Your record player really should be the star of your system. The beating heart of your set up might be the amplifier, and the speakers are its face, but your source is why you built the system in the first place. It is dictated by how you want to consume music, and you’ll interact with no other component as much as you do a turntable.
That puts quite a bit of pressure on choosing the right one, however, and with so many variables and so much choice, it can help to have a hand to hold through the process. That’s what we’ll try to provide here.
We’ll talk you through how to budget and all the items you’ll need to consider, what your options are in terms of features, and how to set it up for the best possible sound.
So whether you’re in the market for a first record player, or you’re looking to upgrade from something that just isn’t doing it for you any more, read on for our complete guide to buying a turntable.
If you’ve done any sort of research before arriving at this page, you’ll likely have encountered a huge number of all-in-one, briefcase-style record players with enticingly low prices to match their basic straightforwardness. If this is what you’re after, then we’d ask you only to check the tracking weight of the cartridge – many of them can track at around 10g, which is four or five times heavier than ideal and more than capable of ripping your vinyl to shreds.
All the ones we’ve heard sound poor, too, but the point here is that unless you’ve really set your heart on an all-in-one vinyl system, then your turntable budget will also have to stretch to at least a speaker of some sort (and maybe some stands).
If you’re starting from scratch and want a traditional set-up, you’ also need an amplifier, speaker cables and interconnects, and – unless there’s one built in to either your turntable or amplifier – a phono stage.
And, of all this kit, the record player itself shouldn’t really be much more than a quarter of your overall budget. Your system is still going to work even if you have a deck that the speakers and amp can’t justify, but it’s going to be severely hampered; there’s no point overspending on one component when you could have better spent the cash on another.
There are many variations of this traditional set-up that can sound great with fewer components, too, of course. As we say above, a phono stage is often built in to turntables and amplifiers – in which case you can worry about a separate one when you want to upgrade later on. Or you could strip things back to only a turntable and a pair of active speakers (and no cables if they’re both capable of playing wirelessly).
Even if you already have the rest of your system, and you have a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket, it’s worth thinking about how a more expensive turntable would complement what you have.
Is it going to be hamstrung by your amp or cabling – in which case you’ll need funds for another upgrade elsewhere – or are you in fact not spending enough to hear a huge difference over the record player you already have? You can always save up for another few months, or make some less costly changes that can upgrade your sound more than you’d think.
Your local hi-fi shop can of course help you with the specifics of the equipment you have and your personal needs, but the key is to remember your budget for any audio component is rarely just all the money at your disposal – think about the whole system.
Setting an early budget will at least pare down your list of turntables for which you’ll want to read the reviews and, ideally, hear for yourself. The other thing that will help this trimming of the shortlist is to make a list of the features you desire in your new deck.
An easy one, to begin with, is how many speeds you need it to spin at. Every turntable we test can play at both 33â…“rpm and 45pm, but 78rpm is rare in budget to midrange decks. Only the most wilful artists and labels are likely to release any 78rpm discs these days – even the few 10-inch records released are unlikely to go at that speed – but it might be imperative if you have an old collection or are thinking of spending a fortune on Discogs for old rarities.
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