The record player has earned its crucial place in the history of music due to both its stunningly simple and cleverly ingenious design. The grooves on a vinyl record are imprinted with even smaller, almost microscopic grooves that cause the turntable’s needle to vibrate and produce sound waves.
How to Use a Record Player
While the actual mechanics of converting microscopic grooves into sound through vibrations seems incredibly complicated, record players make listening to music crazy easy. These simple steps will help you dive into your burgeoning record collection without doing damage to the vinyl:
- To avoid leaving grease and dust on the surface of the record, pick up your vinyl by the edges. Anything stuck in the grooves will distort the sound quality.
- Line up the hole in the disk with the spindle and delicately place the record onto the player.
- Determine the correct speed for your record and set the player to the appropriate rotations per minute (RPM).
- Place the tonearm, which houses the needle at the very tip, on the outer edge of the record. Usually the music will start playing on its own.
- Have you finished listening? Great! Gently lift the needle away from the record and place it back in its original position, remove the record (again by the edges) and slide the sleeve back onto the disk.
Manual vs Automatic
In an automatic system, the needle drops onto the record by itself. In most mid to high-end record players, the system is manual which means you need to lift the tonearm and place it on the record yourself. If you have a shaky hand you run the risk of scratching the record, so try practicing on a sacrificial record before diving into a manual system. Don’t worry—you’ll get the hang of it soon enough!
Belt Drive vs Direct Drive
Belt drive turntables and direct drive turntables separate the DJs from the audiophiles. Belt drive players have an independent motor that spins the platter with a rubber belt and is preferred by those who highly value sound quality. It produces less outside noise and vibration. Direct drive players are the only turntables fit for DJing as they have a platter that is directly connected to the motor.
Sizes and Speeds
Not every vinyl is the same size or rotates at the same speed. Record players are built with a speed switch that allows you to make manual adjustments to the speed.
- 7-inch record – plays at 45 RPM, stores ~5min of music on each side, used for singles
- 12-inch record – plays at 33 RPM, stores ~22min of music on each side, most common form of vinyl for albums
- 10-inch record – plays at 78 RPM, the rarest sized disk, most commonly older records
Setting Up Your Player
Take care to place your record player in a spot where it won’t pick up any excessive vibration— choose a heavy table or another sturdy surface. When a turntable picks up external vibration, it causes the needle to jump and skip or even hum while your music plays. To be safe, you can pick up a turntable shelf that reduces vibration.
If you’d like to listen to your record player with speakers or headphones, make sure you buy a turntable with a preamp or have a receiver with a phono preamp. Most receivers use a larger headphone jack, so you may need a 3.55mm to ¼ inch adapter.
Upgrading Your Player
Turntables for beginners are generally ready to use right after purchasing, though if you choose to buy a higher-end model there are a few parts of the record player that you’re expected to upgrade.
- Platter: The heavier the platter, the lower the risk of external vibration.
- Tonearm: Its quality impacts the accuracy and consistency with the rotation of the record.
- Stylus: Also known as the needle, it’s directly responsible for the accuracy and sonic details of the record. Should be replaced after every 1,000 hours of use.
While most budget players include built-in speakers, if you care about sound you absolutely need to invest in a set of speakers. Bad ones can distort even the best tracks—good ones can elevate even the worst. If you want something good but not ridiculously expensive or large, look into buying a pair of bookshelf speakers. They’re about the size of a large shoe box and sound great when paired with a mid-tier turntable.
When it comes to record players, you get what you pay for. Those who choose to pay a little above the bare minimum reap the rewards. To achieve that warm, rich sound that vinyl records are known for, you’ll have to push your budget to include much more than just a turntable. Most budget turntables are perfect for beginner vinyl enthusiasts and include their own built-in speakers.
Armed with this information, you should feel comfortable purchasing your first (or next!) record player.