Vinyl sales have seen an exponential increase over the last 12 years — 2017 marking a record high (pun intended). According to Nielsen Music, vinyl made up 14% of all physical album sales, up from 2016’s 11%. Vinyl’s back, baby! It has been for a while, and if you want to get in on the game (or update your turntable. I see you, non-novices) then allow us to help. Here’s how to find the perfect record player for you.
Educate yourself on the basics
What is a turntable? What are the parts? What do those parts do? It might sound daunting, but the better you understand what makes up a record player, the more likely it is that you’ll make an educated purchase. This isn’t just for first-time buyers, too — experts should know what they’re looking for before hitting the marketplace (digital or otherwise.) Here’s a helpful graphic from ThingLink. (If you visit their site here, the image becomes interactive with a mechanism-by-mechanism breakdown of what each unit does).
Or educate yourself on some of the basics (of the basics)
Some of us don’t have time for all the above, and that’s ok! But make sure you have some idea of what you’re getting yourself into, like so: the record platter or plate is the big round joint in the middle, the stylus is the tiny bit that actually hits the vinyl record and is often referred to as “the needle,” the tone arm connects the stylus and headshell (the triangular contraption that connects the needle to the body of the turntable), and so on. Some turntable literacy can go a long way – especially in determining what kind of machine you want to invest in.
Determine what your needs are
Is this your first turntable, ever, one you plan on experimenting with and using infrequently? Are you a DJ who will depend on this device? Are you a record collector and an audiophile, someone who’s looking to spend big bucks on a turntable they will use fairly regularly, someone who values analogue sound quality over all? Your needs differ across experience — if you’re a novice, you’re probably not going to want to drop a thousand on your first record player. You might value ascetics (in which case, Urban Outfitters ain’t a terrible place to shop.) If you’re a DJ, it’s likely you’ll need a turntable with a direct-drive function, so you can connect to external devices (like mixers or computers) via USB. If you’re a diehard sound savant, you want to spend more on something of quality — that “warmth” you hear vinyl nerds talk about.
Establish whether or not you’re going to go manual or automatic
This might seem like a really specific and minor choice, but one that you should take into account! Automatic turntables lift the tone arm and place it on the record for you. It’s convenient as all hell, but also means there’s more possibility for malfunction. Manual turntables are, well, the opposite — you lift the tone arm and place the needle on the record yourself. It’s less involved, and requires more from the user, but if you like the control of doing it yourself, then it’s the way to go. If placing the needle on the record makes you nervous, then you might want to go automatic.
Take into consideration accessories and stereo systems as a whole
A turntable without a speaker system is just an expensive piece of machinery – it has to be paired with quality speakers (well, technically, speakers of any kind) to produce sound, unless you’re investing in a cheap, built-in speaker device. (It’s exactly what it sounds like: turntables with speakers embedded in its body.) There’s no harm in that, but those record players are mostly created for portability — not to be used all the time at home. Just know that a solid speaker system can also put you back a couple hundred to multiple thousands of dollars.
Decide how much space your soundsystem will take up in your life
This one is easy to forget, but record players are big. Stereo systems are often bigger! Vinyl takes up so much space, and they’re heavy as hell — how much space are you willing to commit to this? They call it equipment for a reason.
Establish a budget
You’d think this would come earlier in the process, but knowing what to look for is half the battle — the other half is the actual purchase. Are you happy with a lower-end turntable and a basic speaker system? Or are you looking for something extravagant with huge monitors, not unlike the live music experience? You can prepare to spend from anywhere between $US200 ($256) to thousands and thousands of dollars (the $US200 ($256) would be a built-in speaker turntable for your dorm room, not a practical budget for the savvy music fan.)
Check out some popular titles
Much like the iPhone you’re probably reading this on and purchased for convenience, if you’re not a turntable afficiendo, you might want to consider purchasing a record player that’s fairly common — popular for its affordability and functionality. If something goes wrong, it’s likely there’s someone nearby who can fix it for you. We’ve got a handy guide right here, too, to the best record players on the market.
Don’t forget about secondhand stores
And eBay! If you’re married to the idea of purchasing a high-end turntable and can’t afford it, consignment shops might be your best bet. Just make sure you test the thing before buying. It’s a risk you have to take when shopping online, but sometimes the finds are worth it.
When in doubt, ask a professional
There’s no shame in asking for additional help — you’re making an investment, after all — and there are folks who have the expertise. Music stores are always a good resource and could probably use your business. If not, a good pal with a foundational knowledge of this stuff should prove effective, too.