Turntables ruled home audio technology for much of the 20th century. However, with the advent of the CD in the mid-1980s, the overwhelming majority of music listeners turned to the digital format, as it offered many advantages, such as its compact size, ease of handling, and the ability to easily duplicate music. Turntables and the LPs they play, however, have endured. As a matter of fact, many audiophiles, claim that the analogue sound of a vinyl record playing on a good turntable is superior to the sound produced by a digital player. Professional scratch DJs use turntables in their performances and audiophiles all over the world still use turntables for their own listening pleasure.
Because turntables are not as popular as they once were, DJs and turntables enthusiasts are faced with the challenge of sourcing good quality turntable parts. Thanks to the Internet, that problem is easy to solve. Buyers can find turntable parts for practically every model of record player on eBay. To help in their search for replacement turntable parts, it is important for the buyer to know the characteristics of each turntable component and what to look out for when shopping for replacement parts online.
A Quick History of the Turntable
The predecessor of the turntable was the phonograph, or gramophone. Invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, it was the first device to record and reproduce sound. It works by concentrating sounds vibrations on a stylus, or very fine point. This moving, vibrating stylus engraves grooves on a cylinder or flat disc, such as a record. If another stylus is placed on the grooves and the disc rotated at the same speed, the sound engraved on the vinyl disc is reproduced and broadcast through a set of stereo speakers.
This rather simple technology has since then be perfected and turntables today are high-tech, optimised devices. As a matter of fact, many audiophiles prefer the warm sound of an analogue LP played back on a good turntable to all the digital CDs in the world.
To achieve the best sound quality, it is crucial that when it comes time to replace worn out parts, the buyer seeks out the best quality turntable parts that they can afford. There are different considerations one must make concerning the different parts of the turntable.
Deckplate or Plinth
The deckplate or plinth is the basis of every turntable. It forms the foundation for the tonearm, and supports the motor and the platter. Ideally it should be heavy, steady, and acoustically dead. 'Acoustically dead' means that it should not pick up and transmit any vibrations in the audible frequency range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. An especially critical consideration is the plinth's response to mid-range frequencies. A plinth is sometimes suspended to reduce vibrations from the shelf and floor. A firm suspension in combination with a heavy plinth produces the best results. Plinths are made from a range of different materials, including wood, plastics and acrylics, granite and other kinds of stone. It is wise to avoid deckplates manufactured from cheap, lightweight plastic.
The platter holds the record, acts as a flywheel to keep the record rotating at a constant speed, and damps the vibrating record. A heavy, rotating platter can smooth out slight variations in the motor speed. Sometimes, weights are added around the edge of lightweight platters to enhance the flywheel effect. Platters are made of cast aluminium and lead, glass, and all kinds of plastics.
A slipmat is often put on top of the platter to increases traction between the platter and record, preventing the record from slipping. The slipmat also provides vibration damping. It is commonly made of felt or some kind of soft synthetic material.
The drive system refers to the way that the motor is connected to the platter. There are two types of drive systems: belt drive and direct drive. The debate about which drive system is better is very old, but the bottom line is that each system has its pros and cons.
The Direct Drive System
In a direct drive system, the platter is driven directly by the motor that sits underneath it. With this drive system there is the risk that the motor transfers vibrations to the platter and on to the stylus. The primary advantage of a direct drive turntable is that the platter spins at a consistent speed. One of the best turntables ever made is the direct drive Technics/Panasonic SL1200 series. This model of turntable is still favoured among DJs and professionals because the turntable is heavy, stable, and quiet. Direct drive systems have the extra advantage that a DJ can spin the platter backwards. This makes the turntable suitable for turntabling techniques like scratching.
The Belt Drive System
A belt drive uses an elastic belt to spin the platter. This belt effectively isolates the motor from the platter, eliminating vibrations and noise from the motor. The downside is that a belt driven turntable has a slower acceleration, but this is not considered a big problem for home listeners. A good belt driven turntable is usually cheaper than a good direct driven record player.
The tonearm is the pivoted lever holding the cartridge with the stylus over the groove. Usually it is balanced on its pivot with the help of an adjustable counterweight. The tonearm itself should be as light as possible. Tonearms are made of aluminium and other lightweight alloys, but tonearms are also manufactured using exotic materials like graphite, carbon fiber, and even wood.
There are both S-shaped and straight tonearms; the main difference being one of aesthetics. As far as mechanics are concerned, there are manual, auto return, and fully automatic tonearms. Manual and auto return systems require the user to put the cartridge on the record. There is usually a cueing mechanism, with silicone fluid, allowing the stylus to land on the record softly. With the press of a button, a fully automatic system puts the tonearm to the start of the LP and brings the tonearm back when the record is finished.
When installing a new tonearm or even a cartridge of a different weight, it is important to rebalance the tonearm to achieve the proper tracking down force. Stylus force, or tracking down force, is the force with which the stylus pushes down into the the grooves on the vinyl record. The lighter the better, as there is less friction and wear and tear on both the stylus and record. Contemporary cartridges require a tracking force, or weight, of around 1.5 grams, although a DJ operating a turntable in more demanding conditions uses a higher stylus force near 5 grams.
The cartridge is the part of the turntable that actually translates the grooves on the record to an electric signal that can then be amplified and translated to sound. The moving magnet cartridge is the most common type of cartridge. It is considered more robust that the moving coil cartridge. However, the moving coil cartridge offers better high fidelity sound, according to turntable enthusiasts. The cartridge is attached to the tonearm in one of two ways: Standard mount cartridges are mounted on the headshell, while P-mount cartridges are attached directly to the tonearm.
The stylus, or needle, is the actual point that tracks the grooves of the record to reproduce the sound vibrations. The stylus is made of a very hard material, such as sapphire or, more commonly, diamond. The finer and thinner a stylus is, the better it fits in the groove and the more detail it can pick up. The first styli were spherical, but nowadays styli with an elliptical profile are common. Such a profile allows the stylus to fit in the groove like a boat in a canal. A high-end Linear Contact stylus or MicroLine stylus is specially cut to be similar to the original styli used to cut the master discs. The stylus can be fine as a couple of micrometers.
The signal coming from a turntable is very weak in comparison to other sound sources. Old amplifiers had a phono input to amplify this very weak signal, but most amplifiers today do not come with such an input. This means that a either an internal or external preamplifier is required. A good preamplifier, either internal or external, should create a low noise and have a high frequency response.
How to Buy Turntable Parts on eBay
It is very easy to shop for turntable parts on eBay. No matter how old or new your turntable is, chances are you will be able to find replacement parts for it on eBay. Just go to the eBay homepage, type 'turntable parts into the search box and press 'Search'. This action sees a list of results being generated by the local search engine. You can refine your search further by sorting the listings by type, brand, condition, price range, and more. Of course, if you already know what you are looking for, you can also perform a more detailed search by entering a more specific search query, like 'turntable Ortofon stylus'.
Once you have found what you are looking for, you should always read the item description carefully, as well as the payment and postage conditions. For any questions regarding the item listed for sale, it is best to contact the seller directly by going to their profile page and clicking on the contact link.
Music aficionados who love analogue sound prize their record collections and turntables above all else. New turntables are still being manufactured. A good quality turntable can continue to perform well for many decades, if it properly maintained and serviced. The parts most often replaced include the stylus and cartridge, as they encounter constant wear and tear from their contact with the moving record. An audiophile may also decide to upgrade to a more expensive, finer stylus. With any upgrade to an existing turntable, it is crucial to rebalance the whole tonearm to ensure the best sound quality. The other parts of a turntable, such as the plinth, platter, motor, and tonearm are much more durable. In any case, should the turntable suffer damage or if the owner finds that one part or another has worn out and and needs replacing, they should turn to eBay to find high quality turntable parts.