Your very first turntable!

Your very first turntable

Browse maPlatine.com's tips on how to choose your first turntable.

Are you a young (or maybe not so young) novice? You're looking to buy a turntable for the first time and, like many others, you're feeling a bit confused? Here's a guide with a few tips to help you along your first turntable purchase journey. We'll tell you which turntable to opt for depending on your requirements and budget. Which accessories you'll need among Hi-Fi cartridges, phono preamps, cables… We'll try to give you the most comprehensive information here to help you out.

1. A turntable: what for?

2. Choosing the right turntable

     A. Direct drive or belt-driven turntable?

     B. Automatic, semi-automatic or manual turntable?

3. I've now got my turntable. What else do I need to be able to use it?

     A. Essentials

     B. Care

     C. Setup tools

 

 

1. A turntable: what for?

With the return of vinyl records on the scene and decline of the all-digital, many artists are re-releasing their albums on record. Analogue technology is also far superior to digital sources in terms of musicality. If you want to listen to your favourite bands in ideal conditions, i.e. on record, you'll need a turntable!

 

 

2. Choosing the right turntable

 

 

A. Direct drive or belt-driven turntable?

   - Direct drive:

Direct drive turntables are primarily used by DJs and radio stations. The motor is directly associated with the platter spindle, allowing immediate stops or start-ups and naturally for certain mixing techniques used by DJs (e.g. scratching).

 

   - Belt-driven:

On this type of turntable, the motor is not connected to the platter spindle, it is attached or suspended to the turntable, and sometimes even external to it and rotates the platter (on which you place your record) via a belt. This fairly simple principle is nonetheless the most advanced musically and technically speaking, and the most suited for hi-fi sound quality at home.

 

Pro-Jecy RPM 1.3 turntable

 

 

B. Automatic, semi-automatic or manual turntable?

   - Automatic turntables:

With an automatic turntable, all you need to do is select the format (33 rpm/45 rpm/78 rpm) with the selector and press the 'On' button. The tonearm will automatically move to the start position on the record. When the last track is finished, it will lift itself automatically and return to its home position, switching off the motor and therefore stopping the platter. Some manufacturers, including the famous brand Thorens, offer fully automatic turntables: TD 158 turntable; TD 170-1 turntable

 

 

Thorens TD 158 turntableThorens TD 170 turntable

   - Semi-automatic turntables:

This type of turntable is very similar to manual turntables, as they have 90% of parts in common. The only difference is that it has a mechanism that lifts the tonearm and stops the platter at the end of the record. You still have to return the tonearm manually to its home position. These turntables often have audiophile applications and are nowadays chiefly represented by Thorens (TD 295 MK IV turntable) and Pro-Ject (1-Xpression III Comfort turntable).

 

   - Manual turntables:

Manual turntables alone make for 98% of the hi-fi market. As you might have figured it out for yourself, there is no mechanism to move, lift the tonearm or stop the platter movement. All these operations must be performed manually and, because of their very simple mechanism, they are highly reliable. In recent years, they have been predominantly represented by Rega, Pro-Ject, Clearaudio, VPI

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable

   - USB turntables:

They are used to transfer your vinyl records to a digital format to be able to store them on digital media. These turntables are fitted with a phono preamp with a USB output. Using a special cable connected to your computer via this output and after downloading a free software programme (e.g. Audacity), you'll be able to transfer your favourite vinyl records to a digital format from this turntable with an outstanding quality.

 

 

3. I've now got my turntable. What else do I need to be able to use it?

 

 

A. Essentials

   - Hi-Fi cartridges:

Hi-Fi cartridges usually come with your turntable (this applies to turntables under €1,000), but if you want to improve the sound quality of your system, you may need to buy a new Hi-Fi cartridge. Also, their wear depends on how you use them: condition of the records, tonearm setup, turntable quality, etc. The average service life of a Hi-Fi cartridge ranges between 400 hours for entry level models to 1,500 hours for high end models. For further information about mounting and setting up a Hi-Fi cartridge, watch this video on maPlatine.com:

 

Many manufacturers offer top-quality hi-fi cartridges, our top picks are Ortofon Hi-Fi cartridges (2M Red cartridge), Sumiko (Black Pearl cartridge), Clearaudio (Concept MC cartridge), Dynavector (DV 10X5 cartridge) and Grado (Silver-1 cartridge).

 

Phono cartridges for turntables

Note that the choice between a Hi-Fi MM and MC cartridge depends on your phono preamp, though MM cartridges are more widespread.

 

MM cartridges (Moving Magnet): Moving magnet Hi-Fi cartridges are the most widespread on the market and the simplest to produce, and therefore, the cheapest. Their stylus is interchangeable, their output level is usually over 2mV and they are compatible with all commercially available phono preamps.

 

MC (Moving Coil) cartridges: Moving coil Hi-Fi cartridges are high-tech and are therefore a lot more complex to assemble and also a lot more expensive. This technology is used with high end Hi-Fi cartridges. They have a low output level, generally below 0.8 mV and require a suitable phono preamp or transformer (e.g. Ortofon Verto MC cartridge step-up transformer). However, some MC cartridges are referred to as high output, meaning that the design uses more wire on the coil. This process allows them to have a high output level (generally above 2mV) and therefore to be compatible with all standard phono preamps. Important: the stylus is not interchangeable.

 

   - MC step-up transformer:

A step-up transformer is required if you have a phono input or a phono preamp exclusively dedicated to high output Hi-Fi MM cartridges () and want to use a low output MC cartridge (). The transformer also significantly affects frequency response, tonal balance and transparency. The Ortofon VERTO MC cartridge step-up transformer is en excellent product!

 

   - Styli: 

It is the needle of your Hi-Fi MM cartridge. The stylus tracks the microgrooves of your records and recreates the sound. If you're satisfied with your cartridge but the stylus is wearing out (approx. after 700 hours of use), you don't have to replace the entire cartridge. You just need to buy a new stylus to give your turntable a new lease of life. It's also a less expensive option than buying the whole Hi-Fi cartridge. For more information about replacing the stylus, watch the video:

 

Needle for phono cartridges

   - Choosing a Hi-Fi cartridge.

Of course, it depends on your turntable model, its tonearm, your phono preamp and, last but not least, your budget. Each Hi-Fi cartridge has its own sound signature that will add to the more or less strong sound colour induced by your turntable and your system (the place where your system is installed also plays a role). Contact us for personalised and specific advice.

 

Find out maPlatine.com's favourites on our website and feel free to read the details of each product to get a clearer idea of the ideal Hi-Fi cartridge for you.

 

   - Phono preamp:

The sound is generated by the stylus running in the record's grooves. These patterns generate modulations at the cartridge output. They are too low to be processed directly by an amplifier and must therefore be preamplified. In 1954, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) created a standard based on the curves used by RCA and Victor. Shortly after, all the record companies applied this pre-emphasis curve, currently known as 'RIAA'. Most records pressed from 1955 onwards were therefore recorded using RIAA filters. That's why a phono preamp is required to play a record. But isn't that exactly what amplifiers are designed for? you might ask… Certainly! Though nowadays, only few of them have a dedicated phono input to connect your record player to your amplifier (97% of amplifiers don't include one). You'll have to go through an extra step in your setup to allow the sound coming from your record player to reach your loudspeakers.

 

But it has other functions too. In fact, a phono preamp also performs RIAA equalization. It uses an inverted curve: in broad outline, a bell curve is applied on recording the record and an anti-bell curve is applied on playback. This brings the frequency response of a record down to around 20 Hz (bass).

You now know why the phono preamp is such an essential part.

 

Cambridge Audio 551P phono preamp

 

   - Cables:

Of course! Your equipment won't work without cables interconnecting each element of your Hi-Fi system.

Between your turntable and your phono preamp, you need what we call phono cables.

 

Pro-ject Connect it phono cable

 

All the elements that are connected to your amplifier, like the phono preamp, need to be connected via interconnect cables.

 

Pro-Ject Connect it interconnect cable

 

Finally, to connect your equipment to the mains, you need power cables.

Nordost Blue Heaven power cable

Naturally, you can find a selection of cables at various prices, although we strongly recommend that you dedicate a cable budget in line with your system.

 

 

B. Care

A number of care and cleaning products are available for your turntable and records alike.

 

   - Taking care of your turntable:

To keep your turntable in mint condition for as long as possible, a selection of turntable cleaning kits is available. To remove dirt from the stylus, you can use Pro-Ject's Clean it, for turntable platter spindle maintenance, you can use Grease It to ensure that your platter spins perfectly.

 

   - Taking care of your vinyl records:

To make your vinyl records last longer and retain the best sound quality, many care products and accessories from various brands are available.

First of all, demagnetising your vinyl records will significantly improve the sound quality. You can use a number of antistatic brushes to do this: the SK-III antistatic brush from Japanese manufacturer Furutech is the most popular one. The Brush It brush from Pro-Ject or the turntable brush from Audioquest are also very efficient. Furutech's DEMAG demagnetizer could be a very useful item to buy!

 

Then, to clean your records, you can use special cloths in combination with Clearaudio's Pure Groove products, that are designed to degrease the record's surface and dissolve any dirt deep down inside the groove. The Spin Clean Record Washer System is also an ideal cleaning tool if you want your records to be as good as new. It's very easy to use and works wonders! maPlatine.com tells you how to use the Spin Clean on video:

 

If you're working with a higher budget, you can find record cleaning machines, with for example VPI's Typhoon HW-27 Cleaning Machine or the HW-16.5 Cleaning Machine as well as the Smart Matrix Pro from Clearaudio.

Spin clean

 

Having trouble with warped records? There's a solution to this problem too. Though it might be a bit expensive, it's definitely worth buying for the sake of your LPs! It's the record flattener. You'll find Furutech's for example.

 

 

C. Setup tools

To get the most out of your system, make sure that your turntable is properly set up.

Pro-Ject and Clearaudio are leaders in this area with a number of tools available. To adjust your tonearm, you can use Adjust it from Pro-Ject and, for the adjustment of your Hi-Fi cartridge the brand offers Align it. Clearaudio offers a tool that can be used to adjust both the tonearm and cartridge: the IEC-Alignment gauge. This guarantees optimum playback and, if you replace your cartridge, these tools will be very useful!

 

Pro-Ject Adjust it

Pro-Ject Align it

To adjust the speed of rotation of your turntable, you can use for example Clearaudio's speed light source + test record kit or the Timeline from Sutherland.

Stylus pressure gauges are also very useful. They control the pressure applied to the Hi-Fi cartridge with great accuracy. This optimisation has a direct impact on the tonal balance and dynamic range. Also, the quality of this adjustment is paramount to increase the life of your stylus and records. The Weight Watcher stylus pressure gauge from Clearaudio or the Measure it 2 electronic stylus balance from Pro-Ject are benchmarks.

 

*****

 Basically, this is what you need to know when you're buying a turntable for the first time. Now that you're up to speed, you can read the fact sheets to hone your knowledge:

 

History of the turntable

Turntable – part 1

Turntable – part 2

Cartridges

Phono preamplifiers

MC step-up transformers

Getting down to technical details