Vinyl record players provide a deeply intimate music experience. It’s why we can be so easily offended if someone judges our record player setup—it’s like they’re judging our very souls. Strange, isn’t it? You wouldn’t be offended if someone judged your refrigerator or even the contents inside.
The reason people get touchy when it comes to record players is twofold. One, the music we choose offers a glimpse into our identities—how we view the world. Secondly, the sound of each vinyl record player is slightly different. It changes based on the tone arm’s counterweight, how old the needle is, and more. Because every piece of the record player can be tweaked, the sound we curate becomes another reflection of us.
Thus, having the right sound coming from your record player is important so that you're able to properly enjoy your vinyl collection. And while part of that is controlled with the record player and the record itself, the speakers have much to do with the quality you hear. When looking for the perfect record player speakers, there are five things you need to look for.
1. Type of Speaker
When you’re at a concert, you can actually feel the music vibrate through your body. This is due to the low bass tones coming through massive subwoofers. Take away everything but the subs, and suddenly the music would turn into a low-pitched muffle. Each type of speaker has a different function when it comes to offering you the best quality sound. Ideally, your speaker setup will come with each type in some capacity.
For any beginners out there who are looking for their first speaker setup, there are three basic types of speakers to choose from:
- Dome Tweeter
For a single speaker that can pick up everything from the low bass notes to the high-pitched squeal of an electric guitar, your best bet is a mid-range speaker. If you’re only planning on buying one speaker, this is the one to get.
- Perfect for casual listening
- The first speaker to buy
- Controls the volume of the sound system
For more depth and range of sounds, you’ll need to add on the other two types.
To hear everything from the bass guitar to bass drum in all its glory, you’ll need to add in a subwoofer to your speaker setup. Without a sub, most of the lower end spectrum will either be condensed or completely chopped off. Subs accurately reproduce these low-frequency sounds to offer the complete picture of the music.
- Great addition to enhance the listening experience
- Necessary for music genres with heavy bass
- Gives music that vibrating feel
The formula for the ideal set up is to have twice the power in your subs as you do your mid-range driver. Of course, like wine tasting, your palette is most important. Some people like the minimal amount of bass, others like to feel their music. And to twist this analogy a different way—a speaker setup without the sub is much like wine tasting while plugging your nose. Sure, it works, but it’s not ideal.
What subwoofers offer for the lower range of the spectrum, tweeters offer for the upper range of the spectrum. Crash symbols, the musician’s voice, the guitar solo where the guitarist is picking away at those last few digits available—these are all enhanced by the addition of a dome tweeter. And these speakers need not be big, they’re typically half the size or smaller than the mid-range driver.
- The final piece to the speaker ensemble
- Reproduces the higher end of the frequency spectrum
2. Built-In Amp
The next factor to consider is whether or not the speaker comes with a built-in stereo amplifier.
- One quick note about how sound gets from the record to your ears: The tiny grooves in the record are read by the stylus of the record player. These tiny grooves create a frequency pattern that is converted to an electromagnetic wave inside the tone arm. This EM wave is then amplified by the phono pre-amplifier, boosted through the amplifier, where it can be transformed into a sound wave inside the speaker. (This, of course, glosses over all the physics and engineering intricacies that make up this beautiful piece of audio equipment.)
What you should take away from this is how two pieces are necessary between the record player and speaker: the phono pre-amp and the amplifier.
While most record players will come with a built-in phono pre-amp, the stereo amplifier is typically external. If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of extra cords and wiring, you should find a speaker with a built-in amp. Thus, hearing those sweet, sweet tunes is as simple as connecting your record player and speakers together and voila!
3. Bluetooth or not to Bluetooth
That is the question. Although the technology has been around since the late 80s, Bluetooth didn’t hit mainstream technology until the last ten years. Now, it’s stranger when our devices don’t come with Bluetooth capability.
When it comes to speakers, audiophiles have mixed opinions. For some, the convenience overwrites all; for others, they notice a change in sound quality. Instead of telling you which one you should choose, here are the pros and cons to Bluetooth speakers—that way you can decide for yourself:
- Bluetooth speakers are typically low power consumers, meaning they can run on a rechargeable battery.
- Because they can run on batteries, they are portable and easy to travel with—ideal for camping, moving them from room to room, etc.
- They’re wireless and hassle-free. No time spent untying knots and no more trying to hide the excess wire cables.
- Almost every device has Bluetooth capability, which means anybody can use them.
- No installation or drivers that need to be downloaded, just pair and listen.
- Most Bluetooth devices only reach about 30 feet. Beyond this, the music will cut in and out.
- Because they are low power consumers, music with a lot of bass—which takes more wattage to get that oomph—has a lower quality.
- Just because these speakers can run on a rechargeable battery, doesn’t mean they’re always charged and ready to go. Some prefer to go with a corded speaker to be certain it will work.
A Happy Medium
If you want to enjoy the portability and the ease of use of a Bluetooth speaker but don’t want to sacrifice quality, look for speakers that have both an auxiliary input and Bluetooth compatibility. This way, you can have the best of both worlds. And in the era of digital technology, should you really have to sacrifice one or the other? We don’t think so.
4. Surround Sound vs Single Speaker
A common question from sound system beginners is whether to go with a high-quality single speaker or multiple, cheaper speakers. To begin this discussion, it’s important to note that having two medium quality speakers will always outperform one high-quality speaker. The depth of sound you achieve with multiple speakers can’t be recreated by a single source.
That being said, this doesn’t tell the whole story.
If you’re planning to buy a record player speaker that you can also take with you, multiple speakers will be a hassle. The first thing to determine is what you are going to be using the speaker for. If it’s a stationary piece, then going for multiple speakers will prove beneficial.
Setting up Multiple Speakers
With multiple speakers, you can set up what’s known as the sweet spot. The sweet spot refers to the point where all the sound waves come together to harmonize and give you the most authentic, clear sound. When setting up a listening area, try tweaking the placement of the speakers until you find your sweet spot.
5. Appropriate Size For the Room
An easy way to tell if you’re looking at the right set of speakers is the size. If the speakers take up a fifth of your living room… yeah, those probably aren’t the right ones.
Imagine the acoustics of a room. A bedroom is small and confined, therefore a pair of small speakers will do fine. If you just want to listen to your records while you work, a single speaker with an adequate sub, mid-range, and tweeter will be ideal.
How Speakers Work?
Though you got a brief tour of how the music travels from record to your ear, the speaker is perhaps the most interesting component. It takes an electric current and turns it into sound waves. To understand this, you must first learn what an audio wave is.
An audio wave is a pressurized wave of particles in the air (or any medium). As the sound wave travels, areas of high and low pressure are created—our ears pick up this vibration, and that’s how we hear. To generate this vibration, there are three components inside a speaker:
- Electromagnetic coil
- Permanent magnet
- Paper or plastic cone
As the electric current runs through the coil, it switches the polarity back and forth. The permanent magnet attracts and repels with each switch of the polarity. This pushes and pulls the large paper or plastic cone back and forth, creating these high and low pressure points.
This is why the volume directly correlates to the size of the speaker. The larger the cone, the more force can be put into the sound wave.
Choosing the Right Speaker For You
The record player and speakers you choose can make or break the ambiance of a room. If you’re having a large gathering and want light tunes in the background, then you’ll need a powerful speaker turned to a low volume versus having a small speaker cranked up. Similarly, if you’re in a small apartment, then you won’t need dual stacks to pump out the bass.
If you’re unsure where to begin looking, start by asking yourself simple questions. Do you prefer a portable device or audio quality? Are you going for a concert feel or an intimate listening experience? Knowing these will help you choose the perfect speaker.
Explain That Stuff. Amplifiers. https://www.explainthatstuff.com/amplifiers.html
Wikipedia. Sweet Spot (Acoustics). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_spot_(acoustics)
Physics.org. How do Speakers Work? http://www.physics.org/article-questions.asp?id=54