Why buy new when you can buy old? Having run down the best budget, DJ and home listening turntables, Paul Rigby makes a case for why going vintage can offer great deals and superb performance.
Words: Paul Rigby
Buying a vintage turntable is a great option for vinyl fans. For many, a budget for any sort of hi-fi is a low priority. Once the bills are paid, it can be virtually impossible to purchase a new, top quality hi-fi system. Going vintage can offer quality at a low cost. Others may have spent a bundle on a new deck but have little in reserve for that second system that would be ideal for a study, bedroom or spare room. Some might even want to revisit younger days when the then ‘new’ turntables were objects of desire and now they can afford to purchase one, or even two of these classic designs.
Below, we have listed our Top 8 vintage purchases but, before you run off to your local second-hand store or eBay account, pause for thought.
It is true that you can grab some startling bargains on the vintage circuit with beautifully engineered turntables going cheap but bear in mind a couple of things. Firstly, do some research about the state of current prices. Don’t be conned into paying over the odds. Make sure that turntable that is on offer for £200 isn’t shifting for £50 a pop elsewhere.
There may be, however, a good reason why any particular vintage turntable is for sale for a relatively high price, which brings me to my next caveat: condition. Don’t buy junk.
Vintage turntables are vintage for a reason. They have been well used, are old but some may not have been well cared for – you are recommended to examine any turntable before you buy it. If you can do this in person then all the better. Ask for a demo and see the thing working (or otherwise) in action. Otherwise, you need to ask as many questions as possible and request as many close-up photographs of the deck from all angles to get a closer look at the less photogenic aspects of the deck.
Issues to be aware of include the condition of the stylus, the bearing (When was the bearing oil last replaced? Does the platter make scraping sounds when it rotates?) The attached cables, are they in good condition? Any signs of fraying or rust? Does the arm move freely on its bearing? Is the motor still usable? How about the belt, if applicable, does it need replacing? Look inside the chassis – is it full of rubbish, dust and fluff? Does the turntable hum? There may be grounding issues.
If you can sort out issues of this nature or you ‘know a man who can’ then you can buy with confidence but if your skills are limited then buy with an extra measure of caution and be selective in your buying choices.
Typical Price: £50
Here’s a bit of a dark horse for you. Not known for its turntables but still a respected name in hi-fi, NAD produced this turntable based upon the highly respected Rega Planer 2 turntable, so it has an impeccable pedigree. Because hardly anyone knows that, though, you can find these decks for very silly money.
Typical price: £50
A manufacturer who was both familiar on the hi-fi scene during the 80s and 90s and who faded from grace when vinyl sales suffered in the 90s. The company is back and making turntables but its classic originals, if looked after, would serve you very well indeed. In fact, a TD180 in decent condition might be all you ever need for vinyl play.
REGA PLANAR 3
Typical Price: £100
While you can still pick up a brand new RP3 (as the Planer 3 is now called) for around £500, the original Planer 3 was, and remains, a classic turntable. Back in the 80s and 90s, the Planer 3 reigned supreme as the budget turntable to own. It provided and still provides superb value for money. Make sure the arm is supplied but think about buying a new cartridge for it. You’re only looking at around £20 for the likes of an Audio Technica AT-95E.
MICHELL FOCUS ONE
Typical Price: £200
In fact, if you can find any second hand Michell turntable available to buy at a reasonable price and it is in decent working order – buy it. Firstly, all Michells produce excellent sound quality, all are built to a very high standard in engineering terms and, even better, London-based Michell will service any of their decks that you ship over to them. I’ve visited their workshop and can assure you that they are a safe bet.
Typical Price: £200+
Not, strictly speaking, the best hi-fi turntable that you have ever heard in your life, the SL-1200 is blessed with magnificent bass characteristics from its direct drive motor. There are, however, a host of audiophile upgrade kits on the market to turn a basic SL-1200 into a mean audiophile killer of a turntable. A quick ‘Technics SL-1200 upgrade’ Google will tell you everything you need to know.
Typical Price £220
Based in Scotland, this venerable manufacturer was one of the household names of hi-fi until it faded away in the 90s. Now, the son of the original owner has resurrected the company and, it is said, will talk to people who want to service their old decks. The IIX offered great sound quality. Google the company and have a word about servicing any prospective Systemdek purchase.
Typical Price: £250
The Axis was produced as a cut down Linn Sondek, the classic – and very expensive – turntable that is still made in Scotland. Unlike the Axis, that is. You will often find an Axis with one of a few Linn-supplied, integrated arms and cartridges. The price may vary depending on the type of arm and cartridge fitted, though. Watch out for decks stored in damp conditions, producing split and swollen MDF chassis seams.
PINK TRIANGLE TARANTELLA
Typical Price: £400
The company died and turned into the outfit now known as Funk Firm but the older Pink Triangle decks were always seen as direct competitors to the Linn Sondek. They are still highly prized. In fact, the reissue record label, Ace, uses a Pink Triangle in its mastering studio to this day. The Tarantella features awesome sound quality if set up properly.