Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to upgrade your turntable?
Or maybe you’re new to the world of vinyl and wondering what makes a good turntable.
Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll explore the essential criteria that make a turntable good, from low vibration chassis and motor to high-quality phono cartridges.
We’ll also discuss the importance of build quality and materials, as well as proper positioning and support for your turntable.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of turntables.
What Makes A Turntable Good
The essence of a good turntable is its ability to read the record grooves accurately and reproduce the recorded music without adding noise and distortion. To achieve this, a turntable must meet four essential criteria: low vibration chassis and motor, motor/drive with stable speed and low noise, low resonance tonearm that moves freely, and a high-quality phono cartridge.
A good turntable should have isolated motors with electronic speed control, and the best turntables have completely separated motor units. The bearing must guide the cartridge in the groove, and if the tonearm is too heavy and slow with a lot of friction, the cartridge cannot track the details accurately.
When it comes to turntables, the general rule is that the heavier the better. This is because heavier turntables can absorb vibration better, resulting in better stability and less outside noise. High-end tables tend to be heavy for this reason, while entry-level ones tend to be made with lighter materials that result in more vibration and other outside interference to sound quality.
Build quality and materials also make all the difference when choosing a turntable. Key features that make one turntable sound better than another include an aluminum platter and tonearm, exotic materials in platter, bearings, and other parts, high-end cartridges, advanced engineering of tonearm assembly, plinth, wiring, etc., and no built-in preamp.
Proper positioning and support are also crucial for getting the best sound from your turntable. The surface on which you place your record player needs to be perfectly level, low resonance, and positioned as far away from sources of vibration as possible. Most decks have some sort of isolation built-in, but even the most sophisticated designs will perform better with careful placement and a good support.
Low Vibration Chassis And Motor
One of the most important factors in a good turntable is a low vibration chassis and motor. Vibrations are the enemy of accurate sound reproduction, as they can cause unwanted noise and distortion. To minimize vibrations, turntable designs use a chassis or plinth made of low vibration materials and employ sophisticated low vibration design techniques. Motors, bearings, and drives with low vibrations are also used, along with designs that transfer very little vibration from the motor and drive to the tonearm and record.
The motor is a critical part of the turntable, as its vibrations can easily transfer to the platter and tonearm. The rotational speed of the motor is fixed, and it creates vibrations at its fundamental frequency and harmonics of that frequency. These vibrations can be minimized by using solid-state AC frequency control with or without servo feedback. This provides a stable single-phase AC signal whose frequency can be adjusted electronically and is independent of the AC power’s frequency.
The motor’s rotational speed is also affected by the power supply frequency, which is 60Hz in the US and 50Hz in Europe. This means that turntables designed for different power supplies will have different motor speeds, which can affect their noise performance. To isolate the motor from the platter, a compliant drive connection is used, typically made of elastic material like ground rubber. This helps absorb some of the motor’s vibrations and even out its rotational force.
Mechanical isolation of the motor can be achieved in several ways, including mounting it in a heavy, separate assembly not attached to the main turntable or using a suspended sub-chassis for the platter that is isolated from the turntable motor mounting plate. Resiliently mounting the motor into the turntable’s main body is also an option for lower-cost turntables.
High-Quality Phono Cartridges
A phono cartridge is the part of a turntable that holds the stylus and converts the grooves in the record to small electrical signals that are amplified and changed into sound waves heard as music. The phono cartridge is a crucial component of a turntable and can greatly impact the sound quality.
High-quality phono cartridges are designed to accurately track the grooves in a record, retrieve all the details, and deliver a balanced and neutral sound profile. They are built with premium components such as diamond stylus, lightweight cantilevers, and strong magnet and coil systems. Some of the best phono cartridge brands include Ortofon, Sumiko, Audio-Technica, Denon, Goldring, and Raga.
Moving Magnet (MM) cartridges are the most common and affordable alternative. In these cartridges, the cantilever moves a magnet assembly relative to coils of wire that are fixed in the cartridge. The primary advantages are that they are less expensive to produce (and buy) and the stylus can easily be replaced. Moving Coil (MC) cartridges have much lower output level and are generally more expensive.
The Nagaoka MP-150 is a high-end MM cartridge that delivers excellent sound quality. It features premium components such as a superfine polished elliptical diamond needle, solidified yet lightweight aluminum alloy cantilever, and a strengthened carbon shaft shoe. This ensures accurate tracking and retrieval of the vinyl record’s grooves for an immersive listening experience. Additionally, the anti-ferromagnetic permalloy shielding case protects the delicate internal components from external interference.
Build Quality And Materials
In addition to the essential criteria mentioned above, build quality and materials are also important factors to consider when choosing a turntable. A good turntable should have a sturdy and well-built chassis to minimize vibration and resonance. Key features that make one turntable sound better than another include an aluminum platter and tonearm, exotic materials in platter, bearings, and other parts, high-end cartridges, advanced engineering of tonearm assembly, plinth, wiring, etc., and no built-in preamp.
Exotic materials such as carbon fiber or titanium can also be used in turntable construction to reduce resonance and provide better stability. High-end cartridges are also important as they contribute significantly to the sound quality of the turntable. The stylus of the cartridge should be aligned with the groove accurately to avoid inner groove distortion or a lopsided stereo image.
It is also important to note that heavier turntables tend to perform better as they can absorb vibration better, resulting in better stability and less outside noise. High-end tables tend to be heavy for this reason, while entry-level ones tend to be made with lighter materials that result in more vibration and other outside interference to sound quality.
Proper Positioning And Support
Proper positioning and support are crucial for getting the best sound from your turntable. Firstly, you need to find a stable, heavy, and flat surface to put your record player on. This means your records and record player components will last much longer and also benefit from improved sound. It’s vital to place your turntable on a flat and level surface to prevent any tracking issues when your records are spinning and also prevent tonearm friction. The reason why a stable and heavy surface is important is to lessen the impact of vibrations and anything else that can affect the sound quality.
It’s always best to isolate the speakers from your turntable. Avoid placing them on the same surface as the vibration will cause significant turntable resonance, which can degrade the sound quality—or worse, cause the stylus to skip during playback. Speaker positioning is also important, but that’s a topic for another day.
You can further improve the isolation of your turntable using an isolation platform, and in some cases, you can upgrade the turntable feet for a model with better isolation or vibration absorption properties. Cabinets with hairpin legs are great for additional isolation from floor-standing speakers, as the minimal floor contact reduces vibrations that can drive floorboards.
If your house has suspended wooden floors and footfall vibration becomes a problem, you might want to consider investing in a secure wall fitting to isolate the turntable. For circumstances where you absolutely can’t place your speakers on separate stands or on another surface, you can mitigate the problem by placing isolation pads under the speakers. With smaller speakers at lower volumes, this may be enough to avoid excessive vibration or feedback issues.
Bass frequencies are the most difficult to control when placing speakers on the same surface as a turntable. This is because bass frequencies can more easily travel through surfaces. Naturally, isolation pads and plinths will more effectively absorb higher frequencies than heavy bass.
Additional Features To Consider.
In addition to the essential criteria and key features mentioned above, there are some additional features to consider when choosing a turntable. One of these features is the tonearm length. A longer tonearm can provide better tracking and reduce distortion, but it can also increase the risk of resonance and vibration. A shorter tonearm, on the other hand, can provide better rigidity and reduce resonance.
Another feature to consider is the anti-skate mechanism. This mechanism helps to counteract the natural tendency of the tonearm to move towards the center of the record due to the groove’s spiral shape. Without an anti-skate mechanism, the stylus can wear out unevenly, leading to distortion and reduced sound quality.
The platter mat is another feature that can affect sound quality. A good platter mat should provide good grip for the record and reduce vibration and resonance. Some turntables come with rubber or felt mats, while others have more advanced materials like cork or leather.
Finally, consider the connectivity options of the turntable. Some turntables have built-in phono preamps, which can be convenient if you don’t have a separate preamp or receiver. Others have USB connectivity, allowing you to digitize your vinyl collection and listen to it on your computer or other digital devices.
Overall, a good turntable should have a combination of essential criteria, key features, and additional features that work together to provide accurate and high-fidelity sound reproduction. When choosing a turntable, consider your budget and personal preferences for sound quality, as well as any additional features that may be important to you.