One this I get asked for is tips on how to buy a used turntable. So I thought I’d address this in today’s post. So, stick around if you want to find out how to put together an awesome rig on the cheap.
I’m no expert, but my current rig is entirely made up of used audio gear. I’m thrilled with it! And the entire thing cost me $350.
If I include the new cartridge and speaker cables my rig (turntable, amp, and speakers) cost roughly $450.
A Quick Breakdown of My Current Rig and Cost
Here’s my current rig and what I paid for each component…
Turntable: Pioneer PL-720.
Amplifier: Integrated Sansui AU-217 II.
Speakers: A pair of Pioneer Rondo 3000s. I scored these for free, but I had the old factory fitted speakers and speaker sponge replaced.
I bought my turntable from a local guy who specializes in audio equipment. He was the second owner of the deck. I’ll admit, it does have a few scuff marks and none of its automatic features work.
But it’s older than I am (over 40), keeps perfect speed and I wanted a vintage turntable. And I’m not phased by automatic features for now.
5 Tips on How to Buy a Used Turntable
There are five simple things on my mental checklist that I run through when I’m hunting for or come across a used turntable.
Tip #1: Assess the Cosmetic Condition
The most obvious place to start is by assessing the cosmetic condition of the turntable. What kind of shape is it in?
Answer all these questions for yourself before moving on to the next step…
- Has it been cared for, or does it look banged up? A few scuff marks are not the end of the world.
- Does it have a lid?
- Does the lid open?
- Does it have all four feet? Ideally, you want a turntable that still has all its feet.
Tip #2: Feel the Weight
A general rule is, the heavier the turntable, the better. Of course, there are exceptions to this. But in general, a more substantial deck speaks to quality.
A solid plinth (or the turntable base) helps dampen or reduce vibrations which improves sound quality.
That’s because vibrations can be passed up the tonearm and picked up by your stylus, and that is something you don’t want.
So if you spot a turntable at a thrift store, garage sale or charity store, don’t be shy. Pick it up and feel its weight. Is it flimsy plastic, or is it built like a tank?
Tip #3: Check the Hardware
Scan the turntable to make sure all the hardware is present. And check all the knobs and dials too.
- Is there supposed to be a counterweight?
- Does it have a counterweight?
- Is there a tonearm?
- What about the headshell?
- Does it still have a 45 adapter?
Personally, if the counterweight and tonearm are there, I’m happy. A headshell is easy enough to find and replace. In fact, I managed to score a free extra headshell for my vintage Pioneer from the dude I buy my cartridges from.
Speaking of cartridges…
Check to see if the TT has a cartridge fitted. Some used turntables will have vintage cartridges already fitted, and they can be quite valuable. And often still sound great.
But if there’s no cartridge, it’s not a dealbreaker. You’ll likely want to use a different cart altogether. My turntable came with the now discontinued Audio Technica AT 120 EB.
I did get a few hours of play out of it before swapping it out for an Ortofon M2 Red.
If you’re looking to upgrade or replace your cartridge, check out my reviews of the best cartridges for the money.
Tip #4: Check to Make Sure it Works
Definitely plug it in and make sure it functions mechanically before you shell out your greenbacks.
- Does the platter turn?
- Does it keep speed?
- If there’s a strobe light, does it work?
- Does the tonearm drop as intended?
- If it has automatic functions (and this is important to you) make sure they work. Like for example, does the tonearm pick up when it reaches the end of the record?
Tip #5: What’s the Asking Price?
Okay, so you’re looking for a good deal, or you wouldn’t be reading this article. And this tip will help you clinch the deal…
But first let me say that if you’re at a garage sale or thrift store and you come across something marked to go at $20 or less, grab it. You’ll be surprised how valuable these finds are for spare parts.
That being said, if you’re looking for a turntable to use, remember…
Google is your friend.
And haggling is totally acceptable.
Use your smart device and search the model number and make for the deck.
First, check out some forums to see what other folks are saying about the turntable.
Then see what it’s selling for on places like Craig’s List or Ebay. This will help you make a decision on whether what you’re looking at is sensibly priced. And it gives you some leverage to haggle.
Bottom Line on How to Buy a Used Turntable
I won’t pretend to be the definitive voice in buying used turntables and audio gear in general. But these 5 steps are the process I followed when I started out a few years back.
So hopefully these will help you along the way to find a vintage deck you’ll love. And one that will live long and play you some beautiful tunes!
If you want to learn how to find, grade and buy used vinyl records, check out my definitive guide here.