The last 15 years have seen the vinyl format rise from the dustbin of history and become a billion dollar category in the digital age. Americans bought nearly 40 million new records in 2021 (PDF), and entry-level audiophile turntables are everywhere. If you’ve discovered a new passion for the vinyl experience and want to improve your turntable’s performance without spending a fortune on new gear, a few well-chosen accessories can make a positive difference.
A $500 turntable will never sound like a high-end audiophile turntable with a state-of-the-art phono cartridge, but it can sound better with a few tweaks. Even small changes, like upgrading your phono cartridge and platter mat, eliminating static electricity, minimizing warping of your records, and keeping everything clean, can have an impact.
Prices for vinyl playback accessories can range from very cheap to quite expensive, in the case of record cleaning machines and high-end phono cartridges. Our recommendations below are all affordable, proven accessories designed to help you get the most out of your current turntable and record collection.
Most turntables under $600 come with a pre-installed moving magnet (MM) phono cartridge from Ortofon, Sumiko, or Audio-Technica. This is a good starting point for most people, but overall phono cartridges are just mid-sounding models designed to work with the widest range of audio receivers or loudspeakers. amplified speakers available.
One of the three sub-$200 options listed below will offer better clarity, detail, and resolution, as well as more defined bass performance. A better cartridge will let you experience more of Amy Winehouse as she leaves it all on stage, or hear the decay as Miles’ horn fills the air. All phono cartridges have a millivolt rating: the higher the number, the more volume you will get from the cartridge. It is common for MM cartridges to have a single digit mV rating.
Grado Labs Prestige Red3: The Prestige Red3 is an MM cartridge that delivers Grado’s trademark “house” sound, with a warm, punchy midrange and powerful lows. The highs are aerial and are no longer rolled (or attenuated at the top of the spectrum, which was a characteristic of previous generations of this cartridge). The Red3’s 5 mV output makes it compatible with any MM phono preamp available.
Goldring E3: A small British manufacturer of phono cartridges, Goldring may not be as well known as its Danish rival Ortofon, but it has been in business for almost as long. The E3 sounds impressively clean for the price, with excellent pace and just enough high-end punch to keep things interesting. The 3.5mV output isn’t particularly high for an MM cartridge, but this cartridge should still work well with most MM phono preamps.
Nagaoka MP-110: Japanese manufacturer Nagaoka has been making exceptional MM phono cartridges for nearly 70 years. The entry-level MP-110 is a great tracker – it plays through worn or dirty recording grooves with greater stability, and it offers a very open and detailed presentation across the entire frequency spectrum. The 5mV output also makes it compatible with a wide range of phono preamplifiers.
Platter mats and cleaning wipes
Cleaner recordings sound better and also preserve the life of your phono cartridge. Dust, grime, smoke, food and pet hair magically determine how they land on the surface of your records, and your cartridge pays the price.
Beyond handling your drives properly (try not to run greasy fingers over them after too many beers on the 4th of July), a useful way to protect them and improve performance is to throw the rug in cheap felt that comes with your turntable. Not only does the material act like a dust magnet, coating each side of your record with stuff that will end up on your stylus, but it also moves during playback and does next to nothing to keep your record flat.
The best platter mats are machined from a wide variety of materials: cork, carbon fiber, copper, rubber, silicone, and even leather. The more exotic the material, the more expensive it becomes. Does it make sense to put a $500 rug on an entry-level turntable? Not at all, but there are more affordable mats that are better than the one that came with your turntable.
Analog Restorations All Platter Mats: Ever wonder where people on Instagram get these awesome custom cork platter mats? They come from Analog Restorations in New Jersey. Not only do these mats look great, but they’re also made from the highest quality cork used in wine bottles, and they create a very stable, dust-free surface for your records. The cork tray mat starts at $26 and you can personalize it with your name, a logo, or an image. It’s like tattooing your turntable.
The company also sells record cleaning wipes. The price ($24 for 75 wipes) is more expensive than your average wipes, but they work better on dirty records you might buy at a used record store than the cheap versions. A quick wipe removes a surprising amount of dirt and grime from the surface without using chemicals that could damage the disc.
record cleaning machine
If you’re serious about preserving both your record collection and the life of your phono cartridge, a record cleaning machine is a worthwhile investment.
Deluxe Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII Kit: The Spin-Clean has been around since 1975, and this manual record washer will outlast almost anything. The Deluxe Kit is the smart buy as the company includes more alcohol-free washing liquid and enough rollers and brushes to keep you going for a while. The yellow construction makes it easier to see the dirt and you just need to clean it regularly. Another advantage? Zero noise.
Record Doctor VI: While not as fancy as the more expensive automatic record cleaning machines from VPI or Pro-Ject, the $300 Record Doctor VI gets the job done, and it’s also less noisy. (The vacuum that sucks up all that dirt and record cleaning fluid can be really noisy on other devices.) This is a reliable, compact machine that will last you thousands of record cleanings.
Record clamps or weights have one function: to hold your record as flat as possible against the platter. I bought several expensive new pressings that had visible warping, and it’s good to minimize the impact of this on the stylus as much as possible. These clamps and weights are threaded or unthreaded. The threaded variety bolts onto the threaded center axle of a turntable, but it can put a lot of force on your platter’s bearing if it’s too tight or too heavy. The non-threaded variety can sit on any center spindle and help stabilize the record on your platter.
Pro-Ject Clamp It: Non-threaded clamp takes seconds to install and works great. The build quality of this record clamp is excellent and the 5 pound weight probably won’t be a problem for your platter, but you should check with the turntable manufacturer first. The price is certainly higher, but this clamp is not a cheap piece of plastic.
Viborg Record Stabilizer: At 280 grams (0.62 pounds), the unthreaded Viborg isn’t the heaviest record weight, but it does make it a better option for belt-drive turntables that don’t necessarily want all that extra weight putting stress on the platter bearing and the motor. The top features a spirit level to ensure your turntable is level.
Dust and dirt are enemies when it comes to vinyl playback, and static electricity attracts both, so you need to minimize it as much as possible.
Milty Pro Zerostat 3: The Zerostat 3 produces positive and negative ions that cancel out the positive and negative charges on the surface of your disc. It sounds crazy, but after five years of use, I’ve concluded that the lack of ticks and pops during playback is hard to deny.
Audiophiles love to debate the best kind of record cleaning brush, and you can spend the equivalent of four to five new records on one if you’re seduced by the appeal of exotic materials and promises of ringing your turntable at 400. $ like a $4,000 Model. Come on, it’s a record brush, and it has only one job: to remove dust or debris from the surface of a record before you play it. You can opt for a dry or wet brush; the latter requires a record cleaning solution.
AudioQuest Anti-Static Recording Brush: AudioQuest has been selling iterations of its dry anti-static recording brush for 35 years, and the latest version uses fine carbon fiber bristles and a better grip that helps create a better electrical connection to your hand . – which acts as a ground for static electricity. It’s affordable and effective, and it won’t damage your records.
This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.