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A Beginner’s Guide To Choosing A Turntable

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A Beginner's Guide To Choosing A Turntable

Hello, Friends! In today’s post, we’re going to be running you through the basics of choosing a turntable. Since this article is meant for beginners and there’s a huge range of turntables in varying shapes and sizes out there, we’ll be giving some advice that applies to most turntables. With the increasing number of options out there, you may be wondering where to start so we’ll be here to help guide you along!

Before We Begin: A Note On Portable Turntables

You may have seen them floating around on Amazon or another online marketplace. Portable turntables tend to be smaller and often have some handle attached or briefcase form factor, allowing you to close the lid or cover it before lugging it around on your next road trip. They may even come with built-in speakers and other outputs. While there’s no denying that carrying a tote bag of records and a portable turntable out to a picnic or the park with friends would be fun, we would advise against purchasing a portable turntable for home use. Apart from the inferior sound quality you’ll experience, portable turntables often come with fixed cartridges and severely limit your upgrade options. If you’re a DJ looking to visit your favourite record shop to do some crate-digging for used rarities, a portable turntable may be handy for previewing your finds before purchasing. For home listening, you’d want to opt for a standard-sized turntable to make the most of your vinyl collecting experience. With that out of the way, let’s move on!

Should I buy a belt-drive or direct-drive turntable?

The two most common types of turntables you’ll find on the market are belt-driven or direct-drive turntables.

Belt-driven turntables are favoured by audiophiles as the platter is rotated by a rubber belt attached to a motor-driven spindle positioned on the side (or completely separate from the chassis in some sophisticated turntables). The reason why audiophiles favour belt-driven turntables is because they tend to reduce vibrations from the motor being picked up by the stylus, creating unwanted noise which gets further amplified by your system. One issue with belt-driven turntables though is wear-and-tear on the belt, which can create speed inconsistencies and may affect playback.


The second option is choosing a direct-drive turntable. While direct-drive turntables are a lot less complicated to set up due to the motor being directly connected below the platter, the more sensitive turntable styli may pick up a lot more vibrations and noise. DJ’s prefer the direct-drive turntables though because they tend to have consistent speeds and don’t require much maintenance in the long run.

Should I buy a turntable with a built-in or external phono pre-amplifier?

Once you’ve considered the type of turntable you’ll be getting, you should also consider whether you should get a built-in phono pre-amplifier (a.k.a. phono stage) or opt for an external phono pre-amplifier. The phono preamp is responsible for boosting the signal from the cartridge and amplifying it before it reaches the rest of your system. The phono stage is built-in on the more affordable turntables, allowing you to connect your turntable directly to your Hi-Fi system’s pre-amplifier (or directly into an integrated amplifier if you aren’t using a pre-amp/power-amp setup). If you’ve shelled out a decent amount of cash for a higher spec-ed turntable, you’ll most likely need to purchase a separate phono preamp to match your cartridge. Remember there are two cartridges on the market: Moving Magnet (MM) or Moving Coil (MC), so it would be best to confirm with your Hi-Fi dealer which phono preamp you would need to match your turntable’s cartridge. 

How many outputs do I need?

The outputs you’ll be using for your turntable depend largely on the type of system you will be connecting it to so it would be best to get some advice from the dealer you purchased the turntable from. Generally speaking though, if you are connecting a turntable with built-in phono preamp directly to an integrated amplifier or pre/power system you would most likely use a pair of unbalanced RCA to RCA cables. Alternatively, some of the newer turntables like the TEAC TN-400BT have built-in bluetooth connectivity which allows you to pair the turntable directly with bluetooth speakers. There are even turntables like the TEAC TN-570 which have a built-in phono preamp with an optical output (allowing you to use a Toslink Cable) in addition to USB and unbalanced RCA connections!

WHAT ABOUT UPGRADES?

When considering what kind of turntable to purchase, you should also consider its upgradeability. Some more affordable options have fixed cartridges and may only allow you to change the stylus once it has worn out. Choosing a turntable with a replaceable cartridge would be more beneficial in the long run because you’ll be able to swap it out for a better one in the future. Turntables with bypassable built-in phono preamps are also worth considering. Once you’ve outgrown the built-in phono preamp, you can flick the bypass switch and connect a more sophisticated external phono preamp to your turntable! This is especially handy if your built-in phono preamp is designed for an MM cartridge and you would like to swap your cartridge out to an MC cartridge and use an external MC phono preamp.

Conclusion

The world of turntables may feel complicated and intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. By carefully considering your listening habits and the synergy your turntable will have with the rest of your system, you can avoid making poor decisions and purchase a turntable that will last. You can then spend your money on the important part: the record collecting! Next week, we’ll be teaching you how to setup your new purchase. Be sure to like our Facebook page and get notified of future posts!

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