RPMs, drive, pitch control, cartridge, stylus, etc; someone new to the vinyl world can easily get overwhelmed with options when trying to buy a new turntable.

When buying a turntable for music listening (not DJing, or scratching, or anything like that), which details should be highlighted? Which are the priorities? What should we be looking for?

  • I think this needs to be split up or it will become too broad. At least cartridge and stylus should be separated from the rest, as these can usally be purchased separately in better systems.
    – user3169
    May 13 '15 at 3:19
  • 1
    @user3169 It's not supposed to be a turntable encyclopedia. An overview of the variables involved is more than enough. I think the question is very far from being "too board".
    – Anton dB
    May 13 '15 at 3:37
  • OK, maybe I'm jumping the gun. Let's see how the answers go.
    – user3169
    May 13 '15 at 4:19
  • 1
    I'd say you should specify your intended use. I'm not a turntable expert but I guess the optimal properties of a turntable greatly vary between uses. "Just listening", DJing, sampling, scratching...?
    – Alex
    May 13 '15 at 7:46
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    @Alex If it was for DJing, sampling, or scratching, this question would be off-topic here (and on-topic on Music SE). In the context of the site, I thought the "just listening" scenario was implied. I'll edit the question to be explicit.
    – Anton dB
    May 13 '15 at 8:28

To start very simply…
Your first consideration should be its intended use.

If you want to DJ, then a belt drive turntable is immediately out of the question; you must have direct drive.

If you need it only for home listening, your options are still open.

If your budget is low [under $200] then you will be unlikely to be looking at component systems & would really be looking at complete solutions, including tone-arm, pick-up, stylus etc

Again, if on a low budget, & unless you are considering upgrading your entire system over time to match it, it's really not worth laying out more than ¼ of your total spend on a turntable.
Very rough rule of thumb for a budget system, ¼ turntable, ¼ amp, ½ speakers.

Budget belt-drive systems tend to be better audio quality for the buck. Basic belt drive is simple & cheap to manufacture; basic direct drive is more costly.
At higher budget, this eventually reverses, very high-quality belt drive turntables can run to thousands, direct drive seems to not extend into that range.
This is possibly due to the target market, audiophile vs DJ, rather than actual limitations on the component quality.

Unless you are running to a reasonably high budget, your next consideration would be pick-up choice [again, not an option at budget prices]
MM [moving magnet] is cheapest. It is usually described as 'warm' [which a cynic may take to mean 'a bit muddy']
MC [moving coil] is generally accepted to be more open & clear sounding, but at a price - & requires an amplifier designed for MC pickups [again, a budget amp will be unlikely to have both options on the inputs]

If your budget is high enough to be looking at full component systems - separate motor, power supply, tone-arm, stylus, then you really need to be talking to as many retailers as you can possibly visit, booking appointments & listening to as many different setups as possible.
You are beyond any advice that can be given in a simple QA format.
My last purchase involved me taking my entire system to different stores' listening rooms, before honing down my choice.

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