Pro-Ject Essential Turntable
Pro-Ject's least expensive turntable is a great way to bring audiophile-grade sound to a mid-fi budget. The Essential is a fully-manual turntable with MDF used for the chassis and platter instead of plastic. It includes a cueing lever but no other frills. Unlike other models on the list, this is a two-speed, belt-drive turntable with no electronic speed control. To change the speed you must move the belt on the pulley.
Right away, this can be a non-starter for people unaccustomed to this level of manual control. However, components like this are designed with the notion of fewer mechanical parts equals fewer things to affect the sound. Wow and flutter specs are similar to other choices on the list, but signal-to-noise ratio is better (-65 dB) due to the belt-driven design.
The straight tonearm is crafted from aluminum and has a fixed headshell with the very good Ortofon OM3E cartridge included. The difference a better cartridge makes in tracking and fidelity cannot be overstated. The Essential does not offer USB outputs, and is fully manual. It may not be the best choice for many users looking in this price range. However, it will certainly be the best sounding.