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Turntable Buying Guide

Turntable Buying Guide
Turntable Buying Guide

Turntable Buying Guide

Vinyl is more popular than ever. Read our guide and find the gear you’ll need to start spinning records at home.

By Kev Cowley | Published 05.05.20

Are you ready to buy your first turntable and start listening to vinyl records? Maybe you’re buying one for a friend or relative? Here’s all the things you’ll need to create a turntable setup, plus tips to keep your equipment in tip-top shape for longer.

What do you need to play records?

Here's the gear you'll need to enjoy vinyl records at home.

The main setup:

  1. Turntable
  2. Preamp - amplifies the initial electrical signal
  3. Power amp or headphone amp - amplifies the sound ready for playback
  4. Speakers or headphones

The essential accessories:

  1. Cables
  2. Stylus and cartridge
  3. Vinyl care
  4. Vinyl storage
  5. Turntable furniture

Getting connected

The key pieces of gear you'll need include a turntable (naturally), preamp, amplifier, and headphones/speakers.

Some of this gear may combine several features in just one item. Here's what you can consider:

  • Some turntables have an onboard preamp - for those that don't, you'll need an external preamp.
  • 'Active' speakers already have a power amp built in, whereas 'passive' speakers require a separate power amp.
  • Headphones require an amplifier to deliver a signal. Your chosen turntable may already have an amplified headphone output. Sometimes active speakers provide an amplified headphone output.

With this in mind, here's a few setup ideas based on different kinds of turntables.

1. Turntable with built-in preamp and onboard speakers

  • Easy – just plug in and go! Many have a headphone output too. If you want a better sound, consider using external speakers (go straight to option 3c).

2. Turntable with no onboard preamp

  • a) Turntable -> phono preamp -> headphone amp -> headphones
  • b) Turntable -> phono preamp -> power amp -> passive speakers
  • c) Turntable -> phono preamp -> active speakers

3. Turntable with built-in preamp

  • a) Turntable -> headphone amp -> headphones
  • b) Turntable -> power amp -> passive speakers
  • c) Turntable -> active speakers

The best way to approach this is to choose your turntable first. While all-in-ones are super convenient, you'll find better sound quality with external speakers.

Once you've chosen a turntable, you can build the rest of your signal chain. Don't forget the essential accessories too!

Turntable setup components

Now we've covered the basics, here's some more detailed information about every part of a turntable setup.

Turntable

Turntables

There are a few differences between a Hi-Fi turntable and a DJ turntable, but they both essentially do the same job of letting you play vinyl records. Both DJ turntables and hi-fi turntables are ideal for home listening.

While DJ turntables are perfect for home listening with their premium components, hi-fi turntables are not appropriate for DJ’ing. Hi-fi turntables have a belt drive design featuring an independent motor that drives the platter via a rubber belt.

There are many turntables out there, but here’s a couple of things to look for when buying one.

First, check to see if it has a built-in preamp. The preamp increases the amplitude of a turntable’s signal so it can drive a power amp and speakers. If a turntable has a built-in preamp, you can plug it straight into your power amp and speakers via a phono RCA cable. If not, you’ll need to buy a standalone preamp (more on that below).

Some turntables can also connect to your computer through USB, allowing you to convert your records into digital formats. Some even include built-in speakers, so you can get listening straight out the box, although you may want to upgrade to external speakers for a more expansive sound.

Two great hi-fi turntable options:

Shop now | Turntables

Turntable (DJ)

DJ Turntables

DJ turntables are designed to cope with the rigours of gigging. They’re built to handle specific DJ techniques (like scratching) and they can cope better with slight deformities in vinyl - useful for DJs who regularly transport records to and from gigs.

Due to their specialist nature, you’ll find DJ turntables are more expensive, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t use them at home. DJ turntables have a direct drive design with a platter that is integral to the motor. They give stronger torque and faster start up times, along with a pitch fader to control the speed of records.

If you think you might like to try DJ’ing, a DJ turntable is essential. Plus, you can use it at home for casual listening and enjoy the benefit of its premium components.

Two DJ turntable options:

Shop now | DJ Turntables

Preamp

Phono Preamps

A preamp increases the amplitude of the signal from your turntable. The preamp makes the signal ready to send to modern power amplifiers, so it can drive speakers or headphones.

Turntables produce a phono output signal. A phono preamp will convert this signal to line level, meaning it can work with speakers, stereo systems and computers.

If a turntable has a built-in preamp, you can plug it straight into your amplifier then speakers or headphone of choice. If a turntable has a USB output, it will have a built-in preamp.

A great phono preamp option:

Shop now | Preamps

Power amp and Speakers

Active Studio Monitors

Several turntables feature a built-in speaker, but to make the most of your music, you’ll want an external speaker setup.

A power amp is used to amplify the turntable signal, ready to feed your speakers. If you shop for traditional hi-fi, you’ll generally find power amps and speakers sold separately.

However, at Gear4music, many of our home speakers and studio monitors are aimed at musicians, studios, producers, and other creatives – the people who want the very best out of their sound.

The majority of these are active speakers, meaning they have a power amp built right in, so no need to buy a separate power amp! When looking at speakers, consider the size of the woofer (speaker cone). A bigger woofer means bigger bass and generally louder performance, but the speaker cabinet will be bigger and take up more room. 4-5’’ is great for smaller rooms, 8’’ is ideal for larger spaces.

You’ll also want to consider speaker stands to bring the speaker off the floor/work surface – this will prevent unwanted booming resonance.

Shop now | Active Studio Monitors

Shop now | Speaker Stands

Headphone amp and headphones

Headphones

If you want to enjoy your turntable in privacy, consider using headphones. If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in headphone output, you’ll need a headphone amp to raise the signal loud enough to drive the ‘phones.

Closed back headphones are near-silent to other people in the room. Open back headphones allow sound to escape, but they generally offer more comfort for longer listening sessions.

Shop now | Headphones

Shop now | Headphone Amps

Cables

Phono Cables

Phono RCA cables allow you to connect your turntable to a preamp and speakers. They aren’t the most exciting piece of gear, but they are essential.

Turntables that don’t have a built-in preamp will also need grounding. If this is the case, you’ll need a grounding cable that connects the turntable to your preamp.

This grounding cable is not a safety measure – the turntable’s electrical plug and fuse should take care of that. This grounding cable is actually designed to prevent a ground loop – where multiple pieces of electrical gear are connected together and have different electrical grounds.

You’ll know you have a turntable ground loop because of the excessive hum in your speakers or headphones. The ground cable is attached to the tonearm, to prevent the sensitive cartridge from amplifying a ground loop.

Two essential cables:

Shop now | Phono Cables

Vinyl Care

Record Cleaning

If you’re investing in vinyl, you’ll want to make sure it lasts. You can use a carbon fibre brush to clean your records before and after you play them. This will help to prevent build-up of dust and dirt. You can also give them a deep clean by using a cleaning brush and fluid along with a microfiber cloth.

Two essential cleaning options:

Shop now | Record Cleaning

Shop now | Vinyl Accessories

Stylus and Cartridges

Stylus and Cartridges

A stylus and cartridge translate vinyl grooves into electric signals. This is the first stage in the sound generation process, creating the raw electrical signal to feed a preamp, power amp, and finally the headphones or speakers.

The stylus is a needle that sits on the record and follows its narrow groove. The stylus is connected to a cartridge. This turns the movement of the needle into electrical signals, ready to be amplified.

The cartridge is connected to a tone arm by a flexible strip of metal. The arm allows the stylus and cartridge to ride up and down within the record grooves.

Stylus’ can be either spherical or elliptical. Elliptical ones give you rich and detailed sound reproduction, whereas spherical tips have higher tracking ability to reduce needle skipping, so they’re ideal for scratching and DJ’ing.

Turntable cartridges come in both moving magnet and moving coil designs. Most new turntables come with cartridges already but be sure to check this before you purchase.

Usually the more expensive a cartridge, the better the sound quality, power output, frequency range and tracking. If you are buying another cartridge, make sure to do some research on setting it up properly in terms of alignment and weight.

Shop now | Turntable Cartridges

Record Weights

Record Weights

Record weights helps to stabilise records. They add extra mass to the disc. This is to improve contact between the disc and the platter to prevent slipping and improve tracking performance.

The idea is to keep unwanted vibrations away, allowing the stylus to connect with the record grooves smoothly. Vibrations on the stylus will also be heard in your speakers - securing the record to the platter helps to minimise this.

Shop now | Record Weights

Vinyl Storage

Vinyl Record Storage

A place for all your records. One day you may have hundreds of records, so a place to store them is always a plus!

There are a range of types, including storage boxes, wall mounts, and racks. If you’re travelling with your records, it’s best to go for hard cases so they can withstand movement.

Ideally you want to keep your records in a clean, dry place where they can avoid extreme temperatures and humidity. This will stop them from warping, where the record bends out of shape leading to unplayable vinyl.

Remember to store records by vertically stacking them - don’t store them horizontally as this can cause them to warp over time due to pressure.

Shop now | Vinyl Storage

Turntable Stand

Turntable and Records Table

As long as you have a place for both your records and your turntable, you’re good to go!

If you want a great all-in-one, the Turntable and Records Table by Gear4music is a fantastic choice. As well as housing your turntable and vinyl collection, it looks great too.

What next?

Once you've chosen your first turntable setup, start collecting your vinyl! Search for classic records, support contemporary artists with their vinyl releases, hit the charity shops for bargains, check out independent record shops - it's up to you!

What we're sure of, is that you'll cherish your vinyl collection. Playing a record brings a sense of occasion to your music listening.

The great thing about turntable setups is you can upgrade individual components as you go. Need more bass? Upgrade your speakers or buy a sub woofer! Want to try DJ'ing? Upgrade to a direct-drive turntable! Enjoy your journey and keep on spinning.

Posted on 5 May 2020 14:52 to category : Instruments News

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