Are vintage turntables worth it?

Photo of author
Written By Dominic Howard

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

Are Vintage Turntables Worth It?

Vinyl records and turntables are making a comeback. While new turntables with modern features and technology can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars, many vinyl enthusiasts are instead opting for vintage turntables from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. But are vintage turntables really worth investing in? There are pros and cons to going the vintage route.

Pros of Vintage Turntables:

  • Better craftsmanship and build quality. Many audiophiles argue that the build quality and craftsmanship of vintage turntables are superior to newer budget models. Brands like Technics, Thorens, and Dual were made to last. The plinths, tonearms, and internal components were painstakingly engineered and constructed. This robust construction gives many vintage turntables a solid, stable, and well-damped platform for spinning records accurately.
  • All-mechanical operation. Vintage turntables rely completely on mechanical engineering and physics to spin the record at the right speed with minimal vibration. Many vinyl purists prefer this simplistic operation over turntables with electronic motors, servo controllers, and other gadgets that can introduce interference and noise in the signal path.
  • Earlier magnetic cartridges. Many vintage turntables come equipped with higher quality Moving Magnet or Moving Coil cartridges from brands like Ortofon, Shure, and Stanton that were designed specifically for the linear tracking of records. The cartridges in new entry-level turntables tend to be cheaper and lower in quality.
  • Better value. You can often get more turntables for your money buying vintage. A decent 1970s direct drive turntable from Pioneer or Technics can often be had for $200-300 and will outperform a new $300 turntable in both build and sound quality. When well maintained, a good vintage turntable can deliver fidelity on par with new turntables costing much more.
  • Cool retro aesthetic. Vintage turntables often look much cooler than cheap plastic models selling today. The striking silver, black, or wooden finishes, analog dials, and needle gauges on vintage models give them a classic hi-fi component aesthetic. Many listeners also appreciate the tactile, hands-on experience of using a vintage turntable.
  • Potential collector’s items. Certain vintage turntable models like the Technics SL-1200 / SL-1210 series and the Thorens TD series have become highly coveted collector’s items. Well-preserved units in good condition can fetch high prices on the used market. Owning a vintage conversation piece can be rewarding beyond just its functionality.

Cons of Vintage Turntables:

  • Lack of modern conveniences. Vintage turntables lack conveniences like automatic start/stop, tonearm lifting, and multiple speed options that come standard on new turntables. Cueing records requires manual lifting of the tonearm and powering on/off requires flipping a switch. Forget fancy high-tech features like Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports, or built-in phono preamps too.
  • Durability concerns with older components. The damping grease on older turntables can harden, belts can stretch and break, and components like motors and switches are prone to wear and tear over decades of use. Before purchasing a vintage turntable, it’s critical to have it professionally serviced and repaired.
  • Cartridge replacement difficulties. The special cartridges on some vintage turntables can be difficult or expensive to replace. Options may be limited for third-party replacement styles as well. You may need to source new-old-stock stylus replacements on sites like eBay.
  • Lack of adjustments. Many vintage turntables either have no adjustment options or very limited adjustments compared to today’s models. It may not be possible to perfectly optimize the vertical tracking angle, anti-skate, or tonearm height. This can negatively impact sound quality.
  • Inferior dust covers. The clear plastic dust covers on some vintage turntables can accumulate scratches or develop haze that negatively impacts visibility and aesthetics. New turntables often use higher-quality dust covers.
  • No automatic functions. Vintage turntables don’t have conveniences like automatic tonearm return or speed switching. The user has to manually lift the arm and move it to the resting post. And the power and speed has to be turned on via switches and knobs.
  • Fewer upgrade options. The upgrade path may be limited on a vintage turntable. There are fewer cartridge and stylus options compared to popular modern turntable models. And switching to a higher quality tonearm or platter isn’t always possible either.
  • Questionable sellers and repairs. Due diligence is required when buying vintage. Online vendors may try to pass non-functioning units with serious problems as “refurbished”. And finding a qualified repair tech familiar with servicing old turntables is also hit or miss.

How to Determine If a Vintage Turntable is Worthwhile

If you’re attracted to the idea of buying an older turntable, here are some tips for assessing whether a particular vintage model is worth pursuing:

  • Research the brand and model – Find out if the turntable in question has a good reputation and following among audiophiles. Models from brands like Technics, Thorens, Kenwood, and Pioneer are typically safe bets.
  • Examine condition – Carefully inspect photos of the actual unit you would be buying and ask the seller direct questions about the condition, repairs, and functionality. Make sure it’s been properly serviced and restored.
  • Consider rarity – Rare and limited edition vintage turntable models often command higher prices from collectors that may not align with their objective performance. Weigh collectability vs. practical use.
  • Compare prices – Check completed eBay listings and sales forum posts to gauge the going market rate for the specific turntable model in a similar condition. Factor in the cost of any repairs needed as well.
  • Factor in cartridge replacement cost – If the original cartridge/stylus needs replacing, do your homework on how much credible replacements will add to the total investment.
  • Assess repair accessibility – Can you easily find a qualified technician if the turntable needs to be serviced? Having to ship a unit long distances to a vintage specialist adds risk and cost.
  • Consider tonearm compatibility – Can you easily find replacement cartridges that properly fit the existing tonearm on the vintage turntable? Non-standard mounts limit future upgrade options.
  • Weigh convenience vs. sound quality – Vintage turntables trade off convenience for purported sound quality improvements. Decide which factors matter most to your listening experience.

The potential reward of warmer, more organic analog sound needs to be weighed carefully against the higher maintenance and lack of modern features inherent in vintage vinyl playback. While often rewarding, going the vintage route is only recommended for listeners with the patience and willingness to properly maintain their equipment.

Top Vintage Turntable Models

Here are some of the most prized and recommended vintage turntable models for vinyl enthusiasts seeking the combination of great sound, cool retro styling, and long-term mechanical reliability:

Technics SL1200/SL1210 – This direct drive turntable was standard issue in radio stations and DJ booths, noted for its precision quartz-locked speed control, high torque motor, and rugged build quality. Models built in the late 1970s are most coveted by collectors and audiophiles.

Thorens TD-150 / TD-160 Super – With their heavy, precisely balanced suspended sub-chassis design and excellent arm quality, 1960s-era Thorens turntables are outstanding performers that can still compete sonically with modern turntables.

Dual CS-5000 / 701 – Featuring low rumble belt-drive designs, these 1970s-80s Dual turntables offer superb isolation, pitch stability, and sound quality with their massive platters and steady tonearms.

Marantz 6300/6320 – Crafted under the Marantz Classique series in the late 70s, these handsome turntables deliver musicality and reliability along with beautiful rosewood veneers.

Pioneer PL-530 / PL-550 – Top models in Pioneer’s line of suspension design turntables of the mid-1970s, they offer accuracy, flexibility, and nice wooden finishes.

Kenwood KD-500 / KD-550 – With their convenient auto-return mechanisms and signature black finishes, these popular mass-market turntables from the late 70s provide smooth performance and great value on the used market today.

Sansui SR-929 – This Japanese belt-drive turntable from the early 80s impresses with its sophisticated S-shaped tonearm made from carbon fiber and aluminum that minimizes resonance.

Technics SL-7 – Technics’ audiophile turntable from the late 1970s featured an innovative straight-line, gimbal-suspended tonearm praised for its precision tracking ability and smooth sound.

Bang & Olufsen Beogram 4000 – With its unique tangential-tracking tonearm and sleek Danish styling, the Beogram 4000 series delivers both incredible engineering and aesthetics.

Sony PS-X800 / PS-X7 – Representing the pinnacle of Sony turntable tech in the late 70s / early 80s, these quartz lock direct drives featured an ultra-stable bridge and uni-pivot tonearm design.

Vintage Turntable Buying Tips

If digging through garage sales, flea markets, and online listings has whet your appetite for a classic turntable, keep these tips in mind while assessing your options:

  • Examine the plinth and base for signs of damage, warping, or unauthorized repairs like drill holes that could compromise integrity.
  • Inspect the platter for scratches, dents, or wobble when spinning. Spin it manually to check smoothness.
  • The tonearm should be straight and not wobbly, loose, or damaged. The counterweight and anti-skate should move freely.
  • Avoid units with a lot of rust or oxidation on metal parts like the tonearm, hardware, chassis, and controls. This indicates neglect.
  • The dust cover should be clear and free of major scratches or smudging. Look for “wobble” when raising and lowering.
  • Check that cartridge pins are straight and clean. The stylus tip should also have no wear, bends, or visible damage under a magnifying glass.
  • Plug in the turntable (with no record on a platter) and confirm smooth platter spinning and consistent speed. Listen closely for motor noise or rumbling.
  • Try the start/stop mechanism and switching between speeds. Settings should be made quickly with no hesitation or fluctuation.
  • Lower and raise the tonearm to verify smooth gentle operation without sticking or excessive force required.
  • Inspect all wiring for deterioration, fraying, exposed copper, or damaged terminated connectors.
  • Ask about the age and condition of key components like belts, cartridge stylus, motors, switches, and capacitors.
  • Ideally have the turntable professionally serviced, cleaned, and restored prior to sale. Or negotiate a partial refund for future repair costs.

Owning a quality vintage turntable can be a very satisfying experience for vinyl aficionados seeking the warm, detailed sound of decades past. However, caution is required to avoid units damaged by neglect or inadequate maintenance. Carefully inspecting condition and functionality is critical prior to purchase. With some restoration love, a vintage find can spin LPs for years to come. Happy treasure hunting out there!

Frequently Asked Question

1. What is a vintage turntable?

A vintage turntable is a record player that was manufactured several decades ago and is considered a classic or retro audio device.

2. Are vintage turntables still functional?

Many vintage turntables are still functional if they have been well-maintained or refurbished. However, their condition can vary, so it’s essential to carefully assess their functionality before purchasing.

3. Are vintage turntables better than modern ones?

Vintage turntables can offer a unique warm sound and aesthetic appeal, but they may lack some modern features. Whether they’re better depends on your preferences and needs.

4. What should I consider when buying a vintage turntable?

Factors to consider include the turntable’s condition, brand, model, and availability of replacement parts. Research thoroughly and inspect the unit if possible.

5. Are vintage turntables expensive?

Vintage turntables can vary widely in price. Some affordable options can be found, but highly sought-after vintage models can be expensive.

6. Do vintage turntables require maintenance?

Yes, vintage turntables often require maintenance or restoration work to ensure they function correctly. This can involve replacing belts, and cartridges, or refurbishing the plinth.

7. Can I use modern speakers with a vintage turntable?

Yes, you can use modern speakers with a vintage turntable. You may need to ensure compatibility and use the appropriate cables and connectors.

8. Do vintage turntables play vinyl records only?

Yes, vintage turntables are designed primarily for playing vinyl records, including 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM records. They may not be compatible with digital media.

9. Are vintage turntables a good investment?

Vintage turntables can appreciate in value over time if they are well-preserved and sought after by collectors. However, investing in them solely for financial gain is speculative.

10. What are the advantages of owning a vintage turntable?

Advantages include a classic, retro look, the potential for high-quality sound, and the satisfaction of owning a piece of audio history.


The decision of whether vintage turntables are worth it depends on individual preferences and priorities. Vintage turntables offer a unique blend of nostalgia, aesthetics, and the potential for high-quality sound. They can be a rewarding addition to any audiophile’s collection or a stylish centerpiece in a retro-themed setup. However, it’s crucial to approach the purchase of a vintage turntable with careful consideration. Assess the condition, do your research, and be prepared for potential maintenance or restoration costs. For those who appreciate the charm of vintage audio equipment and are willing to invest the time and effort, vintage turntables can indeed be worth it. Ultimately, the worthiness of a vintage turntable is in the

Leave a Comment