How To Buy A Good Turntable – A Comprehensive Guide

Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to invest in a good turntable?

With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

But fear not, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the key features to look for when buying a turntable, from rumble rating to phono cartridges.

Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just starting out, we’ll help you find the perfect turntable to bring your vinyl collection to life.

So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of turntables.

How To Buy A Good Turntable

When it comes to buying a good turntable, there are a few key features to consider.

Firstly, let’s talk about rumble rating. This measures how well the turntable can handle vibrations. You want a higher rumble rating, ideally in the -40 or -50 range at minimum. However, it’s important to note that higher numbers are actually worse in this case. A -80 rating is much better than a -20 rating. Look for turntables with heavier bodies, as they are less likely to pick up external vibrations.

Another important feature to look for is a counterweight. This helps balance the tonearm and ensures accurate tracking of the record. A removable headshell/cartridge is also important, as it allows for easy upgrades and replacements. Anti-skate control is another key feature, as it helps keep the stylus in the groove and prevents distortion.

Of course, budget is also a major factor when buying a turntable. You can find great entry-level turntables with built-in phono preamps for less than $300, such as the Fluance RT81. However, if you’re willing to spend more, you can get a higher quality turntable with better components and materials.

Speaking of components, let’s talk about phono cartridges. This is where the stylus makes contact with the vinyl and sends analog audio signals to the phono preamp. Look for turntables with well-regarded brand-name cartridges or do some research on the performance of different cartridges used by various turntables. Upgrading your cartridge down the road can greatly improve your listening experience.

Finally, build quality and materials make a big difference in sound quality. Look for turntables with exotic materials in platters, bearings, and other parts, as well as advanced engineering of tonearm assembly, plinth, wiring, etc. Avoid turntables with built-in preamps, as they can often be of lower quality.

Understanding The Basics: How Turntables Work

Before delving into the specifics of what to look for when buying a turntable, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how turntables work. A turntable, also known as a record player, is a device that plays vinyl records. The record sits on a platter that rotates at a constant speed, while a tonearm with a stylus attached to the end is placed on the record’s surface. As the stylus moves along the grooves of the record, it vibrates and generates an electrical signal that is then amplified and sent to speakers.

One of the biggest challenges with turntables is controlling vibrations. External vibrations can cause unwanted noise and distortion in the sound produced by the stylus. To combat this, turntable designers use two main approaches: suspension and mass. Suspension involves isolating the plinth (the platform on which the turntable sits) from the rest of the turntable as much as possible. Mass involves making the turntable heavier to suppress vibrations reaching the stylus.

Another important consideration when using a turntable is placement. It’s best to place the turntable at some distance from speakers or other sources of external vibration. Additionally, it’s recommended to avoid placing the turntable and speakers on the same surface, as this can increase the likelihood of vibrations being picked up by the stylus.

When choosing a turntable, it’s important to consider its rumble rating, which measures how well it can handle vibrations. A higher rumble rating is better, but it’s important to note that higher numbers are actually worse in this case. Look for turntables with heavier bodies to reduce external vibrations.

Other key features to consider include a counterweight to balance the tonearm, a removable headshell/cartridge for easy upgrades and replacements, and anti-skate control to prevent distortion. It’s also important to consider budget when buying a turntable, as entry-level options can be found for less than $300, while higher quality options will cost more.

Key Features To Look For: Rumble Rating And Wow & Flutter

Aside from the aforementioned features, there are two more key features to look for when buying a turntable: rumble rating and wow & flutter.

Rumble rating measures how well the turntable can handle vibrations caused by external factors such as foot traffic or speakers. A higher rumble rating is ideal, but it’s important to note that higher numbers are actually worse in this case. Look for turntables with heavier bodies and a rumble rating in the -40 or -50 range at minimum.

Wow & flutter refers to the speed variations of the turntable’s platter. The lower the wow & flutter, the more accurate and stable the playback speed will be. Look for turntables with a wow & flutter rating of 0.25% or lower.

When considering these features, keep in mind your budget and desired level of quality. Entry-level turntables may have lower rumble ratings and higher wow & flutter, but they can still provide a great listening experience. However, if you’re looking for top-of-the-line sound quality, investing in a turntable with high-quality components and materials is worth considering.

Belt-Drive Vs. Direct-Drive: Which Is Right For You?

When it comes to turntables, the two main types are belt-drive and direct-drive. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your needs before making a decision.

Belt-drive turntables are known for their high-quality sound and consistent playback. They are also typically more affordable than direct-drive turntables. The belt in a turntable is a wear part, so you should expect to repair or replace it every five years or so. Belt-drive turntables have less torque than direct-drive turntables, which means they take longer to get up to full speed. However, if you’re looking for a turntable that offers a sought-after sound quality, a belt-drive option may be the way to go.

On the other hand, direct-drive turntables are known for their durability and long-term play options. They also offer ease of use, making them a popular choice for DJs. Direct-drive turntables have higher torque, which means they have a faster start-up speed and are less vulnerable to extraneous force. However, because the platter is attached to the motor, vibrations are fed directly from the motor to the cartridge, which can result in some distortion.

When deciding between belt-drive and direct-drive turntables, it’s important to consider your priorities. If you value high-quality sound and consistent playback, a belt-drive turntable may be the way to go. If you prioritize durability, long-term play options, and ease of use, a direct-drive turntable may be more suitable for your needs.

Ultimately, the decision between belt-drive and direct-drive turntables comes down to personal preference. It’s important to test out different options before making a purchase and consider factors such as budget, long-term needs, and living situation. By doing so, you can ensure that you choose the right turntable for your specific needs and preferences.

The Importance Of Cartridges: Moving Magnet Vs. Moving Coil

When it comes to phono cartridges, there are two main types: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice ultimately depends on your personal preferences and intended use.

Moving magnet cartridges are heavier and exhibit greater inertia when it comes to reading subtle changes within the grooves. This means they may not be as competent at tracking very high-frequency content, resulting in a lack of transient detail. However, they are a great option for those who are not serious audiophiles and mostly play music in the background or at loud parties. They are also good for DIY sound system enthusiasts because of their more accessible design.

Moving coil cartridges, on the other hand, are preferred among audiophiles because they use far less moving mass. This makes the stylus and cantilever more nimble in the record groove, allowing them to reach more of the surface area and react accordingly. They are also capable of transcribing more micro-detail, particularly in high frequencies. However, MC cartridges are considerably more expensive to manufacture and maintain than MM cartridges, making them less accessible to those on a budget.

When choosing between MM and MC cartridges, consider your intended use for your turntable. If you’re a dedicated sound hobbyist who plays records specifically to focus on sound quality, a moving coil cartridge may be the better option. However, if you’re not a serious audiophile and mostly play music in the background or at loud parties, a moving magnet cartridge may be sufficient for your needs.

It’s also important to note that both types of cartridges have significant advantages and disadvantages. Neither is inherently better than the other, so it’s important to do your research and choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences. Additionally, upgrading your cartridge down the road can greatly improve your listening experience regardless of whether you choose an MM or MC cartridge initially.

Tonearm And Stylus: Finding The Perfect Match

When it comes to finding the perfect match between your tonearm and stylus, there are a few things to consider. The tonearm is the part of the turntable that holds the cartridge and stylus, and it’s responsible for accurately tracking the record grooves.

Firstly, it’s important to ensure that your tonearm is compatible with the type of cartridge you’re using. Most newly manufactured turntables today use half-inch cartridges, which are installed on the turntable via a headshell. If you see a headshell attached to the end of your tonearm, you need a half-inch cartridge.

Once you have the right type of cartridge, it’s important to properly align it for best performance. This involves using a protractor to ensure that the stylus is tracing the grooves accurately. After aligning, you will then need to balance the tonearm and set the weight of the cartridge and anti-skating.

The stylus is the part of the cartridge that makes direct contact with the record grooves, and it’s responsible for translating those movements into an electrical signal that can be amplified to produce music. There are many different types of cartridges, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on moving magnet or MM-type cartridges.

The diamond stylus tip is the only part of the cartridge that makes direct contact with the record, so it’s important to choose a stylus that matches your record collection. If your records are in good condition, a conical stylus will work well. However, if your records are older or in poor condition, an elliptical or microline stylus may be a better choice.

It’s also important to choose a high-quality stylus that matches your listening preferences. A higher-end stylus will generally provide better sound quality, but it may also be more fragile and require more careful handling.

Size And Style: Choosing A Turntable That Fits Your Needs

When it comes to choosing the right turntable, size and style are also important factors to consider. First, consider the size of the turntable and the space you have available for it. If you have limited space, a compact turntable may be a better option. On the other hand, if you have a dedicated listening room, a larger turntable may be more suitable.

Next, think about the style of the turntable. Do you prefer a modern look or a vintage aesthetic? Some turntables come in sleek, minimalist designs, while others have a more retro feel with wood finishes and classic styling. Consider your personal preferences and the overall aesthetic of your listening space.

It’s also important to consider the weight of the turntable. A heavier turntable will typically produce better sound quality, as it will be less prone to vibrations and external interference. However, heavier turntables can also be more difficult to move or transport.

Ultimately, the size and style of your turntable should reflect your personal taste and needs. Consider your listening space, budget, and preferences when choosing a turntable that fits your needs. With careful consideration of these factors, you can find a turntable that not only sounds great but also looks great in your home.