Beginning a vinyl odyssey is an exciting time, and finding the right gear to play it on doesn’t have to break the bank.

The cynics out there decried the rebirth of vinyl as a flash in the pan when it first started making headlines seven or eight years ago. In 2020, vinyl outsold CDs for the first time in 30 years and, despite popular belief, it’s not just the older generation searching for analogue salvation. Records have, pardon the pun, struck a chord with a younger audience, who are all too wise to the aural benefits of putting wax on the platter.

Year on year, vinyl sales continue to rise at an unbelievable rate, with demand far outstripping supply. While old time record enthusiasts will say vinyl never went away in the first place, there’s little doubt that the humble 12-inch long player is back with a vengeance.

Buying vinyl and building a collection is one thing, but the real magic comes through the enjoyment of playing it, not just for the tangible appreciation, but for the incomparable sound.

Like anything in the audio world, setting up a system can range from a few hundred bucks for a budget turntable and speakers to something you’d expect to find in Tony Stark’s penthouse. You don’t need a millionaire’s budget to be in the game – a good turntable and active bookshelf speakers are a great place to begin your journey.

Audio-Technica

What’s the deal with turntables?
In short, there are two types of turntables – belt-driven and direct drive. As the name suggests, belt-driven turntables connect the platter (where you place the record) to the motor via an elastic belt. With direct drive turntables, the platter is connected directly to the motor. We could write a feature on the differences and pros and cons, but in short, direct drives are favoured by DJs where manipulating speeds or direction is needed.

Belt drives absorb vibrations more effectively and deliver a purer sound, making them a popular choice with audiophiles. Easier to use, belt drives are a great option for beginners.

Bluetooth connectivity is a feature that has become more popular with turntables. While still functioning as a traditional analogue turntable, an internal Bluetooth transmitter converts the analogue signal into digital so it can be transmitted to wireless speakers. Having a turntable with Bluetooth connectivity really offers the best of both worlds.

So, do I need a pre-amp?
If you’re going to employ powered speakers (more on these later), you need a pre-amp. You can buy these as a separate component, but the best option if you’re looking to build a system on a budget is buying a turntable with a built-in pre-amp. Without getting too technical, a pre-amp converts the cartridge’s signal when it engages the grooves on a record and boosts it to an audible level before sending it to the amplifier.

What about an amp?
Amplification is needed for speakers to work, so an amp typically forms part of a system. However, one way of circumnavigating the need to buy an amp and speakers (quite a costly investment) is to buy a pair of powered bookshelf speakers.

These speakers are called ‘active’ because they have a built-in amplifier, so you don’t need to add a separate amp.

Beyond the obvious fiscal advantages, more neophytes are turning to powered bookshelf speakers for their ease of use, and the lack of space required to set them up. Having a stereo arrangement instead of a single Bluetooth speaker is also beneficial from a listening perspective. Most modern powered bookshelf speakers will offer Bluetooth connectivity, and some will house an AUX input for a wired connection to a turntable to cover all bases.

Turntables for your consideration:

 

It all starts with the humble turntable, and Audio-Technica are right up there with the best.

Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT
This entry-level turntable boasts performance comparable with mid-range models, and is perfect for beginners. Complete with a built-in pre-amp, the belt-driven turntable is fully automatic, so literally, anyone can play a record on it. It’s also Bluetooth-enabled for easy syncing with speakers.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

Audio-Technica AT-LP120XBT
An update of the acclaimed LP120, this direct drive turntable’s big tech upgrade is Bluetooth support and a USB input, making it the perfect modern player. A quality turntable, it has an in-built pre-amp, a high-quality cartridge, and three speed options. It can even play the old 78RPM records.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

Powered bookshelf speakers for your consideration:

 

Wharfedale DS-2 Powered Bookshelf Speakers
Wharfedale, the progenitors of the modern two-way speaker, have used their wealth of experience to produce these high-quality powered bookshelf stereo speakers. Clad in leatherette, they can sit either side of a turntable or extend up to 1.5m with the cable provided, and are connected via Bluetooth. Volume and pairing controls and a 3.5mm jack are easily accessible on the side of the powered cabinet. Inside, a three-inch bass driver gives plenty of kick, while a ¾-inch tweeter provides a warm and detailed treble. If space is at a premium, but you want a premium sound, the DS-2s are just what you need.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

Audioengine HD4
The excellent HD4s are the Swiss Army knife of powered bookshelf speakers, with Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, AUX, MicroUSB, and RCA inputs offering complete versatility. The build quality is exceptional, with volume controls and a headphone port situated in the front of the unit. Finished in black satin, they don’t just look good, they sound good too, and boy, for the size, they’re loud! A four-inch aramid fibre woofer and ¾-inch silk dome tweeter are to thank for that, with a maximum power rating of 120W. The HD4s are exceptional performers for their size, producing an impressive soundstage. Your neighbours will hate them.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

Combos for your consideration:

 

For beginners, one of the easiest ways to embark on a vinyl odyssey is to buy a turntable and speaker combination. You essentially get two components that have been designed to not only work in complete unity and take up very little space, but also look good. A combo will feature a turntable with an internal pre-amp and two powered bookshelf speakers.

House of Marley Stir It Up Turntable and Get Together Duo Bluetooth-powered Bookshelf Speakers
This stylish combo matches form with functionality and is a good place to start for every vinyl novice. House of Marley products are built using responsibly sourced materials with a keen eye on sustainability. The Stir It Up turntable is belt-driven and features a built-in pre-amp and a USB port for recording directly to a PC, so you can upload your rare vinyl to take on the road. Bluetooth connectivity allows speakers to be wirelessly connected, and there are RCA outputs on the rear of the unit if you opt to wire the speakers. An Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge is fitted as standard and can be upgraded if required. The Duo speakers are big on bass, as you’d expect coming from the House of Marley, and, despite the diminutive dimensions, there’s plenty of grunt on hand. The right speaker is rechargeable with 20 hours of playback, so you can throw it in the back for away days. Cost-effective and eye-catching, this combo delivers on quality and sound.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

Monster MT-TT03 Bluetooth Turntable and Bookshelf Speakers
Another good budget-conscious option is the Monster combo. The belt-driven turntable comes complete with a built-in pre-amp and is finished in a stunning piano black gloss. Rather than struggling with volume controls on the rear of the powered speakers, the volume here is positioned on the turntable itself for easy access. Like the House of Marley, the Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge is fitted as standard, and a lightweight carbon fibre tone arm reduces damage to your precious vinyl and protects the cartridge. Speakers can be wirelessly connected via Bluetooth 5.0, and the 10 RMS watt speakers in this combo pack a punch. Overall, the Monster turntable and speaker package is easy to use, set up, and great bang for your buck.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi

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