Tag Archive: record player

  1. Turntable Kitchen’s Vinyl Record Collector’s Gift Guide

    8 Comments

    Pictured: 1) Pro-Ject Speed Box; 2) Pro-Ject Debut Carbon in red; 3) Al Green’s Greatest Hits LP; 4) Grado SR80i headphones; 5) Acryl-it Platter; 6) Audio Technica AT-LP60; 7) Music Hall Cork Mat; 8) The xx – xx LP

    In the past few years, vinyl records have made a well-deserved comeback. They are collectible, they have weight, and they come packaged in beautiful 12×12 cover art — all of which make them the perfect counterpoint to our increasingly large and disposable digital music libraries. You probably know a few people who are already collecting records or at least a few people who are interested in starting a setup for their home. Whether you’re buying for a novice or an experienced audiophile, this list is intended to help you pick out some goodies for the vinyl record collector in your life.

    Record Players

    Playing vinyl LPs obviously starts with a good record player. There are countless options on the market — many of which aren’t worth their price tag. We previously prepared an in-depth guide to selecting your first turntable, so you should stop there for more information, but we’ve distilled the list to our top three for this guide.

    1. Audio Technica AT-LP60 ($129) — This is our pick for a good, no-fuss beginner’s turntable.

    2. Music Hall USB-1 ($249) — Music Hall makes good audio equipment and, at $250, this USB turntable is a steal.

    3) Pro-Ject Debut Carbon ($399) — This turntable offers a great entry point into the world of high-end audio (and happens to be the record player we own). It sounds unbelievably clear and warm. It’s also easy to upgrade (mine is more tricked out than the Millenium Falcon at this point). Highly recommended.

    Other Audio Equipment

    Once you buy a high-end turntable you can upgrade it piece by piece if you’d like. As I mentioned above, I’ve customized mine to provide the best possible sound. Here are a few of the pieces I’ve purchased to customize my Pro-Ject.

    1) Pro-Ject Speed Box ($129) — This was the first upgrade I bought for my Pro-Ject. It allows you to easily change between 45 rpm and 33 rpm at the push of a button. Just as importantly, it provides precision speed regulation and gives your turntable a little more bump on the low end. If you or your vinyl lover already has a Pro-Ject without automatic speed-adjustment, this is a huge upgrade.

    2) Pro-Ject Phono-In ($189) — If your pre-amp doesn’t include a phono-in, you’ll need to buy one to connect your turntable to it. This one, like all Pro-Ject products I’ve tried, provides an excellent option for high end performance.

    3) Music Hall Cork Mat ($50) — This “upgrade” was one of the more surprising purchases I made for my Pro-Ject (though it’ll work with any turntable). It came highly recommended by the folks at my local hi-fi shop. It provides better isolation, better grip, and better tracking. In short, it makes your records sound better.

    4) Pro-Ject Acryl-It Platter Upgrade ($125) — Every piece of your turntable affects the quality of sound reproduction. The platter is no different. This acrylic platter not only looks cool, but is designed to provide “a stable support for the vinyl” while eliminating unwanted resonance.

    5) Rega Elys 2 Cartridge ($295) — This cartridge upgrade is designed to provide better sound separation between various musical instruments. For the price alone it may be one of the last pieces you’ll upgrade but the right cartridge can make a huge difference in the sound you’ll get out of your turntable.

    A Few Classic LPs

    There are a few classic artists that are essential to any collection. While those records will vary slightly from person to person, there are a few that I think any music lover should have in their collection. You can find some of these in $1 bin at your local record store,  but I opted to shell out good money for pristine copies to listen to in our home; I appreciate the clarity. Here are a few of my top picks.

    1) Otis Redding – Otis Blue — Redding’s brand of deep Southern soul is warming and cozy — a perfect pairing for any cold night.

    2) Al Green – Greatest Hits — I’ve probably played my copy of this more than any other record in my collection. It’s sexy and fun.

    3) Jorge Ben – Forca Bruta — This record never fails to scratch that itch for something a little different.

    4) Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea — This one is a contemporary classic.

    5) David Bowie – Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust — I’m a David Bowie fanatic and this (along with Hunky Dory) are my two favorite Bowie records.

    6) The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street — Classic honky-tonk rock n’ roll for a good time any time.

    7) Miles Davis – Bitches Brew — This record will melt your mind. In fact, it’s so forward thinking, it will still melt your children’s children’s minds.

    8) The Beatles – Abbey Road — If you own one record by The Beatles, it must be this one. Or Revolver. Or Rubber Soul. Or The White Album…

    9) Joao Gilberto – Joao Gilberto — The perfect record for when you want some serious chill time.

    10) Radiohead – OK Computer — If you don’t know why you need this record in your collection, then what are you doing here anyways?

    11) Joni Mitchell – Blue — Let’s be honest, I could have easily listed Court And Spark here as well. The point is that I’d think any music lover would want Mitchell in their collection.

    A Few Contemporary Favorite LPs

    Your record collection shouldn’t look like it was transported from the 70s. If you’re a fan of contemporary indie music, then you’ll want to own these modern masterpieces as well.

    1) Beach House – Bloom — One of my favorite records from the past few years. “Lazuli” sounds so good spinning on your turntable.

    2) The National – High Violet — You could easily go with Boxer or Alligator, but you should own at least one record by The National. I own them all.

    3) Radiohead – In Rainbows — Listening to tracks like “Faust Arp” and “Reckoner” on my record player is guaranteed to send shivers down my spine.

    4) Spoon – Gimme Fiction — This was the first record that convinced me I needed a good turntable. Play it on a high end deck to remember why you spent your money on an audiophile turntable. The production provides for some great demonstrations of sonic separation.

    5) Jay-Z – The Blueprint — So many great hip hop albums aren’t available on vinyl (or were only briefly available). Thankfully, you can score this one quick and easy.

    6) Grizzy Bear – Veckatimest — This record set this band on the path to being considered one of indie music’s top bands.

    7) The xx – xx — Beautiful die-cut packaging and a beautiful record. This is definitely a modern classic in my book.

    8) Iron & Wine – Shepherd’s Dog — A beautifully textured album by Mr. Sam Beam and another “great anytime” record.

    9) Cat Power – You Are Free — It was this or The Greatest, but either way, I’m often glad to find some Chan Marshall in my collection.

    10) Ryan Adams – Gold — This record’s a classic.

    Limited-Edition Records

    Without question, record collecting is partially about building an awesome library — but it’s also about snagging those rare, hard-to-find collectibles before they are gone. Obviously, most limited edition records that I’d recommend won’t last very long before they are sold out (that’s the nature of limited edition records), but here are a few suggestions available at the time of writing. You can also follow our new Limited Edition Vinyl board on Pinterest for more ideas.

    1) Turntable Kitchen’s Pairings Box Subscription — Clearly, I’m biased but I think I’ve put together a pretty great collection of artists in our subscription 7″ service. These sell out pretty fast and the only way to guarantee your copy is to subscribe.

    2) Beck – Sea Change — Interestingly enough, Beck records have historically been hard to come by after their initial release. Sure, they are occasionally repressed, but you need to jump on them while you can. Sea Change is currently available in numbered, limited edition format. SOLD OUT

    3) Atoms For Peace – Default — This record is limited to 3,000 copies and features Thom Yorke and Flea. Those 3,000 copies will go relatively fast. SOLD OUT

    4) Yo La Tengo – Fade (plus bonus 7″) — A deluxe numbered edition on rainbow foil with a bonus 7″ of cover songs. This is a pretty rad pick up for any collection. SOLD OUT

    4) Ryan Adams – Love Is Hell — This 2LP repress of the otherwise out-of-print Love Is Hell EP is remastered by Mobile Fidelity Labs and is limited edition and numbered. SOLD OUT

    5) Small Plates Recs Crack Pack — Our friends at Small Plates Recs are up to some great things and this “Crack Pack” includes all of the music they’ve pressed to vinyl for a low, low price. In fact, their entire catalog will set you back less than that Ryan Adams 2LP above.

    6) Records from Father/Daughter Records — The folks at Father/Daughter believe in great limited edition records featuring great up-and-coming artists. As a result, we believe in buying their records. Get Pure Bathing Culture, Levek, and more before they are all gone.

    7) Records from Gold Robot Records — Our friend from across the Bay. Their records tend to sell out pretty quickly. Get what you can before it’s gone.

    8) Records from Analog Edition —  You’ll find ultra-limited records from Lands & People, Teen Mom, and more in this boutique label’s store.

    Headphones

    Headphones are not specifically required to enjoy your turntable. In fact, although I do listen to my records with headphones occasionally, I prefer to use my speakers. As a result, my headphones really get the most use when I’m on the go. With that in mind, the first three pairs of headphones I listed each fall in under $100 range. The Westone 3’s, which sound amazing, are less cost-effective.

    1) Thinksound ts02 — Made with eco-friendly materials, Thinksound’s ts02’s look good and sound good. These are my favorite earbuds at the $100 and under range. Read our review for more info.

    2) Sol Republic Tracks Headphones — I bring these sturdy over-the-ear headphones with me to cafes and on public transit. They offer good sound and exceptionally sturdy construction.

    3) Grado SR80i — Grado is one of the most well-respected companies in hi-fi. Their products can range from a few hundred bucks to a few thousands bucks. This pair of over-the-ear headphones are a great value for the price.

    4) Westone 3 Headphones — These are my favorite headphones/earbuds I’ve ever used. They sound amazing and I bring them with me everywhere. For more info, you can read our review here. Be warned: they also are not cheap (just under $400 on sale).

  2. Turntable Kitchen’s Top 5 Recommended Turntables (and Tips for Selecting Your Own)

    114 Comments

    UPDATE: Some of the turntables we recommended have been replaced and/or discontinued. As a result, we’ve compiled a new guide to building a complete stereo system including turntables, preamps, phono stages, speakers and more here: https://www.turntablekitchen.com/2014/10/turntable-kitchens-top-6-recommended-turntable-systems/

    So, you previously read Turntable Kitchen’s Top Ten Reasons to Buy a Turntable, and are now thoroughly convinced that you need a record player, but are looking for a place to start. Buying a turntable can be a daunting experience. After all, there is a lot to consider. For example, do you want belt-driven or direct-drive? Also, you need to decide if you want a turntable with or without a built-in preamp. Do you want to start an audiophile quality setup that can be upgraded over time, or do you just want something simple that will allow you to play records? Ultimately, after considering those factors, the answer as to which turntable you’ll want will primarily depend on two factors: your budget and what your goal for your system is (Note: this article presumes you aren’t seeking a DJ-style deck which are designed with different considerations than a turntable intended as a hi-fi system).

    I’ve broken my recommendations down into a few different categories, starting with a recommendation for the beginner record collector, moving to recommendations for archivists (meaning you want a way to transfer vinyl to MP3), followed by my recommendation for starting an audiophile quality stereo system, and ending with my tips for selecting  your own turntable if the ones I recommend don’t appeal to you.

    And, remember, even the best turntable is only as good as the speakers you use it with. Check out our newest guide: 3 Audiophile Speakers That Will Make Your Music Glow.

     

    I Want a Basic Turntable To Listen To My Small Collection of Records

    TK Recommends:

    AT-LP60-Automatic Turntable

    *  $129
    *  Belt-Drive
    *  Built-in Preamp
    *  RCA outputs
    *  Upgradeable
    *  Available from Amazon.

    If you are on a budget, but want a good, basic turntable that will let you play those pretty 7” records you receive in your Turntable Kitchen Pairings Box each month, I recommend the AT-LP60-Automatic Turntable. It is a solid starter turntable.  It is belt-driven and includes a built-in preamp and line-level RCA outputs, which means it is good to go straight out of the box and won’t require you to purchase any other equipment. You can connect this turntable to a home stereo system. Compared to the other turntables in this range, you’ll get very good sound reproduction when listening to your record collection. You can upgrade many of the components, such as the stylus, to improve the overall performance of the player.

     

    I Want a USB Turntable To Convert LPs into MP3s

    TK Recommends:

    Ion iPTUSB Turntable  * see comments

    *  $129.99
    *  Belt-Drive
    *  USB output
    *  Built-in speaker
    Available from Amazon (discontinued).

    Music Hall USB-1

    *  $249.99
    *  Belt-drive
    *  USB output
    *  Built-in preamp
    *  Available from Amazon.

    Pro-ject Essential USB Turntable

    *  $399.99
    *  Belt-drive
    *  Audiophile Quality
    *  USB output
    *  Upgradeable
    *  Available from Amazon.

    Personally, I’m not crazy about USB to PC turntables for converting vinyl records into MP3 format.  Most people I know who buy them don’t use them for that purpose very often (if ever) and instead just use them to play records. And, of course, the feature will cost you – either in terms of the overall quality of your turntable or in price.  Besides, many contemporary records include digital downloads with purchase of the vinyl anyways. However, if you have a collection of old, rare records, this might be the easiest way to transfer the music at listenable quality.

    If you are seeking a turntable for this purpose, the next question you need to ask is whether you are simply seeking a basic, starter turntable to transfer your music or looking for a high-end audiophile piece of equipment to also make your music sound glorious. I recommend three turntables for this section, based on the criteria you’re looking to fulfill. The Ion is the cheapest of the three and will do a good job of both playing your records and transferring them digitally (however, see the comments section: one reader noted that there are speed issues and it may not be possible to bypass the built in preamp which isn’t very good quality).  The Music Hall USB-1 will do a better job at playing your records, and the Pro-Ject Essential USB Turntable is the somewhat pricier audiophile choice that will make your music sounds mind-blowing.

     

    I Want an Audiophile System To Make My Records Sound Amazing

    TK Recommends:

    Pro-ject Debut Carbon Turntable

    *  $369-399 (depending on color)
    *  Belt-Drive
    *  Very upgradeable
    *  Audiophile Quality
    *  Sexy
    *  Available at Amazon.

    If you’re really into your music and want a turntable that can change the way you hear your favorite albums, then you are going to want to get an audiophile quality deck.  Keep in mind, they aren’t cheap, but they’re worth the price if you’re serious about building out your music collection. Even an entry-level audiophile quality turntable is going to cost you at least $350 for the turntable itself, and it won’t have a built-in preamp, so you’ll need to buy that, too. Odds are, you are going to need a phono-in unless your integrated amp or amplifier has one built-in. And, of course, you’ll eventually need to buy good speakers because even a great turntable will sound crappy out of bad speakers. If you’re prepared and excited to start building out your record-listening collection, allow me to make some recommendations.

    The three most commonly recommended entry-level audiophile turntables are the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, the Rega RP1, and the Music Hall MMF 2.2.  If possible, your best bet is to go to an audio-equipment store and give each a listen before deciding on which one you want. Each is a fantastic turntable that will breathe new life into your record collection.

    When selecting mine, I went out to local audio-equipment stores and gave each of them a test drive using the same records, integrated preamp, cables and speakers for each test run. When all was said and done, I left with a slight, but certain, preference for the sound from the Debut III (now upgraded and called the Debut Carbon). It was warm, clean and very alive. Not only that, but for me, it was the sexier looking turntable of the three. I bought it in red, but it is also available in several other colors including silverblack, white, blue, green and yellow. The RP1 was a close second, but it was a definite second place and also more expensive. Thus, I recommend the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (the update to the Debut III).

    Personally, I started my system with a Cambridge Audio azur 340A integrated pre-amp, a Cambridge Audio phono-in, and a pair of PSB speakers.  It sounds great to my ears.  I later updated my Debut with an acrylic platter and the Pro-Ject Speed Box (which increases bass performance and improves and automates speed control).  Next I plan to purchase a new cartridge and better speakers.

     

    Tips For Selecting Your Own Turntable

    Not interested in any of the ones I recommended above?  Maybe you just want to hit eBay to buy a vintage turntable. No worries, here are some tips to help you select your own.

    Belt-drive vs. Direct-drive

    I recommend belt-drive turntables.  If you aren’t a DJ, the advantages of direct-drive turntables are insignificant, but the disadvantages are numerous – especially if you aren’t ready to dive into the high-end market (and even then, I generally recommend belt-driven turntables).  This is because direct-drive turntables can transmit noise from the motor and bearing to the stylus, which means the sound produced isn’t as clean as it could be.  Many direct-drive turntables also can have issues related to speed that cause pitch variations in playback (a.k.a. wow and flutter).  Conversely, the belt on a belt-driven turntable absorbs vibrations that may otherwise be picked up by the stylus.

    Built-in amplifiers

    First, let me say that I have no intention of getting deep into a discussion of preamps, integrated preamps, and amplifiers.  There is a lot to cover on the topic, and I want to keep this about selecting a turntable.  However, when selecting a turntable, you’ll need to decide whether you want to purchase a turntable with a built in preamp or not.

    I’m going to try to keep this as straightforward as possible, which means I’m glossing over a lot of stuff here. With that said, here is the basic gist of it: without a preamp, the output from your turntable won’t be loud enough to be picked up through normal stereo equipment/speakers. Personally, I don’t like turntables with built-in amplifiers and I’d rather buy my own.  With a built-in preamp you are stuck with the quality of the preamp built-in to the turntable, which probably isn’t very good.  Audiophile equipment generally won’t include that option anyway. However, buying a turntable with a built-in preamp saves you the cost of having to buy a separate preamp.  Thus, the bottom line is this: if you are on a tight budget, go with a turntable with a built-in preamp; if you are going middle of the road on a system you can improve over time, I’d recommend buying a separate integrated amp (combines the preamp and amplifier)(hint: you may find cheap “vintage” equipment on eBay to get you started); and if you are looking to build the perfect system you’ll probably want to go with a separate preamp, amplifier, turntable, and phono-in.  As I mentioned above, I started my system with a Cambridge Audio Azur 340A integrated pre-amp, a Cambridge Audio phono-in, and a pair of PSB speakers.

    If you’re looking for speaker recommendations, we’ve got you covered. Check out our top 3 audiophile quality speaker systems.

    Meanwhile, if you’re looking for preamps, speakers, phono stages, and/or updated turntable recommendations, check out our brand new guide to building a turntable stereo system: https://www.turntablekitchen.com/2014/10/turntable-kitchens-top-6-recommended-turntable-systems/