Buying a Turntable

The Turntable Buyer's Guide.

Jump to: Terms/Glossary

What to look out for when buying a vintage turntable or record player.

So you want to get into vinyl?  Time to get a decent turntable.  Not only because it'll look cool, but also because a crappy turntable that isn't set up correctly, will only ruin those precious records you worked so hard to find.

Most turntables are pretty simple devices, and there's a few things to look for to make sure you're getting a good one.

1.) Does the platter turn?

This is pretty basic.  If the platter doesn't spin, check to see if it's a belt drive or direct drive turntable.  (There's also a third option, called an 'idler' drive, but let's skip those for now).So how do you know if it's belt drive, or direct drive?  Well, usually it will say somewhere on the record player itself, but if not, try a Google search for the model name.

2.) Do the functions work?

There are a few different types of turntables in terms of functionality.  There are many different variations, but here are the three main type:

- Manual Turnables.   These tables require the user to move the arm over to the beginning of the record, and also when the record is finished playing.
- Semi-Automatic.  This type of turntable requires the user to start the record, by moving the arm to the start of the record, and dropping it on to the record.  However, at the end of the record, the turntable will lift and/or move the tonearm back to the rest position and stop the platter.

- Fully Automatic.  These turntables require just a button push, or a lever pull to start.   They automatically start a record by moving and dropping the arm at the beginning of the record.  When the record is finished, they stop the platter and bring the tonearm back to the 'home' position.

First, find out which type of record player you are testing from the listing above.  Then, make sure all the functions that are applicable work as they should.  Pay particular attention to:

- Does the tonearm set down at the beginning of the record, and pick up at the end of the record (for fully and semi automatic tables).

- Does the tonearm lower slowly, or does it drop down quickly?  Damping fluid can dry out, causing damage to fragile stylii if the arm drops too quickly.


3.) Is the stylus intact, straight, and does it still have a tip?

A true stylus inspection requires a microscope, but you can do a quick visual inspection.  Check to see if the stylus is straight, and in line with the catridge.  Also, does the needle have a distinct point?  Does it sit in the groove and play?  If it doesn't, and it slides across a record, it could mean that the stylus is worn, or the arm is balanced incorrectly.  Check out our guide turntable setup guide here to find out how to correctly balance a tonearm.


Turntable / Record Player Glossary.

Cartridge/Stylus –  Often used interchangeably, these are in fact two very different items. In simplest terms, the stylus (also called the needle) is the point that touches the record. A cartridge is the housing that supports the stylus.

Tonearm –  The arm that swings out over the record to allow needle to make contact with the record as it spins. The arm is designed to get the needle on the record and also maintain a consistent sound/speed on both the outer and inner circumference of the record.

Platter –  The rotating component upon which the record rests/spins.  Heavier is usually better as it transmits less vibration. It is powered by the motor, either directly or via a belt.

Matt - The mat provides a cushion for the record, provides grip, and also helps with vibration dampening.

Plinth (Base) –  The foundation of the turntable that supports the rest of the components (tonearm, platter, etc.)  Normally, the basehas feet attached to it to help ensure stability.  Can be made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, or metal.

Direct Drive - A turntable that utilizes a motor attached directly to the platter.

Belt Drive -  A turntable that uses a motor attached to the platter via a rubber belt.  Rubber belts can dry and stiffen with age.  Belts can be replaced easily. Be sure to buy the correct circumference and width belt for your turntable.  eBay is a good source for turntable belts.