVO looks stunning with its glossy finish and compact, contemporary profile. Attention to detail in the materials and construction is evident. The tonearm in particular is perfectly calibrated out of the box for effortless setup. Overall this turntable punches far above its class.
Pros: Superb, audiophile-level sound; sleek, minimalist design; easy precision setup Cons: Manual speed change is less convenient
U-Turn Audio Orbit Special – Modern Simplicity
For those seeking a fuss-free, minimalist turntable, the U-Turn Audio Orbit Special is a great choice at around $470. Details:
- Belt drive with precision gimbal tonearm
- Built-in phono preamp with gain control
- Machined acrylic platter for vibration damping
- Damped feet for noise isolation
- Hand assembled in USA
Buyers compliment the warm, balanced sound for an affordable mid-range turntable. The Orbit Special produces clean tracks without distorting complex passages or sibilance. Adjustments are easy to dial in perfectly.
Visually, the Orbit Special has a contemporary design profile with its thick acrylic platter and straight tonearm. Construction quality is very good, and the simple plug-and-play setup makes getting started easy. For straightforward vinyl listening, this fuss-free turntable hits the spot.
Pros: Streamlined modern design; warm, balanced sound; easy setup Cons: Manual operation is less convenient; no dust cover
Sony PS-LX310BT – Wireless Convenience
The Sony PS-LX310BT combines the Sony’s reliability with the convenience of wireless Bluetooth connectivity. Key features:
- Belt drive with aluminum die-cast platter
- Built-in phono amp and Bluetooth transmitter
- 1/8” stereo mini jack and RCA line outputs
- Fully automatic operation and two speed settings
- Sleek contemporary design
Reviewers describe the clear, detailed sound as excellent for the price. The automatic operation and Bluetooth pairing make playing records simple and streamlined. Audiophiles may want a more finely tuned turntable, but for more casual listening this delivers very good quality.
The minimalist design looks right at home in modern decor, and the build quality is solid. Setup is seamless with the integrated preamp. The automatic functions add convenience for beginners. Overall this turntable hits a sweet spot of quality, features and connectivity.
Pros: Bluetooth connectivity; automatic operation; clear, detailed sound Cons: More basic cartridge and tonearm; audiophiles may want finer control
Now that we’ve surveyed some top options, let’s go over how to select the right turntable with built-in preamp for your listening needs and setup.
How to Choose the Best Built-In Preamp Turntable for You
With so many models on the market, how do you determine which built-in preamp turntable is right for your needs? Here are the key factors to consider:
Match Your Budget
Built-in preamp turntables span a wide range of prices from under $200 for basic models to over $1000 for high-end players. Think about your budget and listening needs:
- Under $300 turntables – Best for casual listening. Offer good sound for the price but lack finer features.
- $300 to $500 models – Ideal for budding vinyl enthusiasts. Offer better construction and sound quality with adjustable features.
- $500 to $1000 range – Audiophile-level performance with premium components and fidelity.
Setting a budget first helps narrow down your many options substantially.
Consider Design and Build Quality
The physical design and build quality impact the turntable’s visual appeal, functionality and audio performance. Some key aspects to evaluate:
- Platter material and weight – Heavier platters improve vibration damping and speed consistency. Quality materials like acrylic avoid resonance issues.
- Belt driven vs direct drive – Belt driven isolation is better for analog sound but direct drive offers more precise speed control.
- Tonearm design – High-end gimbal mounted tonearms provide the most agile and accurate tracking.
- Dust cover – Models with covers protect from debris when not playing records. Open designs look sleeker.
- Automatic vs manual – Automatic starting, stopping and tonearm cueing adds convenience while manual operation provides finer control.
Prioritize the combination of design elements that best fits your priorities like aesthetics, functionality and sound.
Evaluate the Cartridge and Phono Stage
Two of the most important components that determine sound quality are the cartridge and built-in phono preamp:
- Cartridge – Moving magnet cartridges are common and easy to use while moving coil designs offer higher fidelity.
- Phono preamp – Should provide accurate RIAA equalization and properly amplify the cartridge output signal with minimal noise and distortion.
If sound quality is critical, seek out reviews of how the specific turntable’s cartridge and phono stage perform. Upgradable cartridges can also help improve fidelity down the line.
Factor In Special Features
Many modern turntables offer extra features beyond just spinning records:
- USB output – Lets you digitize vinyl records into files on your computer for listening or archiving.
- Bluetooth connectivity – Wirelessly streams music to Bluetooth speakers or headphones.
- Adjustable pitch control – Fine tunes the playback speed which can help optimize sound quality or do mixing.
- Upgradable cartridges – Allows improving fidelity by upgrading the cartridge down the line.
Consider which special features would enhance your listening experience or be useful for how you want to enjoy your record collection.
Ease of Setup and Use
For a plug-and-play experience, consider the turntable setup process and controls:
- Minimal assembly required – Pre-mounted cartridges and integrated preamps simplify initial setup.
- Fully automatic operation – Auto start/stop and tonearm cueing makes spinning records incredibly easy once configured.
- Intuitive controls and displays – Easy to perform fine adjustments and see info like rotating speed.
- Good instructions manual – Clear guidance and diagrams simplify the balancing and calibration steps.
Ideally, setting up and using the turntable should be quick, painless and frustration-free.
Choose Matching Speakers and Gear
To get the best performance from your new turntable, avoid bottlenecking it with lower quality amplification and speakers. Make sure other components in your setup can keep up.
- Powered speakers or an external phono stage preamp are required for turntables without built-in preamps.
- Passive speakers need an amplifier capable of providing ample power and having a phono input.
- Match the turntable’s output levels to avoid overdriving or underpowering.
- Acoustic isolation stands can help reduce interference and vibrations.
Carefully selecting complementary gear ensures you’re set up for optimal vinyl listening sessions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why buy a turntable with a built-in preamp?
Built-in preamp turntables provide major advantages in convenience and setup:
- All-in-one setup without needing a separate external phono preamp.
- Eliminates guesswork of choosing a properly matched external preamp.
- Simple plug-and-play connections to powered speakers or an audio receiver.
- Internal preamp designed to perfectly match the turntable’s cartridge.
What’s the difference between MM and MC cartridges?
MM and MC refer to moving magnet and moving coil cartridge designs:
- MM cartridges are more common and affordable with replaceable styluses.
- MC cartridges are higher-end with permanent styluses and offer better channel separation.
- MM are typically easier to set up while MC provide higher fidelity sound.
- MM work well with built-in preamps but MC may require a step-up transformer.
How important is the tonearm quality?
As the tonearm holds the cartridge and allows it to trace the record grooves, quality is very important:
- Good tonearms provide accurate tracking and uniform resonance control.
- Adjustable counterweights help perfectly balance and calibrate the cartridge.
- High-end gimbal mounted tonearms offer the most agile and fluid movement.
Prioritize turntables with rigid, precisely calibrated tonearms for the best sound fidelity.
What bearing and platter specs should I look for?
For smooth, consistent rotation, seek out turntables with:
- Heavy, precisely flat platters to prevent vibration issues and deviations.
- Dense, inert platter materials like acrylic that avoid undesirable resonances.
- Low friction ball bearings in belt drive models for unimpeded, steady rotation.
- Magnetic or electronic bearings in direct drives for the utmost rotation precision.
How important is vibration damping?
Effective vibration damping is crucial for proper sound reproduction:
- Suspended sub-chassis floating turntable designs isolate external vibrations.
- Heavy platters and dense plinths dissipate vibrations before they cause audible issues.
- Foam or spring feet under the turntable prevent surface vibrations getting through.
- A level, stable surface away from speakers limits acoustic feedback.
Make sure the turntable has quality vibration damping integrated for the cleanest audio performance.
What’s the benefit of USB and Bluetooth features?
USB and Bluetooth provide great additional ways to listen:
- USB output lets you digitize albums to digital audio files on your computer.
- Bluetooth streams vinyl wirelessly to Bluetooth speakers or headphones.
- These give you more flexibility in how you listen and ability to archive your collection.
- USB also enables mixing tracks and making mixtapes from recordings.
As you can see, today’s turntables with built-in preamps make listening to vinyl more enjoyable than ever. Models from reputable brands provide excellent sound quality right out of the box.
Think about your budget, style preferences, desired features and matching equipment as you weigh the many options. And don’t forget to have fun rediscovering your record collection! The distinctive analog sound of vinyl brings music to life in a way digital can’t fully replicate.
Let us know if you have any other questions about choosing a great turntable with built-in preamp. We’re always happy to help fellow music lovers get the most out of their vinyl setup. Now get spinning those records and savor the warm, rich sound!