As long as we have this cool Entry Level Forum, I thought I'd try to make a thread for a commonly asked question: Which "budget turntable?"
Since Stereophile can't review EVERY entry at this price point, I thought I'd start things out with a list of turntable at about that price point that I've heard, and maybe other people can add to it as a resource for future "new shoppers!"
I'll try to stick to tables with arms included for now...
Clearaudio: New Emotion and Satisfy arm. Right off the bat, breaking the bank at 1,200 dollars, but it is such a "polite" and "refined" table that I had to toss it in. I think it sounds better than its price.
Very quiet, too.
Music Hall MMF 2.1 or 2.1LE. I admit a slight bias against the name, MMF stands for "make money fast," or so the story goes. However, this budget darling has a lively sound that would be at home with rock or high energy jazz. The cartridge is included, too. It seems to do most things right in terms of macrodynamics, but may be a little "zippy" for some.
Music Hall MMF 5.1SE. Price includes a PF good cartridge. This is a nice table for the moneys. If I had to sum it up, I'd call it reminiscent of the early Linn turntables. It's pretty sweet.
PRO-JECT RM6.1SB. I can't believe Project can make money with this baby. I've only heard this table at shows, and not run by Project - they usually have static displays. In fact, I may have heard a model designation before this one, or even a different model that looks similar, so take this with a grain of salt, but if you are shopping, you owe it to yourself to see/hear this creature. It even includes an outboard speed control! I've heard their arm on other platters, and I seem prone to like slightly higher mass arms - theirs gives good cartridge control. Seriously, a major player at the kilo-dollar point.
PRO-JECT XPERIENCE. Another amazingly priced toy! They get alot of performance per dollar with their line. I haven't been able to directly compare these two Project tables, but these two babies would make for a great audition shoot out to see what you hear and prefer!
PRO-JECT XPRESSION II. A great bargain, including a cartridge that is exceedingly well mated to its arm. I heard that the arm was designed with the cartridge in mind. Amazingly good for the moneys. Maybe a little bass shy compared to the upper models, but surprisingly good at just getting out of the way so the party can get on!
REGA - P1 I seem to like this one better than the Music Hall, but I think it's the same table! Perhaps it was more well matched with cartridge and phono-pre. This for the price is a no brainer.
REGA - P2. This baby has been around forever, but the has a new version this year...which I haven't heard yet...but, the original and the matching arm are audio standards. If you are shopping, you have to listen to this yourself and see just how much that little moneys can accomplish.
Rega P-5. Also over budget at 1300 dollars or so, but if you're gonna go for a thou, go for 1,300 and hear this KILLER arm. It just owns cartridges. A very refined and bullet proof system. Kudos to them for putting this set up together.
SOTA Comet, with or without arm. Lots of time spent listening to this baby and it is Q-U-I-E-T!!! Rock solid speed control...very good with piano, which I think is the hardest instrument for turntables to get right. Good arm, good resistance to vibration. I can't say enough nice things about this table at this price point.
SOTA Moonbeam. I likey, but I likey the Comet more for only 300 more dollars. You would eventually want to move up from the Moonbeam, but maybe not from the Comet!
I have not heard the new Thorens line enough to comment. Same with the new Dual turntables.
OK, people are going to poo over the next ones, but I'm feeling confessional:
Denon DP-500M, at 700 bucks. The bad news is that there are several things this table does not do. The good news is that there several tings this table does not do. It is almost maintenance free, and you're not paying for any R&D at this point. Better build quality that the price would indicate. I have a buddy who uses this table with a tubed front end and amps feeding a pair of Vendersteens and it is sweet! He uses it with a Shure V-15MR and plays it with the brush in the down position, and swears by the table and the needle. Surprisingly good at piano and massed orchestral passages, and it is nearly immune to outside influence. I