After CD players took the world by storm, record players flirted with extinction. Now they're hip again. Go figure.
Below you'll find advice on how to choose the best turntable for your situation. To learn more, read our complete buying guide.
In a belt-drive turntable, an elastic belt is stretched between the motor and the bearing that supports the platter. Because the motor is isolated from the platter, there's less chance of motor noise being picked up by the cartridge.
In a direct-drive model, the bearing is integrated into the motor. Direct-drive turntable are used by DJs because you can move a record backwards and forward without risking damage to a belt or motor.
With a fully automatic turntable, you push a button and walk away. The tonearm moves into position and softly drops the stylus onto the leading edge of the record. When the last song is over, the tonearm lifts itself up and returns to its resting position.
With a semi-automatic model, you get things started by manually lowering the tonearm. When the record is done, the turntable picks up the tonearm and shuts off the motor. You don't have to worry about the stylus bumping up against “dead wax” over and over again.
With a manual model, you must drop the tonearm at the beginning of the record and lift it off at the end. If you believe simple is good because there's less to go wrong, then a manual turntable is for you.
This spec tells you how accurately the turntable spins the platter. In the extreme, it can be heard as an audible wavering effect. A lower number is better, ideally below 0.25%.
How does a turntable liberate the music carved into the grooves of your vinyl records?
It starts by spinning your record at a constant speed. Lay the needle in the groove and the stylus traces the record's wavy line.
As the stylus moves, the phono cartridge it's attached to produces a voltage. Your receiver or amplifier recognizes that voltage as a music signal, and the magic begins.
There's a motor that spins the platter upon which the record sits. And there's a tonearm that holds the cartridge and stylus steady as the record rotates underneath it.
That's the general idea. To understand the finer points and learn how to choose a record player, read our buying guide.
A phono preamp is a necessary link in the signal chain that starts with the stylus and ends at your speakers or headphones. You'll find phono preamps built into many receivers and some turntables. Vinyl fanatics love outboard phono preamps. Confused? Read our article on how to connect a turntable.
A turntable cartridge, also known as a phono cartridge, is the small shell from which the needle (aka stylus) protrudes. Inside the shell sits the mechanism that converts the needle's vibrations into an electrical signal.
Moving-magnet cartridges are the most common type and are compatible with any phono preamp. Moving-coil cartridges have less moving mass, which allows the stylus to track record grooves with greater accuracy. MC cartridges with high output voltage are compatible with any phono preamp. MC cartridges with low output voltage require a phono preamp that has a moving-coil setting.
To learn more, read our phono cartridge buying guide.
Want a simple, space-saving way to play your records? All you need is a turntable and a pair of high-quality powered speakers. These speakers have a phono preamp built in. You can use other power speakers if your turntable has a phono preamp, or if you use a separate phono preamp.