AnalogPlanet’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide!

Finding gifts for record lovers can prove difficult: the hobby is uniquely personal, often expensive, and comes with the fear of what your gift recipient does and doesn’t already own. As the holidays rapidly approach, we’ve compiled a list of recommended budget turntables, phono preamps, record accessories, LPs, and books. These products are independently selected, and we’ve personally experienced every listed item (or a very similar previous iteration) listed.

A Vinyl Me, Please subscription ($119-399)

Even someone with seemingly every pressing of every good record might enjoy a Vinyl Me, Please gift subscription; the company’s four “tracks” (Essentials, Classics, Hip-Hop, and Country) reissue one album a month, and members can swap current titles for older releases. If those options don’t appeal, the recipient can trade for VMP store credit and buy limited variants of new releases and reissues. Available subscription options are three months for $119, six months for $219, or a full year for $399 (international subscription prices differ).—Malachi Lui

Turntable: U-Turn Orbit ($199-705)

Michael Fremer said of the U-Turn Orbit belt-drive turntable, “I could have reviewed the $199 U-Turn Orbit Basic turntable taking into account its low price and letting it off easy for the few small issues I had with it. But after listening for a day I thought the ‘table should be reviewed on a level playing field with any product I get my hands on. It’s that accomplished. [Other budget turntables have their] place too but for now the $199 U-Turn Orbit Basic occupies a unique place in the turntable universe in terms of both its out of the box performance and its upgrade possibilities.” Options range from the $199 Orbit Basic to the fully-loaded $705 Orbit Custom, all customizable to best fit your recipient’s setup (as well as your own budget).—ML

Turntable: Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB (about $350, built-in phono preamp)

Reviewing the original Audio-Technica AT-LP120 direct-drive turntable, Fremer wrote, “The Audio Technica AT-LP120USB is a well-made, feature packed, ‘ready to play’ inexpensive turntable that is a significant step up from the plastic crap competition. [It doesn’t] compete sonically with a more costly belt drive design such as the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, or even with the less expensive U-Turn Orbit in my opinion, though those (especially the U-Turn) can’t begin to compete with the Audio Technica’s build quality, feature set and ease of use.” While we haven’t heard the newer LP120X (which includes the newer AT-VM95E MM cartridge, a new DC servo direct-drive motor, and adjustable dynamic anti-skate control), we’d presume it’s just as good if not better.—ML

Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO ($599, no preamp)

At the higher end of “budget” turntables is Pro-Ject’s $599 Debut Carbon EVO, sold in the US with a Sumiko Rainier MM cartridge (or an Ortofon 2M Red in the UK and Europe). With a one-piece carbon fiber tonearm, TPE-damped aluminum platter, and 33/45rpm electronic speed selection among other features, the aesthetically slick and sonically pleasing Debut Carbon EVO is an excellent gift for vinyl newbies as well as experienced audiophiles desiring a secondary (office, etc) setup.—ML

Phono preamp: U-Turn Pluto 2 ($99)

U-Turn’s original Pluto MM phono preamplifier was voted “best sounding” in an AnalogPlanet reader “blind test” a few years ago. The new $99 assembled in the USA Pluto 2 is attractive looking and though we’ve not auditioned it, the company’s 30-day no-questions-asked return policy makes it an ideal gift for your vinyl loving giftee.—Michael Fremer

Phono preamp: iFi Zen Phono ($199)

It might lack higher-end phono preamps’ loading flexibility, though through four fixed loading settings (MM 47k ohms, MC 47k ohms, 1k ohms, 110 ohms) iFi’s $199 Zen Phono MM/MC preamp accommodates a wide variety of cartridges. Plus, it sounds great. “I don’t think anyone sitting here would guess they were listening to a $199 phono preamp—until I switched to one that was considerably more costly,” Michael Fremer wrote. “It’s that good. The iFi Zen Phono is a no-brainer, easy to recommend, timbrally honest, especially quiet MM/MC phono preamp that’s priced near the bottom and performs many steps above its pay grade.”—ML

Archival inner sleeves (about $23)

The record collector in your life will appreciate an extra pack of these rice paper-like archival inner sleeves, which are all too easy to run out of. Mobile Fidelity’s Original Master Sleeves are currently backordered, so I’d recommend these Collector Protector sleeves (which I’ve personally used).—ML

AudioQuest Super-Conductive Anti-Static Record Brush ($30)

AudioQuest’s upgraded Super-Conductive Anti-Static Record Brush is our preferred tool for crucial record-brushing maintenance. Best kept right by the turntable, this 1,248,000-carbon fiber brush removes static and microscopic dust from record grooves, contributing to a smoother listening experience.—ML


Anton D's picture

That was that was, as Malachi mentioned in his Spiritualized review, exquisite!

Great list.

I am compelled to add...

1) The best record brush I have ever used....only 52 bucks!

2) Bonny Light Horseman is the best turn out the lights and fade into you album of the past several years. (It's acoustic and great for lying in bed in the dark and simply enjoying. File Under easy Listening.

3) Edward O'Brien's (EOB) LP "Earth" is solidly great and can also be quite trance inducing. It also comes in four, count 'em, four colors!

4) If the audiophile in your life is interested in some fine vintage hardware...

A) Empire turntable are going to be the next Thorens 124. Only 200-400 bucks 2-3 years ago, now around a grand for nice ones, but stinking beautiful to behold, they are 'tinkerable,' and nicely done. Did I mention how pretty?

B) This one is top secret: Find a Technics SP10 Mk II and then have it modified by Krebs!

Krebs, IIRC, is the drive guru behind that Oswald Mills Oma turntable that we can't afford. This is the middle class person's way to enter that level of the atmosphere. (Doing this now may actually yield a return on investment, as well. Once word gets around about the Oma table and the SP 10 Mk II the moon!)

4) The Feickert Next Generation Universal Protractor is 250 bucks and is a fantastic and sharable tool!

5) Treat yourself to almost any Audio Technica cartridge and be prepared to be pleased. Seriously, pick your budget point and just go for it. Almost ever model in the long lineup has advocates for its greatness. Again: pick any model and get great bang for your buck, top to bottom.

6) Simply stroll into Amazon and search for "Turntable Weight." save yourself hundreds of dollars! Buy an array and have a club meeting to compare! The Femeli line is lovely. The Nobsound could be made by Oracle! really, under 30-40 bucks and you have great stocking stuffers!

7) Humminguru's ultrasonic record cleaner is a blast to use and CHEAP!

I have one, I got one for my son, and several of my local Hi Fi Club's members have them....easy to use, about 350 bucks.

I also have a Nitty Gritty Mini Pro and the Audiodesk and this Humminguru is a worthy companion for loads less dinero! This product is almost transcendent for the price. We stood around at our annual Chico Hi Fi Club bonfire and 'steak sans utensils' last night and sang its praises. Please check it out.

MalachiLui's picture

thanks for the recommendations! definitely makes a good addition to the (already long!) list! good suggestions there (though for the record, i long ago sold off my US pressing copy of EOB's 'earth'...)

Anton D's picture

If you had been the proper age when "Earth" was released, you'd be able to recognize its proper place in the pantheon of stars.

Carn sarn you young people not lining up and getting in step with us old guys!

I'm gonna go yell at a cloud, now.

Peace, out. Happiest of holidays to this great site.


Glotz's picture

EOB Earth was fun! And you are one of my favorite rays of sunshine!

Happy holidays to everyone and God bless every last one of you.

Glotz's picture

But mine sheds all over the friggin place. Great effective brush tho... 14 rows of merciless cleaning!

Mendo's picture

I agree that Empire table's prices are on the go. However, having owned one in college I have to say that the tonearm had massive slop in it. It still sounded pretty good, but that was a real turn off. Several others I have seen were the same.

mraudioguru's picture

...inner sleeves. I've tried almost all of them.

I'm quite interested in that Humminguru RCM.

vinyl listener's picture

It does a fair job but is best used in conjunction with a good manual pre-scrub before you use the Guru. It appears most buyers are noobs who have never cleaned a record before so are wowed by the Guru's rundimentary performance. For more info checkout the videos on Youtube by The Vinyl Attack !

RH's picture

Michael, I was REALLY looking forward to that record brush comparison that got sidetracked by...whatever all that lacquer hullabaloo was all about.

Will you be doing the record brush comparisons any time soon?

Michael Fremer's picture
It's coming up soon. Right now I'm out of the country....back hopefully by the weekend...
miguelito's picture

Hi Michael. You’ve done a great deal of fabulous record cleaning methods/machines reviews. However, I am unclear as to what is your preferred method, both for new records and old and/or old and grimy. For example, do you use the Audio Desk with it’s fluid? No fluid? If using the Kirmuss method, do you put alcohol in the bath? All these details matter and I would love to see a writeup or video with your very own recommendations. Thank you for the great work!

RH's picture

Great, thanks Michael. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Anton D's picture
Anton D's picture

I am fiscally decimated by the current world.

I'd have paid 3 grand.

Same seems to happen with Hi Fi, maybe double decimated.

350,000 dollar records players, I wouldn't even strech to 1/10th that price. 3,500? yes.

750,000 dollar speakers? Would I go 75,000 for them? No. 7,500, if my wife OK'd it, I'd bite.

I'm not just off by half, I am off by two log factors!

JA2 has seen modern rock pass him by. The same has happened to modern Hi Fi, for me.

rich d's picture

I can't hope to compete with Anton D's comprehensive approach, and I've finally found a Brian Eno release that I won't (OK, can't) buy. What I can do, though, is point out that you've missed the one accessory which goes with nearly every kind of music and is compatible with a broad range of equipment: a bottle of Scotch. It's very much in the spirit (sorry) of the season. Lagavulin for me if anyone's feeling generous.

cundare's picture

You left out the most important accessory that any vinyl afficionado should own: A complete set of WAM Engineering's WallyTools (as well as WAM's microscopic cartridge evaluation / hardware-alignment-error-mitigation service). I know of no way to more effectively improve the sound of your rig for three figures.

bagamo6120's picture

Thanks for sharing AnalogPlanet’s 2021 Holiday Gift Guide! Happy holidays! |