Record Players: What Newbies Should Know

I actually think the infatuation with records and turntables these days  is a good one. The act of playing a record is a very mechanical act and is a nice contrast to being able to get any song at any time via your smart phone. It’s a reminder for all of us that we can put our phone down and enjoy a medium that has been around since the late 1940’s.

As the owner of Bright Audio in NYC (East Village), we see a lot of people who come into our store that are interested in the idea of turntables. Unfortunately, many are not really sure about the realities of what is involved in owning and playing records on a turntable. So I wanted to break down the basics of what is involved in owning a record player and playing records.

The medium itself, the vinyl record, has limits. It spins in a circle at a predetermined speed and requires a stylus (or needle) to hear the music. Most everyone understands that much, so let’s discuss three specifics that most people don’t know.

1. Turntables require a Phono Preamp

A preamp is exactly what the word suggest, it preamplifies. This confuses people the most considering our plug and play world. But phono cartridges output at varying line levels and the phono preamplifier is a necessity to produce enough volume (or decibals) to output for your amplifier. Here comes the confusing part. In some cases preamplifiers are built into the record player, this tends to be for less expensive turntables, because most people who buy less expensive turntables want the simplicity of plug and play. While more expensive turntables (costing $400.00 or better), require that you connect them to either an amplifier with a built in phono preamplifier or an outboard phono preamp. For more expensive turntables ($800.00 and up), phono preamps become an opportunity to actually get better sound, so it is most commonly accepted they will be external devices with the ability to handle different types of cartridge outputs.

2. A Record Player’s Cartridge needs to be Calibrated

More accurately, a record player’s cartridge must be adjusted so that it is properly aligned to the grooves in your records. Many record players come with the cartridge installed and already calibrated. However on occasion they loose calibration during shipping or if you ever want to buy a new cartridge or have to replace your existing cartridge, calibration is required. At our store, Bright Audio, we will do this for our customers. So it’s important to realize that if you aren’t getting the sound you believe you should be getting from your record player, it may be that the cartridge’s stylus is not properly aligned to the record’s groove.

3. Record players are subject to real world conditions

They are mechanical devices and the technology goes as far back as the late 1900’s. Besides needing to calibrate your cartridge the record player’s tone arm needs to be level and weight adjusted so that it has the appropriate amount of downward force. If it isn’t properly adjusted it will skip grooves (not a pleasant sound). Records get dirty and need to be cleaned and of course when they are dirty, they leave dust and residue on the record players stylus which also needs to be cleaned regularly. Common accessories for turntables are brushes for cleaning both records and stylus’. Record player’s motors are subject to minor speed shifts if your electric isn’t outputting at or near 110v or if the record player’s belt is slipping or needs replacing. And almost all turntables need to be grounded or you will get a terrible humming noise from the record players electronics. These are many of the real world conditions that can cause issues with turntables.

While record players – in our book – sound great and are a lot fun, it’s important to realize before you dive in, that they involve some maintenance, a little know how, and patience.

Of course at Bright Audio we know a lot about record players and we like to help. We will help to install new cartridges, calibrate and adjust tone arms, test motor speeds, and help replace drive belts. We sell entry level turntables from Denon and Marantz. Music Hall has options ranging from entry level to top of the line players. We also sell Clearaudio turntables and Merrill-Williams‘ top of the line table. We sell preamplifiers, accessories, and replacement cartridges. We are very service oriented and we will always setup a turntable after selling it and will even help deliver it.

I hope this was helpful and gives you some basic idea of what is involved in owning a record player. If you need any help, you can contact us at 646-585-7000