It’s no secret that vinyl has come back in a major way. In the last decade, sales of LPs (Long-Play records) have grown over 1000%, and the public demand for records has caused artists to start producing them again to accompany music releases—a practice many believed was long dead. The reasons for this comeback are both complicated and not. It’s been attributed to a combination of nostalgia, a reaction against the progressive digitizing of modern life, and a genuine preference for the warm, full-bodied sound produced by vinyl record.
However, it doesn’t matter how theoretical or practical your interest in vinyl might be—if you don’t have a functioning record player, there’s no way to listen to the music. Given this incontrovertible truth, another debate has dovetailed from the vinyl vs digital argument: Are new record players superior to vintage record players? The answer, as with almost all other music related questions, is that it’s subjective.
Record Player or Turntable?
Before diving into the differences between new and vintage record players, it’s important to clear up a semantic conundrum that seems to confuse many would-be aficionados. We’re talking about the difference between the term “record player” and the term “turntable.” It’s not uncommon to hear them used interchangeably, and that’s because they share some essential qualities.
When we talk about a “turntable,” we’re referencing a platter that holds and plays a record. It generally will not come equipped with a device that can amplify the audio—like a speaker—but it does allow you to customize the sound in more precise ways. For example, DJs will almost always use turntables instead of record players to spin vinyl because they have more control over the way their records sound.
On the other hand, “record players” are all-in-one devices. They come fully loaded, ready to spin a record and amplify the sound too. If you’re just getting into vinyl and want a device that can play music in your home, record players are the way to go. They are much more user-friendly, and offer intuitive and simple controls which make even the most rookie vinyl user feel like a veteran (not that it’s hard to get the hang of!).
- Record players are all-in-one devices that are ideal for music fans who want to play music around their home.
- Turntables are more specialized—and often don’t feature speakers—but they allow owners to customize sound in highly specific ways.
New Record Players vs Vintage Record Players
If you’re itching to get into the vinyl game but don’t know if you should get a vintage record player or a new record player, there are a few key differences that can help you make a decision. It’s important to note that not all record players (and this applies to both new and vintage devices) are created equal. There are different degrees of quality, which can generally be differentiated by price point.
Over the decades certain classic record players have developed cult followings. Because the production of many of these models have been discontinued, the remaining ones (still in operable condition) often fetch absurd prices on bidding websites. However, this is the exception to the following rule: Vintage record players are less expensive than new record players.
It’s possible to find serviceable record players at garage sales at highly affordable prices; the internet is loaded with similar deals. However, this price can be deceiving. Often, vintage record players, which have been used heavily during their lifetime, have flaws that must be addressed (read: paid to fix) before they can be used.
New record players are more expensive, but they come with reassurance that the parts work and will last into the foreseeable future. For many, this is reason enough to forgo purchasing a vintage device.
- Vintage record players are less expensive than new record players, but often require maintenance which can boost the price.
Back when vinyl was the only way music fans could listen to music, companies were incentivized to make record players sound as best as they possibly could. Now, with laptops and digitized music, that incentive has all but gone away. Because of this, the majority of modern record players are cheaply built, and have been designed without the supreme care and attention that was required several decades ago.
However, that isn’t to say that the technology within record players hasn’t been improved. When you listen to a new record player, the sound will often be crisp and static-free; when you listen to a vintage record player, the sound will often be described as “warm.” In the end, it comes down to your preference. For many fans of vinyl, the appeal lies in that “warm” quality.
- Vintage record players have a “warm” quality to their sonic output
- New record players produce a “clean” noise
USB drives, SD cards, bluetooth speaker systems… these ubiquitous tech objects weren’t around when vintage record players were in their prime. While some vintage record players have more advanced features than others, they are still rather primitive when compared with the capabilities of modern record players.
However, depending your needs, this difference may prove irrelevant. The high-end tech features found on some modern record players aren’t necessary for users who simply want to play music. As discussed above, sound quality isn’t necessarily better or worse depending on which generation of record player you purchase. At the end of the day, you should be evaluating prospective record players based on their cost and sound quality—however, if you’re really interested in the added tech features available on some new devices, there are many options available to you.
- New record players have more tech features, but for the average user who simply wants to listen to music, they have little import.
Types of Record Players
While almost all record players have the same essential components—an arm and stylus (or needle), a platter, a speaker—they don’t all operate the same. It’s important to know the differences between the various types so that you aren’t taken by surprise or accidently damage the device by forcing the arm when it’s supposed to move automatically. These differences are cross-generational, meaning that both vintage and new record players were designed with these functions.
Manual Record Players
Manual records players are incredibly common and are perhaps the most technologically basic iteration of a record player. Just as the name suggests, everything (except, of course, the spinning of the record) needs to be done manually. Namely, this means lifting the arm and setting the stylus in the desired groove and taking it off again when you’ve completed a side or decided to change the song.
- Manual record players require you to lift the arm and place the stylus in on the desired part of the record. Many people, however, don’t mind this process and consider it one of the charms of owning a record player.
Automatic Record Players
Automatic record players do all of the work for you. They have buttons which allow you to skip between tracks, which direct the arm to raise and then lower again where the next song begins. When a record is finished playing through an entire side, an automatic record player will lift the stylus and the arm will return to its dock along the side.
It’s undeniably convenient, and many people prefer to own automatic record players instead of manual record players for these reasons. In terms of function, they are similar to a CD player.
- Automatic record players do most of the work for you; they quickly skip between tracks and return the arm and stylus to their dock when a side is completed.
There are many important differences between vintage record players and new record players, but that doesn’t mean that there is a definitive winner. Both offer special functions and possess unique charms that are enticing to some fans of vinyl and deciding between the two should come down to your individual needs.
Whichever generation you choose to go with, make sure that you’re getting a record player that is in good condition. This is vitally important. Always check the stylus to make sure that it’s still working well—if you happen to use a stylus that is in bad condition, your risk damaging your records, or at the very least failing to get the optimal sound quality from your music.
While vintage record players are often less expensive that new record players, owners who buy old devices from garage sales often have to repair parts before they can be used. However, if these repairs are made, the sound quality can rival even the newest devices, and might even be superior if you’re a fan of the warm, crackling noise given off by vintage record players.