What is so special about owning a turntable?
The modern technology of today keeps our music at the touch of a button, or more accurately, a screen. So, why would you want to get a turntable? Maybe you’ve found a few records in the basement or had some handed down from an older relative. Though you may think they are out-of-date, vinyl is making a huge comeback these days. And when you play one for the first time, you’ll be amazed by the sound quality.
Though toting a turntable around isn’t even close to as easy as tucking an iPod into your pocket, you won’t regret purchasing one as you start using it. Before you know it, you’ll be scouting thrift shops and garage sales searching for that perfect album to listen to on your new turntable.
Features to consider before buying a turntable
Whether you’re a newbie to turntables or a veteran looking to upgrade, there are certain features you may want to look for in the best record player model. So, we’ve broken it down for you to make your next purchase a bit easier.
Type: direct-drive vs. belt-drive
You may have noticed that all the turntables we’ve reviewed are belt-drive models, with the exception of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB, which is a direct-drive turntable. So, what’s the difference between these two types?
For the direct-drive turntables, the rotating platter is attached to an electric motor, which is what spins it. The benefit of this type of setup is that it gives you a more accurate and constant rotation speed, plus it offers higher playback startup speeds. It also provides a higher torque, which reduces the vulnerability to vibrations from the outside. The downside is that the motor itself can cause these types of vibrations, affecting the sound quality of the record, though adding some shock absorbers can help reduce this issue.
Belt-drive turntables use an elastic belt attached to the motor to spin the platter, similar to the way a bike chain turns the back wheel as you spin the pedals. This system reduces vibrations the motor may cause and absorbs shock for a cleaner sound. But these types of turntables also have lower torque and reduced accuracy in the playback speed. And in some cases, the belt may wear down, but luckily, replacement belts are easy to get your hands on.
There are three main speed formats when it comes to vinyl records. These are 33-1/3, 45, and 78 RPM, which is short for revolutions-per-minute. The first commercially used vinyl was 78 RPM, which is what you’ll see on quite a few older records. But this speed is rarely used on records produced today, so you’ll mainly need the other two standards unless you have a box of old records stashed somewhere.
One of the reasons records don’t usually use the 78 RPM format anymore is because of the playback speed. The faster a record turns, the less information it could hold. So, those 78 RMP records could usually only play for a few minutes, or about the length of one song.
The 33-1/3 records were smaller, with a higher playback capability. These records were also a bit more durable then their thinner predecessors. The 45’s are the newest records in the vinyl era. These were smaller in size than the 78’s, plus were a bit more durable, though they had a similar playback and are mainly used for singles.
Bluetooth and USB availability
Though vinyl and turntables are a great addition to any sound system, you may want a few modern conveniences to be available. For instance, Bluetooth capability. This allows you to store your music on any device you choose, like a Smartphone, iPod, or tablet, then pair it up with the turntable to hear your whole playlist. Many turntables can also link to Bluetooth speakers, eliminating wires while still giving you great sound.
USB availability is another great feature on a vintage-looking turntable. This addition allows you to link your turntable to a Mac or PC and convert your favorite vinyl albums to digital files. Then you can add them to your favorite devices and take your music with you wherever you go.
You’ll likely have no trouble finding a turntable with one of these two options, but some models, like the Victrola Notalgic Aviator Wood 8-in-1 Turntable, will have both.
Commonly called the needle, the stylus is a cone-shaped, diamond-tipped piece that rests on the record. As the record turns, the stylus moves up and down in the grooves, transmitting the vibrations through wires in the tonearm and onto coils in the cartridge. These vibrations are then converted into electric signals, which come out of your speakers as music.
The stylus is fitted into the bottom of the cartridge. It is removable, so you can change or upgrade it if needed. The stylus is also attached to the tonearm, which moves it back and forth over the record.
Pre-amplifier and built-in speakers
The majority of the products we’ve reviewed above include pre-amplifiers. But what is this feature? Well, a pre-amplifier is an amplifier that has been designed for the purpose of boosting the signals of the turntable. They are usually built right into the turntable, though sometimes they are sold as a stand-alone piece.
Built-in speakers are handy to have for a few reasons. The turntable comes completely put together right out of the box, so there are no extra parts or wires to deal with. This also makes them a bit more portable, just in case you need to take your turntable with you.
However, built-in speakers don’t always have the best sound quality. The smaller the speaker, the lower the sound needs to be to reduce any type of distortion.
Some other things to look for in a turntable is the design of the machine. Do you like a more vintage model or a sleek modern piece of equipment? Both are available with varying features to choose from.
You should also check out the warranty offered by the turntable manufacturer. No machine is perfect, so you may want to check out which parts are covered and for how long.
Some turntables come with slip mats, to help protect the record itself from the platter it is laying on. Fully automatic turntables move the tonearm so you don’t have to do it manually. An auto-stop function halts the record when it is finished, rather than letting it turn with the tonearm on it, which could lead to scratches.