A Turntable Buyer’s Guide
The modern record player came out over six decades ago, but it hasn’t lost its appeal or popularity after all this time and after all the advancements in technology. There are many reasons why people are still drawn to the turntable, whether that is due to its innate, warm sound, the nostalgia-factor, the experience of physically owning the records, or because of its usage as a musical instrument to produce new music and sounds through the art of DJ’ing.
Whatever category you fall under for wanting to own your own record player and album collection, we’ve curated this handy buyer’s guide to help you get the most out of your records. A great turntable can span decades of music, while a bad one can distort the current and fail to stay operations for more than a year, as is common with most electronic equipment these days.
This is what you need to know before going out and purchasing a turntable of your own.
Types of Turntables
There are two major types of turntables, each with their own set of pros and cons, that you can choose from. It is important to know the differences between these two and choose which one best suits you and your own personal music preferences.
- Belt Drive: This type of turntable uses an actual elastic belt to spin the platter, kind of like the one on a car. The belt isn’t in direct contact with the bearing that the platter sits on top of, though. This translates to less vibration being transmitted up and through the tonearm itself.
The elastic belt is a natural shock absorber, so the entire setup is ideal for those who consider themselves sound purists who want to hear as little background noise as possible.
The tradeoff, however, is that belt-driven turntables are often less accurate on playback speed, especially as they age and the belt loses some of its elasticity. It will eventually need to be replaced after years of moderate usage.
- Direct Drive: As the name suggests, direct drive players have the motor directly powering the platter. This eliminates any loss or wide variation in speeds and also makes for a quicker spin-up when you first put on a record to play. These features obviously appeal a lot to younger generations who are used to instant music playback.
Because the power is more reliable and consistent on a direct drive turntable, they can be easily manipulated with the hand and provide for superior scratching by disc jockeys. The sound is less susceptible to warping or fuzziness found in a lot of belt-driven turntables.
Another neat trick that you can only do with direct drives is the ability to play a record in reverse, which is a must-have tool for any authentic DJ’s arsenal.
The drawback of the motor-driven direct drives is that it is common to find them with more background noise and hum than belt driven turntables. Most turntable enthusiasts will dampen this effect through shock absorbing spacers that go between the platter and motor, which is also a must for any serious DJ, as well.
Now that you have an idea of what you’ll be looking at in regards to the price ranges, it’s a good idea to become acquainted with the various aspects of turntables that come up often while reading through the reviews. While construction quality is important and how “good” it sounds, these things can be subjective, so we’ve singled out some very particular traits that are worth paying attention to.
- Variations in Spin: This is a metric that is often left out of amateur reviewers, but it can be the difference-maker when deciding between two very similar turntables. The speed in which the record spins must be consistent or else it will produce the pitch of the music or create a wobble-like effect that can ruin a listening experience. A good turntable will have under 0.25% deviation in record speed.
- S/N RatioAlso known as the signal-to-noise ratio, this gives a clue into how much static or noise that will be present in the background by loudness. All turntables have some level of background noise, it’s what gives its warmth and signature sound. In this case, the S/N ratio is measured by how load the music is in comparison to noise, so the higher the better.
- Playback CapabilitiesPay attention to this spec if you think you or the person you are buying a turntable for will want to play older records that spin at different RPMs. Most modern low-end turntables will lack the capabilities of the mid-to-high turntables and all the little extras that go unnoticed.
- Jensen: Jensen is a brand that has a history in the consumer electronics industry that dates back to 1915 when Peter L. Jensen invented the first loudspeaker. The brand started growing and nowadays has many different product lines. As the company started building turntables decades ago, there is no doubt that they have the experience and the knowledge to produce well-functioning, good quality products, particularly in the entry-level turntable market, where they are extremely competitive.
- Audio-Technica: Audio-Technica is another great, reliable manufacturer of turntables that has been making first-time owners feel confident with their purchases in the modern resurgence of vinyl records. These guys know their sound, as evident by anyone who has owned their headphones. Their turntables are simple, refined, and made at very affordable pricing points. They are also famous for their hybrid units that allow you to combine old and new tech together to preserve and enjoy digital and analog mediums in one seamless experience.
- Pro-Ject Debut: When it comes to mid-range and high-end turntables, Pro-Ject, is a newer brand that is taking the turntable industry by storm. Their players are built to last, you can tell immediately upon handling and operation of the key components, like the tonearm, and the heft when you pick it up. Style is also worth mentioning, these are very attractive record players, Pro-Jects are dressed to impress. All Pro-Ject turntables come with a high-end cartridge, as well, saving you from having to research them separately for compatibility purposes.
- Technics: Last, but certainly not least, we have the Technics, a well-respected brand in the hip hop and DJ community. They’re a highly coveted brand of vintage turntable manufacturers, which are also renowned for their durability and accessibility. If you were to ever have a problem or part failure on a Technics turntable, it would not be difficult to find a shop or record player enthusiast that can have it fixed. They’re a standout example of the pinnacle of human engineering when it comes to turntables. Shop with confidence and know that you’re getting something that will potentially last you an entire lifetime and stay within the family.
For additional demonstrations and personal takes, you can search any of these turntables online and find highly respected DJs, music professionals, and industry experts who review them online with in-depth videos out of their love and passion for music in its purest form. Note that there is a fairly big difference in the playback of turntables when played through headphones and speakers, especially if they’re hooked up with a display stereo set at a musician’s store. You might not notice any problems until you take it home and listen to it on your own system.