Beginner’s guide to record players
Everything you need to look out for to kickstart your crate-digging journey…
29 Mar 2021
So, you’ve been thinking about starting a record collection. If you’re passionate about music, owning that favourite album on wax is probably the most satisfying way to hear it. The warmth and crackle that’s naturally built into the format, and the added extras like exclusive artwork, hidden tracks and B-sides are just a few of the perks. Even the novelty of holding physical music in the digital age - after all, you can’t hold an MP3 file in your hands.
No doubt you’ve already got a few records on your wishlist, but do you know what kind of record player you’re looking for? There are tons of turntables out there to suit every budget and they all have different features worth keeping an eye out for. So, here’s what you should know…
Direct drive or belt drive?
Every record player works in one of two ways. In a direct drive turntable, the motor sits underneath the platter to directly rotate it. In belt drive turntables, the motor is offset with a rotating spindle. A rubber belt is then wrapped around both the side of the spindle and the platter to pull it along. So, how does that affect your listening experience?
Direct drive turntables start up faster and are less likely to skip if you accidentally knock the unit. That’s why they’re the only option if you’re planning to DJ with records. However, the vibrations from the motor can travel through the platter and cause a little distortion.
Belt drive record players are a little different. The belt absorbs most of the vibration to make the sound a bit clearer, but the offset motor means the speed of the platter may be a tiny bit more inconsistent than the direct option. While they’re incredibly easy to set up and make for awesome sound, they’re a much better choice for home listening than mixing tunes.
Automatic or manual?
This is more about the kind of listener you are. Do you switch from artist to artist, song to song, or do you like to dive into a full album beginning to end?
If the latter sounds like you, an automatic turntable is a solid choice. Just hit play and the tonearm will move the needle to the beginning of the record. It’ll also lift the needle and return it back to base once it’s reached the end –ideal if you like to drift off to jazz, or simply don’t want to manually lift the needle every time you’re finished listening.
Manual control means you’re fully in control, from placing the needle down onto the record to returning the tonearm. That’s great if you’re DJing or simply like to skip to certain tracks within an album.
All turntables that are used in DJing offer full manual control. If you’re not confident about lining up the needle at the right point, look out for a manual turntable with a pop-up light (or ‘cueing lamp’). With this, you can see between the grooves in the vinyl and find the perfect point to drop the needle.
Two-speed or three-speed?
Got any pre-1960s albums or EPs? Then you’ll want a three-speed turntable.
All modern records are either designed to play at 33 1/3 RPM or 45 RPM, and all record players and turntables cater for both speeds. However, up until the late 50s, many records were made to be played at a much faster 78 RPM. So, if you’re looking to dig out the classics in your collection and get reacquainted, you’ll need a record player that can play at all three speeds.
Many 7” singles that play at 45 RPM feature a wider circle cut-out in the centre of the vinyl, so they don’t hug the centre spindle. If your collection features this kind of record, you’ll need a 45 adapter. It’s a circular tool that’s placed over the spindle to keep that record firmly in place and prevent skipping. Plenty of turntables come with one right out of the box. Perfect!
Look out for a built-in pre-amp
This bit is important – what does your music centre look like? Do you have a hi-fi system or AV receiver with passive speakers attached, or do you just want to plug a record player straight into speakers and get listening?
If you’ve already got your hi-fi system sorted, you don’t need to be that fussy about built-in pre-amps – you’ll be able to listen clearly whichever type you go for. Or, if you plan on listening to CDs, radio and streamed music as well, a stereo receiver makes the perfect music hub. However, for a space-saving ‘plug-and-play’ setup, a pre-amp is essential. It’ll let you plug directly into the speakers without the need for a go-between.
Some record players have a Bluetooth transmitter built-in too, so you can connect to compatible speakers without wires. That’s great for music centres with limited space, but not the best option for sound quality. A wired connection will always be best for crisp audio but may not be for everyone, so be sure to plan your setup before taking the plunge.
Transfer music to mp3/download codes
Digitising your records. Sounds like a headache, right? In fact, it couldn’t be easier. Plenty of record players can help you convert your tunes to MP3 files and feed directly to your laptop. These record players come with a USB cable to plug into your PC and software, like Audacity, to help write the music as digital MP3 files. That’s especially useful if you’ve got a vinyl only release you want to hear in your playlist on the go.
Some LPs even feature a download code sticker on the outside cover. With this, you can head to the website, enter your unique code, and download the full album in MP3 format in one go. Easy.