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How to: Choose The Right Turntable

It's a common scenario, you want to start collecting and listening to vinyl records or maybe, you want to make the most of an existing vinyl collection...but what type of turntable do you need? What's the difference between all the options on the market? If you're not planning on DJing, does that make a difference? As we've started to include more Hi-Fi (or non-DJ) turntables in our stores we figured it might be a good opportunity to look at which turntables are best for which purpose.

Mainly we'll be looking at Direct-Drive vs Belt-Driven. This refers to the way in which the motor mechanism spins the platter (the disc on which the record is placed). It needs to be mentioned that being belt-driven or direct-drive doesn't make or break a turntable, nor is it an indication of over-all merit. There are many other things that should be factored in, such as build quality, design, construction of individual components, like the tonearm and as always - budget.

Let’s look at belt-driven first. As the name implies this type of turntable features a belt that goes around the platter (either on the outside or out of sight on the inside) which driven by the motor, spins the platter. This design is a simple but effective way of isolating the motor from the platter as noise from the motor can be easily picked up by the stylus and become part of the audible output. It's often argued that due to the nature of this design, vibrations are also minimised and the cartridge can more easily track the groove of a record, offering a greater pure listening experience.

Direct-Drive turntables have the motor housed underneath the platter. There are some models where the motor drives the axel directly, but most units under this name use a synchronous motor where a magnetic field drives the platter. This helps isolation and the management of noise reduction. This design gives the advantage of the platter being free spinning, so moving it backwards and forwards won't damage the mechanism. Also, direct-drive turntables have higher torque, meaning faster start-up speeds, pitch changes and recovery time after touching the platter. This means direct-drive turntables have become the go-to choice of DJ's as they allow manipulation of the direction the record is spinning, making back-cueing, scratching and many other DJ-centric techniques possible. Direct-drive also allows the turntable to have an incremental speed (Pitch) control, another essential element for DJing and beatmatching.

So... how does that help you make a decision? Well, outside of budget, your choice of turntable will depend on the intended use. If you want a turntable simply for listening to music, we'd recommend going for a belt-driven model. They arguably offer better sound reproduction, although as always price plays a factor here. Often belt-driven models are more aesthetically designed to be displayed in people’s homes as well, so they're intended to look good as part of your living room. The belt will wear out over time and need to be replaced, but this is usually a very simple and cost-effective process. Alternatively, if you have any desire to DJ, you will need a direct-drive model. You cannot manipulate the platter on a belt-driven turntable and if you do, you risk damaging the motor and the belt. By nature, the direct-drive design does sometimes lend itself to more noise in the output, but often these turntables are constructed to withstand the wear and tear of DJing and club culture even if that means a small loss in audio fidelity. It is worth mentioning here, that the output quality can be affected/improved by the choice of cartridge and styli. But obviously, a direct-drive turntable can do a myriad of things required for DJing that just aren't possible with its belt-driven counterpart.

What if you want to start with just listening to records, but would like the option of getting into DJing somewhere in the future? For this, we'd probably recommend getting a good direct-drive model and fitting it with a higher quality cartridge and styli. Often DJs use conical (spherical) styli, which are great for withstanding the heavy use they put them through but do so at the cost of sacrificing some sound quality. If you initially intend on using a direct-drive turntable purely for listing purposes, you could improve the audio reproduction by choosing a more hi-fi centric cartridge and use of an Elliptical stylus. Elliptical styli will offer better sound but are not always appropriate for certain types of DJing as they sit deeper in the groove of the record, meaning they read the grooves more accurately, but things like heavy scratching can cause wear to the vinyl. But for purely listening, they're a great option!

Below we've got some suggestions in different price brackets for both belt-driven and direct-drive turntables.

Belt-Drive

Budget: Audio Technica LP60X

Great, affordable turntable if you're needing something simple or just getting into collecting vinyl. It has a switchable pre-amp, so you if you don't have an external amplifier it can be plugged directly into a home stereo, powered speakers, computer and other components.

Mid-level: Pro-Ject Audio Systems Essential III

Perfect for someone wanting to take their first steps into the audiophile realm. Not only does it look awesome, but it features an 8.6" aluminium tonearm, which comes fitted with an Ortofon OM10 cartridge. The built-in phono stage boosts the turntable’s sound to line level for your amplifier or active speakers without the need for an extra phono pre-amp.

Higher-end: Audio Technica LP7

A fully manual, belt-driven turntable with Audio Technica's VM520EB Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge, to give great sound reproduction. The anti-resonance platter is made of 20 mm-thick polyoxymethylene and is driven by a sensor-monitored motor that ensures a continuously accurate platter rotation speed.

Direct-Drive

Budget: Audio Technica LP120

A really nice entry-level direct-drive unit with forward and reverse playback and a USB output that connects directly to your computer.

Mid-level: Pioneer PLX500

The PLX-500 takes cues from its professional-level big brother the PLX 1000 and is solidly built with a high-torque mechanism and USB output.

Higher-end: Denon VL12 Prime

With the most optimal acoustic isolation capabilities, the VL12 is built to withstand a range of environments and still offer really good sound reproduction. A true quartz locked, direct-drive Pro DJ Turntable with a rugged design and, isolation feet and adjustable pitch range.

Check out the full range of turntables available at Store DJ here.

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