How It’s Made: Turntable – A Comprehensive Guide

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with that, turntables have regained their popularity.

But have you ever wondered how turntables are made? How does a small cartridge at the end of a tonearm read the grooves on a vinyl record and translate them into sound waves?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science behind turntables and explore the components that make up these beloved music players.

Whether you’re a seasoned vinyl enthusiast or just starting to explore the world of turntables, join us as we dive into the fascinating process of how turntables are made.

How It’s Made Turntable

At the heart of every turntable is the cartridge, which is responsible for reading the grooves on a vinyl record. This small rectangular device uses electromagnetic induction to detect the changes in the grooves and translate them into electrical signals.

The cartridge is made up of a removable stylus, a soft plastic casing, and a moving magnet. As the stylus moves along the grooves, it vibrates and causes the magnet to move back and forth within the cartridge. This movement creates an electrical signal that is then amplified and played through speakers.

High-end turntables may feature a coil system that causes magnetic field fluctuations. These fluctuations are transmitted up the tonearm and played through the speakers, resulting in a more accurate and detailed sound.

While the basic technology behind turntables hasn’t changed much over the years, there have been steady refinements to the components that make up these music players. Manufacturers continue to experiment with different materials and designs to improve sound quality and reduce unwanted vibrations.

The History Of Turntables

The history of turntables can be traced back over 160 years. French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville created the phonautograph in 1857, which used a vibrating diaphragm and stylus to record sound waves by tracing them on sheets of paper. However, it could only visualize sound waves and could not play them back.

Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 was the first device that could record and play back sound. The phonograph initially used a grooved cylinder wrapped in tin foil as the recording surface that could be turned by a hand crank. Edison soon swapped out tinfoil for wax for better sound and improved durability.

In 1887, Emile Berliner’s gramophone used a needle to laterally trace spiral grooves onto a cylinder. Soon, cylinders were replaced by flat discs made of rubber and then later shellac. These discs, or records, were mass-produced and became more functional in the home.

In the 1930s, wind-up players were being replaced by electric-powered successors. After the increasing popularity of bulky turntable systems with built-in amplification and speakers, came the rise of the dedicated hi-fi record player.

Radio Corporation of America had purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, and the newly-formed RCA Victor began selling 331/3 rpm records and knocking out the Duo Jr, the first component turntable designed to be plugged into radio sets, negating the need for a phonograph’s built-in amplification and speakers.

In the early 1960s, AR (Acoustic Research) came out with a simple, inexpensive, belt-drive single-play turntable called “The AR Turntable,” which sold in the millions. Its basic audio performance in terms of speed accuracy and absence of rumble was far superior to the standard record changers of the day.

Today, manufacturers continue to refine turntable components to improve sound quality and reduce unwanted vibrations. The cartridge remains at the heart of every turntable, responsible for reading the grooves on a vinyl record using electromagnetic induction to detect changes in the grooves and translate them into electrical signals. High-end turntables may feature a coil system that causes magnetic field fluctuations for more accurate and detailed sound.

The Science Behind Turntables

The science behind turntables is fascinating and complex. At its core, a turntable works by using a needle, or stylus, to read the grooves on a vinyl record. As the record spins, the stylus moves along the grooves and vibrates in response to the changes in the groove’s shape and depth.

This vibration is then converted into an electrical signal by the cartridge, a small device that contains a magnet and coil. The electrical signal is then amplified and sent to speakers, where it is transformed back into sound.

One of the key components of a turntable is the tonearm, which holds the cartridge and stylus in place as it moves across the record. The tonearm must be precisely balanced to ensure that the stylus tracks accurately along the grooves without damaging the record.

Another important factor in turntable design is reducing unwanted vibrations. Even small vibrations can cause distortion and affect sound quality. To combat this, manufacturers use materials like carbon fiber and aluminum to create lightweight yet sturdy tonearms that minimize unwanted movement.

Finally, advancements in technology have led to improvements in turntable design. High-end turntables may feature advanced motors that provide more precise speed control, resulting in better sound quality. Some turntables even use digital signal processing to correct for imperfections in the vinyl record itself.

The Components Of A Turntable

A turntable is composed of several essential components that work together to produce high-quality sound. The first and most important of these components is the cartridge, which is responsible for translating the physical grooves on a vinyl record into electrical signals.

The cartridge consists of a stylus, a plastic casing, and a moving magnet or coil system. The stylus, also known as the needle, is a tiny metal cantilever with a diamond tip that tracks the record groove. As the cantilever vibrates according to the groove shape, magnets or coils generate a small audio signal that travels up the cables inside the tonearm tube.

The tonearm is another critical component of a turntable, responsible for supporting and guiding the cartridge as it tracks the record. It consists of a long, slender tube with an adjustable counterweight at one end and a headshell at the other. The headshell holds the cartridge in place and allows for easy replacement when necessary.

The plinth, or base, of a turntable is also an important component. It houses all of the electronic pieces that make the turntable function and provides stability to prevent unwanted vibrations from affecting sound quality. Plinths can be made from materials such as wood, metal, or acrylic.

The platter and slipmat work together to hold the vinyl in place and spin it at a consistent speed. The platter can be made from materials such as aluminum, plastic, glass, or acrylic. Acrylic platters are considered superior due to their density, which reduces vibrations and results in more consistent play speed. Slipmats are placed on top of the platter to prevent records from slipping and protect against vibrations that can cause resonance in sound.

Finally, the motor and drive system are responsible for spinning the platter at a consistent speed. There are two types of drive systems: belt-drive and direct-drive. Belt-drive systems use an elastic belt to transfer power from the motor to the platter, while direct-drive systems use a motor directly attached to the platter.

The Manufacturing Process Of Turntables

The manufacturing process of turntables involves a series of intricate steps that require precision and attention to detail. The first step is to create the plinth, which is the base of the turntable. This can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, or acrylic. The plinth must be sturdy and able to support the other components of the turntable.

Next, the motor is installed onto the plinth. This motor is responsible for turning the platter, which holds the vinyl record. There are two types of motors used in turntables: belt-drive and direct-drive. Belt-drive motors are quieter and provide smoother playback, while direct-drive motors offer better speed stability.

Once the motor is in place, the tonearm is attached to the plinth. The tonearm holds the cartridge and stylus, and is responsible for guiding them along the grooves of the record. The tonearm must be precisely balanced and calibrated to ensure accurate playback.

The cartridge is then installed onto the tonearm. Cartridges come in different types, including moving magnet and moving coil. Moving magnet cartridges are more common and less expensive, while moving coil cartridges offer better sound quality but are more expensive.

Finally, the platter is added to the turntable. The platter must be perfectly balanced and able to spin at a consistent speed. It is usually made from a heavy material like metal or acrylic to reduce vibrations and improve sound quality.

Once all the components are in place, the turntable is tested for accuracy and sound quality. Any adjustments are made before it is packaged and shipped out to customers.

Quality Control In Turntable Production

In turntable production, quality control is a crucial step to ensure that the final product meets the necessary standards for sound quality and performance. One important aspect of quality control is the inspection of the crosses used in the winding of the copper coil or wire. These crosses must be free of burrs before the winding process begins, as any imperfections can affect the accuracy and performance of the turntable.

To check for burrs, crosses are batch inspected at high magnification. This is a labor-intensive process, but it is necessary to prevent potential issues down the line and save thousands of man-hours. Additionally, Rega Research utilizes the Swift metrology system to measure small precision parts, including the stylus tip. This system allows for accurate measurements and ensures that each component meets the necessary specifications.

Even small variations in measurements can have a significant impact on the sound quality of the finished turntable. Therefore, manufacturers like Rega Research place a great deal of trust in their suppliers and implement stringent quality control measures to ensure that every component is within tolerance and meets requirements.

Maintenance And Care For Your Turntable

Taking care of your turntable is essential if you want it to last for years and produce high-quality sound. Here are some tips to help you maintain and care for your turntable:

1. Set the Tracking Force: The tracking force is the amount of pressure the stylus applies to the record. Make sure to check with the cartridge on your turntable to determine the appropriate range. Once you have determined the range, aim for something in the middle like 1.7 or 1.8 grams. Experiment with different tracking forces to determine which one produces the best sound quality.

2. Adjust Turntable Speed: The correct speed of the record will usually appear on the vinyl. Make sure you adjust the turntable speed to match the record speed. Different types of records are made for different rates, such as 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and 33 rpm.

3. Clean Your Stylus: The stylus is very fragile and can easily accumulate dirt, dust, and other particulates that prevent it from making direct contact with the grooves in a vinyl record. Avoid using your fingers to wipe it off or blowing on it to clean it. Instead, use a carbon fiber brush to keep it clear of debris and maintain quality sound.

4. Clean Your Turntable: Regularly clean your spindle, belt-drive, and other components of your turntable to prevent dirt from accumulating and affecting sound quality. Use a microfiber cloth and some water to wipe down the surfaces before taking apart any components.

5. Cover Your Turntable: Always make sure you cover your turntable with a dust cover between uses. If you don’t have a dust cover, you can also use a cloth to prevent dust from gathering.

By following these maintenance and care tips, you can ensure that your turntable lasts for years and produces high-quality sound every time you play a record.