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Do Record Players Need Speakers

Yes, Record Players Need Speakers

Did you know that if you hold a vinyl right next to your ear, you can actually hear the album start to play as the wind grazes the record? 

Not exactly. But that would be cool, wouldn’t it? In reality, there are a few intermediary steps to go from the grooves in the record to grooving on the dance floor. One of which is the speakers. And yes, as a short answer, speakers are needed to listen to your record collection. The reason why they’re necessary, however, is more complicated to explain.

The Five Pieces to the Puzzle

The speakers aren’t the only thing necessary for a record player to produce music. In fact, there are five pieces to the musical puzzle, each useless without the other four.

  • The record
  • The record player
  • The preamplifier
  • The amplifier
  • The speakers

This might make record players seem overly complex. For this reason, many high-end record players bought today will come with everything but the records. However, with a brief explanation of each component, you’ll be an expert in no time.

The Record

The holder of audio secrets. In tiny circular cuts along the disc, a record carries the power to rock and roll all night and party every day. If you could view the grooves through a microscope, you would notice that they’re not smooth cuts. The walls of the grooves jut in and out in a zig-zag formation. These tiny indentations are a physical representation of the audio wave, which is read by the stylus.

The Record Player

There are a few different pieces that make up a record player. To better identify how a record player works, here are the terms you should know: 

  • Turntable – Where you place the record and what spins it.
  • Tonearm – The arm that moves on and off the record either automatically or manually.
  • Cartridge – The end piece of the tonearm.
  • Stylus – The needle tip attached to the cartridge that reads the grooves.

On the end of the tonearm, there’s the cartridge. Within the cartridge is a tiny magnet that can oscillate back and forth to generate an electric current. When the stylus needle traces along the uneven grooves of the vinyl record, the magnet in the cartridge shakes back and forth, producing a current. This current is then sent along wires in the arm and out to the next piece, the preamplifier.

What a Record Player Does

A common misconception is that a record player is a device that plays records. (You can probably see where this misconception comes from.) While, yes, it does spin the record and read the information off it, that’s pretty much all it’s required to do. 

Back to the question, does a record player need speakers? Unless you have a bionic ear that can enjoy the electrical signals of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, yes. The record player may or may not come with an internal preamplifier, amplifier, and speaker. Meaning all it’s responsible for is transmuting the information from a physical device to electricity. The other pieces do the rest of the work.

Next Up: The Preamplifier

So far, the record player has read the information off the record and turned it into an electric current via the cartridge. That current is then sent to the phono preamp. The preamp’s job is to amplify the current to the minimum input level of the amplifier.

Although not the most exciting instrument, it plays a vital role in the process of listening to your vinyl collection. The electric signal thus far is both the vibrations from the record’s grooves and any minute vibrations in the table or in the air caused by footsteps or sound. By boosting the signal with a preamp, the amplifier can “weed out” most of the noise and distortion.

The Amplifier

Every part of the electrical signal that is above the minimum threshold is boosted inside an amplifier and then sent to the speaker. That is its primary role, and it has the connections to prove it. Amps will come with:

  • One input coming from the preamp
  • One output to the speakers 
  • A power cord to connect to a wall socket

Finally, The Speakers

This amplified current is then sent to the speaker where it will turn into the audio you’ve been waiting for. As mentioned above, some speakers are internal and come with the record player. Even if it’s included in the set, these are separate parts to the music playing process. In short, a record player without a speaker will have the same results as a speaker without a record player.

Putting it All Together

Now that each part has been described, it’s possible to put the whole system together. In honor of the Women’s World Cup currently underway, an analogy is in order.

  • The basics – For a game of soccer to be an actual game, you need a soccer ball and some people to play. In the same vein, if you want music, you will need the record and record player just to get started.
  • Setting the stage – Just because you have a ball and some people, doesn’t mean you have a World Cup game. You also need a field to play on and to divide the players into teams. The preamplifier allows the electric current to be registered by the amplifier, while the amplifier divides up the signal into noise and music.
  • The final piece – Goals. Without two cones on the ground or an official 8-foot by 24-foot net, all you have is a game of “kick the ball.” If you’re still wondering, do record players need speakers, ask yourself, do soccer games need goals. The answer is a definitive yes.

How Do Speakers Work?

The original design used the electric current that was sent in to shock tiny musicians living inside the speaker to play the desired song. This quickly fell out of fashion due to tiny musician rights activists, and it was replaced by the modern design.

Nowadays, the electric current switches the polarity of an electromagnet between positive and negative rapidly. An adjacent magnet that can move back and forth will then oscillate according to the signal (you can think of this oscillation as the same motion felt by the stylus). Attached to this vibrating magnet is a cone made of one of three materials: paper, plastic, or a thin metal sheet. As the cone moves back and forth, the air pressure changes, producing sound.

You may have noticed that when a speaker is pumping out at full volume, you can see the cone jutting in and out and the air in front moving. This is the result of these magnets interplaying.

Why Use External Speakers?

If the record player comes with everything tucked into it—phono preamp, amplifier, and speaker—why bother purchasing record player accessories like external speakers? It’s a fair question, and it has to do with how speakers function. Have you ever heard a speaker turned up so high that it produced a rattling sound?

This is the paper or plastic cone sputtering on the edges because there’s too much pressure coming from the magnet behind it. The shape of the cone is distorting, which damages the sound and the cone. Sustaining this force for too long will tear the cone, and the whole speaker will need to be replaced.

To increase the volume capacity, the cone has to be stronger and larger. This limits the volume of an internal speaker to the size of the record player. And record players, if you haven’t noticed, aren’t that large. Which means the internal speaker is suited for a small intimate environment. For parties, gatherings, and noisy apartments, having external speakers could help bring out the best in your music.

Which External Speakers to Buy

If you decide to buy external speakers, there are a few different set-ups you can consider. Each comes with its own budget and sound quality.

  • Mid-range speakers – These are your standard speakers. If you can only buy one speaker, these are the ones to find. They don’t have the bandwidth to produce the highest of highs and lowest of lows, but they will be able to reproduce the record with accuracy.
  • Subwoofer – To hear all the low-end sounds and feel the bass, you should look into buying a subwoofer speaker.
  • Tweeter – Opposite the sub is a tweeter. These speakers help bring out the high-frequency sounds with a crisp finish.
  • Bluetooth speakers – If your record player can handle Bluetooth speakers, then you can put the record on and have the signal be sent anywhere where your Bluetooth can reach. Bluetooth speakers are great for wireless home speaker systems that have a great dynamic range and play throughout the house.
  • Outdoor speakers – To enjoy your records in the backyard, find a set of high quality outdoor speakers that can weather anything nature has to throw at them. These are typically Bluetooth enabled and have long battery lives.

The way a soccer game needs goals, the way a car needs an engine, record players need speakers to work. It’s not just to produce a quality sound at a high volume. Speakers are needed to produce any sound at all. Whether they’re built-in, external, or Bluetooth, the most important factor is having them. Otherwise, all you’ll have to show for your new remastered Yellow Submarine vinyl is an electric current that sounds like you’re listening to a bug-zapper.


Sources:

FactMag. Watch a needle run through a record groove in microscopic detail. https://www.factmag.com/2015/06/16/vinyl-record-needle-microscopic-video/

How Stuff Works. How Speakers Work. https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/speaker6.htm


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