A Beginner’s Guide To Buying Your First Record Player
Most audiophiles would agree that music always sounds better on vinyl, but they aren’t the only ones buying record players these days. Despite the advancements in digital technologies, these traditional devices are still very much in, and the diversity on the market has even increased throughout the last couple of years. Whether it is college students looking for affordable entertainment options, homeowners looking for a timeless piece of decoration, or professional DJs, record players are available for everyone.
If you are just venturing out to buy your first record player, this vast selection and the even greater range of prices may seem a little intimidating. Here is a comprehensive buying guide to help you find the record player that fits your needs and budget.
Types of Record Players
There is a wide variety of record players available on the market, with all of them serving different purposes. Below are the main types you may choose from, along with their main characteristics.
The belt drive in record players refers to the mechanism that turns the turntables platter. In this case, it is a thin rubber belt. To switch playback speed, you must adjust the band manually. Plus, rubber degrades rather quickly, which means that from time to time, you will need to replace the belt.
However, the general consensus is that belt-driven record players produce a higher quality sound because the rubber helps absorb the vibrations.
Unlike their belt-driven counterparts, direct-drive record players use a built-in engine to turn the platter. These motors last very long and are suitable for high performance, such as DJ-ing or mixing.
The direct drive also enables you to switch playback speed with the simple push of a button. Unfortunately, due to being machine-driven, these record players amplify the noise the platter is creating, resulting in very audible vibrations during playing.
Automatic, Semi-Automatic, and Manual
The tonearm of a record player can operate in three different ways; automatic, semi-automatic, and manual. With the automatic control, a built-in mechanism lifts and drops the tonearm whenever needed.
Semi-automatic devices have a lever that lowers the tonearm when the device is turned on but you still need to lift it manually. With a manual record player, both the lifting and the lowering have to be done by hand.
Digital and DJ
To keep up with the demand for digital technology, some record manufacturers have decided to equip their products with all the modern features their users need. USB inputs that help you archive your favorite records on your computer and Bluetooth connectivity that allows connecting your record player to speakers without any cables are just some of the features digitized devices have.
Many modern devices like this ANGELS HORN Vinyl Record Player also have a built-in phono preamp of their own that helps process sounds.
A specific subtype of modern record players includes devices meant for mixing and DJing. DJ record players are specifically designed to allow high-speed audio production due to their direct-driven turntables. They also often feature target lights, pitch shift, and special tonearm cartridges, all necessary for high-quality performance.
Record players suitable for home listening have a built-in preamplifier, which enhances the audio signal sent to the speakers. Some record players like this WOCKODER Retro Vinyl Turntable are equipped with a small stereo speaker of their own, so you can get lost in the sound of vinyl. They can simply create the perfect output levels in their own speakers.
The great thing about portable record players is that they allow you to tuck away all the characteristics of a turntable and carry them wherever you go. The devices like this Victrola Portable Suitcase Record Player are usually everything you need in a functional record player built in a suitcase.
While these players may struggle with creating the purest sound, they can be great for DJs. Combined with quality speakers, mixers, and amplifiers, portable record players can still enable the listener to enjoy the quality of the music.
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Factors To Consider When Buying a Record Player
While your final choice will be determined by your needs, it never hurts to know what to look for when shopping for a record player. Whether you have your eyes set on a specific make and model or not, these features can determine how your new record player will function.
Obviously, the first thing you want to pay attention to when considering record players is the sound quality they produce. Without a mechanism that allows your vinyl to come to life in its truest form, there is no reason to buy one in the first place.
Fortunately, there are many entry-level record players capable of delivering good quality audio. For beginners, it’s a good idea to look for a device that offers a tone that is warm and has a sense of depth.
There are also other ones that provide decent bass reproduction, which is perfect for riffs. Suitcase-style record players have less capacity to produce high-quality music on their own, but adequate amps can remedy that.
Nowadays, none of the record players are complicated to set up, there are some devices that are particularly fuss-free. What’s even more important, these are usually a lot less expensive as well.
Most of them will only require you to plug them in, and you will be ready to play your favorite vinyl. If you get an automatic direct drive model, you won’t have to worry too much about operating or maintaining your device either.
Even if you have already set your mind on a particular model that doesn’t have these features, this still doesn’t have to mean that you will have a hard time setting up. You just have to sit down, adjust a few things, and you will still be ready to enjoy your music in a matter of minutes.
You may even get to experience a more truthful sound, although you may have to adjust settings frequently and lift the tonearm manually.
If you are a DJ, you will need a reliable high-speed performance, which typically comes with direct drive record players. Make sure you opt for a good quality engine, as well because you will need it to be durable.
It’s a good idea to look for maximum speed adjustability that lets you manipulate the sound as you please. If you are buying the turntable for home use, you may want to consider exactly how you will use it.
Factors such as design and functionality play a huge part in your choice of a record player. You need to pick a model that matches your needs.
If you’re going to invest in a turntable, you want to buy a product that will last. Record players built to last are typically in the medium to high price range, but they are definitely worth their value. Typically, they are made from either real wood or metal and have minimal plastic components.
This ensures that the structure is solid and stays compact, despite the vibration. Another thing you want to look for quality-wise is an expensive cartridge that keeps your vinyl safe regardless of the number of times you play them.
Damping is the feature that helps the record player combat vibrations produced by the turning of the vinyl. Manufacturers use different damping techniques, and these may affect or be determined by other features as well.
For example, belt-driven players are already much better at absorbing the vibrations, so they won’t need too much damping. The manufacturers of direct drive turntables will need to employ more effective damping methods. Which one they use will also depend on the motor of the record player.
The RPM measures the speed at which the table turns, and it can be 33 ⅓, 45, or 78. In the early days, record players could play only at 78 rpm, as the records themselves were made this way.
Today, some turntables can play at all three speeds, while others can do only one. To play at 78 rpm, you need a very specific type of needle, which not all players have. If you have these types of vinyl in your collections, this is definitely something you want to look out for.
If you want to save on additional expenses, you must look for a record player with built-in preamps. While it may up the price of the device a little bit, it will still be less expensive than buying one that lets you connect with an external preamp, which you have to buy yourself.
In addition, if you have some great Bluetooth speakers at home, consider opting for a turntable with Bluetooth connectivity.
Amps and Phono Stage
Many record players have their own built-in switchable preamps, which enables toggling it on and off. This can be a great option if you can get away with using the internal amp, albeit this will not allow you to control the entire amplification process.
If you plan on using the turntable with a hi-fi audio system, these already have their own external preamps, which means you won’t have to get one that has a built-in amp. Depending on your budget, you may also opt for buying external preamps separately to gain more control over your sound quality.
A built-in phono stage allows standard song equalization and amplifies the signal coming from the deck. This feature lets you connect the player to your stereo, which provides a much more enjoyable sound vinyl experience. If the turntable you have chosen doesn’t have an internal phono stage, you will need to buy an amplifier or preamp that has it.
Last but not least, you will have to consider your budget as well. If you want to lose yourself in good quality vinyl sound at home, you may want to choose a vintage model with minimal yet classy features.
Technology enthusiasts may expect to pay little more for special additions, especially if the player is for DJing purposes. Products in the medium price range typically still offer great sound quality, plug, and connectivity.
If you have a shoestring budget, you can always opt for a simplistic design and amp it later with headphones or speakers. Having a small, charming vinyl player will still be classier than listening to digital tunes, but you still have to be careful with the price tag. Besides potentially ending up with a tinny sound, and due to the counterweight for the tonearm and undersized platters, they may even damage your records as well.
The best way to decide which record player to buy is to consider your needs. Even if you have an extensive budget, if you will use only the essential features of a record player, you probably don’t need one with complex additions.
On the other hand, you will have to remember that it takes time and effort to construct a quality product, and that comes with a steeper price. It’s a good idea to invest in a player that is in at least the medium price range, as they are more capable of delivering quality sound. This way, you can enjoy the most satisfying music experience and even share it with your friends and family for years to come.
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