Playing music on vinyl has remained popular among music lovers, especially within the audiophile community, but for the average customer as well. Vinyl is prized for its warm sound and faithful reproduction, and choosing to listen to music on vinyl means building a stereo system designed for the medium.
The “brain” of this system is, of course, the turntable – the actual component used for spinning the records. Knowing how to choose a turntable involves assessing your needs and knowing what gear to use to meet them.
The following are three things to consider when selecting a turntable.
1.Don’t even go near Crosley turntables (and their equivalents).
It has been purported among the vinyl community that Crosley turntables (and their variants) have been known to physically damage vinyl records due to the excessive tracking force pressed upon the groove. They look nice and unique, and the brand is often purchased (or gifted) as a first turntable for Generation-Zers, thus deserving credit for introducing vinyl to the youth crowd and encouraging them on an upgrade path. But consider brand reputation before selecting a model. It’s also worth noting that any turntable with a tone-arm made of plastic should be avoided.
2. Choose between a belt-drive and direct-drive turntable.
The platter (the part on which the record rests) of a turntable is rotated using a motor. This motor can either be mounted directly under the platter (called “direct-drive”) or located off to the side (called “belt-drive”). Belt-drive turntables are generally preferred by the audiophile community. The rubber belt that joins the platter and the motor absorbs shock, keeping the motor’s vibration from causing noise in the electric signal. But speed accuracy can somewhat suffers in entry-level offerings. Pioneer’s PL30 is my choice for a belt-drive turntable.
Direct-drive turntables, on the flip side, are preferred by DJs, largely because they also offer very consistent rotational speed. On the negative side, however, rumble can present itself on a direct-drive turntable. Audio Technica’s AT-LP120USB is my direct-drive turntable of choice.
3. Determine if you need a built-in phono preamp.
Because the signal produced by the stylus is so quiet, turntables require what is called a phono preamp with RIAA Equalization to bring the volume and frequency response up to a useable level. Many modern receivers will not have a dedicated “Phono” input jack, which means that your turntable will need a built-in preamp (many entry-to-mid-level turntables come with a defeatable phono pre-amp). As an alternative, you can purchase an external phono preamp. When it comes to phono pre-amps, the Rek-O-Kut has always been my choice for dead-accurate performance.
You can, of course, build your system beyond the crude and simplistic points noted above, and there are many more factors to consider. I personally use an Audio Technica AT-LP60 entry-level turntable in my bedroom (I would not go any less entry-level than this unit, which is priced at $130), along with a Pioneer LP-30 for my living room, and a 40 years old Technics SL-2000 direct drive turntable for my main listening area. All of them are fed into Rek-O-Kut phono preamp before going to their respective amplifiers.
In the end, the most important thing to remember is you want to enjoy the music. So it’s worth not cutting corners to ensure that you get the best experience possible from your investment.