What To Look For In A 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 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 sound quality.

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

What To Look For In A Turntable

When it comes to buying a turntable, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First and foremost, consider the size and speed of the turntable. Different sized records play at different RPMs, so make sure your turntable has adjustable speed switches to accommodate your entire record collection.

Next, look for a turntable with a counterweight, removable headshell/cartridge, and anti-skate control. These features contribute to the overall quality of the turntable and help minimize distortion while accurately reading the record.

Of course, budget is also a consideration. You can find great entry-level turntables for under $300, but if you’re willing to spend more, you’ll get better quality components and materials that contribute to better sound quality.

When setting up your turntable, make sure it’s positioned on a level surface away from sources of vibration, including speakers. Consider investing in a dedicated wall shelf for optimal support.

In terms of specs, look for a high signal-to-noise ratio (above 65dB), playback speeds for 33-1/3 and 45 RPM capability, and a low wow and flutter rating (below 0.25%). A higher rumble rating is also desirable, but make sure it’s in the -40 or -50 range at minimum.

Ultimately, the sound you like is what matters most. Follow these guidelines and experiment with adjustments to find the winning combination for your personal taste.

Size And Speed: Understanding The Basics

The size and speed of a turntable are essential factors to consider when buying a record player. Records come in different sizes, including 7-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch formats, and each size requires a specific speed to accurately reproduce the recorded music. The recommended RPM for a record usually coincides with the musical format it was made for, such as a single, extended-play (EP), or long-play (LP).

For instance, 45 RPM records are usually singles with a single track on each side of the disc. On the other hand, 78 RPM records are old-timey music that features Jazz musicians providing a soundtrack to speeding through way too many notes in just under four minutes. Meanwhile, 33 1/3 RPM records are typically a 12-inch disc that consists of a whole album of tracks.

When it comes to turntables, most record players feature only two speeds: 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM. The majority of LPs are played at 33 1/3 RPM and can house around 22 minutes of music per side. In contrast, 7-inch records play at 45 RPM and can fit around five minutes of music on each side. It’s important to note that some older records play at 78 RPM, but not all turntables can accommodate this speed.

To ensure that your turntable can play all your records accurately, look for a turntable with adjustable speed switches or one that can manually move the belt underneath the platter if you have a belt-drive system rather than a direct-drive system. Additionally, make sure your turntable has a counterweight, removable headshell/cartridge, and anti-skate control to minimize distortion while accurately reading the record.

Tonearm And Cartridge: The Heart Of The Turntable

When it comes to the sound quality of a turntable, the tonearm and cartridge are the heart of the system. The cartridge is responsible for converting the vibrations picked up by the stylus into the warm, analog sound that vinyl enthusiasts love. Upgrading your cartridge can improve overall sound quality, change the sound characteristics, and provide better tracking to prevent skipping and jumping.

But it’s not just about the cartridge – the tonearm is equally important. A low resonance tonearm that moves freely is essential for accurate reproduction of the music. The key is to give the cartridge ideal working conditions so it can read the record grooves accurately. When the cartridge is given ideal working conditions, it is mainly up to the quality of the cartridge itself to determine the quality of the sound that is reproduced by the turntable.

When shopping for a new cartridge, it’s important to know what type you need. Half-inch cartridges are popular on most newly manufactured turntables today and are installed on your turntable via a headshell. If you see a headshell attached to the end of your tonearm, you need a half-inch cartridge. However, installing a half-inch cartridge requires patience and attention to detail. The tiny screws required to install the cartridge to the headshell can be easy to lose and difficult to install, and you’ll also need to connect the blue, green, red, and white cables from the cartridge to the headshell. After installing the cartridge on the headshell, you’ll need to use a protractor to properly align it for best performance.

Counterweights And Anti-Skate Control: Achieving Balance And Stability

One of the most important features to look for in a turntable is a counterweight. This is a rotating tonearm counterbalance that allows you to independently adjust the tracking force of your needle. The tracking force is the amount of vertical pressure keeping your stylus against the surface of the record. A precise tracking force is crucial for sound quality and to prevent damage to your stylus and records.

Setting the tracking force too heavily can cause your stylus to be too light, resulting in skipping records. Conversely, setting it too lightly can cause your needle to be too heavy, which can damage the grooves of your record. Before setting the tracking force, it’s important to balance the tonearm as much as possible.

The counterweight is typically located at the end of the tonearm and has a scale with numbers to help you set the right tracking force. Additionally, an anti-skate feature is essential for maintaining good channel balance, minimizing distortion, and reducing stylus and record wear. The anti-skate feature applies a small outward force to the tonearm, counteracting its tendency to move inward (skate) toward the center of the record.

On turntables with adjustable anti-skate control, it’s important to adjust it to the same value as the vertical tracking force (VTF) used. Listen carefully for distortion, especially in the form of sibilance, and adjust the anti-skate value until it’s minimized. If adjusting the anti-skate doesn’t clear up a particular problem, there may be another reason for it, so be sure to contact an audio solutions department for further advice.

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

When it comes to turntables, one of the biggest debates is between belt drive and direct drive systems. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your personal preferences and needs before making a decision.

Belt drive turntables are known for their high-quality sound and consistent playback. The motor is isolated from the platter by a rubber belt, which helps reduce vibrations and motor noise. This results in a better signal-to-noise ratio and overall better sound quality. Belt drive turntables are also generally more affordable than direct drive turntables, making them a great choice for those on a budget.

However, belt drive turntables can be prone to pitch variance due to the belt’s grip on the platter not being perfect. They also have less torque than direct drive turntables, meaning they take longer to get up to full speed. If you require higher torque, you may prefer a direct drive turntable.

Direct drive turntables, on the other hand, have a motor that is attached directly to the platter with no belt needed. This results in faster start-up speeds and less vulnerability to extraneous force. Direct drive turntables are popular with DJs for this reason, as well as their sensitivity to resistance and lack of lag time in going from zero to full speed.

However, because the platter is attached to the motor, vibrations are fed directly from the latter to the former – which are of course then transmitted to the cartridge. This can result in distortion being added to the final performance. Direct drive turntables are also generally more expensive than belt drive turntables.

Ultimately, the decision between belt drive and direct drive turntables comes down to personal preference and intended use. If you value high-quality sound and consistent playback, a belt drive turntable may be the right choice for you. If you require higher torque and faster start-up speeds, or if you plan on using your turntable primarily for DJing, a direct drive turntable may be a better fit. As always, it’s important to test out different options before making a final decision.

Upgrades And Accessories: Enhancing Your Listening Experience

Once you have your turntable set up, there are a variety of upgrades and accessories that can enhance your listening experience even further.

The first and most impactful upgrade you can make is to upgrade the phono cartridge. The cartridge is the first component in the signal chain, and a higher quality cartridge can significantly improve the sound quality of your turntable. Many turntable manufacturers fit mediocre cartridges to their turntables to keep costs down, so upgrading to a better cartridge can make a huge difference.

Another accessory to consider is a record cleaning machine. While a brush can remove surface debris, record grooves can harbor deeper infusions of grease, mold, and grime. A good record cleaning machine that uses specially-formulated cleaning fluid and vacuum suction to really clear out the grooves can make records sound like new and add years of listening life by keeping them in good shape.

If you want to keep your vinyl’s tracking force in check, consider investing in a cartridge alignment protractor. This tool allows you to align the phono cartridge’s edge so that the needle tracks better in the record’s grooves and prevents the needle from jumping on the vinyl, which could damage the stylus.

For a more compact setup, look for a turntable with a built-in preamp. With this setup, you can simply plug your turntable into your powered speakers via an RCA cable without needing any other components.

Setting Up Your Turntable: Tips For Optimal Sound Quality

When it comes to setting up your turntable, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure optimal sound quality. First, make sure your turntable is placed on a sturdy and level surface. Avoid placing it near sources of vibration, such as speakers, to prevent interference and distortion.

Investing in a dedicated wall shelf or isolation platform can also help minimize vibrations and provide better support for your turntable.

Next, make sure your turntable is properly balanced and the tracking force is set correctly. This will prevent skipping and wear on your records. Use a dedicated scale to adjust the tracking force accurately, as relying on the dial alone can result in inaccurate readings.

Consider upgrading your platter mat and platter for improved resonance control and sound quality. Upgraded platter mats made of cork or leather can reduce resonance caused by a bare platter, while an inert material like Acryl can take resonance out of the picture entirely.

Finally, make sure your turntable is properly grounded to prevent unwanted noise and interference. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for grounding or invest in a dedicated grounding wire for improved performance.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your turntable is set up for optimal sound quality and enjoyment of your record collection.