How to Buy a Vinyl Turntable

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How to Buy a Vinyl Turntable

The turntable or record player is a symbol of history that takes music lovers back in time. A vinyl turntable is often a coveted collector's item which can be hard to find. The phonograph was the original record player, and it was intended to record and reproduce sounds. Over time, the phonograph was improved upon until Emile Berliner initiated the use of record.

Other improvements were made through the years and eventually these turntables were used in virtually every household throughout the 19th century. Now, many of these turntables are gathering dust in antique shoppes or by elderly owners waiting for vintage collectors to give them new life. An authentic functioning vinyl turntable can be a collector's dream if the collector knows what to look for, and then how to maintain and care for it.

Learning and researching upkeep processes assists buyers in their search for vinyl turntables. Reviewing the difference between vintage and modern vinyl turntables provides a basic review of what to look for in vintage turntables. Whether purchasing vinyl turntables on eBay or in local high street shops, informed buyers are smart buyers.

Vintage vs. New Turntables

For some, vintage turntables are more collectors' items and should not be used; others prefer to use turntables regularly as a matter of preference. Many users prefer the look of vintage turntables, while maintaining the quality and easy use of modern technology. Modern vinyl turntables are available for those who prefer modern technology with vintage aesthetics

Vintage Turntables

People are turning to vintage turntables at a startling rate for the old-school, retro feel of authentic pieces of history. One of the top reasons for buying vintage turntables is their ability to play 78 RPM records, commonly referred to as '78s'. The 78 is an old form of record which was around before the 1940s. These vintage records are available in 10-inch and 12-inch varieties and generally hold music from the early to mid-20th century, such as jazz, classical, blues, holiday songs, and other styles of music typical of the era.

For those concerned with music quality, authentic turntables might not be the best option. Because of the inferior recording technology at the time, audio quality may be quite poor, depending on the age of the vinyls. Still, this only adds to the ambience and old-time feel of vintage turntable charm.

New Vinyl Turntables

For buyers looking for turntables yet prefer the look and feel of vintage equipment, but do not want to hassle with aged equipment, there are a number of products available which have a vintage look with a modern edge. A new vinyl turntable is a great talking point within a room, or it may be purchased to match current retro decor within a house. Some modern turntables even use USB ports to import music from iPods or Mp3 players into the turntable speakers. Some of the most popular higher end modern vinyl turntables with a vintage flair include brands like Linn, Sondek, Thorens, or Technics.

What to Look for in a Vinyl Turntable

When purchasing a turntable, there are multiple moving parts and construction aspects to look for. Each turntable is slightly different, so it is important to cover the basics to ensure that the parts are in good condition and the machine itself is of high quality.

Construction

There are three main materials found in turntable construction: steel, aluminium, and plastic. These three materials mark three different types and three separate quality levels. It is important to understand what these materials say about a specific turntable.

Steel

Flanged steel stamping was initially used for an inexpensive turntable structure. This method of construction was light and cheap. A rubber disc is secured to the top of the stamping to provide traction for the record in addition to a small amount of vibration isolation. While these machines were popular because of their cheap price, they had low inertia, making motor speed instabilities more pronounced.

Aluminium

More expensive turntables are made from heavy aluminium castings. This method of construction is more expensive, but has greater balanced mass and inertia, which minimises the vibration at the stylus, and maintains a constant speed of sound. Like stamped steel turntables, they are topped with rubber. These machines usually employ ball bearings or roller bearings in the spindle to reduce friction and noise.

Plastic

Plastic turntables started appearing in the early 1980s, as a method of creating very inexpensive turntables. These are commonly found in all-in-one stereos. They use a thin plastic table set in a plastic plinth, no mats, weak motors, and often, plastic arms with no counterweight. This type has made a resurgence in nostalgia-marketed products.

Turntable Stylus

The stylus is the most important part to pay attention to when buying a vinyl turntable. The goal with any turntable is to have the stylus meet the groove wall over the largest amount of surface area possible. This impacts the quality of sound greatly. The stylus angle should be identical to the vertical tracking angle when the top of the cartridge is mounted parallel to the record's surface.

Turntable Drive

Another aspect to consider is the drive type of the turntable. There are three main types of drives when it comes to turntables:

  • idler-wheel
  • belt-drive systems
  • direct-drive

The drive system determines how the record spins, controlling the friction, speed, and braking of disks.

Idler-Wheel Drive System

Earlier designs used a rubberised idler-wheel drive system. These systems used a motor which ran at a speed synchronised to the frequency of the AC power supply. Until the 1970s, the idler-wheel drive was the most common on turntables. Over time, however, these drives develop wear and decomposition of the wheel, which introduces low-frequency noise and speed variations into the sound.

Belt-Drive System

Belt-drive turntables were introduced later and improved the motor problems of the idler-wheel drive system. The design of the belt-drive turntables allows for a less expensive motor than direct-drive turntables, while still absorbing motor noise and vibrations.

Direct-Drive System

Direct-drive turntables drive the platter without using intermediate wheels, belts, or gears as part of a drive train. This requires good engineering, with advanced electronics for acceleration and speed control. While this is a common favourite amongst disc jockeys, it is not considered best for audiophiles, because the motor vibrates and the vibrations go right up the spindle, onto the platter, through the record itself, and right to the stylus. Because of this, direct-drive turntables are rarely produced anymore.

Maintaining a Vinyl Turntable

Many beginning collectors overlook the importance of properly maintaining their turntables. Vinyl turntables are complex pieces of machinery that take time to learn. Experienced repairers of old turntables usually deal with only a few brands, so it is worth the time to look into repair options before making an initial turntable purchase. Old turntables, in reasonably good condition, are still a great buy, as there is probably only a little tuning required to get them working as good as new. When looking for an authentic turntable, look for an owner's manual as well. Obtaining an owner's manual for the turntable can be invaluable when it comes time for cleaning, caring, and maintenance.

Buying a Vinyl Turntable on eBay

eBay is a great place to find hidden gems in the turntable world. When shopping on eBay, the options of products are endless. By typing in "vinyl turntable" or "turntable stylus", you can see dozens of products return. If you are specific in your search, the results may be limited. However, if you are too general in your search, you may become overwhelmed by the options. To mitigate against this, eBay provides filtering options so you can choose a price range, geography of the seller if you wish to inspect it in person, and condition of the item. So if you want a new or used item from someone within the same post code which costs between £40 and £200, you can find just that.

Because it is virtually impossible to inspect the turntable in a picture, it can be difficult to judge its condition. Throughout the shopping process ask the seller questions should the description leave out essential decision-making information.

Researching the seller is one way to gain confidence in your purchase and be sure you are getting your money's worth. It is important to look at the seller's feedback rating; notice how many transactions he or she has completed, and read reviews from past customers.

Conclusion

A vintage turntable can bring a sense of nostalgia, elegance, and timelessness into a home. It can make old friends remember the good old days and provide a conversation starter for new friends. When searching for a vinyl turntable, understand the basic components, construction, and drive system before purchasing. If you do not understand something, research it a bit more in turntable forums or websites. Once you decide whether a truly authentic vintage or a more modern vinyl turntable is ideal for you, review the various components and construction before purchasing. Read a thorough review of the construction, stylus, and drive system. If questions remain, ask the seller or fellow buyers. Consumers should also remember to look for turntables on eBay and communicate with the sellers to obtain all the information necessary to make confident purchases. eBay is also a great place to find records, spare parts, manuals, and other accessories to accompany any turntable.

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