In this post I’ll talk briefly on things to consider when buying a turntable. You want to think through these issues before running out and making a purchase. I was sort of shocked the other day when I read an article that said almost 50% of the people buying vinyl records today do not even own a turntable. Some new collectors enjoy the feeling of owning and holding a physical product in their hands as opposed to a digital download but, not having a means to listen to the actual product left me baffled.
I suppose one reason is that they have not got around to buying a turntable yet or just haven’t settled in on a particular product yet but, 50% sounds like a high figure to me and I’m not sure I understand why.
In this post I want to list some things to consider in your search for a turntable since to a beginner this can be a bit daunting. I’m not going to delve into any particular turntable model reviews in this post, just lay out some groundwork for things to consider before you buy. I’ll review some equipment in a future post.
Expense or How Much Is This Going To Cost Me?
I suppose the first factor to consider would be money. How much do you have and how much are you willing to invest. As in most other purchases the old adage of “you get what you pay for” holds true in buying a turntable.
The turntable is the most important component of a system as far as protecting your records is concerned. A cheap turntable with basic tone arm and cartridge can damage your records so you definitely do not want to “cheap out” when it comes to your turntable. The amplifier is not as important as the turntable so you can get by on a temporary basis with an inexpensive amplifier.
Speakers are important as far as sound quality goes but you can get by with a lesser sound quality for a while until you can afford your dream system. And you can also use headphones until you are able to get speakers.
But, amplifiers and speakers will not ruin your vinyl records so figure on a good percentage of your stereo budget should be invested in your turntable. I’ve seen some articles about turntables where the writer will recommend 50%-60% of your system cost on the turntable but that figure is really relative to how much your budget is.
A $200 budget would only allow $100 for a turntable so that is not enough. If your budget for a stereo is only $200 then wait and save more money. I would figure a minimum of around $200-$300 for a decent turntable that
will not damage your records. Note, I used the word “decent’ which is not necessarily ideal. But, more on that when I post some system reviews.
As a quick side note, you can get by without an amplifier if you want to go with powered speakers. This means that the amplifier is in each speaker. There are a couple drawbacks to this one being the cost of the speaker will be substantially higher but if space is an issue that’s a decent trade off. I’m old school and always have been when buying equipment. I prefer individual components as opposed to the “all-in-one” products thinking of something breaks down I can replace just the part that broke and not the whole system. But that’s just me and that is not an issue for everyone.
What Do You Want?-Will It Fit?
Actually this item should probably be placed above expense or budget in order of importance. Perhaps you only need a turntable and plan to use strictly headphones to listen with. How much room you have will also determine what direction to go. Are you going to be confined to a small bedroom, live in a small apartment or do you have a good size room you can dedicate to your “music room”?
I grew up in the 60s and was out on my own by 1969. Back then it seemed everyone had a stereo system in their living room. It was sort of a status symbol. I remember huge speakers it the corners of the living room of all of my friends homes or apartments. Some speakers were perhaps three feet tall and 18 inches wide. Some even bigger! We went hog wild with our stereos back then.
You also need to consider record storage. If you have very many records at all you already know they can take up quite a bit of space. So considering your space and wants is a big factor. You may only have room for a turntable, receiver and some bookshelf speakers and that is fine as there are tons of options. In THIS post I go over a few and in a later post I will show you more.
Should I Buy New Or Used?
If you are budget minded you can also consider purchasing a used system. You can pick up used equipment at thrift stores reasonable but condition would be an issue. Personally if I was on a tight budget I would consider purchasing a new turntable since that it the most critical component. You can usually find used amplifiers/receivers that are workable in thrift stores that will suffice. Buying speakers from a thrift store would be a bit of a crap shoot but you can find something to get you by.
The only way I’d buy a used turntable would be from a friend or at least someone local where you can actually go to their house and check it out in person. But then again if you are so inclined you can pick up anything from a thrift store and make repairs/replace parts on your own but most turntables I have run across in a thrift store I would avoid like the plaguef.
If you do buy a used turntable from a thrift or specialty shop I would recommend replacing the cartridge. Attempting to use a worn out/damages cartridge and stylus will damage your records.
Craigslist or eBay are another option for buying used components but, your mileage may vary as far as finding something decent.
How Technical Are You?-Can I Hook This All Up?
There are a few technical issues to consider as well. Are you technically inclined? Hooking up a turntable, amp, speakers and adjusting your tone arm properly need to be considered. In a future post I plan on outlining some basic hookup instructions so check back for those or you can always google “how to” or find some YouTube video instructions.
Automatic, Semi-Automatic or Manual Turntable? Fully automatic will do everything at the push of a button. The record starts to spin, then the tonearm moves into place, plays the record, returns the tonearm and shuts off the turntable when the record completes. The only problem with this option is that it adds more parts and more noise to the process. With a semi automatic turntable you will set the tonearm onto the record using the cuing lever and once the record completes the tonearm will return to it’s resting place on it’s own. With a manual turntable you lift the tonearm onto the record to begin the playback and when finished you must also lift the tonearm off the record and return it to it’s resting place yourself. Pure audiophiles prefer manual operation. So, if you fall asleep when the record is playing the stylus will stay on the spinning record until you wake up and shut it off. Here is a short video showing a fully automatic turntable in operation.
Belt drive or direct drive? There are pros and cons to both but mostly it will be a cost factor. Some audiophile purists will say belt drive to reduce noise and vibration and others will say direct drive for consistent speed.
So as you can see, there are several things to think about before investing in a turntable and stereo system. If you are not yet a vinyl collector you may want to read a previous post here that covers starting a record collection.
As I stated earlier I will go over some specific turntables in a future post so we’ll get a little more technical at that time.
I would appreciate your comments and thoughts on this post if you have any questions or suggestions.