A Buying Guide for Turntables

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A Buying Guide for Turntables

Whether performing for an audience of hundreds or playing vinyl records for personal enjoyment, having the right turntable is essential. Turntables are designed for a range of users, including beginner and expert DJs. These devices are also excellent pieces for music lovers with a collection of vinyl records. Selecting the right turntable will depend on the use, including how much functionality is desired.

About Turntables

Turntables trace their roots to the late 19th century. Invested by Thomas Edison in 1877, these devices, also known as phonographs, were used to record and reproduce sound recordings. Turntables are also known as record players. They are used to play rotating discs or records that feature lines that are scratched, engraved or grooved. Turntables in the 21st century are used by music lovers for leisure listening of vinyl records. Modern turntables are also employed by DJs, often in combination with a mixer, when performing and playing music for audiences.

Turntable Components

Turntables are constructed with a variety of parts, each playing an important role in playing and manipulating a record. All components of a turntable are arranged within or on the surface of the turntable base, or plinth. The plinth is made from various materials that suit any design preference, including metal, plastic, and wood. Key components of any turntable are described in the table below:

Component

Details

Platter

A large flat plate on the top of the turntable, the platter is where the record is placed. The platter rotates, allowing the record to spin under the tone arm and needle. It is powered by an electrical motor and offers cushioning to grip and support the record.

Spindle

A metal tip found at the centre of the platter. This is where the hole at the centre of the record is fitted.

Cartridge

The cartridge holds the needle, which is also known as the stylus. It converts the vibrations of the stylus into an electronic signal. Cartridges can be ceramic that offer a high output signal or magnetic, which offers better sound but a lower signal level.

Stylus

Also known as the needle, the stylus picks up vibrations form the grooves found on the surface of the record. The stylus is the only component of the turntable that makes contact with the record. As a result, a damaged stylus can cause problems with playing performance and sound quality.

Tone Arm

The tone arm or tonearm is situated on one side of the turntable. It holds the cartridge and stylus and is used to point these components in the right direction in order to play the record.

Buying a Turntable

When buying a turntable, a number of factors influence the decision on which unit best suits a buyer's needs. The features of the turntable, such as speed control and the design of the tone arm, will affect the functioning of the device. For example, a DJ who scratches records while performing will opt for a straight tone arm while a casual listener who is looking for a vintage piece to play a vinyl record collection may opt for a manual turntable. The cost of a turntable is often related to the strength of the unit's motor, as well as the number and type of features found on the turntable.

Types of Turntables

For more traditional records, a vinyl turntable unit is essential. Turntables for vinyl records are also ideal for casual music listeners who are seeking the addition of a traditional or retro piece to a room. Traditional DJs may also prefer turntables for vinyl records. Digital turntables are more portable and offer more storage space. In addition to playing vinyl records, these units include hard drives and SD cards to play digital music and CDs.

Any DJ interested in bringing along a large collection of music to various performances will find digital turntables much more functional than a traditional turntable that plays only vinyl records. Whether buying a digital or vinyl turntable, the type of unit that is selected will depend on a number of factors. The type of drive system, tone arm, and other features will dictate how functional the turntable is and how it will meet individual needs.

Turntable Drive Systems

The two main turntable systems are direct drive and belt drive. Each system provides different levels of torque. The higher the torque on the turntable the faster the speed recovery times will be, which is essential for any DJ who scratches records to manipulate or enhance sound as part of a performance. Belt-drive turntables are common choices among beginners or casual users. Turntables with a belt drive have lower speed induction.

They are quieter than direct drive turntables and are available with manual, semi-automatic, and fully-automatic systems. Direct-drive turntables are more expensive than belt-drive turntables. They provide faster speed recovery after scratching and higher motor torque. As a result, there is more flexibility in manipulating the record when compared to a belt-drive turntable. In a direct-drive turntable, the platter where the spindle sits on is the unit's motor. The motor is fully electronic. Direct-drive turntables can be found on manual, semi-automatic, and fully-automatic systems.

Tone Arm Systems

Turntables are built with different arm systems. The tone arm is a moveable component of the turntable that holds a pickup cartridge over grooves on the record. Generally, the tone arm is either straight or s-shaped. Straight tone arms minimise skipping and is recommended for scratching, whereas S-shaped tone arms provide better sound quality. The table below compares common types of tone arm systems.

System

Details

Manual

All functions on the turntable are carried out manually, including placing and removing the arm on the record.

Semi-Automatic

The arm on the turntable is placed on the record manually. When at the end of the record, the turntable will shut off automatically. The arm may also lift off the record and return to the 'rest' position automatically before turning off.

Automatic

A fully automatic turntable features an arm that moves in and out of position by purching a button or similar control. Once the record is finished, the arm will lift and return to the 'rest' position before the turntable turns off automatically.

Linear Tracking

These turntables feature a straight arm connected to a motor. The arm and its holder move across the record in a linear manner.

Changer

A changer or multiple play turntable is similar to an automatic table. They feature a longer centre spindle, allowing users to place more than one record in order to play them one at a time. Once all records are played, the unit will automatically turn off.

Audio Output

Turntables provide different types of output signals. The table below outlines the three types of outputs.

Output

Details

Phono

The standard output for most turntables is phono, which produces a very low level of sound. These turntables require a mixer with a phono input to amplify the signal. They feature a phono output and a receiver with phono inputs.

Digital

Digital output is required when using a turntable for recording onto a storage device, such as a computer, USB, or CD.

Line

These turntables provide a switchable line-level output that connects into the line input of a mixer. These systems produce a pre-amplified signal. These turntables can include a phono output or a switch to change between phono and line-level outputs and a receiver with line-level inputs.

Speed and Pitch Control

Playback speeds on most turntables are typically set at 33 revolutions per minute (RPM or 45 RPM. Certain turntables provide a 78 RPM setting, so it is important to verify the speed selector settings of the unit. Speeds can be fine-tuned using pitch controls, which are used to slow or increase the record's speed.

Buying a Turntable on eBay

To purchase a turntable, visit the eBay homepage and select the Electronics & Technology link. From the Electronic & Technology Page, click on the Sound & Vision links. Once on the Sound & Vision page, choose the All Categories link and select the Record Players/Turntables link. Turntables can also be found by using the search field on any eBay page. When performing a search, type in key words or terms. For example, type the term "new belt-drive turntable" in order to find an unused turntable featuring a belt-drive system. Listings can be narrowed by selecting specific manufacturers, models, drive types, audio outputs, and speed settings.

Conclusion

When buying a turntable, function and cost are key considerations. Whether buying a turntable to entertain audiences as a DJ or to enjoy old vinyl records, turntables are available for any budget. The cost of a turntable will often depend on the functionality of the unit as well as the strength of the turntable's motor. The quality of sound is also an important consideration when buying a turntable. Different units and components can produce varying degrees of sound quality. Functionality also depends on a number of factors, including audio output and speed control.

 
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