Getting Started: Breaking Down the Best Record Players for Beginners
Buying a record player is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Your favorite musical artists will never sound as good, as close, or as authentically themselves as they will on vinyl records. But as exciting as this new purchase may be, choosing the “right” record player can be nothing short of overwhelming.
A record player is not like a CD player or a computer sound system. You do not just press “play.” The amount of involvement that record players require is part of the fun. That being said, as a novice, you probably want to steer clear from machines that call for more expertise than you have at this time. Leave those for when you have a season or two under your belt. For now, consider one of these affordable, user-friendly beauties.
Record Players vs. Turntables
First of all, you are going to want to purchase a record player, as opposed to a turntable. Although used interchangeably, record players and turntables are in fact different things.
What is a Turntable?
A DJ turntable is the flat, rotating surface on which you place a record. It does not play a record on its own. If you purchase a turntable, you will need to set up and supplement it with:
- An amplifier
- Cables, usually RCA connectors
In other words, buying an isolated stereo turntable will not play music without additional equipment. If your goal is primarily to have great sound and a listening experience, as opposed to DJing or having a DJ setup, you are probably in the market for a record player.
What is a Record Player?
Record players combine in a self-contained device all the equipment you need to play a record. They include:
- A turntable
- A pick-up arm
- A cartridge, located in the metallic tonearm
- An amplifier
All you have to do when you bring a record player home is plug it into a power outlet. With time, you will need to change the needle at the tip of the metallic tonearm. The owner’s manual will detail the needle, or “stylus,” that matches the machine model.
If you cannot determine what your record player needs, contact a professional. Purchasing your device from an established company guarantees this technical assistance. With over a century of experience, Victrola is one of the most highly regarded record player manufacturers in the world. The Victrola website offers a service to assist you in any vinyl needs.
The Best Beginner Record Player
The three qualities to look for in a record player are:
- Record safety
- Sound quality
These are the pillars of good value in a record player. Treating your records well is perhaps most important, although the two other concerns follow from the initial predicate. After all, record players are all about the music. Wrecking your record and vinyl collection on a faulty device completely defeats the point.
Before you make your purchase, cross-reference value and budget. Fortunately, we live in a new Golden Age of vinyl. While budget should be a factor when making your choice, brand-new record players have never been so affordable. The market has responded to the exponential demand for record players with quality devices that are sure to fit your budget.
Manual vs. Automatic
Another factor to consider is how much lifting you want to do—literally. The lifting is far from heavy, but it is still a commitment that you should be prepared to make if you choose a manual machine.
Do not be fooled by the “play” or “start” button. Vinyl does not work like other stereo equipment. Record players are a different animal. The only commonality you can draw is with CDs, insofar as you must place a disc on a flat surface that involves spinning. Like a CD, you have to keep a vinyl record clean. Avoid touching it by sliding it out of its sleeve and holding it by placing your finger in the hole. Watch for fingerprints and dust before placing the record on the turntable. Dirty records risk damage and/or skipping.
Now, depending on the record player you choose, you will need to either:
- Press the “start” button and wait for the metallic tonearm to move itself, into position on the spinning record;
- Press the “start” button and lift the cueing lever that controls the tonearm, which will then glide into position on the spinning record on its own;
- Press the “start” button and manually pick up the tonearm and gently bring it into contact with the spinning record.
These three options reflect different degrees of automation.
Manual Record Players
With fully manual machines, you must manipulate the tone arm to both start and stop the record. Some people prefer the ritual of lifting the tonearm and flipping the record over from one side to the other. Other people do not appreciate the interruption and would do well to purchase an automatic or semi-automatic record player instead.
Semi-automatic Record Players
The semi-automatic record player is mostly manual, except for the automatic stop feature. This means that you still have to get up and flip over the record when one side is done playing. However, the record player will stop spinning on its own. It will raise the tonearm and return it to its resting place.
Automatic Record Players
The record player that will ask the least effort from you is a fully automatic device. Most offer a function that allows you to program your listening, either on “infinite play” or on the number of your choice.
If the manual and semi-automatic models sound like a hassle, look for a fully automatic record player that demands virtually the same amount of work as a CD player. An automatic is probably the best record player for beginners.
Note that an automatic record player remains a record player. You cannot avoid maintenance requirements like needle replacements. Stay attuned to how your records are playing and what you are hearing. Skipping, popping, or abnormal sound replay could mean it is time to replace the needle.
21st Century Features
The exciting return of record players brings with it a wealth of new features made for this century. Companies like Victrola have pushed record players into the modern age, offering exciting advancements in technology, like:
- Bluetooth range to up to 33 feet, or
- Recording capabilities via a USB connection that is compatible for both PC and Mac.
For vinyl sentimentalists, worry not. These high-tech features are but additions to the built-in stereo staples that keep Victrola machines classic:
- Multiple-speed turntable
- AM/FM radio
- Cassette player
- CD player
- Headphone jack
- Record storage
From its beginnings in 1906, Victrola has seen it all. The company has driven record player history. Bridging the old and the new, nostalgia meets functionality in Victrola’s catalog. You pretty much cannot go wrong. Your main concern need only be aesthetics.
Sound systems take up as much space as you would like them to. Size was always a limitation for the first record players and gramophones that could take up a whole cupboard’s worth of space! As with many inventions, record players started off large before engineers figured ways to shrink them into sizes that fit layman’s homes. By the mid 20th century, portable record players were all the rage — the suitcase style of record player allowed for children and teenagers to enjoy their records away from their parents, in the privacy of their bedrooms.
For under $50, the suitcase model, or a portable record player, is available to this day. But do not be fooled by its small frame, this iconic record player has all you need to play your favorite records. With built-in speakers, you can take your music everywhere you go.
If vintage is not your thing, you will find all sorts of sleek and sophisticated record players in Victrola’s catalog. The Modern Design 50 watt Record Player with Bluetooth and 3 Speed Turntable speaks for itself.
If you want an authentic and classic look, but do not want to venture into second-hand bartering, Victrola sells reproductions of our company's retro models from the 1920s and 1950s. For under $200, you get the best of both worlds. These old-timey devices look the part, but bring the newest features to the table, pun intended.
Wood record players are the most classic option, although personal taste will inform which record player you choose to buy. For instance, historical machines will be made of wood, while their suitcase counterparts will be encased in hard plastic. The chic, sleeker modern models are generally plastic as well.
This Is Just the Beginning
For audiophiles around the world, buying your first record player is a rite of passage. But unless you are an audio engineer or an up and coming audiophile, you would do well to invest in a simpler machine. The best record players for beginners tend to be the easiest ones to manage. Record players are more user-friendly than turntables, and automatic record players are less work than manual devices.
At the end of the day, record players are a lot like cars. You can love your first car even if it is not the fanciest one you will own in your life. You will love your first car because of what it means to you. Record players are the same. Your first one is just the beginning. Congratulations on taking the first step on your vinyl journey - browse our selection of record players today to get started.
Encyclopedia Britannica. “Phonograph” retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/technology/phonograph
New York Magazine. The Best Record Players on Amazon, According to Hyperenthusiastic Reviewers” retrieved from http://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-record-players-turntables.html
Victrola. “Record Player” retrieved from https://victrola.com/collections/record-player