Which turntable is best for me? The basics...
09 November 2019
So you are reading this article because you’re thinking about getting a turntable and digging out your old vinyl collection which has been sat in the loft for many years collecting dust? Or maybe this is your first time and you are wanting to ‘test the waters’? Whatever your reason for delving into the world of the vinyl disc, you may be appreciative of some guidance right now. Hopefully, this article will assist you with that and help you to take the next step!
A good first step is to have a think about what type of record player would best suit your requirements. There are two types on the market and they are belt-driven and direct-drive:
Direct-Drive best suits the DJ enthusiasts as the platter is directly attached to the motor and can go both ways, great for a bit of mixing and scratching.
Belt-Driven turntables use a special elastic belt to spin the platter at a constant speed of usually either 33 or 45rpm. The platter sits on top of a bearing completely isolated from the motor and the belt absorbs any shock and prevents vibrations from reaching the platter that are generated by the motor. Belt-Driven turntables can only go one way and so are not intended for DJ use! These are the decks you’d go for if you wanted to sit and thoroughly enjoy your music!
Another consideration would be whether you want your new turntable to be a manual or automatic operation. This relates to the arm and how it is operated. Again, let's just briefly touch on the differences here:
A manual turntable is exactly what it suggests... it's manual. So you move the arm onto the record yourself, set it spinning using the power button which will be located somewhere on the turntable itself and lower the tone arm by using a little lever (usually). Be sure to repeat these steps but in reverse order as soon as the arm gets to the middle (end) of the vinyl otherwise you may risk damaging your stylus! The more high-end turntables will be manual.
An automatic operated turntable is better for ease of use (and maybe if you're just starting out and aren't confident just yet). Here, the tone arm will move in at the touch of a button, it will start the record spinning and the arm will lower. Automatic turntables will also sense when the arm has reached the end of the vinyl and lift itself back up and move back to it's cradle, stopping the platter spinning at the same time. You will often find automatic turntables a little lower in price.
Here's where things get interesting. Some turntables describe themselves as semi-automatic. They should also tell you what part is automatic and what part isn't. For example, some semi-automatic turntables will move the arm onto the record itself but it will be up to you to pick it back up when it reaches the end.
Now, we’ll talk you through what the difference is (without going too technical) in relation to cost prices, and what you can expect to pay at each price point. It’s the same with most things, the more you pay, the more you get. This is a good thing to bare in mind when deciding how much to invest in your new turntable. We’ll use some of our stocked turntables as examples:
This turntable just so happens to be our entry level model so will be good for this comparison as a starting point. It is a fully automatic, belt driven turntable capable of playing at 33 and 45rpm. At this price point, don't expect the best build quality with regards to the materials it is made from. But to keep costs to a minimum so that they can pass this onto the end user, each manufacturer will produce an entry-level or budget (we hate that word) deck that is quite frankly, made from the most basic materials. In most cases including this one, that material is plastic. This gives the turntable a lighter feel and you can instantly tell it is part of their entry level range. The button detail, feet, lid hinges, platter and headshell are all plastic. However, the platter is in fact Aluminium which is not usually seen at this price point.
But what about the actual mechanics? Well, again we have to be as cost effective as possible when making a turntable at this price point. It's a simple to use record deck which also makes it easy to set up! This is a great thing for the end user that may be purchasing this turntable for just 'testing the water' or even the 'occasional use'. It comes with a pre-installed cartridge and stylus, again from their entry level range (Audio Technica cartridges are all fantastic quality as this is what they excel in - hence we didn't use the term 'cheap'). Going forward, the stylus can be replaced. But keep an eye out for the low cost turntables from other brands that don't allow this!
It's worth noting at this point that this particular turntable also boasts a USB connection and free software enabling you to rip from your vinyl onto a PC/laptop. It is also available with a Bluetooth connection instead of USB. You will find the AT-LP60X BT here. (Link opens in seperate window). Otherwise, the phono cables are pre-attached and are quite basic at this price, along with the built in switchable pre-amp (phonostage).
Cutting a long story short, at £149 RRP, you would usually expect everything about it to be 'entry-level'. However, this is where Audio Technica are a slight exception to the rule. Whilst the build quality and things like the tone arm, headshell and button detail is entry level, the rest of it surprisingly is something you would expect from a mid-range level deck! It will play your vinyl perfectly and because it uses their own branded cartridge and stylus, it will look after your vinyl very well!
Remember when we first said that the more money you put into a turntable, the better it gets? We've picked the AT-LPW30 as we feel this best represents this theory. The LPW30 is a fully manual, belt driven deck capable of 33 and 45 rpm. We've kept the Aluminium platter although it is slightly heavier, and the plastic/rubber feet, but we've now got ourselves an upgraded tone arm and motor, an aluminium headshell (also sold separately), and an upgraded cartridge and stylus (AT-VM95C).
Taking a look a little deeper into the bits we often over-look... we now have a rubber slip mat instead of felt which just attracts and holds static charge (not great for vinyl), the lid hinges are better constructed, we've lost the plastic buttons and base and got a stunning wood veneer finish instead, better weight and anti-skate, upgraded removable phono cables and we've now gone full size! Phew... take a breath!
Let's take a look overall: We have now put in another £120 to finding us a turntable and we have better materials being used, upgraded components such as the cartridge, tone arm, slip mat and let's face it, it looks so much nicer. Not forgetting we've now gone full size so will match a separates system better.
We've jumped up by an extra £630 now and hit the latest Technics SL-1500C turntable. Now we've completely gone past the 'automatic' price point as we enter the fully manual, direct drive point. As many will already know, the Technics brand will always be a leader in direct drive turntables. Commonly known as a traditional DJ deck manufacturer. However, their latest line up of turntables offer more in the way of home listening/playing with a side of DJ.
The SL-1500C comes pre-installed with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and stylus (worth £95 on it's own). Now we see a massive upgrade to the components we have already spoke about. Ready for this? Here goes... The platter is made of aluminium diecast with a total weight of approx 2kg including the rubber slip mat allowing for a more exciting sound performance, the 230mm long tone arm and balance weight provides better tracking and control whilst the isolating feet allow for excess vibration dispertion and overall stability. It comes with seperate cables including an earth cable and the materials used all over provide the user with a very detailed, clean sound. There's so much that has gone into this player but we really just wanted to highlight it's main features and why you find a higher price tag attached.
Overall, the Technics SL-1500C is a deck where you get to see and hear where your money goes. The mechanics and materials used to build this deck are far more superior at this price point.
Hopefully, you will find this article interesting but most of all, insightful as to where your money goes and what you get at each price point. We have provided links to each of these decks so you can see more information including up to date prices and pretty pictures. Simply click on the item title and it will open a new window for you.
So the questions we will leave you with are these...
- How often will you play your vinyl?
- Will you be using it for DJ-ing or normal playing?
- How much are you willing to put into a turntable to get the sound performance and build quality?
Please feel free to share this blog post and if you have any questions, please do get in touch with us. We are available on the High Street, on Live Chat, email and on the other end of a telephone!