One of the surprising facts about today’s music-loving generation is that not a lot of people appreciate or even know what a vinyl record is. If you came here to discover that classical side of entertainment, well you are in for a treat. Today, we will not only be discussing the existence of vinyl (or LP) records, we will also answer the popular question of how to bring it into your home. If you simply want to know how to pick your first turntable, well this guide is perfect for you too. For more audio gear buying guides, click here.
Now, whether or not you are familiar with that huge square album with a nice cover art, you will be pleased to know that vinyl records are an undying form of musical storage. Many people have their own reasons for hanging on to this medium, in spite of all the modern day incarnations that have tried to push it out of the scene. The nostalgic quality of these old-timers have made it pretty much immortal, at least in the eyes of audiophiles and music fans across the globe.
Since it has endured so well for so long, it is easy to say that this form of entertainment is still very much alive, all thanks to the hundreds of vinyl collectors all over the world.
Since you are reading this, I am assuming you want to join that army by listening to your very own set of LP records. The turntable is the weapon you seek.
The turntable is a machine that lets you play all of your vinyl records, plain and simple. But the process of selecting the right one is a bit more complicated than it first seems. Imagine entering the store, in search of the perfect turntable, only to be presented with so many options that look the same but are different in many ways. That could intimidate the unprepared buyer, and convince them to stick with their iPhone’s music app. But not to worry, you will not be ‘unprepared’ for much longer.
Now to find the right turntable to suit your needs, you need to have an idea of the specific parts to inspect. A functional turntable would have a Plinth (or Base), a Platter, a Tonearm, and a Cartridge. Those words are pretty simple to understand especially when you know that the basic function of a turntable is to place a needle onto your record so that it could ‘release’ the music within.
The plinth is the very bottom part of every turntable; the one that holds everything together. It may be made of wood, plastic, or metal. When inspecting the base, you just have to make sure that it keeps the turntable steady, even while playing. Stability increases the quality of a playback.
The platter is the round component that rotates when you activate the turntable, meaning it’s the exact same spot where you will be placing your precious record. Generally, a heavier platter would sound better than a light one, because it decreases the vibration that the motor produces, meaning the songs would sound more like music, rather than noise. You may buy a special mat that covers the platter when
you place the vinyl record, so as to provide even more vibration dampening and to protect your record from minor damage. These mats can be made of felt, rubber, or cork to absorb all those pesky vibrations.
The tonearm is, well, the ‘arm’ that holds the needle and swings over your record once it is on the platter. The record makes contact with the needle as it spins, which results in that magical sound that has captivated every vinyl fan. There are two ways you can interact with the tonearm, and that depends on what kind of turntable you bought. We will later go into detail about this, but the main difference is that you either watch the tonearm move on its own, or you do the moving for it.
The cartridge and the stylus is said to confuse turntable-beginners because their function is closely similar. I would not disagree with that, because it used to confuse me as well. But the stylus is actually is actually the needle, and the cartridge is the housing that supports it. A common tip is to only replace the cartridge if you are an audiophile who wants to improve the sound quality, or if the cartridge is broken.
An additional component, known as the Phono Preamp, is an essential part of the turntable that may or may not already exist within the machine. To explain, the turntable produces an output signal called ‘Phono,’ but most audio equipment require signals known as ‘line level’ to work. The preamp is required to convert the Phono into Line Level. Now some turntables may have a built-in Phono Preamp, which is very convenient. If it does not have one, you may check your speakers, receivers, or stereo systems to see if it has that Phono Preamp, and that should work just the same. Otherwise, you can still buy an exterior preamp to do just that.
Manual vs. Automatic
Now that you know the parts that define a turntable, you are that much closer to having the most amazing vinyl record experience ever. But another important question to answer before heading out to buy one is whether you want it manual or automatic. An automatic turntable will work on its own as soon as you place the record on the platter and press play. The tonearm, as mentioned earlier, will place the needle where it needs to be. This is an easy and convenient option. But you can also have a manual turntable that lets you control the tonearm, meaning you have to do the work yourself. This option allows you to begin a playback anytime you want, allowing for more flexibility.
DJs prefer the manual version, while more casual listeners often choose the automatic one. The decision really depends on your preference.
Belt Drive vs. Direct Drive
It also depends on you whether you want a belt drive or a direct drive turntable. But for your reference, the ‘direct drive’ means your platter is ‘directly’ on the shaft of its motor. This means more vibration and a little more noise, but it also means a DJ can spin the platter backwards for special sound effects. The belt drive turntable has a motor that has been separated from the platter to achieve less noise, and is connected by an elastic ‘belt.’ This type cannot be spun backwards, so choose the one that would be more useful to you.
If you are ready to get a blast from the past with the best vinyl records you own, you have to keep all these things in mind while buying a turntable. Make sure that you also check the price tags, so you can weigh if the additional features are worth it. There is a turntable out there for everyone seeking to join the legion of vinyl lovers everywhere.