A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Your First Turntable

by A Manly Guest Contributor on November 9, 2012 · 38 comments

in Travel & Leisure

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Cameron Schaefer

So, you’ve decided to get into vinyl. Perhaps the story I shared last month about my own journey into record collecting piqued your interest. Maybe you inherited a great collection from a family member or got inspired by the collection of a friend. No matter what your path was to get here, the first hurdle most people must clear is that of buying a turntable. As with any electronic equipment, the options are endless, price range vast, and feature sets diverse. With no past experience the process can be a little intimidating, but fear not. I was in the position of clueless beginner a short time ago and can report back that once you learn a little lingo and make a few decisions regarding your needs and desires, there are a lot of really great turntables out there just waiting to find a cherished place in your home.

Note: This guide is not for those wanting to DJ, scratch, etc. While some of the turntables covered below would work for that sort of thing, it’s a completely different area of expertise. What we’re focusing on is beginner audiophile turntables. “Audiophile” is a fancy way of saying people who are interested in producing the highest quality sound.

Basic Components of a Turntable

While one doesn’t need an engineer’s knowledge of turntable design, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the main components and how they work since they will pop up routinely in discussion. In short, a turntable’s sole purpose is to put a needle on a record to produce music. Seems simple enough, but when you take into account that a single record groove is smaller than the width of a human hair, you start to understand the importance of precision in such an operation. When someone pays $5,000 for a turntable, much of what they’re paying for is nothing more than increased precision and stability. With those two factors in mind, the following are the key components that go into re-creating the sound contained on the record with as much accuracy as possible.

Plinth (Base) – The foundation of the turntable that supports the rest of the components. Generally, the base has feet attached to it to help ensure stability (which is key to good playback). The plinth can be made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, or metal.

Platter – The rotating component upon which the record rests/spins. In general, the heavier the better (less vibration). It is powered by the motor and generally has a mat that is placed between its surface and that of the record. The mat provides a cushion for the record, provides grip, and also helps with vibration dampening. The speed of the platter must be set to match the cut of the record (33RPM, 45RPM, 78RPM). The vast majority of turntables will play both 33RPM and 45RPM, but one often has to buy a modification kit or buy a separate turntable to play the older 78RPM format.

Tonearm – The arm that swings out over the record and allows the needle to make contact with the vinyl as it spins. The arm is designed not only to get the needle on the record, but also to maintain a consistent sound/speed on both the outer and inner circumference of the record. If the design of the arm is poor it might sound slow on the outer tracks and fast on the inner ones. The cueing device (the part that holds the tonearm) is the mechanism that lifts and lowers the tonearm and is a fairly sophisticated piece of machinery that should be handled with care. The job of the cueing device is to provide smooth initial contact with the record without any lateral movement (so you don’t scratch across your vinyl). The cueing process can be automatic (push start and it does everything by itself) or manual (user places arm over record). Audiophiles tend to prefer manual because there are less parts to disturb the tonearm’s motion.

Cartridge/Stylus – This one can be confusing because a lot of terms here are used interchangeably to mean the same thing when people speak in generalities. A stylus is commonly referred to as a needle, and a cartridge is the housing that supports the stylus. People often use the term cartridge when really they just mean stylus. At any rate,when discussing turntables, the old-hands often say the same thing, “Spend some extra money to get a good cartridge.” Since the cartridge houses the stylus, which is the only part of the turntable actually making contact with each tiny sonic groove on the record, it makes sense that even slight upgrades to this component can make substantial improvements in sound quality. With that said, many turntables offer a high-quality cartridge and stylus as part of their basic package.  Just remember, the cartridge should only need to be replaced if you are making specific upgrades or if it is obviously damaged. Your stylus, however, might need to be upgraded due to degradation that may not be visible.

The Endless Quest for Sonic Perfection

People will say that vinyl isn’t as good as digital alternatives because of the multiple points of sound degradation that can occur along the path from the record to the ear of the listener: breakdown of vinyl, needle degradation, equipment quality, receiver quality, speakers, etc. We’re happy to report that they are all correct! There are a lot of possible places where sound quality can leak, but that doesn’t deter us in our effort for a listening experience that is far superior to laptop speakers and iPods when it’s done even halfway well. We’re talking about shifting the focus of the music experience from whatever is on to exactly what you want to be hearing – which is about deep, active listening and enjoyment. Yes, the nicer the quality of all the equipment you get, the more enjoyment you might get out of it at some point. But, there is also something to be said about very basic setups that just produce the sound nicely and allow a delightful experience. It’s a hobby, friends, there is no “finished.”

Buying a New Turntable

While there are many great turntables to be had on the used market, the piece of mind that comes with buying a new turntable and knowing that it has never been touched, dropped, or mishandled is often worth a great deal. Before heading off to your nearest record or electronics store it’s a good idea to have answered on your own, even if loosely, the following questions:

1) Price Range – As with most things in life you get what you pay for. However, the great thing about vinyl is that it can be experienced with abundant pleasure even with a very basic setup. You have to start somewhere and many audiophiles and sound enthusiasts with systems in the tens of thousands of dollars look back fondly at their initial turntable/stereo setups as the birthplace of a lifelong passion.

A few price ranges to be aware of:

Sub-$100: There are a multitude of low-budget turntables that will accomplish the basic tasks of getting needle to record. If you’re looking to dip your toes in the water without a large commitment, one of these might be a good option. However, be aware that with a low-end table you will often be sacrificing a certain amount of sound quality. As we mentioned earlier, it would be a terrible shame to decide the format wasn’t for you simply because much of the magic was being zapped by a poor quality turntable. Additionally, the ability to upgrade individual components is often quite limited with lower-budget tables, meaning if you want to upgrade you’ll likely need to buy a whole new turntable.

$300-$500: This is really the sweet spot for beginner audiophile turntables. The sonic difference between many of the offerings in this price range and that of sub-$100 will be distinct in most cases. Additionally, the turntables in this price range will often be configured to allow for a multitude of performance upgrades for individual components (cartridge, belt, stylus, etc.). A couple of Google searches and you will quickly find that three turntables in this price range continually pop up as leaders in both value and performance, and any of them make a fine first turntable:

$500 and up: Once you venture outside of the beginner audiophile range, the sky is the limit. There are an astonishing number of high-quality turntables with exotic designs, mind-blowing precision, and eye-watering performance. If you plan on venturing into this price range you definitely want to consult the experts at your local electronics shop and do a good amount of research.

2) Features – Today’s turntables offer a wide-variety of features in addition to simply playing the record. Knowing how you’ll be using your turntable and which features are most important will help you narrow down your search.

USB vs. Non-USB: One of the newest features to gain popularity among turntable manufacturers is the addition of a built-in USB port. The USB port allows you to transfer music from your records to your computer where you can then convert it to mp3 format. For people looking to digitize large vinyl collections, specifically old or rare albums not available on mp3, having a USB port may be a priority. A word of caution, however. USB turntables tend to have a poor reputation among audiophiles who assert, often rightly so, that the costs of adding the USB port are often made up for by using lower quality components on the rest of the table. Do your research and listen to as many models as possible to ensure you’re not getting a high-tech dud.

Additionally, although you might think that you really want to get your records converted over to a digital format, there might be something to say for just seeking out better digital alternatives. Most new records sold today come with a download card of the music for the purposes of playing on your digital device (the artists know you want to hear their music beyond your living room). Just note that a concentrated pop or tick from a poor vinyl-to-digital conversion when sent directly through your earbuds will probably alarm any listener and ruin the experience and take the charm right out of all your efforts.

Manual vs. Automatic: As mentioned previously, most higher-end tables utilize a manual cueing system, meaning you (the listener) must physically lift the arm and lower it onto the record and lift it back off as it reaches the end of the side. While this is slightly intimidating for beginners who worry about scratching the vinyl, it really is nothing cosmic and becomes second nature after a few attempts. However, if you’re the type of person that just wants to hit a button and let the turntable do the rest, then an automatic turntable may be for you.

3) UpgradeabilityUnless you’re planning on dropping a load of cash right out of the gate, you’ll likely want to upgrade your turntable at some point in the future…assuming of course you get hooked on the whole vinyl experience. With this in mind, it is good to know which components on your prospective turntables are upgradeable. Common upgrades include replacing the cartridge, tonearm, belt (if the turntable is belt-drive), and slip mats. Many lower-end turntables are often constructed in a way that doesn’t allow for individual components to be easily replaced–meaning you’re stuck with the stock components. Of note is that many of the beginner audiophile turntables in the $300-$500 range offer “performance packs” or bundles of component upgrades that can be purchased together to enhance turntable performance.

Note: If you’re looking for more information on specific recommendations and reviews for turntables for beginning vinyl collectors, check out our post: Top 5 Beginner Turntables for Vinyl Enthusiasts.

Questions to Ask When Buying Used

What about buying used? Just like in any used electronics market one must always have the infamous, “Buyer Beware” in the forefront of their mind at all times while searching for used turntables. There are a lot of junk turntables looking for a sucker to take them home. On the flip side, with a good amount of patience, effort, and propensity to ask the right questions, there are also a lot of gems to be found and money to be saved. The following is a list of questions one should always ask when buying a used turntable (some may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised…):

  • Does the turntable function properly?
  • How long has the seller owned it?
  • Was he/she the original owner?
  • How many hours of use per week during its lifetime?
  • Was it used for DJ-ing/scratching? (if so you might not want it due to heavy wear)
  • Does it come with a cartridge and stylus? Are they good?
  • If it is a belt-drive is the belt in good condition?
  • Does it come with all the original accessories? (i.e. dustcover, slipmat, box, instruction manual)

If the seller can answer all of these questions satisfactorily then chances are high you will be getting a decent turntable. If they can’t or seem to be trying to gloss over certain questions then move on and look elsewhere. Finally, when buying used, especially online, it is always a good idea to have the seller spell out their return policy in writing if they haven’t done so already.

If you are shopping for a higher end turntable and find a used one at an affordable price, remember to price-out all the expected upgrades and fixes. If you’re getting a steal on the price but have to shell out $500 in replacement parts you might be better off looking elsewhere. Similarly, somebody not willing to make all those upgrades might be nearly giving away a turntable that can be made almost new again with a little TLC.

Inspecting a Used Turntable

Rather than re-invent the wheel, this video from DJ Tutor is a good guide for what one should check when inspecting a used turntable. As he mentions, he is specifically discussing the Technics SL-1200MK2 (probably the most prolific turntable of all-time…and the one I own *blush*), but many of the things he highlights would apply to any turntable.

A Quick Word on Pre-Amps

If you’re like I was (clueless about audio equipment) you’ll ask, “Okay, so once I get this turntable I just plug it into….uh…where do I plug it in?” The answer is, “It depends.” With the exception of a handful of other budget turntables which have a built-in preamp, you will likely need to buy a phono pre-amp. Without a pre-amp, the output from your turntable won’t be strong enough to get picked up by your stereo equipment.

Now, I say you will likely need this because it depends on whether or not your receiver has a phono input. Most of the older receivers included an additional gain and re-equalizer stage that allowed you to directly connect your turntable via a phono input. You can easily determine whether or not your receiver has one; look for PHONO on your source selector switch, and input(s) labeled PHONO on the rear. If it doesn’t have it, you probably need a preamp.

Don’t panic, you can find a decent preamp for around $50 (see here). Like everything else, the sky is the limit in terms of price and quality for preamps as well, but that’s a different post for a different day.

_________________

Cameron Schaefer, pilot and early AoM contributor, has spent the past few years raising his two children with wife Marelize, hacking away at his backyard vegetable garden, knocking out an MBA and most recently venturing deep into the world of vinyl records.  Along with his friend Levi, the two recently created Vinyl + Cocktails, a blog where they pair their favorite albums with good cocktails.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul Nicholson November 9, 2012 at 9:55 pm

The reason you want a heavy platter isn’t for vibration, it’s for steady play speeds. The heavier the platter, the more inertia it has, which means minor variations in speed caused by any number of things – usually motor speed caused by variations in current (which used to be a bigger deal than it is now) won’t cause your record to speed up or slow down and stay at a steady, correct speed.

On that note, you also failed to mention a key feature for many record players is an adjustable RPM. Not just from 33.3 but a fine tuning option. In some cases it is aided by a strobe and those notches on the side of the platter. You can use them to adjust it so that you’re getting exactly 16 (you left that one out), 33.3, 45, or 78 RPMs.

2 Gerald November 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

“Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
Music Hall MMF 2.2
Rega RP-1″

Seriously these are worse then a lot sub 200$ Turntables. Noone would accept these primitive wood-boards in the 70s or even the 60s.
They are very prone to impact noise. Cause the drive isnt decoupled from anything the motors tend to drone, and switching the speed by shifting the belt by hand is a joke… At least they barely match the 40 years old high-fidelity standards in wow and flutter. But thats all. Before spending Hundreds of Dollars on these toys i would always recommend a vintage modell.

If it has to be new.
Any cheap Technics 1210-Copy with direct drive will do a better job.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120 is one of the better models.

Best Buy in Quality at new turntables are the “Super OEM” DJ Turntables. They Share the same Tonearm with the 2000$ Denon DLA-100 and overall quality is comparable to the 1210. The Stanton ST-150 for example, they come in many different brands.

3 Brandon McNeil November 9, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Being a “young blood,” as my local record shop owner calls me, I’m relatively new to the whole vinyl scene. I started out when I was probably 20 when I bought a cheap record player from Best Buy or something similar, seeing as how I was a college student, money and being my first buy, I wasn’t looking to go all in. I’m a fan of older music so finding good records I like was no difficult task.

3 years later and in the present now, I found my dad’s old pioneer pl-518 record player, JVC stereo, and advent speakers that my mom remembers him having when they first met. Along with his newly discovered records, my collection grew tenfold.

While all three match perfectly with each other in a remarkable harmony, they stick out like nothing else in my house. But I was raised in the “old world” so it’s a welcomed haven for me.

Any-who, being a newcomer to the vinyl world, I am a big fan of the quality of analog music.

4 Oscar November 9, 2012 at 11:19 pm

“PYLE PRO PLTTB3U DIRECT DRIVE” at amazon.com is good for 100 bucks. Changing Headshell and Cartridge is possible and it has USB, built in pre amp so it covers it all the basic functions. Cartridge is a Sanyo ST-09, There are elliptical stylus avaible to tweak it, but i recommend to switch to a Audio Technica 120E.

5 Filip November 10, 2012 at 4:42 am

It may be worth noting that you can convert your records to digital without the need for USB’s; using the audio input on your computer and the free audacity software. As an added bonus audacity can remove pops and crackles to give you mp3 quality sounds.

6 kirk November 10, 2012 at 10:48 am

I’m old I had my own as a kid in the 70′s. I remember needing new needles all the time as I was probably too rough with it. Player with usb port sounds interesting I never considering new players would have something like that.

7 Shane Kislack November 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Brian Cline in Dallas is making some beautiful custom turntables.
http://www.clineanalog.com/clineanalog.com/Custom_Audiophile_Turntables.html

8 Gerald November 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Instead of USB im Using a portable MP3 Recorder (Tascam DR Series) between my stereo System and the preamp. If I get a new Disc I just record it and cut the tracks. No need of adjustments. Then I save the 320K mp3 on my Computer and can burn them on CD, or USB Sticks like i want to. (in car/at sports etc)

I can tell no difference if the recorder is playing or the turntable. And im using an Nagaoka MP300 Cartridge.

9 Jake November 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm

One thing that I feel should be mentioned is that you don’t have to spend $100′s to enjoy records. Often times a trip down to the local goodwill or salvation army will provide a decent old record player and some albums, auctions are a good place to look too. I got dark side of the moon for a buck the other day and just listened to it on my cheap old cabinet stereo and it sure felt good!

10 the barking dog November 12, 2012 at 6:12 am

I’d recommend the Audio Technica AT-LP60 as a good budget entry – $83 at Amazon. No USB, built-in preamp, upgrade parts are available. I’ve had mine for over a year, and I keep meaning to get the upgrades and a separate preamp, but darn if it doesn’t sound just fine on its own.

11 Andrew November 12, 2012 at 8:56 am

from my experience, there is a wealth of opportunities at garage sales. i purchased a technics at a garage sale for about 60 bucks. built like a tank, direct drive, sounds great, and very stable.

12 Jaison November 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Coming from a vinyl enthusiast that’s looking to invest in a turntable setup, that was a great post.

Thanks for this.

13 Jaison November 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Does anyone know of a shop in/around Los Angeles where I can turntable browse?

14 Sam November 16, 2012 at 8:22 am

Go to an older elementary school.

15 Gerald November 19, 2012 at 1:21 am

Look on the values of “Wow and flutter”, it has to be less then 0,2% to be Hifi… Others might drone hard on the inner rails…

I dont think a turntable in the 21. century that cant accord with the ancient high-fidelity DIN is acceptable.

16 Kuby November 21, 2012 at 11:01 am

If you want a good first turntable buy a Technics sl 1200. Get one used off ebay or craigslist. They run around $200-300. They are not great looking but they are solid. If you end up wanting something nicer you can sell it for what you bought it for and if you don’t the 1200 will keep being awesome.

17 Gerald November 25, 2012 at 12:20 am

SL-1200 are great, but they are still overpriced, even used because all the Amateur-DJ guys want to have one. Technics made many more Direct drive Turntables for home use, with very similar technique that are way more reasonable and come mostly even with better sounding cartridges. Technics SL-1300, SL-Q2/Q3/q33 SL-D3, SL 16xx and more and more…

Other japanese makers like Micro, CEC, Hitachi, and also Sony till 1985 made many great turntables.

18 Matthew Macias November 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Love my turntable, I had gotten into vinyls about last year and was looking for a turntable and luckily one of my mother’s co-workers had a technics laying around and gave it to me for free the only thing it needed was a new stylus and it was ready to go. You can totally hear a difference in the music with it and sometimes the little scratches at something to it.

19 Patrick December 23, 2012 at 11:07 am

Love the article and website, been married over 13 years and wanted to surprise my music-loving wife with a turntable.

Took your suggestion and purchased the MMF-2.2 and got “Hotel California” and “Rubber Soul”, two of my wife’s favorites.

My problem/question is: do I need an amp or just speakers? I set the whole thing up and POW, zero sound! What was a great gift idea, she was so shocked and loved it, turned into flop.

Thanks for your input.

20 Zod January 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Well you need a phone pre-amp and a home amplifier. The audio from a record player is very very quiet. Old home amplifiers (receivers) used to have phono inputs for record players. They could amplify the signal inside the receiver. They have stopped putting them on amps. Now you need to put a phono pre-amp between the record player and receiver. If you don’t the sound will barely be audible (if at all).

21 Dean Singh May 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Indeed the three suggested models are the pinnacle of inexpensive turntables.
Vinyl is tricky these days…..look for original pressings and get a Spin Clean

22 Marc June 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Would the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 be a good turntable for non DJ? Also I found someone selling a Mitsubishi DP-EC7 on kijiji, should I start with something like that first and go to something more expensive later?

Right now I have all the component for my setup except a good turntable. Right now I have a Yorx all in one system plugged in to a Technics SA-G77 amp and into a Technics SH-GE50 EQ going to my Hitachi speaker, HPS-4075.

Thanks :)

23 Kim June 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Okay, I’m a girl….but, I landed here when searching for information about buying a turntable. I never owned anything but a portable one (grew up listening to cassettes) and I would like to expose my kids (ages 20,18 & 9) to the sound quality. Very helpful….thank you!

24 Jeff June 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Nice guide. It’s good to see one taking vintage tables into account.

I wrote my own extensive buying guide, and also include plenty of tips on how to set one up properly. Hope it’s okay to post here for your visitors!

http://iamthejeff.com/post/10/how-to-find-the-best-turntable-and-how-to-make-the-most-of-it

25 Patrick August 23, 2013 at 9:44 am

Hey guys, I am pretty positive that my parents have this same record player at home:
http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=281146727985
My girlfriend bought me a Crosley and I am terrified to use it after reading everything on this site… It sounds like anything is better than Crosley, but is this legit enough to use long term?

26 Don September 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I am afraid I have to disagree with the comment about the superiority of the older direct drive turntables to the new belt driven models, such as the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.

Back in the day when I first collected vinyl I had a number of turntables (Acoustic Research, Sony, Dual) both belt driven and direct drive, fully automatic and manual. As less and less vinyl became available I converted to digital, first CDs, then mini discs then MP3.

Now that I again am into vinyl and my niece is enjoying the Sony TT I left behind in Ontario, I moved into an
Pro-Ject Genie TT with the 2M red and loved it so much I then went to the Evolution 10.1 with a cadenza black. I also own a Debut Carbon with a 2M black. There is no comparison between a DJ type turntable and a audiophile, belt driven beauty like the Debut Carbon. Read the professional reviews.

Of course, it depends a lot on what you play. Head banging stuff may not sound all that different on a quality turntable, but Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky sure does.

27 Donata September 25, 2013 at 7:42 am

We just got into vinyls about 2 yrs ago and purchased an all-in-one crosley unit. We’ve had so many problems with it throughout these two years, I am ready to look for another player. Unfortunately, since we currently have an all-in-one unit I do not have any other components (receiver, speakers, pre-amp). I’d like to upgrade without breaking the bank. If i purchased the pro-ject debut carbon, can anyone recommend a speaker set for under $150 as well as a receiver for under $150? I’m looking for something that will still produce good sound and will last for another couple of years until we are ready to upgrade to higher quality speakers/receiver. Thanks!

28 Jim September 29, 2013 at 10:45 am

I’m thinking of getting back into vinyl as we have an excellent store in Pittsburgh (Jerry’s) but I wonder if people will regret spending all that time to turn vinyl into mp3s. It also might be better to invest in a USB interface that has the option for 24 bit audio and up to 96,000 K Hz that can be mixed down to 16 bit wav or aiff files… Also using a headphone jack or rca cables into the interface may yield better results.

29 Julia October 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I bought a 70s turntable 2 years ago and know absolutely nothing about turntables and vinyls. However I do know what music I like and have been enjoying the occasional record and the great sound quality my turntable offers. I have a question though, do I need any special components to play 7″ vinyls? The speed is not a problem. I heard some turntables have a special pop-up thing to play smaller vinyls.

30 Jonathan October 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Hi. I’m just getting into collecting vinyl and am shopping around for a decent record player. I don’t need it to be of the highest quality, but I don’t want to be disappointed either. I have been looking at these Crosley and Pyle systems on Amazon – the ones with the vintage wood casings (which I really love), the CD and tape player combos, etc. I am very skeptical about these pieces, however, because they look very cheaply made. Should I be skeptical? Or will it do the job for, say, playing records when friends come over, when I’m just chilling around the house, that kind of thing? Thanks for all the info.

31 Lorretta October 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm

My husband has an old Zenith stereo. We tried to replace the stylus but we don’t seem to know what the heck we’re doing! Is it easier to replace the whole turn table with the arm & needle already in working order? Thank you,
Lorretta
lor-joe@juno.com

32 Chris November 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Old Radio DJ trick I learned years ago to reduce noise on playback is to hydroplane the needle with a couple of spritzes of distilled water on the record from a squirt bottle. I would never had believed it but I saw one of the old jocks at one the stations I worked at do this to remove a little surface noise.

33 Steve November 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm

My knowledge is bit dated since my epic transformation from DJ culture to family life; but I thought I might make a contribution to this topic.

If you’re on the fence and not sure if you want to get a player and start a record collection, there’s no shame in picking up a used player at your choice of resale shops. This will help to keep the entry price affordable. While you’re at the resale shop (Salvation Army, St. Vincent, Goodwill, & some pawn shops) be sure to browse the record collection. Used records at resale shops are typically so cheap that you can greatly expand your musical horizons without emptying your bank account. So go ahead and pick up some classical, big band, polka, jazz, blues, Motown, some classic rock; it’s all there for the taking. Surprisingly often the records in those shops are in great condition as well.

Classic rock can be a bit trickier to find, there are shops that specialize in reselling vinyl and buyers who comb those 1st tier sources for highly sought after albums. Going to a record store that specializes in used vinyl will help greatly in finding ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ but expect to pay more. If you have fee time this can be a great way to spend some of it; you’ll rediscover musical interests you never knew you had. Of course with the internet I suppose you can probably find what you’re looking for without venturing out into the unknown; but you might miss out on finding something that you weren’t looking for.

My first set of decks was some nameless Akai model I picked up in a pawnshop in Toronto in the late 90’s, the sound quality was good but they were totally unsuitable for DJ usage. My second set was a pair of used Technics SL-1200 MkII’s which I still have. The 1200 mk2 is the original club killer, they’re built like a tank and weigh about half as much. You can literally, though I wouldn’t recommend it, stand on one and it will turn you around in circles. The 1200 series is unmatched (as far as I know ) in torque, they’ll go from a dead stop to full speed in less than a quarter turn and the solid construction makes them extremely resistant to vibration. They were designed with trench warfare in mind.

That said I would not recommend the 1200 for anyone who’s not planning on dragging them to house parties on the weekends. They’re overpriced and in limited supply, for an audiophile you can get more for your money with an alternative player.

One feature that the 1200 has that a lot of other manual tables lack is a lever by the base of the tone arm that will gently raise and lower the arm from the surface of the record. This is a very handy feature that I wish was on all manual tables, it entirely eliminates the risk of catastrophic failure when engaging the device. Funny that it would be built into the A-10 Warthog of record players.

Another thing about the 1200mk2 that none of you would probably ever need to know is that the pitch fader has a ‘click’ in the middle/neutral position that can make very fine adjustments around +/- 0 very difficult if not impossible; The Mk3 eliminated the click as does the 1210 I believe.

Since my Mk2’s I’ve had a pair of Numark TT-1’s which were fairly terrible and my 1st pair of ‘straight arm’ tables; Stanton STR-8 (get it? … how clever). I believe that the straight tone arm was invented for the benefit of scratch style DJ’s, the shorter tone arm meant that when the table was rotated 90 degrees for scratching the tone arm would be almost entirely out of the way. Most turntables have a longer S shaped tone arm. If you get a fancy cartridge that’s not adjustable (unable to adjust the lateral angle at which the stylus will engage the record, typically there are 2 slots & screws in the top of the cartridge if it’s adjustable) it likely won’t work with a straight arm table. I can’t use my Ortophon Nightclub cartidges on those Stanton tables.

The trick that Chris mentions above does indeed work, but I would emphasize to only use clean water or a record cleaning solution. Alcohol or glass cleaner will damage your vinyl.

34 richard de vreede December 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Well if you don’t want a table used for
scratching a mixing then you’d better not
buy a 1200 or 1210mkII, being the most used scratchtable all time. The stantons
st.150′s have twice the torque then the
best 1210mk2, which i olso own, cause i like the tonearm. De tt is a ery cheap turntable, the the ttx is the one used..
problem:a tone tone arm with space on it and all oem-like turntables like the stanton are delivered with that ‘problem’. At the moment i’m upgrading of a stanton, cause the components used, like the filter pots at the power unit+,the powerunit itself are supercheap (like on a 1210mk2).
And the pre-amp also ain’t the best one.. My advantage is that i have done the university micro-elektronics,
so i knew what i bought. But audiophiles turning vinyl into mp3′s??? Mp3′s is the thing we wanna get rid of???? I also scratch with vinyl and have denon sc-3900, the digital table top, with the spinning platter…nice build btw, but i turn my scratch records into flac and wav, and us the digital form to get more dnamics back. And i don’t understand why few people just don’t buy the 1500 or 1510 instead of the 1200…
Almost the same and you buy nice once for 200euro’s at real stores,specialized in older gear with guarantee.And just like the 1200′s you can update a lot. It’s to bad that many people think that restoring a deck is the same as updating. But 500euro’s for old gear like a 1200 is a bit insane. It’s not like that their hard to find or so and all parts can be bought new…..with outdated cheap parts on it..but even though.. But replacing some parts and wires and building a diy preamp in it and better coolblocks will cost you 350euro’s and then you have a nice new unit….and i mean replacing the stock caps from 10 eurocent to 3 dollar, nice caps on some places…not all of them…useless….a 2M red on it…125 euro’s….and it sounds nice. At the moment it doesn’t sound bad either, but that’s cause of other gear…and cables.
But in some prp hifi users in a blind test, seldom a peson get;s it right,
only it unit one 5000 and unit two 15000……..price doesn’t say everyting..

Good evening people

35 Rolf January 6, 2014 at 11:59 am

Gents, this looks like a great resource. Just started my own blog about record players and this is te leven of content I would like to produce.
For me listening from vinyl is more about the experience. The feeling already start when I pick a record instead of plugin an usb stick. So much more fun with the same songs. Than add the specific sound and yes, that’s the type of experience I seek when listening to music.
I wrote about this stuff at my blog (just started)

36 Keith January 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Just got my first turntable, next step is a stereo system right? Do I need anything special, my budget is about 150, any recommendations?

37 Mike March 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm

The OP is correct. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is an amazing value. I have 3 turntables, a Dual idler drive, a Rotel Direct drive, and a new Debut Carbon. The Pro-Ject is clearly the best performer. Anyone who says a 1980s DD deck is superior does not know what they are talking about. I own good examples of both, and I can tell the difference. An older direct drive turntable will cerrtainly work, pretty well in most cases, But the modern belt drive decks are much quieter and more detailed.

One important tip. Cleaning the records is of paramont importance. My hand cleaning routine usually reduces surface noise by 2/3 or more.

38 Jack April 14, 2014 at 8:10 am

Great stuff!
My parents do still have a turntable somewhere in storage. Next weekend I will look it up!

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