Dear music connoisseurs everywhere… it is official. Vinyl is making a comeback. So much so, in fact, that in 2017 sales of vinyl records hit all-time highs, the highest they’d been since 1991, despite the decline in sales of digital downloads and other physical media that is often spoken about in this day and age.
However, according to some sources, vinyl sales are actually thought to be underreported, since industry figures don’t count the sales of used vinyl. They also tend to undercount the sales of new vinyl records, both of which skew the overall numbers quite drastically.
Since none of the revenue from used record sales actually makes its way to the record artists and creators, those numbers typically aren’t bothered to be reported. But when tallying the total numbers, including used and new vinyl, the results are clear… vinyl records aren’t just a thing of the past, like some often say.
There’s a little bit of magic to be had in finding a great vintage record and listening to it on a well-loved, analog record player that just can’t be replicated in the digital era of music and downloads. And of course, when you find that awesome vintage record you’ve been looking for, you’ll need to know how to choose a portable record player that will do it justice.
Not all record players are created equal and not all of them sound good. In fact, some can sound downright terrible, so it’s important to learn a thing or two before you go out and make your first record player purchase.
How to Choose a Record Player Like a Boss
Is there anything better than that beautiful, analog sound only vinyl can offer? We think not. But choosing a good record player is vital to making it happen. The best turntables will work so well, you won’t even know they’re there. Turntables can seem so simple, but the function they perform is amazing. There is information that is in the grooves of a record, called data.
A great turntable is designed to spin a record at a precise and constant speed, so that it’s able to read the groove information and turn it into an electric signal that ultimately produces sound. The better a turntable is able to turn and read the data, the better the sound of the music it will produce. A record player reads the information contained on a record using a needle, or the stylus.
This stylus traces the grooves that are cut into the record that holds the data the player is designed to read. The stylus is attached to the phono cartridge. A phono amp cartridge is like a mini generator that produces electricity, creating a musical signal when the stylus needle moves in the grooves of the record.
A record player’s needle and phono cartridge are supported and held steady by a part of the record player called a tonearm. As the record rotates, the tonearm keeps the needle and phono cartridge in place, ensuring the needle spins within the grooves steadily, with no jumping or skipping around. The largest part of a record player is the platter and the motor that spins it. A platter is a covered area where your record sits as it spins and plays the audio.
The covering is intended to help reduce vibrations and prevent the record from being scratched. The platter spins from the power of the motor, which is essentially made up of an elastic belt, a pulley, and a belt drive turntable.
Some record players use a direct drive turntable, which sits right on top of the motor of a record player and gets the record spinning at the proper speed almost immediately. A belt drive turntable has the motor set off-center and uses the belt and pulley and can take a few seconds to begin spinning at full speed.
With a belt drive turntable, the bearing assembly plays a big role in how smoothly and quietly your record player will spin as you are listening to music, and how much friction there will be as it rotates. Everything is held together with the base of the turntable, called the plinth, designed to help minimize unwanted vibrations. Some record players may have feet that help reduce vibration as well. The better designed the feet are, the better the record player will play. If your record player’s feet are adjustable, it makes it all the easier to level your turntable so that it produces great sound.
And finally, a quality record player must have a way to output the sound to a set of speakers. Some record players will do this using RCA outputs (also called phono outputs), and some may have an extra USB output that lets you hook your stereo up to a computer. This will depend on how old your set-up is. Older record players may not have a USB output.
When you know the basics of what a record player is made of, it can help you determine the kind of device you want to invest in to play your vinyl collection. Some of them can be higher in pricing than others, depending on design and what you intend to use it for.
The first consideration for music lovers when choosing a record player is deciding what you want to use it for in the first place. If you only want one to play some vintage records you found in your dad’s garage, you may not need one that’s super fancy. If you’re a DJ and want something you can connect to a computer for music, you may want something a little more robust.
You might just be someone who loves the sound of vinyl… in which case, you’ll want to choose a record player that’s as high quality as you can afford, to get the best analog sound possible from that beautiful spinner. You’ll also want to decide upfront if you want to go old school and get a manual record player, or go new school and invest in an automatic record player with an automatic turntable.
The automatic turntables place the arm and needle on the record for you, but they don’t always work as designed. Manual record players require you to place the needle, but we assert that there’s something supremely satisfying about doing it yourself! It really boils down to preference and budget though.
Another consideration to keep in mind is how much space do you have? Record players require space, and so do the records you play on them. You also need decent speakers, which can be both expensive and take up more room than you might have bargained for.
Some record players come with speakers built in, but those usually aren’t made for great sound. To really get your money’s worth out of a good record player, you need a great set of speakers to go with it. The whole setup isn’t exactly portable, so that’s something to keep in mind if you want a portable record player.
Budget will definitely be playing a factor in deciding what kind of record player you will choose too, especially in today’s modern market. Record players these days come with all kinds of modern upgrades for playing, offering USB functionality to digitize your favorite records, as well as “all-in-one” record players complete with built-in speakers.
Though the “all-in-one” models may be cheaper on the wallet and offer a bit of convenience, they don’t always deliver great sound. If great sound is the reason you want to get a record player in the first place (and for most people, this is the reason they want a record player), then know up front that you’ll need to invest more than the bare minimum to complete your setup. This includes finding a good amplifier and stereo receiver to run to your speakers. You could even check out garage sales and local thrift stores for these items and possibly save yourself a few bucks.
For the record player itself, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $1000 bucks or more depending on the type of device you choose. Even the most basic of systems can still deliver a beautiful sound output, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a ton of money to invest right away. Especially if you are a beginner to the world of record players. It’s always better to start small and graduate up, rather than waste a ton of money on a record player and speakers you don’t have the room for or will rarely use.
Ultimately, figuring out how to choose a record player will boil down to your needs and wants. If you want a record player because you’re a DJ and need good sound but maximum portability, your needs will be different from if you’re merely a music lover in search of amazing sound, with plenty of space in your garage to store your auxiliary input equipment. Deciding up from what you want and need can help you determine how to choose a record player and setup you can enjoy for years to come.