Turntables and vinyl records may be one of the oldest methods of recording and playing back audio, but they are still considered one of the best. A turntable works by running a needle over the grooves of a record. The grooves make the needle vibrate, and these vibrations are converted to electricity. This results in very accurate reproduction of the recorded sound. Unfortunately, any other vibrations, such as heavy footfalls, are also picked up by the needle. To ensure the best sound, high quality turntables focus on isolating the stylus and vinyl record from other vibrations.
Luckily for turntable owners, they can replace parts and add accessories that improve the vibration isolation qualities of their turntable, which results in better audio quality. Other turntable accessories are available, as well. Some are made to help users set up or maintain their turntables. Turntable accessories are available at specialist audio shops, at some department stores, and at online marketplaces like eBay. They range in price from a few pounds, to several thousands. Buyers who know the different kinds of accessories available and what effect they have on a turntable can make an informed decision when choosing used turntable accessories to purchase for their system.
Essential Turntable Parts
At its essence, a turntable is made of five basic parts: the plinth (base), the tonearm, the cartridge, the platter, and the motor. Some turntables allow users to change or switch out some of these parts, or elements of these parts. Buyers with a basic or entry level turntable that allows this sort of change can upgrade their system simply by replacing some of its parts.
The tonearm may look like the simplest part of a turntable, but it is in fact the most complicated. A tonearm houses the cartridge at one end, and is attached to the chassis of the turntable at the other. It moves the stylus across the surface of the record. It may incorporate a counterweight, and it may have a removable "head-shell". Most tonearms include an "anti-skate" mechanism, which ensures that the stylus remains in the centre of a record's groove instead of sliding across the record's surface. Tonearms with removable head-shells allow users to replace cartridges more easily. Better quality tonearms are machined from one piece of lightweight steel.
The cartridge of a turntable is what turns the grooves in a vinyl record into sound. There are two types of cartridges: moving coil (MC), and moving magnet (MM). Both cartridges produce varying levels of electricity based on the grooves of the record. This electrical signal moves through the amplifier and out through the speakers as sound. Moving magnet cartridges have a magnet within a coil. As the stylus moves over the grooves of a record, the magnet moves within the coil in relation to the depth of the groove. Moving coil cartridges work exactly the same way, except that in this case, there is coil moving inside a magnetic housing. Moving magnet cartridges are the more common type, and produce higher levels of electricity. Turntables with MM cartridges may be connected directly to a phono preamplifier. Moving coil cartridges produce lower levels of electricity, but are believed to produce higher quality sound. Moving coil cartridges usually require a "step-up" transformer, which increases voltage to a level that a stereo amplifier can use.
Cartridges are attached to the head-shell using one of two connections: the "standard" mount, or the "P" mount. Buyers must know what type of connection their turntable uses before ordering a cartridge. Standard mount cartridges are bolted to the head-shell (bolts are provided with the cartridge), while P-mount cartridges slide into place. If using a standard mount, buyers must note the colour of the electrical leads and where they are plugged into the old cartridge, before replacing it.
The counterweight is used to adjust the "downforce" of a cartridge. Every cartridge requires a certain amount of downforce in order to work correctly. This varies depending on the cartridge, and the counterweight is used to make adjustments accordingly. Many turntables have a built-in gauge in the counterweight to measure the "tracking force". Buyers must ensure that a replacement counterweight fits the tonearm of their turntable.
The needle, or stylus, of a turntable is the only part of the tonearm that comes into contact with a record. As a result, it is also the one that wears out first. Buyers must replace a needle before it wears out enough to start damaging records. A good rule of thumb is to replace needles after every 500 hours of use. There are two types of needles: elliptical and spherical. The elliptical type is generally better at reproducing higher-pitched sounds, while spherical needles are better for worn records. When looking for replacement needles, buyers should use the model number of the cartridge as a guide.
Rubber Belts for Belt Drive Turntables
There are two methods of rotating a turntable's platter: the direct system, and the belt system. As its name suggests, belt drive turntables use a rubber belt to spin the platter. This system isolates the platter from motor vibrations. They are also easier to manufacture than are direct drive systems. However, the rubber belt in these systems needs to be replaced when wear becomes evident. Rubber belts are not expensive, are easily available, and usually need replacement after long periods of use.
Accessories for Alignment and Tuning
Turntables must be aligned and tuned when parts are changed or when they are relocated. Buyers should consider the following accessories to ensure their turntables are perfectly tuned and aligned.
Spirit levels ensure that a surface is flat and true. When setting up a turntable, buyers must first ensure that it is level, both front-to-back and from side-to-side. This simple step minimises unequal wear on moving parts and bearings, and reduces noise during playback. While a simple carpenter's level can be used, a "surface" level is even better. These are inexpensive square or round bubble levels. Buyers may also choose more sophisticated, and more expensive, models, including digital levels.
Also known as a tracking force gauge, a stylus gauge measures the "downforce" a cartridge applies on a vinyl record. To accurately reproduce sound, and to prevent damage to records, cartridges require a correct amount of downforce. This causes the stylus to move along the grooves of the record correctly, without bouncing around or exerting too much downward force. The downforce is applied by gravity, and the counterweight on the tonearm is used to reduce it to the correct amount. Cartridge manufacturers recommend a correct range of downward force that varies depending on the cartridge. Every time the cartridge on a turntable is replaced, the downforce should be adjusted to match these recommendations. A stylus gauge accurately measures the downforce as adjustments are made. Stylus gauges are rated based on their accuracy. Gauges with an accuracy of 2/10 to 1/10 of a gramme are sufficient for most cases. For extreme accuracy, buyers can find stylus gauges rated to an accuracy of 1/100 of a gramme.
A strobe disc helps detect if a turntable's platter is rotating at the correct speed. The standard speeds are 33-1/3 and 45 RPM, but some may also be capable of 16-2/3 or 78 RPM as well. A strobe disc only works under LED light, tube lights, or tungsten lights. Some turntables are equipped with strobes for this purpose. If a platter is rotating at the correct speed, the dots on the strobe disc that correspond to that speed should appear stationary. All the other dots should appear to be moving.
Some platters come with patterns on their outer edge that serve the function of a strobe disc. Instead of buying a strobe disc, buyers can instead print patterns that are readily available online, and use these as strobe discs.
Cartridge Alignment Gauge
When records are cut, the cutter head is positioned parallel to the cut groove (or perpendicular to the surface of the record). During playback with a pivoted tonearm, the stylus is forced to move in an arc across the record, and is not in the same tangential position the recording head was at during recording. However, this error can be minimised by aligning the stylus so that it is parallel to the groove at two points along its curved path. These points are called "null points". A cartridge alignment gauge is used to align the stylus parallel to the grooves at these null points. Alignment gauges may be made of cardboard, plastic, or glass, with the templates that indicate the null points and lines of tangency printed on them.
Turntable Accessories to Reduce Vibrations
Due to the way they work, turntables convert vibrations into sound. Buyers should consider the following accessories to reduce the amount of vibration that reaches their turntable.
Isolation feet are made of rubber, metal, or other materials, and may be round or conical in shape. They are placed beneath a turntable, and are designed to isolate it from external vibrations. The type of isolation feet a buyer should buy depends on the weight of the turntable. Heavier turntables benefit from stiffer isolation feet, while lighter turntables work best with more flexible feet. Isolation feet range in price, from very affordable to very expensive. Buyers should see if the cheaper alternatives meet their needs before investing in more expensive models.
Centre Weight Stabilisers
Designed to reduce vibration of the vinyl record itself, centre weight stabilisers are simply very heavy weights placed over the record. They are usually made of machined metals, and they slide over the spindle of the turntable. Centre weights may be held in place by their weight alone, by threads, or by a clamp. Centre weights can also help flatten warped records.
The first turntable mats were made of velvet. They were quickly replaced by rubber mats, which are easier to clean, and which do not collect dust as easily as velvet. Today, buyers can choose from a range of materials including cork, felt, graphite, metal, and rubber. Turntable mats support records, prevent slipping, protect records, and dampen vibrations.
Slipmats are a type of mat that lets users hold the record in place as the platter rotates, without damaging the vinyl. These are commonly used by DJs.
Other Turntable Accessories
There are several turntable accessories besides those that reduce vibrations or help with tuning a turntable. Buyers should consider these accessories to get the best audio quality from their turntables.
A stereo amplifier works by amplifying voltage signals from different audio sources. When it comes to turntables, the voltage signals are very low. Older amplifiers (and some newer ones) include a "Phono" input designed to work with low voltages, as well as MM/MC switches to work with different turntable cartridges. When connecting a turntable to an amplifier that is not designed for "Phono" levels of input, buyers must purchase a phono preamplifier which will increase the voltage levels of the turntable signal.
Accessories to Keep Records and Turntables Clean
Dust on a record or on the turntable results in degraded audio quality and other noise when playing back records. Buyers should consider the following accessories to clean and maintain records and turntables:
- Cleaning Kits
- Stylus Guards
- Dust covers
Finding Used Turntable Accessories on eBay
Buyers shopping for accessories to upgrade or improve a turntable can find a range of used turntable accessories on eBay to suit different budgets. A search can be started by entering a keyword phrase into the search bar on the eBay homepage (or any other page on the site). Buyers looking for a specific accessory should enter more descriptive keywords into the search field. For example, a search for "turntable cartridge" lists all turntable cartridges available on eBay. Buyers can filter results based on various criteria including the condition of the item, its brand, and even the location of the seller.
Buyers should review a seller's return or exchange policy before committing to a purchase in case an accessory does not meet expectations. Buyers can contact sellers directly if this information is not available on the item's page. Buyers can also arrange for local pickups instead of shipping if the seller is also comfortable with this arrangement.
Turntables and records are one of the oldest methods of sound recording and reproduction. They are still considered to produce very high quality audio. Turntable users can easily upgrade their turntables and improve sound quality by replacing some parts with higher quality versions, and by adding accessories. Accessories and tools are also available for setting up turntables, tuning cartridges, and reducing the effects of external vibrations. Properly setting up a turntable can significantly improve the sound quality of a turntable. Turntable accessories range in price from affordable to extremely expensive. Buyers who understand how a particular accessory helps improve a turntable's performance can make an informed choice when purchasing accessories.
Turntable accessories can be found at specialist audio shops and at online marketplaces. Buyers searching online can find a wide selection of both new and used turntable accessories and a convenient shopping experience on eBay.