Maybe it was a terrific listening experience at a friend’s house, or perhaps you’ve been collecting records without a decent way to play them for years, but once you have the desire to listen to gorgeous analog audio, nothing else will do. The best vinyl setups enable you to enjoy those lush tones of yesteryear while celebrating the rituals of audio’s early days.
With so many speakers, amplifiers, and turntables available, it can be tough to know how to even start to build a good setup to enjoy your record collection. We’ve got you covered, however. Below, we outline three entirely different vinyl setups to consider, ranging from an affordable and rewarding option to an aspirational audiophile-grade system for those who want to experience analog audio like never before.
If you’re looking to squeeze the best possible sound out of every cent, this simple three-piece setup will spin your new wax with shocking fidelity for its price point. Though not as flashy as pricier decks, Stanton’s T62 turntable will play back your vinyl with impressive quality, while offering a DJ-designed build that should hold up for years to come. A simple and great-sounding outboard phono preamp, the Phono Box E from Pro-Ject will boost the signal from the turntable on its way to the pice de rsistance of this basic vinyl experience — a pair of JBL’s shockingly affordable 305P MkII speakers. Designed for studio use, these powered monitors require no amplifier, offer exceptional audio imaging and balance for the money, and their simple black-on-black aesthetic looks sleek and stylish in virtually any listening space. Add it all up and you’ll have even established audio nerds drooling at the serious fidelity you’ve gotten for your money — and force them to rethink many of their pricier purchases.
For audiophile-grade fidelity at a reasonable price, look no further than this clean and lightweight setup, which features three of the best-sounding options we have ever heard in each of their midtier categories. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable is a gorgeous and fantastic-sounding deck that comes with high-end features like an Ortofon 2m Red cartridge and a carbon fiber tonearm, which work together to follow the groove in your favorite vinyl with outstanding depth and clarity. The sound will head to the tiny but mighty PS Audio Sprout integrated amplifier, which remains a darling of the audio world. With two simple knobs and a built-in phono preamp, it spills out brilliant sound from its beautiful walnut and machined aluminum case. From there, your signal will hit the best-sounding set of $500 speakers we have ever heard, the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5, which will reproduce your favorite tracks with such gorgeous clarity that you’ll swear you’re in a studio control room.
Sure, in a price-means-nothing category like this, we could point you toward various made-to-order gear costing as much as your luxury SUV, but let’s be honest: There are seriously diminishing returns at the high end of most audio gear. Given our experience with hi-fi equipment, even if we didn’t have to worry about money, we’d be more modest, purchasing these three fantastic pieces of gear for our listening room. Don’t let the relatively reachable price fool you — this combination is sure to hold its own with even the most shockingly costly setups you’ll come across.
It all starts with the simple and elegant Clearaudio Concept turntable, which will play back your vinyl with astonishing agility and clarity, pulling out even the subtlest sounds from your discs. Pair it with the fantastically sleek Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amp to expose the deepest tonal textures and sonic details of your favorite artists. When played through a set of outstanding hi-fi speakers like the universally beloved (and astonishingly beautiful) KEF LS50, you won’t have reason to upgrade any portion of your sound system for years to come. The best audio gear is designed to remove the barrier between you and your music, and this system will do that in spades. If we walked into a room to find this setup sparkling in the corner, every one of our review staff would be drooling — and demanding a seat right in the sweet spot for a fresh spin of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.
Note: Though these are the main components of these setups, you will still need the right cables, speaker stands, and a well-tuned room to get the best sound out of each setup. We recommend getting your RCA cables and speaker cables from Monoprice, and looking into Vivo Premium speaker stands. We also suggest reading this primer on acoustics to get the most out of your listening room.