What Is A Turntable Used For? A Comprehensive Guide

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

But what exactly is a turntable and what is it used for?

In its simplest form, a turntable is the rotating platform that holds a vinyl record and spins it while a stylus reads the grooves and produces sound.

However, modern turntables have evolved into standalone devices that require external components to produce sound.

In this article, we will explore the different components of a turntable and how they work together to bring your vinyl collection to life.

So, whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or new to the world of vinyl, read on to learn more about what a turntable is used for.

What Is A Turntable Used For

A turntable is primarily used for playing vinyl records. It is a device that spins the record at a constant speed while a stylus, attached to a tonearm, reads the grooves on the record and produces sound.

However, modern turntables are standalone devices that require external components to produce sound. These components include a preamp, amplifier, and speakers. The turntable itself contains a plinth (the base), a platter (the turntable that spins), and a tonearm, cartridge, and stylus (the components that track your records).

The turntable is used to reproduce the warm, rich sound of vinyl records. Many audiophiles prefer the sound of vinyl over digital formats because of its unique sound characteristics. Vinyl records have a warmer, more natural sound that many people find more pleasing to the ear than digital recordings.

In addition to its primary use of playing vinyl records, turntables can also be used for DJing and scratching. DJs use turntables to manipulate and mix music in real-time, creating unique sounds and beats.

The Basics Of Turntables: How They Work

At the core of a turntable is the platter, which is the circular platform that spins the vinyl record. The platter is driven by an electric motor and is designed to rotate at a constant speed. This consistent speed is crucial for accurate playback of the record’s grooves.

The tonearm is another critical component of a turntable. It is responsible for holding the cartridge and stylus and guiding them along the grooves of the record. The tonearm needs to be precisely balanced to ensure that it tracks the grooves accurately without causing damage to the record.

The cartridge is a small device that contains the stylus or needle. It converts the physical movements of the stylus as it tracks the grooves into electrical signals that can be amplified and played through speakers.

The stylus itself is a tiny diamond or other hard material that sits at the end of the cartridge. As it moves along the grooves of the record, it vibrates in response to the changes in the groove’s shape, creating an electrical signal that represents the sound recorded on the record.

To play a record on a turntable, you need to place it on the platter and lower the tonearm onto the record’s surface. The stylus then tracks along the grooves, picking up vibrations and converting them into electrical signals that are amplified and played through speakers.

The Components Of A Turntable

To fully understand how a turntable works, it’s important to know its major components. The plinth is the base of the turntable and provides stability for the other components. It is often made of wood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and can affect the sound quality of the turntable.

The platter is the rotating surface on which the record sits. It is typically made of metal, acrylic, or glass and can also affect the sound quality. High mass platters provide better speed consistency, while dense construction helps to control resonance.

The tonearm is responsible for holding the cartridge and stylus in place and guiding them along the grooves of the record. It is usually made of metal and has a counterweight to balance the weight of the cartridge and stylus.

The cartridge is a small device that holds the stylus and converts mechanical vibrations from the stylus into an electrical signal that can be amplified and played through speakers. There are two types of cartridges: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC).

The stylus, also known as a needle, is a small diamond-tipped device that tracks the grooves on the record. It comes in different shapes and sizes, each designed for a specific type of record.

The Importance Of A Stylus And Cartridge

The stylus and cartridge are crucial components of a turntable, as they are responsible for reading the grooves on the record and producing sound. The stylus, also known as the needle, is the part that makes contact with the record and moves back and forth in the grooves. It is attached to the cartridge, which is mounted on the end of the tonearm.

The shape of the stylus is essential for producing high-quality sound and minimizing wear and tear on the record. There are different types of stylus, including conical or spherical, bi-radial or elliptical, micro-ridge, and hyper-elliptical. The most advanced stylus is the nude diamond stylus, which tracks more accurately and has a longer lifespan than other types.

The cartridge is responsible for converting the movement of the stylus into an electrical signal that can be amplified and played through speakers. Cartridges come in different types, including moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges are more common and less expensive than MC cartridges, but MC cartridges offer better sound quality due to their lower mass and higher output voltage.

Understanding The Role Of The Tonearm

The tonearm is a critical component of a turntable. Its primary function is to support the cartridge that holds the stylus, which reads the grooves on the record. The tonearm needs to be balanced so that the weight of the stylus and cartridge is evenly distributed. This is done by adjusting counterweights on the arm’s back end.

The physical design of a tonearm varies by model, but it usually consists of two pieces — an arm base and a headshell at one end. Tonearms can be made from various materials, such as carbon fiber, plastic, aluminum alloy, or wood. While each material offers its own benefits, the most popular options are typically aluminum alloy or carbon fiber, which are known to reduce resonance and improve sound quality.

The height and angle of the armtube are critical in ensuring that the cartridge is held in the correct position above the record and allows it to trace the groove inwards towards the center of the record. The tonearm also applies the correct amount of weight to the stylus and ensures that anti-skate force is present to prevent the cartridge from shooting towards the inside of the record.

The arm itself has to keep its overall mass reasonably low so that it can move in such a way as to ensure that the cartridge makes it across the record in a uniform fashion. However, too stiff an arrangement will become audible in the signal itself. The balancing act that results means that some arms take the radical step of removing bearings altogether and balancing the arm on a single point.

How To Set Up A Turntable

Setting up a turntable can seem daunting at first, but it’s actually a straightforward process. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Find a stable surface: Place your turntable on a sturdy surface that won’t wobble or vibrate. This will prevent unwanted noise and distortion from affecting your music.

2. Balance the tonearm: The tonearm is the component that holds the cartridge and stylus. It needs to be balanced correctly to ensure accurate tracking of your records. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, as the process can vary depending on the turntable model.

3. Adjust the tracking force: Tracking force is the amount of pressure the stylus applies to the record. Too little force can cause skipping, while too much can damage your records and stylus. Use a tracking force gauge to set the correct amount of force for your cartridge.

4. Connect your cables: Use RCA or phono cables to connect your turntable to a preamp or amplifier. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully, as improper connections can cause unwanted noise or damage.

5. Choose the correct speed: Most records play at either 33 or 45 RPM, but some older records may require 78 RPM. Make sure you select the correct speed for your record to avoid distortion or damage.

By following these steps, you can set up your turntable for optimal performance and enjoy the warm, rich sound of vinyl records. Remember to take your time and be patient, as proper setup is crucial for getting the best sound possible.

Maintaining Your Turntable: Tips And Tricks

If you own a turntable, it is important to maintain it properly to ensure that it lasts a long time and produces the best sound quality possible. Here are some tips and tricks for maintaining your turntable:

1. Placement and Suspension: The placement of your turntable is crucial to maintaining its sound quality. Keep it away from sources of vibration such as speakers, subwoofers, and foot traffic. You can also invest in a support platform to keep it away from any unwanted forces.

2. Stylus Cleaning: Use a carbon fiber brush to clean the stylus after every use. This will prevent dirt and deposits from building up on the stylus and causing skipping and distortion. You can also use fluids or cleaners to keep the stylus in good condition.

3. Calibration: Correctly calibrate the tracking force, anti-skate, and height settings to avoid increased record wear as well as skipping needles. This is an important step in maintaining all the parts of your turntable to have the best quality sound possible.

4. Belt Replacement: If you own a belt drive turntable, it is important to replace the belt once every few years. Signs that it’s time to replace the belt include slipping lower than usual on its pulley or hearing it slip when you power up your device.

5. Anti-Skate Counterweight Alignment: Make sure that your anti-skate counterweight is aligned correctly to ensure that your stylus sits perfectly in the center of the groove as the record spins. Correct alignment is important because it can have an effect on the way your stylus sits inside the record grooves.

By following these tips and tricks, you can keep your turntable in top shape and enjoy high-quality sound for years to come. Remember to perform regular maintenance on your turntable, as skipping any form of care can be disastrous for both your player and vinyl collection.