Let’s get one thing clear: there isn’t a duffer in sight here, and all three turntables offer impressive value for money. So which one you should buy comes down to personal taste and listening habits.
If sonic fidelity is all that matters, then on sound alone the Rega Planar 2 just nudges it, though if you listen to a lot of dance music, hip-hop, reggae or heavy rock you may find it doesn’t pack the bottomend welly you’re after. It’s also a nuisance having to remove the platter to change speeds, and you’ll need a separate phono stage if your amp doesn’t have one. The Pro-Ject Essential III fares a little better at the low end and packs in more features, but loses points for that low torque, which rules out quick changes between records (though you can always hot-swap records with the platter still spinning!). While both those turntables look as good as they sound, the Audio-Technica AT-LP5 is a bit less wow in the looks department and lacks a little high-end definition. It makes up for it with an extensive feature set, its ease of connectivity and sheer sonic ‘oomph’.
So if you’re likely to be blasting a wide range of music at parties, go for the Audio-Technica, while if you’re a jazzbo or folkie who does a lot of solo, latenight listening we’d recommend the Rega. And if you’re somewhere between the two, the Pro-Ject deck should suit you nicely!