BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO TURNTABLES | HOW TO BUY A GOOD RECORD PLAYER
BEST TURNTABLES FOR BEGINNERS
After buying vinyl records and expanding my vertical collage, I’ve become a well-versed scholar in the ancient art of turntablism. If you’re new to vinyl, you’re in luck. In this post, I discuss how to find the perfect record player. Collecting and enjoying vinyl records is a great hobby, and you’ll find it rewarding as time comes.
// Ask Yourself Questions
Asking yourself a few general questions will help you focus on what you want out of a record player. Keep these in the back of your mind as you shop!
What is my budget?
Do extra “bells and whistles” matter to me (Bluetooth features for example)?
What is my style?
Determining your budget is your first step. There are record players that range from roughly under $100 to upwards of $500. Think about how serious you are as a buyer. You also want to think about what you want out of a record player. Are you one for “latest and greatest”, or do you have simplicity in mind? Lastly, be aware of what you think looks good and suits your personality. Whichever record player you choose, you’ll want it to be something that fits your style as a record collector.
// Price Ranges
$100, More or Less: At the bottom of the spectrum, you’ll find record players offering basic functions. They play records. Although it may seem easy to grab and go with a record player from this range, be wary of their construction. Many of these options don’t have the best designs, or they feature “all-in-one” solutions (built in speakers, or other portable options). If portability is something you value, then there are a few options in this range from Victrola and Crosley.
If you are a serious “audiophile” or someone looking for good quality, then it’s probably best to keep away from this range of record players. True, these do the job, however they don’t do a proper job for someone who is meticulous about sound quality. The portable options in this range are OK if you want something to carry around, but there are more capable options for home stereo systems.
$200-$400: For the beginner looking for an affordable record player that offers exceptional playback and features, this range is best. Record players in this range are typically well-made. You’ll find a wide variety of brands that offer great turntables. In my opinion, this is the best range to browse overall. You’ll find quality options from brands like Audio Technica, ProJect, Denon, and quite a few more.
This range is full of hot contenders that have great sound quality compared to lower priced models. They are equipped with better cartridges/styli and are better builds overall.
$500 and Beyond: For the serious audiophile in it for the best, this range offers high-end models with impeccable accuracy and quality builds. When you get into this range, you find a highly diverse range of options. I recommend doing some homework and really digging into the companies that offer them. Try comparisons, try before you buy, and research! There are some really jaw-dropping options in this range! Call and speak with local dealers and look into what the companies offer. If you choose a record player from this range, you’ll likely never need another.
// Belt Drive or Direct Drive
There are two basic classifications; belt drive and direct drive. This specification refers to the method used to spin the platter of the turntable. Belt-driven record players spin the platter with a thin rubber belt. Direct-driven record players have a dedicated motor that spins the platter.
Direct drive record players have a clear advantage over belt-driven record players because you don’t have to worry about replacing the rubber belt. Consequently, direct drive record players are known to produce more noise, which will interfere with sound quality.
Pro: Very quiet
Con: Belt needs to replaced as needed.
Pro: No need to worry about belt replacement
Con: Known to produce unwanted noise and vibration
// Manual, Automatic, or Semi-Auto
This refers to how the tonearm operates. Manual record players require you to lift and drop the tonearm by hand. Automatic record players have the ability to automatically lift and drop the tonearm. Semi-auto record players need to be operated by hand as well, however they have a lever system that drops the tonearm onto the record.
Personally, I prefer a semi-auto record player. It really depends on what you’d prefer. If you like simplicity, then go for manual. If you want something a little more sophisticated, auto may be the way to go. Want to meet in the middle? Try a semi-auto record player.
// Going Digital | USB and Bluetooth
On the market, you can find record players with USB features to use with a computer. These record players usually come with software to make the process easy. There are some great advantages to these models. If you want to take your vinyl collection with you (iPhone, MP3 player, or CDs), consider one of these options. Archiving vinyl is a great way to keep digital copies of your record collection!
If you have a Bluetooth-capable speakers, definitely consider a record player with Bluetooth capability. Many purists may advise against this, but if it works for you that’s all that matters! Bluetooth is a really simple and clean approach to listening to your records. No cables or preamp required!
// DJ Turntables
In this category, you’ll find turntables that are meant for “scratching” and audio production. Many of the features on these direct-driven models include things like pitch shift and target lights. Additionally, the cartridge/styli and tonearms are designed for performances. This may not be the best option for home listening, but it can be done no problem.
Most vintage record players require what’s called a preamplifier or preamp. Preamps are external devices that bring the audio signal to an appropriate output level for your speakers. Without one, the record will sound rather quiet and shrill.
There are many record players that have there own switchable preamps on board. This means you can toggle it on if wish to rely on the internal amp instead. This is a nice feature if you want to save money on an external amp. The only disadvantage is that you lack a certain level of control. External preamps are a traditional component of hi-fi audio systems. Having the option to choose a quality external preamp will give you more control over your system’s sound quality.
// Where to Buy a Record Player?
These days, you can find record players almost anywhere. The most obvious place is your local record store. Speak with the shop owner and get some recommendations and general guidance. Places like Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and Guitar Center also sell certain brands and variations.
Buying online is also an acceptable avenue to pursue. It’s best to see it upfront, in-person, but if there are limited sellers in your area, this is the next best option.
My personal favorite place to shop for vinyl gear online is called TurntableLab.com
As a note: If you decide to buy used, try before you buy. Bring a test record along with you and ask if you can try it out. If there isn’t anything wrong with it, they won’t mind.
// Buying Used Record Players
There’s nothing wrong with buying a record player secondhand. Oftentimes, you can find some pretty decent ones.
Here are some things to look out for:
Does the record player turn on and off with ease?
Does the platter spin at a consistent speed?
Do all of the speed options work consistently (33, 45, 78)?
Check the condition of the record needle. Is it clean, dirty, broken, crooked?
Check all of the cables. Are they all intact?
If there is an on board preamp, does it work?
Is it dusty?
If there is a cover, does it open and close properly?
If it is semi-auto, does the level rise and fall properly?
Does the seller have any user manuals? If so, grab em! It might be useful if you need to troubleshoot something.
There you have it! Buying your first record player is exciting, and vinyl record collecting is really fun. Remember to research and do your homework before you make the decision to buy!