The Dos and Don'ts of Buying a Turntable

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The Dos and Don'ts of Buying a Turntable

Conventional audiophiles of the current century are used to hearing the high resolution, hyper-real sound quality generated by digital systems, yet there is still a large clutch of traditionalists who obsess about the organic sound produced by vinyl. For those who can't bear to listen to analogue recordings via the high-gloss digital sound systems of today, the quest to find turntables capable of that golden sound from the Sixties is often a lengthy one. The demand for turntables is potent enough to have cleared room for an entirely new era for modernised turntables. USB ports, contemporary design features, and higher goals for analogue sound quality have all led to achievements grand enough to satisfy a highly discerning and infatuated group of listeners. The digital generation has brought high-tech aesthetics and accuracy to turntables that originated in the nineties and noughties, but for purists, the crackling analogue of yesteryear appeals to nostalgia, leaving many audiophiles hunting for turntables directly from the rock and disco eras.

Create a Balance Between Budget and Quality

The upper tiers of turntable quality can weigh heavily on budgets. The high-end options come with USB ports, CD burners, and superb balance. There is a financial middle ground offering affordable turntables with high-tech features, but their sound quality cannot compete with audiophile-worthy products. Low end turntables typically produce muffled bass and treble due to cheaper ceramic cartridges. Higher investments pay for anti-skate adjustment that keeps the needle in the LP's sweet spot where sound quality is best. It is possible to gain optimum sound quality from a more affordable model, but listeners of classical music and special pressings will benefit from high-spectrum options.

Pay Attention to Factors that Influence Price and Audio Quality

Stylus

Tracks sound according to its position within the record's groove, determining the clarity of the audio. Needles travel over 6000 feet per LP, leading to degeneration of albums and the stylus itself.

Diamond LP styluses last for up to 1000 listening hours while osmium and sapphire needles manage between 60 and 100 hours. Diamond styluses are also better groove trackers when playing warped LPs. This reduces noise. Stylus ratings must comply with cartridge numbers. Needles manufactured by the makers of old fashioned turntables are rare, expensive, and competent. Modern needles made from steel have little longevity.

Cartridge

Houses the equipment responsible for interfacing between albums and amplifiers.

Moving Coil cartridges are the costliest and most sensitive options, generating the highest grade analogue audio possible. They need to be perfectly balanced and do not operate without a preamp. Moving Iron and magnet cartridges suspend the needle between left and right coils. The weight of the cantilevers is lighter, which improves the precision of vinyl tracking. Micro Cross cartridges are similar to moving magnet designs, but they compensate for MI weaknesses. Balanced movements separate frequencies for clear stereo output.

Phono Preamp

Preamps add power to mili-volt signals. They also manage frequency adjustments to produce a sharp, clear sound. Bass tones are maximised, and treble is toned down to produce smoother audio.

First generation preamps have more affordable phono input connections in the form of an inbuilt amplifier that drives power to the speakers while handling preamp phases. Some second generation phono preamplifiers allow users to choose between phono stages according to the music genres they are listening to. Some modern preamps handle only digital music, omitting pre-amplification stages entirely. To benefit from analogue quality, inputs are selected to mimic the low signal voltage of preamps, feeding signals directly through power amplifiers. State of the art phono preamps with hefty price tags can be added to upper tier turntables to generate high-performance analogue the traditional way.

Don't Skimp on Tracking and Anti-Skating Force

Tracking force refers to the weight bearing down on the needle. Anti-skate technology helps the needle to remain in the best part of the LP's groove to keep tone even and sound quality optimal.

The weight of the stylus and design of the cartridge determine the down force that controls the longevity of hardware and vinyl. It also keeps the stylus balanced to prevent jumping. Tracking force that is too light is as damaging as that which is too heavy. Purists choose between three and four grams while deejays prefer two grams. Cartridge accuracy is not always perfect. Turntables and cartridges that offer precise tracking force gauging often come with steeper prices.

Take Control of Tonearm Technology

Technological breakthroughs continue to revolutionise tone arm craftsmanship at a rapid pace. Demanding audiophiles willing to invest in state of the art equipment often need to hire professionals to manage the complex installation requirements of these precise instruments. Tone arms are specialised to manage the turntable's most imperative components, including the all-important cartridge. They are also responsible for sonic precision, balance, and tracking force, making them one of the core features of analogue systems.

Cantilever compliance ratings.

Stylus, cartridge, and tone arms must be compliant with one another. Rigid cantilevers are too non-compliant to adapt to force loads, while those that bend have enough give to comply with weight bearing components.

Ease of Use

Modern tone arms streamline the process of changing cartridges precisely and quickly by providing removable headshells and a signal connection that is simple to unplug. Since cartridge adjustments and arm tune balancing play a core role in audio quality, this repetitive task needs to be highly functional.

Arm Tubes

Counterweights on the tone arms are set to achieve the ultimate downforce, which varies according to musical preference. Tapered tubes help to reduce resonance. When arm tubes are removable, they allow demanding vinyl fans to leave their precise overhang and azimuth settings unaffected by the process of changing cartridges.

Adjustable balance and weight.

Individual master and auxiliary weights help to adjust the system to the compliance level of its cartridges to reduce resonance. Counterweight systems make use of leaf springs to adjust to the horizontal movement during tracking to suit cartridges. Expensive bearings are prone to too much tightening, which can result in a hollow tonal quality.

Mounting and Sound Quality.

The way the tone arm is mounted can produce a vast range of bass effects. Low frequencies attain perfection only when the turntable and tone arm are perfectly matched. The interaction between the tone arm and cartridge affects vertical and horizontal weight. An imbalance reduces the quality of middle frequencies.

Manual or Automatic

Automatic tone arms can be operated without physically placing the stylus onto the record. Manual options are valued for the simplicity of their structure, which allows them to minimise vibrations. Novices and clumsy users can keep their vinyl intact with automatic functioning.

Choose Drive Types According to Music Preferences

The component that supports the record is powered by a motor that can be placed beneath or next to the platter. The position has an extreme impact on vibration levels and shock absorption-two facets that can create noise. For some listeners, these accidental sound effects are highly valued.

Belt drive

Side mounting for the motor keeps music free of noise by absorbing vibrations. The electric signal is kept free of distortion, allowing every level of audiophile to enjoy only the sounds musicians intended.

Direct drive

Deejays manipulate the durability and creative potential that direct drive turntables present. Platters are operated manually and do not break when rotated backwards. The audio 'accidents' generated by manual rotation become musical instruments in the hands of talented disc jockeys.

Conclusion

Turntables have become retro symbols of the eras they were made in. Those manufactured in the Sixties offer an aesthetic that is starkly representative of the rock era, while Eighties models carry a style that is potently reminiscent of that decade. As vintage items, it is often their aesthetic that carries the highest value. Despite their compelling nostalgic element, high-tech manufacturers have built an entirely new niche for music fans who are not ready to cross the digital barriers that separate vinyl from compact discs and MP3s. For analogue enthusiasts, the jump from low to high-spectrum turntables is immense, allowing every listener to find a product that suits their music tastes and budgets.

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