Turntables

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A turntable guarantees a unique listening experience, whether it’s the ritual of sliding an album out of its sleeve and placing it on the platter, or the beautifully warm analogue audio that only vinyl can provide. The final sound quality is influenced by many factors, including the quality of the vinyl record itself, the turntable's drive, cartridge, preamp (MM/MC), stylus accuracy, and the platter’s tuning. See below for more information on turntable parameters and components.

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Types

  • Hi-Fi - feature a simple clean design to fit any shelf. Tend to offer high-quality output and allow you to change the tonearm to match your preferences.
  • Universal/portable - all-in-one devices with a built-in amplifier and speakers that can generate audio output directly and usually have an analogue output equipped with a preamp. This type often contains a variety of additional features, such as FM radio, alarm clock, and a carry case for easy portability.
  • DJ - special DJ turntables, designed for heavy use and scratching. The core of the device is a direct drive motor with powerful torque.
Hi-Fi turntable universal gramophone DJ Turntable
Hi-Fi Universal DJ

Control

  • Manual - you start and end the playback manually. The turntable does not turn off after reaching the end of the vinyl record and keeps running until you turn it off yourself. You can find this system in expensive Hi-Fi devices designed for true audiophiles.
  • Semiautomatic - after reaching the end of the record the turntable shuts down or raises the tonearm; some device have the tonearm return to the initial position.
  • Automatic - after placing the record just press the Play button and the turntable will take care of everything else. Some devices also have the "replay" function to automatically replay the entire side of the record.

Preamp

Turntables generally use MM (Moving Magnet) or the more complex and expensive MC (Moving Coil) cartridges to capture sound from the groove. The preamp (can be located in the amplifier or standalone) must always match the cartridge. Some preamps work with both cartridge types (they have a combined MM/MC Phono input). Turntables with a piezoelectric cartridge have a built-in preamp.

An amplifier with equalizer for portable MM and MC An amplifier with equalizer for portable MM Amplifier without a preamplifier gramophone
Amplifier with MM/MC Phono input Amplifier with MM Phono input Amplifier without Phono input

Turntable analogue output

  • With preamp - can be connected to any amplifier, AV receiver, or active speakers (line input).
  • With or without preamp - allows you to use an external preamp or the one built into the turntable (can also be solved by using a switch or two separate outputs).
  • Without preamp - common in audiophile models, which are designed to be used with high-end stereo amps/receivers with a built-in preamp, or with standalone preamps of the highest quality.

Cartridge

The cartridge is one of the most important turntable components and its quality directly affects the final audio you get. When choosing a different cartridge, make sure to observe the weight and pressure limits as specified for a particular tonearm.

  • Piezoelectric cartridge (ceramic/crystal) - most commonly used in all-in-one and cheap turntables. Compared to the MM/MC, they provide a lower audio quality (their frequency range is about 50 - 10 000 Hz) and require up to 3 times higher stylus pressure, which wears down vinyl record plates. Sometimes these cartridges are also firmly affixed to the tonearm, which means a worn cartridge cannot be exchanged.
  • Electromagnetic (MM/MC) - MM (moving magnet) is the most common and offers excellent audio for a great price. The MC (moving coil) variant is designed for true audiophiles, as the quality increase is practically unnoticeable without a top-notch preamp and an appropriately high-end Hi-Fi system.
Piezo pickup Portable type MM Portable type MC
Piezoelectric cartridge MM cartridge MC cartridge

Drive

  • Belt-drive - used in turntables designed for home use, both in cheaper and high-end models. The drive type itself is a poor predictor for the final audio quality; the overall design and component quality of the device matters considerably more.
  • Direct-drive - used in DJ turntables, where it's the only practical drive solution. You can also find it in some turntables designed for home use.

Most common platter speeds and formats

If your turntable supports 78 RPM platter speed, it doesn’t mean you can play records at 33/45 and 78 RPM without any additional steps. In most cases, you must purchase and install a special cartridge or at least replace the stylus (vinyls designed for 33/45 and 78 RPM speeds have different groove widths).

Platter diameter Speed Type
12" (30 cm) 33.3 RPM 45 min LP (long-playing record)
45 RPM 12" single, maxi single
10" (25 cm) 33.3 RPM LP (long-playing record)
78 RPM 3 min plate (requires special stylus)
7" (17.5 cm) 45 RPM Single
45 RPM Extended single (EP - extended play)

Additional features

  • USB and SD card slot - allow you to connect your turntable to a PC, connect flash drives, and digitise your vinyl records. Some devices also support MP3 playback.
  • FM tuner - great if you want to listen to your favourite radio stations.
  • CD/tape deck - for playing audio cassettes, classic Audio CDs, or even MP3 CDs.

 

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