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Vinyl is coming back in a big way.

Record sales in the first half of 2015 grew by 52%, putting the industry on course for its best year since 1994. And vinyl sales in the US are now worth more than the free music services The End of Free Music: Should Spotify Make Everyone Pay? The End of Free Music: Should Spotify Make Everyone Pay? Apple is trying for another revolution with the rumored launch of Apple Music, a music streaming service. But along the way, Apple might be trying to kill existing free music streaming services. Boo! Hiss! Read More from Spotify, YouTube, and Vevo combined.

Meanwhile, the argument rages on about whether vinyl is superior 4 Reasons Why Vinyl Is Better Than Digital 4 Reasons Why Vinyl Is Better Than Digital Greetings, peasants! What, still listening to MP3s? Look, as someone who knows more about music than you, I think it's my duty to tell you there's a better way. It's called vinyl. Read More to digital, or not Forget Vinyl: 4 Reasons Digital Is Superior Forget Vinyl: 4 Reasons Digital Is Superior Vinyl is overrated. Fact. Digital is clearly superior for many reasons, some of which we lay out below for your reading pleasure. Feel free to disagree, even if doing so makes you a massive hipster. Read More .

turntable

If you’re ready to join the new listening revolution, you’ll need to buy a turntable. But where do you start? There’s an almost unlimited number of products to choose from, with prices ranging from the tens of dollars to the thousands.

Here’s what you need to know about buying a record player.

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1. You Get What You Pay For

Most budget turntables are retro-styled players in plastic casing with their own built-in speakers. It’s everything you need to give vinyl a try, or to give your parents’ old record collection a listen. But if you’re looking for the warmer, richer sound that vinyl fans eulogize, then you’ll need to spend more.

Pushing your budget up to the next level will give you noticeable improvements. But this is also where it gets complicated.

audio technica

As you move up to the mid range and beyond, the price grows exponentially. Most mid-range turntables don’t have their own speaker so you’ll need to supply your own. You might also need to supply your own phono preamp since most players won’t be powerful enough to drive the speakers without one.

Suddenly, you’re budgeting for a whole lot more than just a record player. And when you get to the high end, you virtually have to configure the whole machine yourself to get the best out of it — for example, adding your own platters, tonearms, and other components. (We’ll get to these later.)

In short, you get what you pay for. It’s a good idea to pay beyond the bare minimum, leaving you with room to grow, but it’s definitely easy to end up spending more than you wanted to, so be careful.

2. Manual vs. Automatic

When buying a turntable, you have the choice between manual and automatic (or sometimes semi-automatic).

manual

This refers to the method used to place the needle on, and remove it from, the record. On an automatic system, it happens at the push of a button. On a manual system, you need to lift the arm and place it on the record yourself. On a semi-automatic table, you place the needle manually but it is lifted off at the end.

Most mid to high end turntables are manual. It’s not really a big deal either way — if you don’t have a steady hand, you could end up scratching the record, but you’ll liekly pick up the technique quickly and it isn’t all that difficult.

3. Differences In Rotational Speeds

Most records play at one of two different speeds, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). Seven-inch records, called singles, play at 45 RPM while 12-inch records, called albums and EPs, play at 33 RPM. Both speeds are supported by every turntable.

Some turntables are classified as three-speed and support a third speed of 78 RPM. These are for older ten-inch records which have wider grooves, so you may still need to replace your stylus to play them. But unless you’re planning to collect records manufactured before the mid-1950s, you don’t need to worry about 78 RPM.

33rpm

However, because record players are analogue systems, you’re not guaranteed the same precision that you’d expect from a digital device.

Just because a player is set to 33 RPM doesn’t mean the record will revolve exactly 33 times per minute. There are numerous factors that can affect the speed, with the result that some players may be slightly slower, and some may even be slower when the needle is on the outer edge of the record and speed up as it gets closer to the center.

platterspeed

Fortunately, Platterspeed.com has apps for iOS and Android that measure the performance of a turntable. We recommend using these to see the exact speeds of whichever player you end up with.

4. It Matters Where You Put It

One issue you might overlook is where you are going to put the record player itself. It sounds trivial, but there’s more to it than simply clearing a place on a shelf.

Turntables are uniquely vulnerable to vibration. The vibrations caused when the needle travels through the grooves in a record are literally what creates sound. External vibrations, therefore, will also be turned into sound, usually in the form of a hum. Excessive vibration can even cause the needle to jump and skip.

turntable shelves

You need to place the turntable on a sturdy surface away from any potential interference. If you still have problems, you can pick up an isolation system or a specially designed turntable shelf that dampens vibration.

Vibrations can also be self-imposed, often through the use of lightweight components. For this reason, you’ll want to consider how upgradeable a turntable is before you buy it.

5. How Upgradeable Are the Parts?

How upgradeable a system is generally depends on the price bracket of the player. Entry-level systems are intended to be ready to go right out of the box, while higher-end models are expected to be expanded with additional components.

That being said, there are always a few parts that can changed, though some are easier than others.

Platter

The platter is the spinning plate that the record sits on. As a general rule, a heavier platter is better because it reduces vibration. Additional dampening is possible with a platter mat.

Tonearm

The tonearm is the part that swings across the record, enabling the needle to make contact with the disc. The quality of the tonearm can have a big impact on the accuracy and consistency with which the record rotates.

needle

Stylus

Also known as the needle, the stylus is the easiest part to upgrade and the most worthwhile. The stylus makes direct contact with the grooves on a record and is responsible for the accuracy and detail of sound reproduction. A stylus will also wear out over time and should be replaced every 1,000 hours or so.

Other Effective Upgrades

Virtually every other component on a record player can be upgraded for a newer, better model with varying results. A popular — and very simple — upgrade is to add isolation feet underneath the base of the turntable. These will serve to reduce vibration and can be as cheap as a few dollars.

6. Digitizing Your Analog Records

Finally, you should look at whether you want a fully analog player with a completely separate digital music collection, or if you want a turntable with a built-in USB port that you can use to digitize your vinyl collection Classic Recording Program Audacity Gets 2.0 Update [Updates] Classic Recording Program Audacity Gets 2.0 Update [Updates] Read More . With a USB port, you can record the playback to MP3 in real-time, crackles and all.

Most new vinyl records come with a download card that contains a code to download an MP3 version of the album. Amazon’s AutoRip feature Secrets Of The Amazon: 7 Useful Amazon Tips & Tricks Secrets Of The Amazon: 7 Useful Amazon Tips & Tricks Amazon is, without a doubt, one of the best and most popular places to shop online. It’s got there due to awesome features like Amazon Prime, Super Saver Shipping, the Wish List browser extension, the... Read More also automatically gives you an MP3 version of records you buy.

Vinyl Is Coming Back

Now is the perfect time to get into vinyl. Most new albums are released in the format, and you can pick up classics at rock-bottom prices at your local record store or on Ebay.

records

If you pair your turntable with the best headphones 10 Terms You Should Know to Identify the Best Headphones 10 Terms You Should Know to Identify the Best Headphones In this guide we'll cut through the jargon and show you what the key headphone specifications actually mean, and why — or if — they matter. Read More or a great speaker system, you’ll get far better sound quality than you get from any digital format — and you won’t need to give up your digital collection either.

What are you waiting for?

Tell us all about your experiences with vinyl. Why did you get into it, and what gear do you use? Or if you don’t, what is your favourite music format? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credits: Turntable via Bygone, Audio Technica via eu.audio-technica.com, Manual via Anders Printz, 33rpm via Michelle Hawkins-Thiel, Needle via Michelle Hawkins-Thiel, Records via Marc Wathieu

  1. Mey-rin
    June 9, 2016 at 5:40 am

    I'm 15, and definitely clueless to anything to do with vinyls, records, ect.. Which is strange considering I could pick up any new device and know how to operate it almost instantly. I guess that's what happens when you're born in the 2000's.

    I'm thinking about purchasing a cheap turntable, to play records on. If I end up messing up somewhere, I'll be able to catch my mistake, and not lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

    All this speed stuff, needles, ect, are all really confusing though, I must admit. I should probably stick with my phone, playing Pandora or simply listening to music on YouTube.. But I really do want to help bring back 60's-esque stuff. And besides, I think my mom would be happy to have a record player again. Hers got stolen when I was young, she told me she had a bunch of rare vinyls, and some even signed. Her favorites were limited edition Frank Sinatra ones.

    • Rob
      October 30, 2016 at 6:04 am

      Hey and congrats!!!
      Never too young or old to get into vinyl.!!
      I'm 50 and in the 70's and 80's that (and cassettes) was what we loved. Then the "promise" of digital music arrived with CD's, then mp3's, streaming music, etc. i went theough the whole deal and gave all my records away 20 years ago and have spent thousands and the last 2 years getting the ones back i liked. Came full circle back to vinyl.
      I consider myself pretty texh "hip" and digitize my own music even.... Still like CD's for their clarity and the conveniemce of MP3 is nice and even better, FLAC, on a small music player in my pocket.....however; if you have space in your home, a set of good speakers, an amp (i'm
      Partial to the heavy silver 70's receivers and amps) and a decent TT and stylis, NOTHING beats the warm, full analog sound of a record at the end of the day or at a party where people feel a connection to the music pulling it off the shelf, admiring the artwork, cleaning and dropping the needle in the groove. Scratches and all. It gives it a "depth" straight sterile digital just doesnt have.
      Don't let the technicalities spook you, records are easy peasy to play and enjoy. Part of what people like about vinyl and its associated equipment is that it is NOT like an ipod where what you have is what you get (unless you Rockbix certain Sansa and early ipod players) wheras with vinyl you always get to tweak with things to always search for that better sound. Audiophiles love this aspect of vinyl and it can get expensive but you can always find used deals online.
      I found a Shure cartridge from 1970 at a thrift store a few weeks ago, put a new needle on it and it's absolute heaven to listen to. I played dark side of the moon side by side on CD (a decent 1980's Luxman CD player with a well regarded DAC chip) and vinyl at the same time at a decent volume and the CD was shut off in favor of the record by the end of the 1st song.
      Get into it!!!!!
      If you like music and have a little wire and some sense hooking things up, it makes for an engaging hobby that sounds great too....
      Good luck...

  2. mistahmarcs
    May 15, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    A turntable with a USB ... HOW TACKY .... WHY WOULD ANYIONE DO THAT? DIGITIZING YOUR ECORD COLLECTION is a BIG MISTAKE, unless you hava amazing analoguie to digital converters , whch no turntable is going to have , especially one of these horrible ION things,,,

    AND POPS AND CRACKLEs????? THAT IS NOT WHAT IS NICE ABOUT RECORDS!!!!! POPS AND CRACKLES COME WITH BADLY LOOKED ADFTER VINYL ... ,MY VINYL DOESNT HAVE POPS AND CRACKLES,,, THEY ARE ALL FIRST EDITIONS, NONE OF THESE RE ISSUE BUISINESS, AND MY EQUIPMENT IS SIMPLE BUT GOOD, CLEAR NATURAL AMPLIFIER , BASIC STUDIO MONITORS etc....

    WHAT A JOKE OF AN ARTICLE - pops and crackles,,,, hahaha

    • Rob
      October 30, 2016 at 6:06 am

      Have to disagree.
      I get AMAZING sounding rips from a technics SL-1600 through a Luxman R-117 and into my Mac via Audigy sound card and (free) Audacity recording program. Sounds BETTER than the store bought CD.

  3. Danny
    November 13, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Hucksters preying on hipsters. I'll stick with digital.

  4. Matthew
    November 12, 2015 at 12:41 am

    Some turntables require a "phono pre-amp" to amplify and response equalize the low signal from the cartridge, unless using with an amplifier that already has a "mag phono" input.

    Others have a built-in or selectable pre-amp.

    The complete pickup at the end of the tonearm is the cartridge, and is usually one of a few standard mounts (eg. P-mount), for some cartridges, there are alternative stylus types available, with different shapes having superior performance to the simple conical.

    PS. Speed checking (and setting on those with adjusters). If there is no built-in strobe checker, you can print a strobe disc - http://www.vinylengine.com/strobe-discs.shtml
    While they say use a tungsten light, that is not very satisfactory - it is much better with a non-electronic fluorescent, or with a LED bulb using a simple capacitive driver.

    Avoiding scratches on stylus put down and pick up is easier if the deck has a cueing lever - this allows the stylus to be lowered without touching.

    Also, it is a good idea to have either a tone arm lock to ensure the arm cannot be jolted free when not in use, or a stylus guard which can be flipped down to prevent the stylus making contact with anything.

    You may also need a centre adapter, if you come across 45's that have had the centre piece removed (jukebox ffitting).

  5. BC
    November 11, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Maybe I'm missing something but in the past the cartridges used in turntables required some very specific equalization in order to sound correct. That coupled with the fact that very few modern amplifiers provide the proper pre-amplification means that much more than a turntable is needed to play vinyl properly.

    And of course there is that old mantra: "Vinyl is better than digital only once - the first time it is played."

  6. hildyblog
    November 11, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    For people reading this post, you probably don't want to think about high end (or low end). This means that while it's true that speed may not be exact, you're stuck because mid-range turntables don't normally allow you to adjust it. Also you can forget about replacing platters and tonearms - you might consider that when you've got a few thousand invested in your system. And, FYI, high end gets really high - Stereophile's top rated turntable is $200,000.

    You can, however, replace the stylus cartridge, which is the entire box on the end of the tonearm, not just the needle. You might also invest $25 or so in a good force gauge to measure the weight of the stylus tip which should be adjustable on most mid-ranges. I'd recommend these as your first two upgrades.

    Assuming you want speakers, you need an integrated amplifier to drive them (integrated means it has a preamplifier and an amplifier in one box rather than separate as you'll find at the high end). For the speakers, you'll want two - vinyl doesn't do surround sound an subwoofers are designed to generate vibration which you don't want. Ideally, take some CDs you like to a B&M store that lets you listen to various speakers side by side.

    As far as recommendations, you might look at Wirecutter which recommended one at $250 and a step up at $450. http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-turntable/

    • User1
      November 13, 2015 at 6:18 am

      WOW thanks so much for posting! That looks like a perfect article from wirecutter.com. I have been beating around the bush about getting started in digitizing my vinyl. Was wondering how I was going to get started doing this and this article looks perfect, well written and someone I could follow. Haven't read the whole think, but I like that that seems to know what they're talking about! Also like that they have opinions on a good turntable for the masses.

      Like what you had to say here and much appreciated.

  7. Paul Parkinson
    November 11, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    I've owned a variety of turntables for about 30 years and whilst the main body of this article is excellent, the recommended App will need some explanation.

    You will need, as well as the App itself, a test record. Specifically a test record which will play 3150Hz tone - and these aren't terribly easy to find and they aren't terribly cheap - the one I found was £40!

    Unless you can borrow such a record, the App is a waste of bits for the average consumer.

    Also - how about a few turntable recommendations for the uninitiated?

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