The past 15 years have seen the vinyl format climb its way out of the dustbin of history and become a $1 billion category during the digital age. Americans purchased nearly 40 million new records in 2021 (PDF), and entry-level audiophile turntables are everywhere. If you’ve discovered a newfound passion for the vinyl experience and you 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 top-shelf audiophile turntable with a state-of-the-art phono cartridge, but its sound can be improved with some tweaks. Even small changes—like upgrading your phono cartridge and platter mat, eliminating static, minimizing the warp of your records, and keeping everything clean—can have an impact.
Vinyl playback accessories can range in price from very cheap to rather expensive, in the case of record-cleaning machines and high-end phono cartridges. Our recommendations below are all affordable, tried-and-tested accessories designed to help you get the most out of your current turntable and record collection.
Most turntables sold for less than $600 come with a preinstalled moving-magnet (MM) phono cartridge from Ortofon, Sumiko, or Audio-Technica. These are a fine starting point for most people, but in the big picture of phono cartridges, they are just average-sounding models designed to work with the widest range of audio receivers or powered speakers available.
One of the three under-$200 options listed below will offer better clarity, detail, and resolution, and better-defined bass performance. A better cartridge will let you experience more of Amy Winehouse when she leaves it all on the stage, or hear the decay when Miles’s horn fills the air. All phono cartridges have a millivolt rating: The higher the number, the more volume you’ll get out of the cartridge. It’s common for MM cartridges to have a mV rating in the low single digits.
Grado Labs Prestige Red3: The Prestige Red3 is an MM cartridge that delivers the trademark Grado “house” sound, with a warm, punchy midrange and a strong low end. The treble is airy and no longer rolled-off (or diminished at the higher end, which was a characteristic of previous generations of this cartridge). The Red3’s 5 mV of output make it compatible with any MM phono preamp available.
Goldring E3: A smaller British manufacturer of phono cartridges, Goldring may not be as well known as Danish rival Ortofon but has been in business almost as long. The E3 sounds impressively clean for the price, with excellent pace and just enough top-end energy to keep things interesting. The 3.5 mV output is not especially high for an MM cartridge, but this cartridge should still work well with most any MM phono preamp.
Nagaoka MP-110: Japanese manufacturer Nagaoka has been making outstanding MM phono cartridges for almost 70 years. The entry-level MP-110 is an excellent tracker—it plays worn-out or dirty record grooves with greater stability, and it delivers a very open and detailed presentation across the entire frequency spectrum. The 5 mV output makes it compatible with a wide range of phono preamplifiers, too.
Platter mat and cleaning wipes
Cleaner records sound better, and they also preserve the life of your phono cartridge. Dust, grime, smoke, food, and pet hair magically figure out how to land on the surface of your records, and your cartridge pays the price for it.
Beyond handling your records properly (try not to run greasy fingers over them after one too many beers on the Fourth of July), one helpful way to protect them and to improve performance is to discard the cheap felt mat that came with your turntable. Not only does the material act like a dust magnet, coating each side of your record with items that will end up on your stylus, but it also shifts around during playback and does almost nothing to keep your record flat.
Better 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 mat on an entry-level turntable? Not at all, but there are more affordable mats better than the one that came with your turntable.
Analog Restorations All Platter Mats: Have you ever wondered where people on Instagram get those fantastic custom cork-platter mats? They come from Analog Restorations in New Jersey. Not only do these mats look great, but they are also manufactured from the highest-quality cork used in wine bottles, and they create a very stable, dust-free surface for your records. The cork-platter mat starts at $26, and you can have it customized with your name, a logo, or an image. It’s like giving your turntable a tattoo.
The company also sells record-cleaning wipes. The price ($24 for 75 wipes) is more expensive than that of your average wipes, but they work better on dirty records you might pick up at a used record store than the bargain versions. A quick wipe removes a surprising amount of dirt and grime from the surface without using any chemicals that might damage the record.
If you really care about preserving both your record collection and the lifespan of your phono cartridge, a record-cleaning machine is a worthwhile investment.
Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII Deluxe Kit: The Spin-Clean has been around since 1975, and this manual record-washing machine will survive almost anything. The Deluxe Kit is the smart buy because the company includes more of its alcohol-free washing fluid, and enough rollers and brushes to keep you going for a while. The yellow construction makes it easier to see dirt, and you just need to clean it out on a regular basis. Another advantage? Zero noise.
Record Doctor VI: While not as fancy as the pricier 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 off all that dirt and record-cleaning fluid can be really noisy on other units.) This is a reliable and compact machine that will last through thousands of record cleanings.
Record clamps or weights have one job—to keep your record as flat as possible against the platter. I have purchased more than a few expensive new pressings that had visible warps, and it’s good to minimize the impact of that on the stylus as much as possible. These clamps and weights come threaded or non-threaded. The threaded variety screws down onto a turntable’s threaded center spindle, but they can put a lot of force on your platter bearing if it’s too tight or heavy. The non-threaded variety can sit on any center spindle and help stabilize the record on your platter.
Pro-Ject Clamp It: The non-threaded Clamp takes seconds to install and works great. The build quality on this record clamp is excellent, and the 5-pound weight is unlikely to be an issue for your platter—but you should check with the turntable manufacturer first. The price is certainly on the higher side, but this clamp is not a cheap piece of plastic.
Viborg Record Stabilizer: At 280 grams (0.62 pounds), the non-threaded Viborg is not the heaviest record weight around, but that makes it a better option for belt-driven turntables that don’t necessarily want all that added weight putting strain on the platter bearing and the motor. The top features a spirit level to ensure that your turntable is level.
Dust and dirt are the enemy when it comes to vinyl playback, and static attracts both—so you want 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 record. It sounds crazy, but after five years of using one, I’ve concluded that the absence of ticks and pops during playback is hard to deny.
Audiophiles love to debate which type of record-cleaning brush is the best, and you can spend the equivalent of four to five new records on one if you’re seduced by the lure of exotic materials and promises of making your $400 turntable sound like a $4,000 model. Come on—it’s a record brush, and it has one job: removing dust or debris from the surface of a record before you play it. You can opt for either a dry or wet brush; the latter requires a record-cleaning solution.
AudioQuest Anti-Static Record Brush: AudioQuest has been selling iterations of its dry Anti-Static Record Brush for 35 years, and the latest version utilizes fine carbon-fiber bristles and a better-made handle that helps create a better electrical connection to your hand—which acts as the ground for static electricity. It’s affordable and effective, and it will not damage your records.
This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.