The great vinyl renaissance continues to gain momentum and it’s not hard to see why. In short, there isn’t a better way to enjoy music; the albums are pieces of handheld art to be scrutinised and admired and the sound infinitely better than compressed audio.
Even the ritual of removing the record from the sleeve, placing it on the platter and dropping the needle into the groove is a satisfying process. Playing vinyl demands your full attention – it’s the complete sonic experience.
Alongside a good amp and a set of speakers, the other essential part of the vinyl equation is a turntable. The two most popular systems you’ll find in 2020 are what’s known as belt-driven and direct drive. But what is the difference? Allow us to elaborate…
As the name suggests, belt-driven turntables connect the platter (where you place the record) to the motor via an elastic belt. The advantage here is the belt acts as a buffer and absorbs vibrations from knocks to the surface where the unit sits or to the turntable itself, and it tends to be favoured by home hi-fi enthusiasts. The belt will need to be replaced eventually through wear and tear, and DJs avoid belt-driven because you can’t play records backwards.
On a direct drive turntable, the platter is connected directly to the motor adding higher torque, which means it starts up faster than a belt-driven model. Along with the ability to spin a record in reverse, the fast start-up and variable speed pitch control on some models make them popular with DJs. Without the elastic belt component, direct drive turntables are also more reliable and certainly more durable.
But what sounds better?
Like anything in audio, sound quality is totally subjective. There are some who argue a belt-driven turntable’s ability to absorb vibration leads to a cleaner, more accurate sound representation. Conversely, if you’re chasing sound consistency that won’t deteriorate through excessive wear, direct drive could be what you’re looking for. Talk to friends and, most importantly, try to test out both belt and direct drive turntables before making a final decision.
Caring for your turntable
– Look for a secure platform to put your turntable on, away from consistent vibrations.
– There’s nothing worse than that crackle and fuzz when a dirty stylus skips and fumbles over your prized vinyl, so that’s the first thing that needs maintenance. Clean the stylus regularly with a carbon fibre brush designed specifically for the job, and for the sake of your prized record collection, change it after approximately 3,000 hours of use.
– Make sure you carefully calibrate your anti-skate counterweight to avoid unwanted damage to your records.
– If you hear your belt slipping when you start up your belt-driven turntable, it’s time to swap it out.
– Finally, always keep the dust cover down when your turntable isn’t in use.
Turntable buying guide
Here are three great turntables to consider if you’re looking at taking the vinyl plunge.
Not everyone who gets into buying – or collecting – records is keen on becoming an audiophile. But if you are keen to experience the delights of playing vinyl and have a limited budget, the LP60XUSB is just what you need. You’re getting a name you can trust for a price that won’t break the bank. This one is a belt-drive and fully automatic, so you just have to drop the record onto the platter and hit start; the arm will drop into place and then lift up when the side is completed. You can also convert your vinyl to digital files via the USB output and a built in pre-amp. This is the entry level model you’ve been looking for.
Audio-Technica LP120 XUSB
We’d pitch the dependable LP120 as an entry level turntable, but with enough functionality to appeal to the intermediate user, too. From a great brand name in audio, the well-designed and engineered direct drive turntable features a professional platter and a removable dust cover. The headshell can be easily swapped out for a higher grade stylus and caters for all records – even those old 78s! Complete with a built-in phono pre-amp (this basically amplifies the signal from your turntable to a level compatible with the standard AUX input on your stereo), the USB ports mean that all of your golden vinyl can be converted to digital files so you can listen to your music on the move!
Pro-Ject Debut Recordmaster
Finished in retro walnut veneer, the European-made belt-driven Debut RecordMaster is pitched more at the enthusiast market (although that shouldn’t deter beginners looking for a great turntable to kick off with) and will require a little more to set it up. But boy, it’s worth it! A solid build design with a sleek aesthetic, it caters for all records including 78s. It ships pre-fitted with a quality Ortofon OM10 cartridge for excellent sound, comes with a pre-amp, and also features the ability to put all your vinyl onto a PC for all access.