Tag Archive: record players

  1. 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/

  2. Turntable Kitchen’s Top Ten Reasons To Buy a Turntable

    18 Comments

    You’ve probably noticed that we like vinyl records in our home.  For example, at the end of many of my posts, I gently nudge our readers towards Insound to buy our featured albums on vinyl instead of digitally from iTunes.  Beyond that, we did name our site Turntable Kitchen.  Friends who haven’t started collecting records yet, but who are interested, always ask me two questions: 1) Why should I buy a record player / start collecting records, and 2) Which record player should I buy?

    I’m going to do my best to address both of those questions.  First, here is TK’s Top 10 Reasons to Buy a Turntable:

    1. Vinyl Records Just Sound Better

    Let me start with a caveat: a bad turntable will only sound a little better than a bad CD player. Maybe even worse. But if you are serious about listening to music with high quality sound reproduction, in my opinion, vinyl is the way to go.  But let’s be fair, sound can be subjective.  What sounds great to you may not sound great to me.  But with a turntable, as opposed to a CD player, you can experiment with the factors that effect the sound quality.  You can upgrade your catridge, your platter, your tone arm, your power source, etc.  You can also tweak the components you do have until you find the sound you are looking for.  That is pretty much out of the question with a CD player.

    Further, most audiophiles believe that analog/vinyl sound reproduction just sounds warmer and fuller than digital reproduction.  The debate as to which is better, analog or digital, has been raging pretty much since the birth of the CD, but to this day, if you visit almost any audiophile forum on the Internet, you’ll discover that vinyl is the overwhelming choice.  If you want to read some of the pros and cons you can check out this thread on Google Answers.  For my part, there is no question as to which I prefer.

    I recall the first time I put vinyl and CD to the sonic taste test at a hi-fi store in San Francisco.  For the test, I listened to Spoon’s Gimme Fiction first on CD and then on vinyl using the exact same amplifier and speakers and standing in the exact same location. The CD was fine and sounded the same as it always had for me — but when we played the record on vinyl, it was as if I was hearing the album (one of my favorites) for the first time again. To explain, let me first provide a definition: a “soundstage” refers to the quality of music reproduction that allows the listeners to focus on specific instruments and elements of a song in relationship to where those elements are placed on an imaginary 3D/2D stage. With the vinyl copy of the album,  the sense of depth and sonic separation was amazing. I closed my eyes I felt like I could sense an actual physical space where Britt Daniel should be standing in the room leaning into his microphone, playing guitar and singing the lyrics to “The Beast & Dragon Adored” relative to where the other members of the band would be. Put another way, the richness of the music wasn’t just about the reproduction of the music – but the reproduction of the space between the sounds that allowed it to be perceived as three dimensional.

    Spoon – The Beast & Dragon Adored

    2. Most Vinyl Records Include Digital Downloads

    It’s quickly becoming industry standard to include  a digital download of an album with a vinyl record.  So when you buy Best Coast’s Crazy For You for slightly more than the cost of a digital download from iTunes, you get both the vinyl record and the MP3s.  In other words, I’m not suggesting you don’t maintain a library of digital music at all – but that you maintain both.  Usually the cost of a new record is only slightly more expensive than buying that same album on iTunes – and then you have the vinyl copy to listen to at home and the digital copy for when you are on the go.  Now if only they’d start doing that with books.

    Best Coast – Crazy For You

    3. Records And Record Players Look Sexy

    Sure you could have all of your books and music and media stored somewhere in the cloud or on your computer, but if I don’t have a physical copy I don’t feel like I really own the product.  Besides, decorating your home or apartment with shelves lined with records and bookcases neatly arranged with books is just sexier and warmer than an empty room with little more than a Macbook sitting on a table. Especially if you own a sexy turntable like the Pro-Ject Debut or the Bang and Olufsen Beogram 5500.

    4. Records Are Collectible

    I’m not suggesting that vinyl records are exactly a smart investment option, but many records actually increase in value after you purchase them.  Compare that to a CD where you’d be lucky to get back even half of what you paid – and I wouldn’t recommend trying to re-sell the MP3s you downloaded from iTunes.  Meanwhile, copies of Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News actually sells for as much as $150 on eBay.  I wonder how much the limited-edition, hand-numbered TK 7″ releases are going to be selling for a few years from now.

    Modest Mouse – The View

    5. Records Are Fun To Hold

    I love when I get a new record in the mail.  It’s fun to open it up and behold the actual record – black vinyl, white vinyl, etc.  As I mentioned above, actually holding a record gives me a greater sense of ownership than merely clicking play on my iTunes.

    6. Vinyl Album Art Is Cooler

    Album art is way cooler when it is in 12″ x 12″ format as opposed to the tiny little CD booklets or some sort of digital .zip file that I’ll never actually look at.  In fact, not only does the cover art for your favorite album look cooler, but so do the vinyl sized inserts and liner notes.  People frame and display vinyl record sleeves at home all the time.  When was the last time you saw someone frame and hang a CD booklet?

    7. Playing Records Is Immersive

    For me, the ritual involved in playing my records is delicious.  I’ll thumb through my record collection delightedly examining the spines of the records in my library before my fingers come to rest on the album I’m seeking.  I’ll carefully pull the record out and remove the LP from the jacket.  I examine the surface of the record in the light for dust and, if necessary, swiftly brush off any lint or dust that has collected.  Next, I carefully place the record on the platter and clamp it to the spindle.  I quickly blow on the stylus to remove any dust or fuzz that has collected there before lifting and subsequently lowering the needle to the record.  The soft thump I hear when the needle makes initial  contact with the vinyl is alone worth savoring. If music is a religion, then this is the sacrament.

    8. Crate Digging Is Fun

    Sure, some records can be pretty expensive – but most older records can be found quite cheap.  In fact, hunting for bargains can be endlessly entertaining for me.  I’ll blissfully spend a whole afternoon digging through crates of records at antique shops, record stores and Goodwill.  I’ve discovered everything from Portishead’s Dummy to The Supreme’s Anthology digging through crates of old cheap vinyl.  I have even dragged my wonderfully understanding wife with me to places where I could dig through crates of records in Moscow, Buenos Aires and Bogota.

    9. Some Albums Are Only Available On Vinyl

    Increasingly, as vinyl becomes cool again, some albums are only being released on vinyl.  Flaming Lips, for example, have released a number of records and collaborations recently in vinyl-only format, and Record Store Day (a.k.a. the biggest holiday of the year for music obsessives like myself) is pretty much dedicated to featuring vinyl-only exclusives.

    10. You Need A Record Player To Play Your Turntable Kitchen 7″

    Of course the main reason you’ll want a record player is to play those awesome Turntable Kitchen singles you’ll be receiving every month once you sign up for our Pairings Box!

    Convinced?  Stay tuned for our recommendations on which decks to buy.  If you don’t want to wait, you can’t go wrong with the Pro-Ject Debut III.