There are a few things to consider when starting down the path to buying a turntable—whether it is your first turntable or first one in a long time. To begin, regardless of the turntable you choose, you will need a pair of speakers and an amplifier/receiver to power them, or ’active speakers’ that have an amplifier built into them. This is because turntables do not provide enough voltage to power speakers.
Next step is to look at what kind of audio signal the turntable will send to the amplifier/receiver. Most turntables come with a ‘phono output’. This is a very low-level signal that needs equalization to sound right. Older receivers and some new ones have a ‘phono input’ that will accommodate this signal, otherwise a separate phono pre-amp is needed.
Some turntables can come with a ‘line-level output’, this is the standard audio signal used today and can plug directly into an amplifier/receiver or active speakers without issue, the same way you would for an iPod or computer.
Ok, now that we are done with what happens with the audio signal after it leaves the record player, let’s talk about the turntable itself. From the outside, a turntable seems to be fairly simple, but each component needs to work together for the best operation.
The motor needs to deliver consistent speed to minimize pitch changes in the music. The platter, the plate the record sits on, needs to translate the motor’s rotation efficiently to rotate the vinyl smoothly. The tonearm must ensure the needle travels across the record properly without skipping. The needle has to pick up the sound accurately, and all the parts need to be constructed in a way to reduce resonances so unwanted noise doesn’t enter the audio signal and make its way to your speakers.
All these components affect the operation, quality of sound, and durability of a turntable, and manufacturers are constantly improving them for the better. Now that you know a little more about the parts of a turntable you will have a better understanding of the differences between the many models available today.