Turntables have a history that extends back to the late nineteenth century, with the early incarnations of the phonograph and gramophone. The first long-playing (LP) record with a slower speed of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute (RPM) appeared in 1948, and in 1949 a 7-inch, 45-RPM record was introduced that featured a single song on either side. These have remained the most common form of records. The turntable’s popularity continued to grow over the next few decades, with both affordable and high-end versions available on the market. The emergence of compact discs in the 1980s marked a decline in turntable use. However, vinyl has remained a preferred format for a wide majority of audiophiles, and has continued to be a medium for DJs.
Fortunately, many turntable replacement parts are still available for turntable owners looking to either extend the life of their equipment or to upgrade its performance capability. Before setting out to shop, they should familiarise themselves with the turntable’s various components, and also be aware that some items are manufacturer- and model-specific. Consulting with a hi-fi specialist helps ensure that replacement parts are high-performance and compatible with their existing gear.
Belt-drive turntables have a rubber belt around the motor, isolating it from the platter. The advantage to these turntables is that the isolation reduces unwanted vibrations. In addition, they tend to be less expensive to produce than direct-drive turntables. But, because there are more parts, there is a higher risk that something may go wrong. Fortunately, replacement belts are relatively inexpensive and available, and may last up to 20 years.
It is important to purchase a turntable belt that is suited to the particular turntable. When shopping for a replacement belt, buyers should know their turntable brand and model number, and consult a knowledgeable dealer who can provide an appropriate belt. In cases where an exact match is not possible, it may be advisable to bring or send the old belt to the dealer for comparison. Beware of sellers who claim a generic belt will work fine.
Measuring Belt Length and Width
When using a belt-matching service and the original belt is too shredded to send, or is not longer in one’s possession, it is necessary to provide the seller with the belt dimensions.
To do so using the old belt, pinch it at both ends and measure the length, then multiply by two. If it is a flat belt, measure its width. If the belt is round or square, measure the thickness. If there is no belt available, a piece of string can be used. Place it around the belt path so that it fits tightly. Then, measure its length. Also measure the distance between the motor pulley rims.
The platter is the part on which the vinyl record lays. Platters have three major functions: to hold the record; to regulate speed; and to isolate the tonearm from vibration. The heavier the platter, the better. The best platters are in cast aluminum.
Upgrading to a higher quality platter is one way of improving a turntable’s performance. In addition to aluminum platters, upgrades are also available in glass and acrylic. Some turntable users like to include a platter mat between the platter itself and the record. Usually made from cork, rubber, or felt, a platter mat is meant to absorb unwanted resonance and vibrations.
The tonearm of a turntable is a very important and complicated instrument. At one end it holds the cartridge, whose weight is counterbalanced at the other end. And though a tonearm can be made weightless, due to its counterweight system, it still has mass. The lower the tonearm mass, the better, so as not to wear on the record’s grooves. High-end tonearms are made from sophisticated materials such as graphite or spun carbon fibres.
Tonearms consist of a headshell, in which the cartridge is held, a counterweight that balances the cartridge, a cueing device, which controls lifting and lowering the tonearm without lateral movement, and an anti-skate control, which prevents the stylus from “skating” across the record and keeps it securely in the grooves.
There are a few options when it comes to tonearms, including automatic or manual return, removable or fixed headshells, and adjustable counterweights. Most audiophiles prefer adjustable counterweights, so that the perfect balance can be achieved for each cartridge. Removable headshells are also preferable, since they allow more control over aligning the cartridge. As for automatic or manual return, strict audiophiles tend to prefer manual, as there are fewer extra parts to interfere with fidelity. However, others suggest that automatic return has minimal effect on sound. Fully automatic tonearms, however, should be avoided.
Turntable Cartridges and Needles
A hi-fi system’s sound begins with the cartridge. Its stylus, or needle, runs along the record’s grooves, which generates movement. This movement in turn produces an electrical signal, whose small voltage gets amplified as it travels through the phono pre-amplifier and amplifier. Finally, it is sent to the speakers, where it is eventually transformed into sound waves. Cartridges are highly sensitive, and can differ significantly from model to model.
Cartridges can be divided into two types: moving magnet (mm) and moving coil (mc). Moving magnet cartridges have a magnet surrounded by a coil, whereas moving coil cartridges place the coil in the middle, surrounded by the magnet. The stylus’ movement excites the magnet or coil, respectively, and the interaction with the encasing coil or magnet is what produces the electrical signal. Low-output moving coil cartridges are generally regarded as superior; however, they may be quite expensive, and require a powerful phono pre-amp for optimal performance. Moving magnet or high-output moving coil cartridges can also offer excellent fidelity and work better with a wider range of hi-fi systems.
The sound character of cartridges varies, and some may be better suited to certain hi-fi setups or appeal to the tastes of a particular listener. While there are many factors in sound production, a stereo system’s potential is in many ways determined by the cartridge. Therefore, buyers should research qualities of individual cartridge models to find one that is right for them.
Cartridges come with a stylus, which in many cases is replaceable. When ordering replacement needles, it is important to have the cartridge brand and model number on hand.
It is estimated that the motor contributes about 30 percent of a hi-fi system’s performance. A quality motor is essential: it must produce precise, consistent speed, and work with as little vibration as possible. Any disturbance from the motor is picked up by the stylus and amplified 8,000 times. Upgrading a system’s motor can make a significant difference in sound production.
Turntable motors come in two kinds, alternating-current (AC) and direct current (DC). AC motors tend to be large and heavy, but very well-built and durable. DC motors are more compact and increasingly common. There is some debate over which type of motor is better. Some argue that DC motors are weaker and more likely to break down, whereas others claim that a high-quality DC motor can be an inexpensive and superior upgrade to AC decks.
Complete replacement motors are available, as are individual parts for repair.
The plinth of a turntable is its base. It functions as the foundation of the unit, and usually rests on feet. Plinths vary in mass and design; they may range from exotic hardwoods to graphite, or from steel to medium-density fibreboard (MDF). As the chassis for the entire turntable, the plinth should be stable and level; it also draws aesthetic focus, so buyers should consider what kind of look matches their decorative style.
Where to Find Turntable Replacement Parts
Turntable replacement parts can be acquired from a number of different sources. Those interested in buying locally can see if there are any audio repair specialists in their area. Online, there are many suppliers for turntables and parts, some specialising in specific parts. Auction websites like eBay can be another excellent way to find turntable parts.
How to Buy Turntable Parts on eBay
eBay has a wide selection of all kinds of turntable parts. To begin your search, to go eBay’s home page and type in certain keywords in the search bar; for example, "moving coil cartridge", or "DC turntable motor". eBay then lets you refine the search results based on various limiting factors like price, manufacturer, or seller location.
Once you’ve found an item that interests you, be sure to read the product description carefully. Verify item condition, material, quantity, the seller’s return policy, and postage fees. Also be sure that it is compatible with your existing equipment. Should you have any questions, you can contact the seller through eBay.
You may also want to get an idea of how reliable and knowledgeable the seller is, which you can do by checking their feedback score and reading comments from previous customers. If you have constructive feedback after your transaction is complete, you can then leave your own comments.
Turntable replacement parts can be used for either repair or upgrading an existing piece of equipment. The main parts of the turntable include the plinth, the motor, the belt (for belt-drive turntables), the platter, the tonearm, and the cartridge and stylus.
The plinth is the turntable’s foundation, on which the platter and tonearm sit. The platter is a round disk which holds the record. Platters may be attached directly to the motor in direct-drive turntables, or connected via a belt, in belt-drive turntables. The motor controls the rate at which the platter turns. The tonearm is a long, thin component that moves across the record as it plays. At one end of the tonearm is the cartridge, which is, in a sense, the origin of a hi-fi system’s sound. The movement of its stylus along the record’s grooves generates an electrical signal that is amplified and finally converted into sound waves as it travels through the other system components.
When buying turntable replacement parts, it is important that they be compatible with the turntable itself. It is best to consult with an audio expert about this matter. Informed buyers can find the right parts to keep their turntables working well, or even better, for years.