Last updated: August 6, 2021

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Vinyl records are still very popular today. Whether you are a fan of retro aesthetics, a fan of old musicians or perhaps because you have inherited the records of a family member or collect them yourself - there are many reasons for wanting to buy a record player.

In our record player test 2021 we present you with detailed background information on the topic of record players and answer frequently asked questions. We also introduce you to different types of turntables and give you some criteria to consider when buying one.

Contents




Summary

  • Record players enable you to play back analogue music media, i.e. to play vinyl records or to digitise them.
  • A basic distinction is made between manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic record players. All models are available in a wide variety of versions and designs.
  • Manual turntables allow you to place the tone arm on and off the record yourself. Semi-automatic turntables have the possibility to put the tonearm on or off the record automatically and fully automatic turntables take over every step for you.

The Best Turntable: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a record player

How exactly does a record player work?

Besides the different models and drives, it is of course also important to know how exactly the device in question works. On the turntable is the vinyl record on which "the music is", which is encoded in the grooves of the records.

After switching on the turntable, the tone arm starts to move and the turntable rotates. The record needle now begins to connect with the record and reads the information, which in the next step is translated by the pick-up and converted into signals:

Next, the pickup takes on the task of converting mechanical vibration into electrical voltage. This is what makes the reproduction of a sound possible in the first place.

To actually make the music audible, an audio amplifier with loudspeakers is still needed. Since in most cases the record player only sends a low-frequency signal, this must be amplified by means of suitable equipment.

Which drive is the right one?

There are three types of drive that will influence both the musical playback quality and the durability of your device:

  • Belt drive
  • Direct drive
  • Friction wheel drive (rare)

In a belt-drive turntable, the platter and the motor are connected by a flat rubber belt that drives the platter. The speed of models with this drive can also be adjusted by means of different pulleys on the motor.

The sound quality of belt-driven turntables is considered to be higher, as there is significantly less rumble due to the separation of the motor and platter

With direct drive , the motor is directly connected to the platter, which may well cause noise during playback, but with a somewhat more expensive device, you can certainly expect the music to sound just as flawless as with a device with belt drive.

In a turntable with direct drive, the drive axle of the motor is also the axle of the turntable. This type of drive is particularly common in the DJ sector because of the short ramp-up time.

In a turntable with friction drive , a rubber roller, the so-called friction wheel, transmits the power of the motor to the turntable. This is located between the motor and the platter. The friction wheel is usually height-adjustable to allow for different playback speeds.

The sound quality of turntables with a friction wheel drive is generally not considered to be of particularly high quality, as the vibrations of the wheel cause slight noise

What do 33, 45, 78 stand for?

No matter which turntable you choose, you should always pay attention to the number of revolutions your player supports. A distinction is made between 33 (1/3), 45 and 78 revolutions per minute.

The playing speed is always given in rpm - revolutions per minute. Old shellac records usually have 78 revolutions, but many record players no longer support this speed.

Smaller vinyl records with singles and EPs have 45 rpm. The most common number of revolutions today is 33 rpm, every large long-playing record runs at this speed.

In combination with the already mentioned manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic turntables, you can choose whether the given speeds are detected by the automatic component of the turntables themselves and then adjusted, or whether you do it manually.

Terms you should have heard: amplifier, earth cable, cinch & co

The record player alone will not give you the music experience you might want. In the following, we show you a small selection of phono equipment accessories that you should not do without.

The amplifier

Record players emit a fairly quiet signal. That's why almost all amplifiers used to have a so-called phono input. Today, only very high-quality models have this input. The signal is amplified via the phono input and thus output loud enough to the speakers.

So if you have or buy an existing system with such a phono input, you are on the safe side. Those who do not have a phono input on their existing equipment can connect an additional phono preamplifier between the record player and their stereo system.

If you want to make things easier, you can buy a turntable with an integrated phono amplifier. In both cases, the equipment is then connected to an ordinary AUX input (i.e. the connection to which MP3 players etc. can also be connected).

The earthing cable

A wide variety of interference factors, such as the hum of the turntable motor, can be found on the metal parts of the chassis, turntable and tonearm. To divert them, there is a separate earth wire, the earth cable, which is connected to the earth socket.

The cinch cable

This is an audio cable that, next to speaker cables, offers the greatest potential for enhancing the sound of hi-fi and home cinema systems. In the case of the record player, this cable is also called a phono cable, which is specially designed for signal transmission.

Cranking and overhang

The most difficult task when adjusting the player is the correct cranking angle and the aforementioned overhang. An adjustment template can be used to set this angle.

To do this, align the pick-up with the parallel lines on the template. To adjust the overhang, simply check that the line drawn on the template is also parallel to the cartridge.

How much does a record player cost?

The price differences for phono record players are enormous. They start at less than 100 euros, and the sky's the limit. You can spend up to 4000 euros and probably even more on a record player.

Type Price
Analogue turntable/manual/without preamplifier ca. 230 €
Analogue turntable/full-automatic/with preamplifier ca. 300 €
Digital turntable/full-automatic/with preamplifier ca. 500 €
Analogue turntable/mass drive/multiple cartridges ca. 1800 €
High-end turntable/without cartridge, tonearm, cinch cable ca. 5800 €

With these price differences, you can imagine how great the differences in quality must be. Therefore, if you want to buy a new record player, you should definitely take the time and calmness to take a closer look at it.

How and where can I rent a record player?

Do you want a record player for your next party? Various companies offer you the possibility of renting a turntable for any event throughout Germany.

They will take time for you and your wishes and advise you on the specific advantages of the respective devices. You can even get information about event management from the respective companies. The local experts are happy to help you organise a wide variety of events.

When is a record player the right choice for you?

Listening to and enjoying music with a turntable depends on your personal taste and your readiness for this sensory experience, which may be unusual at first.

We have created a short checklist for you to "test" whether you might enjoy a turntable:

  • Willingness to invest: turntables and their accessories can be expensive, both to buy and to maintain
  • You want to experience music in the best quality with the best sound
  • Your taste in music does not follow the current charts, but is independent of time and artist
  • A feeling for technology: record players have to be repaired or reset from time to time. A little technical understanding or interest should help you.

The pros and cons of a record versus a CD and MP3/AAC format?

You may own a good CD system, regularly download music from the iTunes Store, but are thinking about what exactly could be the criteria to choose a vinyl record instead of other physical or digital audio media in the future?

It should be clear in advance that both objective and subjective reasons for a pro or contra of the respective sound carrier come into play in this evaluation.

With proper storage, both record and CD can gain years of full functionality. As far as space is concerned, you should, logically, allow considerably more storage space for records than for CDs. Of course, this criterion does not apply to MP3 and AAC (iTunes) audio formats, as they are stored digitally.

Now we come to the big minus point of the vinyl record. The sensitivity. It is scratched by the sound needle when it is played, which results in a natural wear process and, in the worst case, it becomes unusable after the 60th use.

A CD is inserted into software and read by the laser, so there is no direct wear and tear, but a slightly larger scratch will immediately render the disc unusable.

With audio formats, almost nothing can happen unless they are pressed onto a blank disc, in which case the quality should be good to very good in order to preserve the music quality and, above all, to counteract data loss.

It is also clear that the former, but still available, shellac record, today mainly vinyl record, is much more susceptible to dirt due to the accumulation of dust particles in the record grooves. The smooth surface of the CD does not have this shortcoming.

Advantages
  • Quality of playback, plastic sound
  • More active listening to music
  • Long record shelf life
  • Increasing value of collector's items
  • Often free mp3 downloads when buying vinyl
Disadvantages
  • Partly high cost
  • High sensitivity
  • Needs a lot of space
  • Partly manual operation
  • Mainly for home use

Let's not forget the cost factor either. The vinyl record is in the higher price segment. If you don't yet have a large record collection but want to acquire one, this is not for the small purse. CDs are cheaper to buy, let alone MP3s, which also outdo CDs.

From a measurement point of view, digital media are also ahead. Dynamically, they reach up to 90 dB on average, whereas the analogue record breaks down at 40 dB. This means that the differences between loud and soft can be perceived much better with the former.

Let's move on to the subjective reasons:

From the sound alone, it is difficult to tell whether it is an MP3, AAC, CD or LP file. Nevertheless, emotional components clearly come into play here and put the record in a positive light. For many audiophiles, i.e. music lovers, the record player simply radiates charm.

They enjoy the manual handling of the elegant device, and in principle perceive the music as more pleasant and sonorous. They perceive the typical noise, namely the crackling and popping of the dirt particles on the record, as a sound must (!).

Also, the fact that the record, unlike the CD, is played visibly, i.e. one is visually part of the action, makes up the experience of playing a record for them. Likewise, they would not want to do without the large, lovingly designed record cover.

A digital file played via the streamer would certainly be a no-go. If you were to ask one of these music lovers what makes the package complete: invest additionally in good record player equipment, i.e. good headphones, a good stereo system and good loudspeakers, because this is the only way to perfect this hobby.

How is a record player constructed?

Since technical difficulties can arise from time to time with a record player, you should not buy a device unless you know at least the most important technical basics and the construction of a record player.

Some parts can wear out or break over time. To help you deal with these problems, we would like to give you a rough overview of the construction and functioning of a turntable.

The base of a turntable is the plinth. This holds the individual parts together and ensures a solid and firm stand. The tone arm is responsible for holding the pick-up and is thus responsible for the movement of the needle. It is also responsible for transmitting the electrical signal.

With the help of the pick-up, also called the record needle, the recorded signal is sound-processed and made audible. The needle attached to the pick-up picks up the vibrations of the record grooves in order to pass them on.

The rotating platter is the base for the record to be played. It can rotate at speeds of 33.3 and 45 revolutions per minute. In the past, the speed of 78 rpm was also supported.

Stand-alone or integrated? What else should your record player be able to do?

Modern technology makes it possible: nowadays, in addition to the classic stand-alone players that most people have in mind, there are also devices that offer many extras or even large systems that can play vinyl, among other things.

Modern record players

Thanks to advancing technology, there are nowadays models with some additional functions. For example, you canstream music from external devices, listen to it through Bluetooth speakers, digitise or record your old records and much more.

These include, among others:

  • Bluetooth record player
  • Turntables with AUX, USB and SD slot
  • Turntables for DJ use

Integrated record player

If you don't want to do without the benefits of a modern stereo system, you should consider stereo systems that have a record player. You can also dock a player onto your hi-fi system. You may need some accessories and connection cables for this and, of course, enough space.

These include, for example:

  • Special stereo systems with turntables
  • (Compact) systems that can be connected to a turntable

Retro record player

If you are particularly fond of the nostalgic flair of a record player, you will be well served by a device in retro design. Depending on the model, they have the same features as a conventional record player, but at the same time they beautify your interior.

Examples of this:

  • Portable record player
  • Music chests
  • Various portable record players
  • Record player with gramophone

How much more do you want to do yourself?

How does a fully automatic record player work? Is such a device perhaps more cumbersome than manual operation?

With a manual record player, you have to do everything by hand. You have to move the tone arm yourself and move the needle up and down manually. Last but not least, the haptic perception plays a role. Many people enjoy operating their turntable themselves, because the haptics are very special.

However, care should be taken that plates or the machine itself show a faster wear process. With semi-automatic operation, the tonearm is retracted at the end of the record itself and the turntable is automatically switched off.

This prevents the needle from locking unnecessarily if it is not lifted off the turntable immediately by hand. The speed is also partly detected by sensors, depending on the model.

These are the so-called revolutions, which will be discussed in more detail later. Compared to a manual device, you have to plan for somewhat higher costs. A fully automatic machine does all the work for you, you just set the speed and the plate size and press start.

In addition, there is sometimes a repeat function that lets you play the record over and over again. However, the scope is not completely exact. There are deviations here and there in various functions that depend on the respective manufacturer. Note, however, the comparatively high price.

Decision: What types of turntables are there and which is the right one for you?

Quite apart from design variants or different drives, these devices can basically be divided into two groups:

  • Analogue record players
  • Digital record player

We would like to briefly introduce you to these types and show you their advantages and disadvantages. Based on this distinction, some criteria may not be relevant to you at all, depending on what you decide.

What distinguishes an analogue turntable and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

If you simply want to enjoy your music on vinyl, but you also expect top music quality, you should get an analogue record player and invest some money to get good quality.

Advantages
  • Easy to use
  • Good sound
Disadvantages
  • Low functionality
  • Record wear
  • No digital copy

Of course, you should bear in mind that every record will eventually show signs of wear. If it becomes unusable, the analogue player will not allow you to make a digital copy in time.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a digital record player?

If you want to digitise your old records, i.e. convert them into other music formats, a digital record player, also called a USB record player, will help you. With the help of the USB connection, you can save the old vinyls on your PC and have them archived in digital format. This also requires the software for digitising. This is usually included with the purchase.

Advantages
  • Possibility to digitise
  • Multitasking capability
Disadvantages
  • Extra software
  • Cost-intensive

If you want everything at once, you should dig a little deeper into your wallet. Digitising music and playing back your sacred records in a high-quality, rounded sound on your phono device is not necessarily inexpensive.

Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate record players based on these factors

Now you have some basic knowledge and an overview of the pros and cons of buying a record player. Now it's time to look at some concrete buying criteria so that you don't forget anything when making your decision.

In the next section, we will take a closer look at the following factors when considering the purchase of a record player:

  • Components
  • Drive
  • Product type
  • Speed
  • Dimensions / Weight
  • Integrated loudspeakers
  • Sound quality
  • Connections
  • Design / Cover
  • Scope of delivery

Components

When it comes to components and workmanship, there are a few features you should consider in order to buy a good turntable without any unpleasant surprises. When it comes to the plinth, you should definitely look for a stable and high-quality material to ensure a secure stand and an undistorted sound.

The tone arm is essential for music reproduction and should therefore be stable. Tonearms made of plastic or wood are nice to look at, but they deform more easily than tonearms made of metal or carbon fibre.

It is particularly important to ensure that the cartridge has an MM or MC converter to avoid problems with the amplifier. The same applies to the turntable as to the tonearm. Materials such as plastic or wood are beautiful, but unsuitable.

It is an advantage that the needle of your turntable is made of diamond. This makes it much more durable than other types. However, since this is a question of money, needles made of ruby and especially sapphire can also be considered.

Drive

When choosing a drive, you should think about your requirements for the record player and what you want to use it for before buying. If you want to buy a record player mainly for use in your own home, a belt-driven record player is recommended.

Since this type of drive requires much less effort to manufacture, these models are generally cheaper, but still offer good value for money. However, the belts will wear out over time and will need to be replaced at some point.

You should go for a direct drive if you want a robust device that is also suitable for scratching, i.e. for DJ use . In addition, the synchronisation is better with this drive because there is no slippage due to the belt. Turntables with direct drive are usually a little more expensive, but they are more durable and long-lasting because there is no belt to wear out.

Product type

Choosing the right product type is mainly a matter of taste. A distinction is made here between semi-automatic and fully automatic turntables.

With fully automatic units, all you have to do is put the record on and press the start button. With some models, you have to set the speed and record size, but this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

With semi-automated machines, you can place the tone arm on the record yourself and remove it as you please. In addition, the speed and record size can be adjusted as desired.

Speed

When buying a record player, make sure that it can play both large long-playing records and small singles, such as those found in jube boxes. 12-inch long-playing records are played at a speed of 33.3 rpm, while singles are played at 45 rpm. Your device should support both speeds in any case.

Occasionally there are vinyls that are played at 78 rpm. These were the first records that came onto the market. However, since these are very rare nowadays, this speed is not necessary unless you want to play exactly this type of record.

Dimensions / Weight

These criteria are not absolutely necessary for a purchase decision, but you should still look at how big and heavy your future record player should be.

The dimensions and weight of many products may be an indication of their quality, but for turntables they are probably of secondary importance. There are many different versions of this device. Most players are around 40 cm wide, 17 cm high and 35 cm deep.

The weight leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre. Of course, a light device suggests poor workmanship, but even if this assumption is not far-fetched, it does not necessarily have to be the case. A small side note: high-end devices actually weigh a little more, however, because special value is placed on good material.

The integrated loudspeakers

There are many different types of turntables. Some have an internal sound system, others do not. This can quickly turn musical enjoyment into an endurance test.

The advantage of a record player with integrated speakers is definitely that you can put on a record without much work and hear it immediately. There are also mini systems that can be connected directly to the phono unit.

A big advantage is also that the device is not bound to a hi-fi system due to the built-in speakers, and thus may still have to stand unsightly in the room. So it can look good in its own right in a separate place. In addition, the wiring process can be quite complex.

However, everyone is probably aware that the sound quality of the record can be perfected by an external sound system, and that's why many people opt for the more cumbersome way, nevertheless the integrated speakers can compete with it.

Sound quality

The correct adjustment of a pick-up - no matter what class of equipment - is very important. If the needle does not sit straight and exactly at a right angle in the groove of the record, unpleasant surprises can occur. The consequences of poor adjustment are often uneven wear, distortion during playback and damage to the record and needle.

Did you know that the sound of a record player also depends on the colour of the record?

Coloured records, especially glittering or luminous records, often produce more background noise than black records. That's why the standard records are black.

It is essential that the tone arm and the record are parallel to each other. The tone needle should be perpendicular in the track groove. The crank angle, i.e. the angle between the pickup and the carrier for the pickup should also be parallel to each other.

The aforementioned template helps here. The contact force of the needle in the groove should also be correct. Some record players have an anti-skating function that counteracts the forces that distort the needle.

Damping is also important. The turntable should never be placed on a glass plate, but preferably on a thick wooden plate.

Connections

Theoretically, record players can be connected to an amplifier without special cables, but it is questionable whether they will actually work. Often the signal of the devices is too weak, so that users of modern amplifiers can only hear a few soft noises - if at all.

The solution is a preamplifier. This can either be integrated into the turntable itself or be part of the amplifier. If the preamplifier is in the turntable, the AUX input of the amplifier can be used without any problems.

If the preamplifier is built into the amplifier, there is a so-called phono input in addition to the AUX input, which must be used to connect turntables without an integrated preamplifier. If neither the amplifier nor the turntable has an integrated preamplifier, a phono amplifier must be used.

Some manufacturers add to the confusion by using numerous different names for the audio inputs of their devices. Then there are audio inputs on the amplifier labelled Line In, CD or Tuner.

But don't worry: all these connections are basically AUX inputs, except for the already mentioned phono input. The different designations serve primarily to organise the individual devices.

This way, you can quickly switch to the corresponding channel later and have selected exactly the device that is at the corresponding input. This can also be a smartphone, for example.

If you are looking for a way to store the music of the vinyls directly, you should look for an SD slot into which any conventional SD card can be inserted to act as a direct storage location. If you plan to process the music from the records on your PC, you should make sure that the record player of your choice has a USB input .

Design / Cover

Retro, wood or elegant white? A record player is a wonderful addition to any room and is sure to attract a few envious glances. Of course, not every model is suitable for every interior in terms of design.

Just take a look at the different designs and decide what you like best. There is now an enormous variety of model types.

In addition to the unusual vertical turntables, where the record stands vertically to the turntable, there are now also very alienated versions with organic shapes, where you would no longer expect it to be a musical device, but rather a sculpture.

But not only the device itself, but also a useful protective utensil, the cover, can be part of the overall design. This helps to protect the turntable when dust and dirt want to settle on the turntable and in the precision mechanics of the tone arm. However, there are also devices that do not have this cover at all.

If you don't have it, you can order it or build it yourself. If only a part of the cover is defective, such as the cover hinge, you can of course order it as well.

There are also protective covers made of transparent plastic that can be placed over the turntable if you take the exact dimensions into consideration.

Scope of delivery

It is important that all basic components are included in the delivery, such as the plinth, the cartridge or the stylus. Basically, you should not have to order anything else, but should be able to listen to or digitise the records after connecting your turntable.

When buying a phono record player, you should also make sure that it comes with an instruction manual in German. This will help you to familiarise yourself with the product. Ideally, a USB turntable should come with software that allows you to digitise the records.

Always make sure that the device has an integrated pre-amplifier, because this amplifies the initially weak sound signal of the turntable. Otherwise you would only hear a low hum. This preamplifier is built into most (inexpensive) devices.

If the unit does not have integrated speakers, make sure that you have a sound system. All necessary connection cables should also be included. Also check whether the record player comes with a dust cover.

Facts worth knowing about record players

From the gramophone to the DJ record player

Emil Berliner is considered the inventor of the gramophone record. The gramophone was able to record sound events onto a flat, wax-coated zinc disc via a sound funnel. Later, the zinc discs were replaced by pure wax discs.

Did you know that the texts of the recording were pasted on the back of the first records produced by Emil Berliner?

The reason for this was that the quality of these first records was so poor that the lyrics would hardly have been understood without being written down.

A so-called "mother" was then made from them by an electrolysis process. This served as a matrix for pressing shellac records. Unlike today, early records were not made from vinyl but from shellac.

They are not only much heavier than vinyl records, but also much more fragile. Shellac records are 10 or 12 inches in size and run at a speed of 78 RPM (rounds per minute). What you hear on these records is a mono signal that has been recorded using the side-script method.

Shellac records were produced from 1895 to 1957. At the beginning of the 1920s, the first gramophones with electric drives and pickups came onto the market.

The introduction of the vinyl record in the early fifties brought a quantum leap in sound quality. In addition, the lower playback speeds of 33 or 45 RPM made longer sound recordings possible; with the old shellac records, the playback length was limited to about four minutes.

With the introduction of the hi-fi standard and the filler recording process in the 1960s, the sound quality of the record once again improved significantly. From 1920 to 1960, it was, so to speak, unique as a commercial sound carrier. This was first broken up by the compact cassette (CC) and in the mid-1980s by the compact disc (CD) medium, which is still ubiquitous today.

Although the market share of record players has been low since the nineties, it has been on the rise again for some years. This is mainly due to music lovers and hi-fi enthusiasts who prefer the sound of vinyl records to that of MP3s and audio CDs.

Of course, the guild of DJs should not be forgotten in this context. Here, the record player is still often used because of the feel and the direct contact with the sound carrier.

Can I build a record player myself?

Building a record player yourself is not particularly complex. The procurement is only a little more complicated if you don't want it to be too expensive.

Important utensils for this project are the turntable, the motor, the tonearm, the cartridge and the needle. Also necessary is the "chassis" or "subchassis", i.e. the frame of the unit. This is used to fix the components and to isolate or dampen disturbing vibrations or shocks.

If you are very clever, you can use prefabricated elements from inexpensive record players and combine them with high-quality components. The result is a top-of-the-range device.

What exactly can Bluetooth turntables do?

The built-in Bluetooth feature makes it possible to play records wirelessly through existing speakers that are also equipped with Bluetooth. Cables become superfluous and the speakers can be placed flexibly. You are free to decide where and how you listen to the sounds of the record player.

In addition, external devices such as smartphones or tablets can be digitised via a 3.5 mm aux input and thus also streamed to Bluetooth devices. This function is extremely practical for people who do not have a large record collection but still want to listen to varied music.

What exactly can turntables with USB, AUX and SD slot do?

This modern type of turntable allows you not only to play the music, but also to develop it in different ways.

With an aux input, you can play music in mp3 format from external devices such as smartphones or tablets through an audio cable, i.e. play it back using the turntable, as well as record it and save it directly to a USB stick or SD card.

Either a USB stick can be connected to the USB input to play music stored with it or to use it as a direct storage location for recordings. But external devices, such as a laptop, can also be connected to the record player via USB to digitise records and then save them in mp3 format.

You can also cut, copy and otherwise process the music from the record on your PC. All you need is the appropriate software. Like the USB port, the SD slot can be used to store music and to play back already stored audio files as an external source.

What are the most important features of a turntable?

In summary: The most important features that a turntable for DJ use should have are sound, mobility, functionality and, in the end, price. In addition, it is important that all switches can be reached quickly and easily to ensure a fluent performance.

It is essential to get a turntable with excellent sound quality if you plan to perform in front of an audience. After all, the music will probably be played loudly through speakers, and a noisy or unclean sound will be even more audible.

The workmanship of the turntable is also extremely important. If you plan to perform with your turntable in clubs or the like, we advise you to put a lot of emphasis on robust and high-quality workmanship, as constant transport will leave traces of use. In addition, the player should be easy to transport, i.e. it should have a housing that is as resistant as possible.

Image source: pixabay.com / pexels

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