This guide is for those music lovers who have either decided to get cracking with vinyl, or those who are still learning and making up their mind, and also for those who’ve been using and enjoying turntables for years. Unlike those unnecessary stories and claims readers normally have to read until they get bored and lose the real objective of reading the post, this one’s rather to-the-point.
In this post, you will learn more than just those how-to guides, such as the following:
- The basics of turntable and its components
- Making sound better
- A turntable buying guide, and
- What things you should consider while buying the right turntable for you.
So, without further ado, let’s get straight to the point.
#1. Turntable Basics
If you are about to buy a turntable, this post will help you identify the features of the model. You need to know the essentials components, as well as their working; otherwise there are quite a few tricky models to disappoint you.
It’s All Bout Precision and Stability
To begin with, turntable has produces music when you put the needle on the record and allow it to rotate. The needle travels along the surface into those tiny and thin grooves that are thinner than a human hair, and produces high quality sound. This is where the question of precision comes into the mind.
If you see a highly priced turntable, that’s only because of high precision as well as stability. So, these are the two basic factors on which turntable components are based. Let’s find out about them:
- Plinth (the base): This is the foundation of your turntable which provides support to all the other components. The plinth normally has feet to help stabilize the turntable. This is actually the key to good playback. Different plinth materials include plastic, wood, and metal.
- Platter: This is the rotating (or spinning) component of the turntable used to spin the records. The more it weighs the less will be the vibration. Platter has a mat in between the record and its surface, in order to protect the record from vibrations, scratches and dampening. The platter is attached directly, or connected by means of belt, to the motor.
Most platters come with adjustable speeds, to match the cut or the record – 78 rpm, 45 rpm and 33-1/3 rpm. Most turntables play 33-1/3 rpm and 45 rpm, and few of them offer all three speeds. If you have a turntable playing only two speeds, you need to buy an extra kit to support old vinyl records that run on 78 rpm.
- The Tonearm: It is a very important component of the turntable that runs on the record and transfers vibration to the cartridge. Its moving end is attached to the needle that, when comes in contact with the grooves, collects and transfers vibrations through the wires in the tonearm across to the fixed end. Tonearm also controls the speed of the needle, which is quite important. The tonearm needs to have the right pressure and it must maintain the change in pressure across the record, in order to get smooth and high precision sound. A poorly designed tonearm can be identified by the variation of sound quality as it moves from the outer edges to the inner edges of the record.
Tonearm also handles the cueing job (controlled by a device that is attached to the tonearm). The cueing device raises or lowers the tonearm and maintains a strategic distance above the record surface. The cueing process comes with both automatic and manual controls.
- Stylus and Cartridge: These two terms can be confusing at times as they’re being used interchangeably. A stylus is also known as the needle, while the cartridge is attached to the stylus to support it. So, the cartridge plays as the housing for the stylus.
The stylus or needle is the only thing that comes in contact with the record. In needs to be perfect and must have the same delicacy as the grooves of the record have. This is the reason why audiophiles emphasize so much on replacing and upgrading the stylus time and again. Even slightest of the upgrades can make a huge improvement in sound quality. So, replace the stylus only when you want to upgrade it or if it is bent or damaged.
The Quest For High Quality Sound Never Ends
Some people still think vinyl records aren’t as efficient as digital alternatives, because vinyl records have multiple points where you may experience sound degradation.
This degrading in sound can appear at any point along the path starting from the records and ending up in human ears, due to any of the following reasons:
- Damaged record
- Needle degradation
- Receiver quality
- Equipment quality
- Speaker quality and performance, etc.
But when most of the time, there are no such issues when each and every component as well as the records have been taken care of, ahead of playing music. Sound quality may leak on many other places, but overall listening experience is not affected.
All in all, the listening experience on turntable is far better than what you can get on laptops or iPods. Here, by listening experience, we mean you’ll listen exactly what has been recorded, and digital formats don’t often do justice with the original stored sound.
The quality of equipment is of ultimate importance since each and every component mentioned above involves directly in sound reproduction process. The better the equipment the more will be the enjoyment factor. The enjoyment factor counts more when you have a hobby of listening to high quality music.
How to Buy New Turntable
There is a wide range of turntables in the vintage markets. You can locate plenty of stores selling used turntables. Then there are theft stores where old turntables are sold cheap.
However, when you buy a freshly baked item, you always have a peace of mind because you know it has not been used, touched, mishandled or dropped by anyone else before. So, if you have made up your mind to buy a nice and new turntable, think about the following before heading out to the nearest record shop:
The common phrase is, “You get what you paid for”, but that may not be true for playing vinyl (perhaps, because they belong to the old era). You can experience great pleasure with the basic equipment. You can start from anywhere. There are audiophiles who have paid tens of thousands of dollars, just to get that pleasure – then there’s no limit with it comes to stereo setups and turntable equipment.
But, if you’re price conscious, here are few price ranges to get started.
Low-Budget Turntables Below $100
At this price range, you can get a nice low-budget turntable but don’t expect it to deliver what expensive ones are used to. You have to compromise on sound quality, the material quality and life of the turntable.
Plus, low-budget turntable may not be as compatible as you expect them. In fact, some turntables in this price range are not compatible at all. So, if you have no issues with sound quality and are trying turntable experience for the first time, you can start with portable turntables with built-in sound system.
Quality Turntables at $300 – $500
If great sound is your objective then you have to stretch your budget up to this particular price range. You’ll have plenty of high-quality turntables that are both; compatible and well-equipped with high-end components. You’ll certainly feel the difference in terms of sound quality if you switched from $100 to $300 turntable.
So, with performance upgrades, durability and compatibility with sound producing devices, these turntables can be a great fetch for you. Here are few examples:
- Rega RP-1
- Music Hall MMF 2.2
- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
High-End Turntables Over $500
As said before, there’s no limit to pleasure and sound precision. The more you invest the better you’ll get. This price range is dedicated to serious listeners and audiophiles. Turntables above $500 have exotic designs, mind-blowing sound and breath-taking noise.
But, don’t take the decision on your own. Consult with sound experts and those who have tried any models before.
Today, it’s not just about listening to music. Things are getting complicated. Competitors are looking to get that unique advantage and that’s why they’re incorporating new features into these sound producing devices. Some latest features include:
USB connectivity is by far the best feature in modern-day turntables. This might perhaps be the basis of vinyl resurgence, giving you a capability to listen and convert your vinyl albums across multiple platforms.
- Turntables with USB port save your cost of additional equipment that is required to connect the device with the computer or other mobile devices.
- You can easily convert your vinyl albums into MP3 formats and store them into your computer. You can also burn the sound and make CDs of the same album.
So, USB enabled turntables are a great source of preserving old vintage music into different sound formats. With this being said, audiophiles tend to stick to the old-school ways, because they USB turntables may not be as effective as others in terms of sound quality.
Manual vs Automatic Features
High-end turntables offers manual as well as automatic cueing. Manual cueing involves lifting the tonearm physically whereas automatic cueing doesn’t need a human hand to lift the tonearm.
As a beginner, you should buy a turntable that has an automatic cueing system. In this way, your record will remain safe from mishandling or getting unnecessary marks on the surface.
The real way to go with turntables is to take it with you to the next level. That means, instead of finding/replacing your turntable, upgrade it by replacing old components. Upgrading is quite inexpensive, because you tend to upgrade one component at a time, while buying an entirely new turntable is also a good option to improve the span of music.
Following components of the turntable are upgraded most often:
- Magnetic cartridge
- Belt (for belt-driven mechanisms)
You can make slight improvements in these components and improve your sound quality many folds. But if you have a low-budget turntable, you may not be able to achieve that.
Most often, turntables within the range of $300 and $500 can be upgraded easily because their performance packs are readily available in the market. You can also purchase turntables that’s been already upgraded.
What Questions Should You Ask Before Buying Used Turntable?
You’ve found a lovely vintage piece in the theft market and are never willing to lose sight of it, what should you do then? While cheap and low quality turntables dominate the scene most of the time, you may get one-time lucky and find that extraordinary piece.
But used turntables are not so easy to find, you have to research and invest time, energy and money in it. So, coming back to the same point – you’ve found a valuable piece, how would you decide it’s worth paying for? Here are few questions to find out its worth:
- Look at its functions. Does it function accurately?
- Note down how old the turntable is. How long the device has been owned by the seller?
- How much has the turntable been used? The owner can tell you that.
- Has it been sold to the owner? Or Is he the first hand owner of the turntable?
- Did the owner use if for DJ-ing or scratching? If Yes, then leave the item
- How does it work? How good is the motor and/or the belt?
- Take a look at the accessories. Are all the accessories of the turntable original?
Once you have bought a good turntable based on all the above mentioned information and tips, look for the pre-amp for enhanced sound quality. Pre-amp amplifies the sound and make it understandable for the listener. Most modern-day turntables have built-in pre-amps, but if you don’t get any of those items, you can buy a pre-amp at around $50.