How to choose the best turntable ?

How to choose the best turntable ?

10/7/2021

We don’t sell turntables yet, but how would you listen to our records without one? Today, we’ll try to lead you in the right direction to choose your future favourite object! So, how to choose the best turntable?

For starters, choosing a turntable lies ultimately in the way you intend to use it : do you want a turntable to mix records or to listen to them? Do you want the easiest way of setting it up or the best sound rendering?

Let’s begin by identifying the various specificities of turntables to help you make the best choice based on your project.

1. Manual turntables or automatic turntables ?

Automatic turntables will be particularly liked by beginners as they do not need any handling to be used. Handy, these turntables have a more fragile tonearm than manual turntables.

In other words, it’s the best turntable for novices who want it to be the simplest to handle.

However, it is necessary to differentiate the automatic ones from the plug and play.

An “automatic” turntable is a turntable whose tone arm is going to automatically rise at the end of the playing. Most of the time, it is also possible to put it at the beginning of the track, to put it back on its arm rest at the end of the track and even to turn the turntable off. It is not always the case as some turntables don’t always have all these options.

On the other hand, good quality automatic turntables require some adjustments nevertheless, such as the supporting force of the cell and the anti-skating for the simple reason that it is possible to change the cartridge. Automatic turntables were in fashion during the sixties/seventies, however, from a hi-fi standpoint, they are greatly out-of-fashion : all the electronics built in create interference affecting the sound rendering.

If you want to caricature, the easier, the better !

A plug-and-play turntable isn’t necessarily automatic, but all the adjustments are as-shipped and the user has nothing to do. This is ideal for beginners and people less cautious (such as Pro-Ject T1). We can change the stylus to move upmarket but we can’t really completely change the cell. We are restricted by the factory settings.

Manual turntables will need you to make settings by yourself to use them. They are really popular with audiophiles who can adjust the settings based on their material and their wishes.

In plain language : for people who wish to adjust all the settings of their turntables, it is the best. It isn’t very complicated but it requires you to know the basics of operating a turntable (a bit more than if you own an automatic turntable with fairly standard settings).

2. With or without a preamplifier on a turntable ?

For your information : turntables naturally generate only a very low-intensity electrical signal called “phono signal”. This widely used signal used nowadays is the “line signal”.

Before, turntables plugged themselves to an amp through a phono input. Although this input has mostly vanished during the 2000s with the rise of CDs and the collapse of vinyl records, a lot of integrated amplifiers nowadays have a phono input. We are talking about Hi-Fi amplifiers. Indeed, low-cost Hi-FI systems are less often equipped with a phono input… With the revival of records for a decade, almost all manufacturers got back to offering devices with phono preamplifiers.

Turntables with a preamplifier are ready-to-use and can easily be incorporated in almost any setup. The preamplifier is integrated to the turntable and it is a “line signal” that is emitted. You can plug it on an amplifier on which you plug your speakers.

However, most recent turntables do not have a pre-amplifier. Indeed, past a certain price (around $580), turntables remove as much electronics as possible including the famous phono preamplifier. The purpose of it is to make you buy a more qualitative one. In addition, phono preamplifiers incorporated to the turntables are, for the vast majority, only adapted for MM cells. They are therefore unnecessary for MC cells which are often of a better quality.

To sum up : it is the best turntable for those wanting easy-to-use turntables, sometimes at the expense of quality !

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On the contrary, turntables without preamplifiers are to be plugged to an amplifier. You then need a preamplifier. It is said that this option gives a better sound. It is true. From a certain price, an external preamplifier will probably be more qualitative than the one incorporated to a turntable. We will have better signal processing, a better mass outlet, a more precise sound and so on. It will also be adjustable and will fit the cell to the best of its capacity.

In other words : it is the best turntable for those wanting a better sound rendering. But it requires you to invest or to own an amplifier equipped with a phono input.

For your information : some turntables come equipped with a preamplifier, but they give us the option to choose whether we want the signal to be “line” or “phono” using a switch to activate. It's a very good compromise.

3. Only the turntable or an all-in-one turntable ?

For your information : the word turntable refers literally to the device responsible for playing the records, devices that may prove to be complex despite their apparent simplicity. Used by itself, a turntable is of no use, however, and will not be able to produce any sounds.

Only the turntable : a turntable must indeed include an amplifier and a pair of speakers at the very least. As for all configurations with separate elements, such a configuration lets you choose the best suited elements and to set up a tailor-made sound installation. These are the main advantages of a single turntable.

In other words : you make the choice of quality ! It requires more effort, but it is important to choose your amplifier and your speaker based on your own needs to have the installation which better suits the usage you want to have.

All-in-one turntables : however there are all-in-one turntables, including in one single device an amplifier and a pair of speakers ! These devices, often small, let you enjoy right away and very simply the musical charm of vinyl records while enjoying their small size. However, you can’t expect it to have the same sound rendering.

As for us, we don’t really recommend it : turntables with built-in speakers are disastrous for playing a record. The stylus which is highly sensitive to vibrations will be completely shaken up ! (in fact, for the same reasons, you should never put your turntable on the same piece of furniture as your speakers). The low frequencies will be disastrous for the reading of the groove !

On the other hand, there are turntables that incorporate an amplifier, a preamplifier, a Bluetooth receiver, a connection to plug an auxiliary jack and a speaker output to plug external speakers. For instance, this is the case of the Jukebox by Pro-Ject.
In other words : this is the small version if not squeezed ! So yes, it is easy to use, but the sound rendering will be very different. These speakers will suit those wishing to buy as little material as possible.

4. The emerging tendencies in the turntable industry

Bluetooth turntables

Newly arrived on the market, they seem to slowly appeal to some enthusiasts. The idea is simple : the turntable is linked to speakers via Bluetooth.

On paper, the idea is awesome : no more cable, amplifier, speakers… The turntable is stripped back to the essentials and modernises itself. Bluetooth, as all digital formats, requires making a sample of the sound. In short, we cut information away, that way not all the music is recreated.
For purists, the concept doesn’t sit well with them : ”may as well listen to music on YouTube with cheap speakers.”

Choosing a Bluetooth turntable, it’s to choose the best one if you are looking for practicality. However, the unique sound offered by a record playing will not come up to the mark. We are not speaking here about crackles (which let’s not forget are not natural on a record and are caused by dirt or scratches) but about the nuances of the sound from a record made by respecting the analogue process.

USB turntables

Those turntables will let you convert your analogue tracks into a digital format. Bear in mind that digitising a record can cause it to lose its “warmth” which comes from being transcribed, which is the prerogative of the analogue format. The downside is that when we perform a selection, we “cut away” a lot of parts to compress the record…
In other words, you digitise your records to save your favourite tracks on your computer.

Using them is pretty simple, but the sound they produce may be less optimal. That being said, some manufacturers offer quality USB turntables, a subject we may talk about in another article ?

Mixing turntables

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We spoke about them all along the article, but let’s get back to DJ decks. They let you play vinyl records to mix, meaning that you can go from one song to the other in a fluid and natural way.
It offers several features specific to DJs :

  • Being able to play songs in both ways with the “Reverse” feature
  • A high torque, equal or greater to 1,5 kgf/cm, letting you resume the song to a normal speed after a scratch
  • A switch to move from a 33 rmp to a 45 rpm or even to a 78 rpm
  • Legs which protect you from the vibrations
  • A cell and a stylus suitable for mixing

But above all : a pitch fader.
What is it ? It’s a switch which allows you to adjust the speed of the turntable to play two songs : by changing the speed, you can slow down or increase the reading speed. That way, you can play two songs which do not have the same tempo together.

With all this information, we hope to have helped you in choosing the best turntable suited to your needs ! Stick around, an article about a selection of turntables for every budget is coming !