Modern manufacturing has vastly improved the performance of turntables, tonearms and cartridges and record players are available from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. Vinyl record orientated magazines and on-line media are sought out by those with a new interest in vinyl records. Are you wanting an occasional listen or are you seriously addicted! After deciding your ball park budget, the next decision is are you looking more for a no-fuss plug-and-play kind of record player that doesn't need much attention or maintenance, or are you looking to configure, tweak, and upgrade?
Many enjoy the collectability of vinyl records and may already have, or plan on acquiring, a sizeable vinyl record collection. Today's vinyl records are better pressed with purer vinyl so they have fewer pops and crackles. A better record player will preserve the sound quality of your vinyl record collection investment.
Like a HiFi system, you'll get the best sound quality for your money if the three are balanced. But if you are planning to evolve a system over time, it is probably better to focus on the table first. The turntable's biggest task is to rotate a record at a constant speed so notes maintain a stable pitch without 'wow' or 'flutter'. More expensive tables use an electronic speed controller not just to adjust speed but to isolate the motor from mains power fluctuations. The best electronic speed controllers are power amplifiers with digital signal processing that are individually calibrated to the specific motor in each turntable to minimize motor vibration.
The bearing supporting the platter needs to exhibit exceptionally smooth fixed axis rotation with no grinding noise or loose play that would introduce low frequency 'rumble'. The tonearm mounting system also needs to provide a secure platform to ensure that there is no play or relative motion to the main bearing. The design of the platter, plinth, motor mount, bearing, and tonearm mount forms the foundation from which everything else is referenced. These are all closely coupled together and subject to mechanical vibration energy that interacts with the vibration of the stylus set in motion from the groove of the rotating record. Turntables don't have to be large and massive to perform well. Rigidity and the frequency specific transmission of induced vibrations will determine the sensitivity and coloration of a turntable. Where you place a record player and the surface it sits on also influences the sound.
The tonearm is a separate element from the table. It also needs to be very rigid, stable, with free horizontal and vertical movement but no other degrees of freedom. How the cartridge mounts to the tonearm and the quality of the internal wiring and external cables are also highly influential. An inexpensive cartridge can sound better than you might expect fitted to an expensive turntable/tonearm, similarly you may not get such a large boost in performance from fitting an expensive cartridge in a modest record player. Cartridges must be installed correctly and properly aligned for best performance.
Check out kemela's selection of plug and play and à la carte turntables and see what sounds and looks good to you.
Keep your records clean and you may well become one of the happy band of vinyl lovers!