What is the difference between a manual turntable and an automatic turntable?

Differences between a manual turntable and an automatic turntable

In recent years, the turntable industry has been making a huge comeback. Whether you are an expert audiophile or a curious young novice, choosing your turntable can be more difficult than you might think. Among a large range of models, two types of turntables are different: the manual turntable and the automatic turntable.

maPlatine.com is going to enlighten you about this subject, in order to allow you to make the best choice as possible according to your needs!

1. Overview

Manual and automatic vinyl turntables share a common characteristic: music. Of course, we do not teach anything about that. However, these two models do not work the same way. As their name indicate, one is used manually (i.e. “by hand”) and the other automatically (without any human intervention).

A turntable is a device composed of different elements. Each turntable has a tonearm, composed of a phono cartridge, in order to play your favorite records. The stylus (the tiny tip from the cartridge) softly moves on the record.

Sumiko Blue Point n°2 MC cartridge

For that, there are two different operations: manually grasp the tonearm and softly place it on the surface of the vinyl record (or with the tonearm lifter, for more safety), or let the device do it for you automatically. This is the main difference between a manual turntable and an automatic turntable.

To stop, same principle: on a manual, you delicately remove the tonearm with the tonearm lifter while on an automatic you switch the On/Off button.

Note that manual turntables are the most common ones on the market. Even today, they continue to seduce people and meet most of the current needs of music lovers. A lot of them see it as a “real” turntable.

2. Significantly different mechanisms

2.1. Manual vinyl turntable: advantages and disadvantages

A manual turntable requires several technical handlings, such as to lower the tonearm or watch the vinyl record as it comes to an end. Some people will see some very tedious tasks here. While others will see these handiworks as rituals as its own right that make the charm of turntables.

A manual vinyl turntable requires a certain delicacy in the execution of movements. Indeed, a too abrupt handling can damage the turntable, in particular the phono cartridge. Its mode of operation just requires a gentle handling and self-confidence in the execution of movements. Precaution is required!

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon 2M Blue SE turntable

Unlike the automatic turntable, the manual turntable has the advantage of avoiding technical issues related to mechanical wear. This allows it to have an estimated average lifespan of 10 years.

2.2. Automatic vinyl turntable: advantages and disadvantages

On the other hand, the automatic turntable has the advantage of minimizing the risk of mishandling the phono cartridge since it automatically places and removes itself once the listening is over. Everything is automated by the device. As you can see, this kind of turntable requires much less handling, damage and wear risks are lower.

Dual CS 455-1 turntable

However, the automatic turntable can potentially cause technical issues. Since the tonearm mechanism is automatic, there is a higher risk of mechanical issues and breakdowns than with a manual turntable. Regarding to its lifespan, it is about 5 years, which is less than that of manual turntables.

Finally, the tonearm of an automatic turntable is often of inferior quality compared to a manual vinyl record player. It represents a kind of hindrance in terms of upgrade possibilities, especially in the combination of Hi-Fi cartridges.

Whether your turntable is manual or automatic, there is one thing in common: whatever type you choose, it requires regular maintenance. Like replacing the cartridge from the very first wear signs, greasing and cleaning the bearing, or changing the belt every 5 years on average.

3. Manual or automatic: which side to choose?

3.1. Choose a manual turntable

As said previously, the manual turntable is kind of turntable which is very popular and common for its audiophile qualities.

This model has evolved a lot over the decades to end up today on sober and modern vinyl turntable with an accurate sound restitution. Many manual turntables are available on the analogue market, in a wide price range. Prices differ following the model, manufacturer and fineness of assembly.

According to your tastes in music, some turntable models will be more adapted than others. For example, the Rega Planar 3 turntable is a good choice if you are listening to rock music or similar kinds. Pro-Ject, the current leading manufacturer of turntables, also offers a wide range of versatile turntables in terms of music kinds.

Rega Planar 3 turntable

3.2. Choose an automatic turntable

Some people will tell you that an automatic turntable is rather dedicated to beginners, to an audience with little experience and knowledge about the history of vinyl.

Requiring less handling, it remains very easy to use. The automatic turntable is a wise choice for people with reduced mobility or who do not have complete trust in their movements. A model such as the Dual CS 460 turntable is a good option: it is fully automated, not expensive with a correct restitution regarding to its price.

Dual CS 460 turntable

Some manufacturers are specialized in the design of automatic turntables. Manufacturers such as Thorens or Dual are references in this category.

Just remember that each turntable, whether manual or automatic, corresponds to a very specific audiophile profile, according to each person's expectations and needs. There is some for every taste and budget!

If you still have not made your choice, there are also so-called "semi-automatic" turntables. These turntables combine the two previous models. Here, the tonearm lifts automatically and the turntable stops at the end of the record playback. However, you must replace the tonearm by yourself. The semi-automatic turntable can be a wise compromise!


We hope that these tips have helped you understand the differences between manual and automatic turntables. We remain at your disposal by phone (0 810 810 121) or by message to help you in your choice of turntable.