In This Series
- 1 How Do Vinyl Records Work?
- 2 Components
- 2.1 The Platter
- 2.2 The Bearing
- 2.3 The Motor
- 2.4 The Tonearm
- 2.5 The Cartridge
- 3 Phono Stages
- 4 Should You Buy an All-In-1 Turntable?
- 5 The Current Market
- 6 How to Setup a Turntable
- 7 How to Install and Align a Turntable Cartridge
- 8 Optimising The Sound
- 9 Purchasing a Used Turntable
- 10 Turntable, Tonearm and Cartridge Specifications
- 10.1 Tonearm Specifications
- 10.2 Turntable Specifications
- 10.3 Cartridge Specifications
- 11 Turntable Drive Systems
- 12 Recommended Tools
- 13 Free Protractors and Strobe Discs
- 14 Conclusions
The turntables on today’s market fall into 1 of 2 categories. All-in-1 tables, as previously mentioned consist of a turntable, amplifier and speakers, contained within the same casework. Some systems include support for other formats too, including CD, digital playback via USB and even cassette.
At the time of writing, the top 10 best selling turntables on Amazon UK are of an all-in-1 form factor with prices ranging between £35 and £100. They all share many common features including belt drive turntable platters and the ability to play back the 3 most common speeds of record (33.3, 45 and 78RPM), though it’s worth noting that none of them include the correct replacement stylus required to play 78s. They all feature. Ceramic cartridges, inbuilt amplification and speakers, and retro-style casework.
Many of them feature USB playback and recording, some of them with a line-level output and or headphone socket. Many of them are of a portable design, smaller than a standard 12” LP.
While these turntables may be aesthetically pleasing, their are several major issues with their design. Firstly their platters are smaller than a standard 12” LP, meaning that the LP protrudes over the edge of the platter and is supported only in the centre. As the weight of the tonearm presses down on the record, it flexes which not only results in an uneven surface for the stylus to track, but can also cause records to warp and even crack in extreme cases.
The platters run on an insubstantial bearing inducing noise and further uneven rotation, driven by a weak motor often mis-adjusted at the factory resulting in poor speed consistency. It isn’t uncommon for one of these turntables to run at least 1% fast if not more, which will noticeably raise the pitch of the music and produce a warbling, unstable sound.
Moving to the business end, these turntables feature a ceramic cartridge, supported by a tonearm fashioned from flimsy plastic and (if you’re lucky) insubstantial metalwork. The tonearm offers absolutely no provision to adjust the tracking pressure. Each of these turntables places anywhere between 5 and 10 grams of weight on the fragile grooves of your records, carving a path through the groove as the record plays. Such an enormous amount of pressure, coupled to the uneven rotation of the vinyl, the poor quality stylus and the chattering, shaking tonearm bearings, these turntables are a recipe for disaster and will cause irreversible, irreparable damage to your records.
If the destruction of your records weren’t reason enough to avoid such turntables at all costs, there’s no saving grace to be found when we take a look at the amplification. A pair of tiny speakers is the best you’ll get, relying on the inadequate enclosure of the turntable itself to amplify the sound beyond what the tiny amplifier inside is capable of. The amplification circuits themselves are extremely simple, and present the ceramic cartridge with the incorrect impedance resulting in a tinny sound, completely lacking in bass.
Hi-fi turntables however come in stand-alone form, and at the very least require an amplifier and speakers. They certainly aren’t portable, especially when you take the necessity for ancillary components into account. However the quality of even a budget hi-fi model will far exceed that of an all-in-1 system and, most importantly, if correctly setup and maintained with care they won’t damage your records.
See Also: Will a Cheap Turntable Damage your Records?, an experiment we conducted to prove our point.