The Elements That Make A Good Vinyl Turntable

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Vinyl turntables have a pretty simple way of working: rotate the disc at a steady speed and create a sound with the tip of a needle. The precision when the turntable works will determine the quality of sound it produces. Here are the most important features to make a good turntable, and they will have different effects on the final sound quality.

  1. Counterweight

The feature that allows customizing counterweight weights is essential when choosing to buy a turntable. Usually, this will be a knob mounted on the tonearm so that you can change the pressure for the needle tip (the force of the needle on the disc surface). The correct pressure will help ensure sound quality and not damage the disc with long-term use. If the counterweight is adjusted too heavy, the needle tip will warp and “jump the disc,” If it is too light, the needle will press harder on the disc surface and possibly damage the negative track. Before adjusting the needle detector force, it is best to re-balance the tonearm to the best possible level.

  1. Anti-skate

Anti-skate is customizable to prevent tonearm from being pulled to the center of the disc while the disc is rotating. Thereby making the probe press strongly against the two sides of the negative groove on the disc surface. Vinyl discs usually have two audio channels, including the left and right channels, the two sides of the audio track. If the anti-slip is not adjusted properly, the track may wear out faster on one side and reduce the sound of the corresponding speaker channel. Usually, the anti-slip level will be set according to the pressure of the needle, but there are some other exceptions. Turntables with a straight tonearm (as opposed to an S shape) sometimes won’t have a non-slip knob because it doesn’t need to be adjusted.

  1. Cueing

Cueing is a must in a good turntable. It is responsible for placing the needle down on the plate and raising it in the safest (and correct) way.

  1. Bearing

That allows the tonearm to rotate around a point to move easily in all directions (horizontal/vertical) without stalling or wobbling. A tonearm usually has a horizontal and vertical bearing, except for uni-pivot tonearms, where the horizontal and vertical bearing is the same. The popular rod sets in the mainstream segment use dynamically balanced bearings, including two rotating bearings for the vertical axis and one rotating bearing for the horizontal axis.

There is also an even rarer type of bearing, called a knife-edge bearing. That is a highly regarded bearing in terms of sound because of its pure, clear sound, often found in expensive SAEC or SME. However, turntable players recently have another great TEAC choice with the TN-4D rim using knife-edge bearing, which gives very good sound. Knife edge bearings include a blade that fits snugly in the middle of the slide, axial control, very small contacts, and low friction, so longtime vinyl players often appreciate them.

  1. Tonearm

The tonearm is an extremely important bridge between music discs and speakers. It is the holder for the cartridge and the needle on the plate.

There are two popular tonearm designs today, straight and curved S-shaped. A good turntable needs to have a lightweight but sturdy tonearm to prevent the vibration of the cartridge. From there, the accuracy of the probe on the disc surface is guaranteed. The S-shaped tonearm tends to have good anti-vibration, sounding warm and rich, while the straight tonearm produces a quick and crisp sound.

Good-rated turntables will have tonearms made of alloy material (for example, aluminum), or in some cases, will be made of carbon fiber, graphite, or even wood. You should avoid all turntables with plastic or aluminum tonearms that are too thin; the sound will not be good.

  1. Platter

A turntable is a rotating device (direct-drive or belt-drive) whose main purpose is to hold and rotate the disc. At the same time, it also helps to stabilize the speed fluctuations generated by the motor or the influence of external shocks. Good turntables will have very heavy wheels, sometimes even with weight chains on the side to keep the tray with the highest balance. We will also need pads to line the bottom of the disc to help keep the disc stable and reduce high-frequency vibrations. Many people also use a clamp for even more stability.

  1. Start/stop button

The button should be designed to the lower-left corner of the wheel, so it’s easier to operate without worrying about touching the lever or getting in the way.

  1. Speed ​​selector button

The tray with many speed standards can support many different disc standards. Currently, people mainly produce 45 and 33rpm discs; if anyone collects a lot of antique discs, there will be more small 78rpm discs. You should choose a wheel with two speeds 33 and 45 are enough. Should choose the type with a button to change the speed, not the wheel we have to operate manually.

  1. Acceleration

For direct drive wheels, especially DJs like Technics SL-1200 or Audio-Technica AT-LP120, the speed adjustment will bring strange effects, distorting the DJ’s will and creating strange sounds. For entry-level belt drives, this function is not available.

  1. Cartridge

That is the main component that determines the quality of the sound you will hear. The phono cartridge is responsible for receiving vibrations from the scanning needle on the disc track. Then convert them into electrical signals transmitted to the amplifier to amplify and output speakers. Unprofessional users often confuse the cartridge as “a complete structure that receives vibrations from the track.” However, in reality, it is just a “container” to hold the tip of the needle. There are many types of cartridge designs and also vary in price. But the most common (and recommended) will be the MM (moving-magnet) style. Note that cartridges will also age over time and affect sound quality.

  1. Stylus

The stylus tip is mounted on the cartridge to detect the negative track of the charcoal tray. It is machined to the exact size and fits the disc groove. Stylus needles are available in two types, elliptical and round, for different acoustic groove contact. The elliptical needle tip is in deeper and closer contact with the disc groove, so the sound quality is more detailed. While the circular needle tip has less contact with the disc groove, it will be more sensitive. We will need to replace the needle tip after a certain period of use (between 1,500 ~ 2,000 hours) to ensure sound quality and the safety of the disc.

The total length of the track on a vinyl record will be about 800 ~ 900m. The more often you listen to the disc, the faster the needle will wear out. In case the mounting needle dies on the cartridge, you will have to replace the cartridge as well.

  1. Headshell

The headshell is a component designed to be mounted at the end of the tonearm and connected to a phono cartridge. It will have a screw hole to mount the cartridge. Two types are matching holes (suitable for many cartridges) and fixed holes (only compatible with a certain type of cartridge, usually its own).

  1. Base

The turntable base is the base for the entire machine structure above. Its job is to isolate mechanical influences from machine components.

The base is almost always machined with heavy-duty materials.

  1. Anti-vibration feet

Anti-vibration feet are placed below the base to help reduce the tray’s vibrations from the outside (table, floor, etc.). In addition, it also contributes to making the turntable more stable. Should choose wheels with anti-vibration feet that can be adjusted in height to adjust for balance easily.


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