What Is A Turntable? A Comprehensive Guide To The Vinyl Player

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with them, the turntable.

But what exactly is a turntable? Is it the same as a record player? And why do audiophiles prefer them over all-in-one devices?

In this article, we’ll break down the components of a turntable and explain how it works. Whether you’re a seasoned vinyl collector or just starting out, understanding the basics of a turntable is essential for getting the most out of your vinyl listening experience.

So, let’s dive in and explore the world of turntables!

What Is A Turntable

A turntable is a device that plays vinyl records. It consists of a circular rotating platform, called the platter, which holds the record and spins it at a constant speed. The platter is driven by a motor, which is usually located underneath the platter.

The tonearm is another important component of a turntable. It is a long, thin arm that holds the cartridge and stylus (needle) that track the grooves on the record. The cartridge contains a tiny magnet or coil that converts the mechanical vibrations of the stylus into an electrical signal.

The signal from the cartridge is then sent to a preamp, which amplifies the signal and prepares it for further amplification by an external amplifier or receiver. Some turntables come with built-in preamps, while others require an external preamp to be connected.

One of the main differences between a turntable and a record player is that a turntable does not have built-in speakers or amplifiers. This means that you need to connect it to an external amplifier or receiver and speakers in order to hear the music.

The Difference Between A Turntable And A Record Player

Although the terms “turntable” and “record player” are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. A turntable is a standalone unit that only includes the platter, tonearm, cartridge, and possibly a preamp. It requires external components, such as an amplifier and speakers, to be connected in order to play music. On the other hand, a record player is an all-in-one unit that includes a turntable assembly, preamp, amplifier, and speakers. This means that it can be used right out of the box without needing any additional components.

Another key difference between turntables and record players is the level of customization and upgradability. With a record player, you are buying a fixed product with limited options for upgrading individual components later on. However, with a turntable, you have the ability to swap out parts like the cartridge or platter for higher-end options or even replace the entire tonearm if desired. Additionally, using external components with a turntable allows for incremental upgrades to the rest of your audio system as your budget allows.

Ultimately, the choice between a turntable and a record player comes down to personal preference and intended use. If you value customization and high-quality sound and are willing to invest in additional components, a turntable may be the better option. However, if convenience and simplicity are more important to you, a record player may be the way to go.

Components Of A Turntable: Platter, Tonearm, Cartridge, And Stylus

The platter is the circular platform on which the vinyl record sits and spins. It is usually made of materials such as aluminum or acrylic, and its weight and design can affect the sound quality. The platter is driven by a motor, which is responsible for maintaining a constant speed of rotation. Some turntables use belt drive systems, while others use direct drive systems.

The tonearm is a long, thin arm that holds the cartridge and stylus (needle) that track the grooves on the record. It pivots from the edge of the record towards the center, and at the end of the tonearm is the cartridge, which contains a tiny magnet or coil that converts the mechanical vibrations of the stylus into an electrical signal. The part that holds the cartridge is called the headshell, and some manufacturers use detachable headshells to make swapping cartridges easier.

At the other end of the tonearm is the counterweight, which needs to be set correctly to apply the proper amount of tracking force. Most tonearms pivot from a full bearing, but there is a growing trend toward using uni-pivot designs that seek to keep bearing friction to a minimum by reducing the contact area of the moving surfaces.

The stylus (needle) is responsible for tracking your record’s groove. Styluses come in several shapes, but the two most common ones found are conical and elliptical-shaped styluses. The conical stylus is more common and cheaper between the two because its shape means it’s also easier to produce. Meanwhile, an elliptical shaped stylus follows the record’s grooves more accurately, picking up those higher frequencies and causing less distortion in sound.

How A Turntable Works: From Grooves To Soundwaves

Vinyl records work by encoding sound waves into grooves on the record. When a turntable is turned on, the platter spins at a constant speed, and the tonearm is lowered onto the record. The stylus, which is attached to the end of the tonearm, then moves through the grooves on the record.

The stylus is made of a hard substance, usually diamond, and it follows the wiggles in the grooves as the record turns. The movement of the stylus is carried through the cantilever and into the cartridge body. The cartridge contains a tiny magnet or coil that converts these mechanical vibrations into an electrical signal.

This electrical signal is then sent to a preamp, which amplifies it and prepares it for further amplification by an external amplifier or receiver. The preamp can either be built-in to the turntable or external.

The amplified signal is then sent to speakers, where it is converted back into sound waves that we can hear. This process of transforming mechanical vibrations into electrical signals and then back into sound waves is what allows us to enjoy music on vinyl records.

The Benefits Of Using A Turntable For Vinyl Listening

There are several benefits to using a turntable for vinyl listening. Firstly, turntables offer a unique listening experience that cannot be replicated by digital music. They provide warm, rich, and full-bodied sound that is not present in digital music. This is due to the fact that vinyl records are an analog format, which means that the sound is created by physical vibrations rather than digital signals.

Secondly, turntables allow for a tactile experience that adds to the enjoyment of listening to music. The act of carefully taking a record out of its sleeve, cleaning it with an old cloth, and placing it on the turntable can be a relaxing and immersive experience. This process allows you to fully appreciate the music and engage with it on a deeper level.

Thirdly, owning a turntable means that you have full control over the components of your audio system. This allows you to customize your setup to suit your specific needs and preferences. For example, you can choose the type of turntable and speakers that will best suit your budget and the features that are important to you.

Finally, using a turntable for vinyl listening can actually improve the sound quality of your music. Turntables with individual drivers provide superior sound quality and a better music listening experience compared to record players with built-in speakers. Additionally, using high fidelity speakers connected via an audio cable rather than wireless Bluetooth technology can help you hear more details in your music.

Common Turntable Features And Accessories To Consider

When looking to purchase a turntable, there are several features and accessories to consider. Here are some of the most common:

1. Drive System: Turntables come in two primary types of drive systems – belt drive and direct drive. Direct drive turntables are generally more affordable and favored by DJs due to their ability to start up quickly. Belt drive turntables, on the other hand, often deliver better sound quality due to their isolated motor and belt system.

2. Cartridge: The cartridge is the component that holds the stylus (needle) and converts the mechanical vibrations into an electrical signal. High-end cartridges can significantly improve the sound quality of your turntable.

3. Stylus: The stylus is the needle that tracks the grooves on the record. There are different types of styli available, including elliptical, conical, and microline. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.

4. Platter: The platter is the rotating platform that holds the record. Some turntables have exotic materials in their platters that can improve sound quality.

5. Tonearm: The tonearm is responsible for holding the cartridge and stylus and tracking the grooves on the record. Advanced engineering of tonearm assembly can contribute to overall better sound quality.

6. Preamp: As mentioned earlier, some turntables come with built-in preamps while others require an external preamp to be connected. Consider whether you need a built-in preamp or if you prefer to use an external one.

7. Accessories: Some accessories that may be necessary for your turntable setup include a dust cover, record cleaning kit, and anti-static mat.

By considering these features and accessories, you can make an informed decision when purchasing a turntable that suits your needs and budget.

Maintaining And Caring For Your Turntable For Longevity And Optimal Performance

Regular maintenance is crucial for ensuring that your turntable lasts a long time and performs optimally. Neglecting your turntable can lead to dust buildup, which can negatively impact sound quality and even cause damage to your vinyl collection. Additionally, worn-out parts can further increase the risk of damage to both the turntable and the records.

To maintain your turntable, start by cleaning it regularly. Turntables attract dust through static electricity, which can cause wear on the needle and the record itself. Use a stylus brush and a microfiber cloth to clean the stylus and tonearm, and be sure to brush the stylus back to front to avoid bending or breaking it. If you don’t have a stylus brush, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser can also do the trick. Once the stylus is clean, place the stylus guard on and spray compressed air to blow away any dust or dirt you collected.

It’s also important to check the tonearm settings to ensure that they are aligned correctly and that it is balanced properly. This will help prevent pitch issues and damage to the record. Additionally, storing your turntable in a dust-free area can help extend its life by keeping debris away from small parts.

If you have old records or are buying pre-owned vinyl, it’s essential to clean them before playing them for the first time. Record cleaning machines are a simple device that uses fluid to loosen dirt and a vacuum system to remove both fluid and dirt, leaving your records spotless. Investing in a good record cleaning machine like Pro-Ject’s VC-S2 ALU can be pricey, but it’s worth it for serious collectors who want their vinyl collection to last.

Finally, make sure your turntable is level with the floor when playing a record. Keeping it off at a slight angle can cause tracking force fluctuations that could potentially damage or morph the disc. Most record players come with adjustable legs to help you find that perfect balance. Even if the surface appears flat, use a spirit level to be sure.

By following these simple maintenance tips, you’ll be able to maximize your turntable performance and enjoy music as it was intended – flawlessly!