While the sound industry has become increasingly digital, some audio devices have survived. CD and MP3 players that emerged from the digital era have brought mechanical sound-reproducing equipment on the verge of extinction. And it's not a big surprise, considering that having everything on your mobile or computer is more practical.
However, one device has managed to survive decades of technological advances and, has even developed over that period. We're naturally talking about record players, the classic audio devices par excellence. They have now gained popularity among collectors, as well as in the electronic music industry.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection of the Best Record Players
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything you Should Know About Record Players
- 5 Shopping Criteria
- 6 Summary
- Record players are hi-fi audio devices that have been around for decades. This equipment features a motor that drives a platter where acetate discs called vinyl are placed. Record players have made a real comeback and their sales have skyrocketed in recent years.
- There are currently three types of record players based on the type of traction of their motor. However, only two are really available on the market: direct drive and belt drive turntables. This will determine how each model works.
- While these devices may seem quite basic, many factors can actually affect the sound quality. Where you place your record player is one of them. Other elements such as the stylus are also key to getting the highest sound quality possible.
Our Selection of the Best Record Players
Record players sell best over the Internet because most sound equipment stores focus on other types of players such as speakers. The online market features a wide range of brands, models, and prices for everyone. In the following section, you'll discover our selection of the best record players on the market.
Shopping Guide: Everything you Should Know About Record Players
Few mistakes have greater consequences than purchasing a product without knowing enough about it. It is important that you make an informed decision to avoid spending too much time on more superficial aspects, such as price or design. This is why we've answered some of the most frequently asked question about record players.
How do record players work?
Record players use electromagnetic components to convert the sound vibrations of a rotating disc into electrical signals. These signals are then fed to a preamplifier that is connected to speakers or headphones, therefore making the sound much louder. A turntable is indeed a blend of mechanical and electromagnetic technology.
The stylus of your record player is essential because it is responsible for sending the vibrations to the transducer — called the cartridge — when it is placed on the disc. This is how it converts into an electrical signal. The cartridge contains a piezoelectric crystal inside that generates this signal when the turntable's arm presses against it.
Not all record player cartridges feature this piezoelectric crystal, as some integrate electric coils and a magnet inside. The arm moves and pushes the magnet from top to bottom, passing through the coil and therefore generating the electrical signal.
How are record players calibrated?
First of all, make sure that your device is placed on a completely firm surface; any sort of unevenness could create unwanted vibrations. Adjusted via a wheel on the back of the tonearm, the counterweight is another important element. This wheel has two knobs, one for marking the weight and the other for choosing the pitch.
Move the wheel until it is parallel to the platter and then turn the pitch selection knob to the 0 position. You should notice the tonearm floating and will have to adjust the counterweight. Each cartridge indicates the counterweight it requires, and you can also find this information in the user manual. The durability of your stylus depends on it!
If your turntable has one, you will then have to adjust the anti-skate lateral weight. In that case, set the dial to 0 until you've finished adjusting the counterweight. This will prevent the stylus from moving sideways. Last but not least, set the height via the wheel located at the base of the tonearm. Place the stylus on the vinyl and spin the wheel until that stylus is parallel to the disc.
What types of record players are there?
- Direct drive system: The platter is directly connected to the internal electric motor. These models can start playing a vinyl faster and are less vulnerable to external vibrations. However, they are more exposed to internal vibrations that the motor can transmit to the platter. Direct drive systems are great for mixing live music.
- Belt drive system: The platter is separated from the motor, the latter driving the belt that moves the disc. They are less exposed to internal vibrations. Unfortunately, the belt will wear out and needs to be replaced from time to time. The playback speed is less even.
There is a third type of record playing system that is hardly used and appreciated; it is called the idler-wheel drive system. You can also differentiate models based on whether they're automated or not. Last but not least, we could also divide them into those already preamplified and those that need an external preamplifier.
What type of record player is the best for me?
Direct-drive turntables are tailored to DJs who like to mix and spin. Since the motor is directly connected to the platter, it offers a much faster response time and playback speed — almost immediate, in fact. These models are also generally more stable and reliable, and safer.
On the other hand, belt drive systems aren't so practical for spinning. Some audiophiles claim that this type of turntable reproduces the best sound possible. So if you intend on using it at home and enjoy the rituals that go with it, we definitely encourage you to go for a belt-drive record player.
What are the main components of a record player?
- The turntable: this is where you place your acetate disc. Located in the middle, a metal bar holds the vinyl in place as it rotates. It is usually covered in plastic or rubber to avoid damaging the disc. The most sophisticated models use aluminum plates, while the smaller ones are made of steel.
- The base: Made from wood, steel or plastic, this is the body of the record player. While it doesn't feature any technical component, it is essential to reduce or eliminate unwanted vibrations. Remember that vibrations are a record player's worst enemy.
- The stylus: Made from diamond or sapphire, this cone-shaped part directly rests on the vinyl. It is also linked to the tonearm by means of a flexible metal strip. The stylus can either be spherical or elliptical and should be changed every 1,000 to 2,500 hours of use.
- The tonearm: This part holds the stylus and, together with the cartridge, is responsible for reproducing the sound. The tonearm can either be straight or curved. The former is preferred by DJs because it facilitates scratching. The stylus captures vibrations that are then sent through the metal wires of the tonearm to reach the cartridge.
- The cartridge: This key element converts the vibrations produced by the stylus into electrical currents or signals to generate sound. Two main types are available: MM (moving magnet) and MC (moving coil). Most manufacturers prefer MM cartridges because they offer fantastic value for money. However, quality MC cartridges produce a superb sound — albeit at a higher cost.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of record players?
Now that we've discussed key information regarding these incredible devices, let's have a look at the most important criteria to keep in mind when making your purchase. Factors such as the material and the drive system will directly influence the overall quality of your record player. In the following section, we'll be detailing:
This aspect will directly impact the sound quality and the durability of your equipment. Be careful with these models because their materials are sometimes of very poor quality. The base should be made from a material that gives stability to the turntable.
The best platters are made of aluminum, while steel tonearms are great. The material will also give specific esthetics to the record player. Remember to examine every single one before discarding any. Some manufacturers such as Audio-Technica, for instance, use very good quality plastics. In addition, this factor influences the weight of the device.
As we mentioned earlier, this criterion is used to classify the different types of record players. It is of the utmost importance, as it determines how your model works. The potential internal or external vibrations that influence sound quality depend directly on the drive system.
You should choose depending on the type of use you'll make of your turntable. If you want to mix and scratch, the direct drive is your only option. If you go for a belt-drive record player, don't forget that this belt will need to be replaced from time to time. That being said, this is easy to do and quite affordable.
Having the very best record player won't be of any use if you have a bad stylus. This part is responsible for capturing the vibrations and sending them to the cartridge, and therefore truly influences the quality of the sound. The best styli are made from diamond — the hardest and most resistant material — and are the most frequently used today.
Elliptical styli offer the advantage of increasing the fidelity of sound since they are more in contact with the vinyl's grooves. On the other hand, spherical models provide less fidelity but are much more sensitive. Which one you should is ultimately your decision, but make sure you take good care of it.
Record players and vinyl have gone through a rebirth in recent years. Their sales in the United States have even reached record numbers. Nowadays, more and more artists prefer to release their new albums in this format. Nothing can make you feel more nostalgic than a good vinyl.
Getting your own record player isn't something you should take lightly. This equipment will need a big commitment on your part, and a good model is a fair investment. Keep in mind that you will not only need space to place your record player but also store your vinyl records. That being said, this is a fantastic hobby to have.
If you found our guide on record players useful and informative, feel free to share this article on your social media so others can also get started in the vinyl world. You can also leave us a comment with any questions you might have, and we'll be happy to answer them!
(Source of Featured Image: Viktor Gmyria: 43101232/ 123rf.com)