I’ve recently been researching products for an ongoing vinyl series in which I aim to showcase vinyl-based systems at various price points, with the intension of discouraging buyers who intend to purchase one of the many mass-market self-contained turntables which will cause irreparable damage to your records. I realised that while any good turntable is far from portable, not everybody wants the associate baggage that often comes with vinyl replay – I.E, a hi-fi system and speakers. Of course speakers are a necessary, there’s no avoiding that. But it is possible to assemble a vinyl playback system using a pair of active speakers, negating the need for external amplification and in many cases even a turntable preamplifier.
What exactly are ‘active speakers’? Quite simply, an active speaker is one with inbuilt amplification. Common examples include computer speakers (a sight seen less and less these days), portable Bluetooth speakers, public address systems and even some home theatre systems which contain their amplification within one of the speakers, usually a sub woofer. Many hi-fi speakers are passive, meaning that they require a separate amplifier to function. More recently a trend toward more compact stylish hi-fi systems has seen a growing demand for active speaker systems of all shapes, sizes and costs, which the market has grown to meet.
When we think about getting sound from a turntable, there are only four components directly in the audio chain. The stylus, which is attached to the Cartridge, traces the record and produces a tiny electrical voltage. That voltage is amplified by a preamplifier known as a Phono Stage, which boosts the tiny voltage and applies some equalisation. The phono stage outputs to an amplifier, which in turn boosts the signal even further to drive the speakers at your desired volume. Usually the turntable, phono stage, amplifier and speakers are separate components. However if we bring a pair of active speakers into the mix, our component count reduces as the speakers contain built-in amplification. If we choose a turntable with a built-in phono stage, our component count reduces even further to just two – the turntable and speakers. Even if your turntable does not feature a built-in phono stage, many external units are tiny and can easily be hidden away, unlike a typical amplifier which is often one of the largest components in any system besides the speakers.
How you connect a turntable to a pair of active speakers will depend on the speakers you have. Almost every turntable and phono stage on the market features a pair of RCA output plugs or sockets.
Some active speakers feature RCA inputs, and you simply require a standard RCA cable, sometimes called a phono cable, to connect them together. Some portable Bluetooth speakers feature a 3.5 mm minijack input, which looks like a headphone jack you’d see on a portable MP3 player or smartphone. If that’s the case, you’ll need a cable with two RCA plugs on 1 end and a stereo 3.5 mm jack connector on the other like This One. Some computer speakers offer only a fixed cable with a 3.5 mm jack plug on the end. This being the case, you’ll need a cable with two RCA plugs on 1 end and a 3.5 mm socket on the other like This One.
There are a couple of turntables on the market capable of outputting a Bluetooth signal. If you have one of these, and an active speaker system which supports Bluetooth connectivity, you need no wires at all. The Audio-Technica AT-LP60-BT (also available in White) and Pro-Ject’s VT-E (also available in Red and White) are a couple of models with a Bluetooth option.
The above assumes that your turntable features a built-in phono stage. If it doesn’t, you can still connect up your turntable to a pair of active speakers using a small external unit. Any of these basic units from Behringer, Pyle or Pro-Ject will do the job. Connect your turntable’s RCA outputs to the input of the preamplifier, and connect the output of the preamplifier to your speakers using the methods and cables described above, depending on the connectivity offered by your particular speaker system.
Some speaker systems feature an inbuilt phono stage. This Roth Audio VA4 system is one such example. These speakers can be connected to any turntable with a moving magnet cartridge, and they sound great too. The system is also available in Red and White.
The below examples show a Pro-ject primary Phono USB connected to a couple of different speaker systems. This version of the Primary features a built-in phono stage with both USB and RCA outputs. Our review sample was a special finish produced for Deagostini. The first is a Logitech 2.1 speaker system, similar to This. An RCA to 3.5 mm socket cable is used.
Here, we’re connecting the primary to a Sony Bluetooth speaker using a RCA to 3.5 mm cable. Many people already own a similar speaker, so this is a great place to start.
And for the more discerning listener, a pair of Edifier international R2000DB speakers. These larger bookshelf models feature RCA inputs and are perfect for connection of a turntable.
And there you have it. Who said a proper vinyl-based system had to be large and cumbersome? It is possible to assemble a compact vinyl playback system which won’t break the bank, won’t damage your records and will sound a million times better than virtually every self-contained, all-in-one solution currently on the market.