What To Look For In A Good Turntable: A Comprehensive Guide

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with that comes the need for a good turntable.

But with so many options out there, it can be overwhelming to know what to look for.

Fear not, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll break down the key components of a good turntable and what to consider when making your purchase.

From size and speed to counterweights and anti-skate control, we’ll cover it all.

Plus, we’ll give you tips on how to set up your turntable for optimal performance.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn what to look for in a good turntable.

What To Look For In A Good Turntable

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

Firstly, size and speed are important. Different sized records play at different RPMs, so make sure your turntable has adjustable speed switches to accommodate your entire record collection. Most turntables will play 12-inch records at 33RPM and seven-inch records at 45RPM, but only some will play the less common 10-inch records of 78RPM.

Secondly, the price point is a major factor. You can buy an entry-level turntable with a built-in phono preamp for less than $300, or you can spend more for better quality components like the stylus, phono cartridge, tonearm, and phono preamp (if it has one), as well as better quality materials.

Thirdly, there are a few key parts of the turntable that contribute to its overall quality. Look for a turntable with a counterweight, removable headshell/cartridge, and anti-skate control. These features help minimize distortion and read the record as accurately as possible.

Lastly, it’s important to consider the turntable’s rumble rating. This measures how well it takes vibrations and ideally you want a higher rumble rating in the -40 or -50 range at minimum.

Size And Speed: Understanding The Basics

When it comes to understanding turntables, it’s important to start with the basics of size and speed. The speed at which a turntable spins is measured in RPM (Revolutions Per Minute), which is the number of times a record completes a full spin on the player in one minute. The majority of record players these days feature only two speeds: 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM. The size and speed of a record were determined by record companies back in the day, being defined by how much information they could fit on a record whilst keeping a decent quality of sound.

Back in the early phonograph days, 78 RPM was pretty much a standard for a while, but by around the 1950s, this speed fell out of favour as record companies realised they could print the same audio quality onto the faster speed of 33 1/3 RPM. This allowed them to have around 22 minutes of music per side. Due to the listening time of around 22 minutes, 33 1/3 RPM (12 inch) records are primarily used for LPs (Long Play Records) which house full albums split over 2 sides.

On the other hand, 45 RPM (7 inch) records are smaller in size and cheaper to produce, and can house around five minutes per side. Because of this, 7-inch records are perfect for releasing singles which can house a couple of tracks on each side.

It’s important to note that not all turntables can play all sizes and speeds of records. Depending on which turntable you have, you will either have a switch that you can flick to play at a speed of either 33 1/3 or 45 RPM, or you may have to manually move the belt underneath the platter if you have a belt-drive system rather than a direct-drive system.

Tonearm And Cartridge: The Heart Of Your Turntable

When it comes to the heart of your turntable, the tonearm and cartridge are the most important components to consider. The essence of a good turntable is that it reads the record grooves accurately and reproduces the recorded music identical to its original sound without adding noise and distortion. To achieve this, a turntable needs to 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.

To get the best performance out of your cartridge, it should be matched with the tonearm. Not all cartridges are mechanically compatible with all tonearms, so it’s important to understand which combinations work best together. The right combination of compliance and mass is pivotal in enhancing the quality of sound. A cartridge/arm resonance falling below 5 Hz results in record warps and rumbles that distort the sound, while tremendous boosts rising above 20 Hz may result in a “tubby” or “bloated” sound. Double-check with your manual to ensure that you are within the acceptable minimum and maximum values.

The tonearm is responsible for steering the cartridge (which houses the stylus needle) over your records. It needs to be set up correctly to ensure that there is enough resistance to offset the weight of the cartridge while not haphazardly skirting atop the grooves. Most tonearms have a hefty counterweight at the opposite end of the cartridge, which is usually set between 1 and 3 grams. Additionally, some record players have an anti-skating control that applies a small amount of friction to the tonearm, directing it to track at the center of the groove. Set this to match the counterweight.

The output voltage specification shows the amount of electrical voltage output by the cartridge. It is measured by measuring the voltage as the cartridge reproduces a steady frequency with the cartridge tracking the groove at 5 centimeters per second. The output voltage figure will enable you to match the cartridge to a phono stage. If your phono stage quotes a maximum input level in its specification, be sure that the output voltage of the cartridge does not exceed it.

Most turntables ship with a good phono cartridge pre-installed, but there are more advanced models available, and if you’re considering making an upgrade, a more sophisticated phono preamp makes that possible. A good preamp offers adjustable settings that help you get the most out of a top-notch cartridge. Some audiophiles prefer preamps that use old-school vacuum tube technology for their warm, inviting sound.

Counterweights And Anti-Skate Control: Achieving Balance And Stability

One of the most important features to look for in a good turntable is an adjustable counterweight. This feature allows you to independently adjust the tracking force of your needle, which is the amount of vertical pressure keeping your stylus against the surface of the record. The precise tracking force is important for sound quality and to prevent damage to your stylus and records. If the tracking force is set too heavy, your stylus will be too light and will cause the record to skip. If it’s set too light, your needle will be too heavy and can cause damage to the grooves of the record.

Before setting the tracking force, it’s important to balance the tonearm as much as possible. This can be done by adjusting the counterweight, which is usually a rotating tonearm counterweight. Look for a turntable with an adjustable counterweight to ensure you can set the tracking force correctly.

Another key feature to look for is anti-skate control. This feature helps to keep the tonearm from moving towards the center of the record, which can cause distortion and affect sound quality. Anti-skate control helps to maintain balance and stability by applying a force that counteracts the inward pull of the groove on the stylus.

Achieving balance and stability is crucial for the best vinyl listening experience. Vibration can ruin most record experiences, so it’s important to look for materials that contribute to improved stability, such as carbon or acrylic. Manufacturers have also implemented things like dampening legs and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) platforms to reduce vibrations underneath the turntable.

Finally, when looking for a good turntable, make sure it has a removable headshell/cartridge. This feature allows you to easily replace or upgrade your cartridge without having to replace the entire turntable. This extends the life of your turntable and ensures you can continue to enjoy high-quality sound for years to come.

Platter And Mat: The Foundation Of Your Record Playback

When it comes to turntables, the platter and mat are the foundation of your record playback. The platter is the spinning surface that the record sits on, while the mat sits on top of the platter and provides a surface for the record to rest on.

There are different types of platter materials available, including basic MDF and acrylic. The acrylic platter is denser and less resonant than MDF, which provides some advantages in terms of speed consistency and sound quality. The additional mass of the acrylic platter gives it more inertia, resulting in better speed consistency with 0.125% wow & flutter compared to 0.175% for MDF. Acrylic is also great for minimizing unwanted vibrations, which results in improved detail and clarity from your records.

When it comes to turntable mats, there are various materials available such as felt, cork, rubber, and leather. Each material offers different sonic characteristics, so it’s important to choose one that suits your preferences. For example, felt mats provide a warm sound with good bass response, while cork mats offer a more neutral sound with less static electricity buildup. Rubber mats are great for reducing vibrations and noise, while leather mats provide a luxurious look and feel.

In addition to improving sound quality, a good turntable mat can also add to the aesthetics of your setup. It protects your records from scratches and keeps them steady during play, while reducing friction and providing an overall higher-definition listening experience.

Ultimately, when choosing a platter and mat for your turntable setup, it’s important to consider your personal preferences in terms of sound quality and aesthetics. Experimenting with different materials can help you find the perfect combination that suits your needs.

Setting Up Your Turntable: Tips For Optimal Performance

Once you have purchased your turntable, there are a few steps you need to follow to set it up properly for optimal performance.

Firstly, find a sturdy surface to place your turntable on. If your furniture is not solid, consider purchasing isolation feet to dampen any unwanted vibration. You can also use a platter mat for extra noise dampening.

Secondly, balancing the tonearm is crucial for accurate playback. Follow the instructions carefully, as all turntables will vary slightly. Attach the belt (if there is one), place the platter on the spindle, and attach the headshell – the bit that holds the cartridge and stylus. Install the counterweight on the back end of the tonearm and set the anti-skate dial to 0. While gently supporting the headshell, move the tonearm into position above the platter and adjust the counterweight until the tonearm can float on its own, parallel to the surface of the platter. Set the arm tracking weight dial to 0 and then rotate the counterweight to the correct tracking force, which will be given in grams in the manufacturer’s instructions and varies according to the type of cartridge being used. Lastly, lock the tonearm back into its rest and adjust the anti-skate dial to match the tracking weight.

Thirdly, hook up your cables according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re using a smaller all-in-one speaker, you might need to invest in a phono-to-3.5mm jack cable.

Lastly, consider using vibration isolators to remove any unwanted vibrations that may affect your sound quality. A set of four IsoAcoustics vibration isolators can help keep vibrations from footfalls or nearby components from interfering with music listening. Placing your turntable on a solid turntable stand and using speaker stands can also help isolate your turntable from sonic vibrations and improve your overall listening experience.

By following these tips for optimal performance, you can ensure that your turntable is set up correctly and delivering high-quality sound for years to come.