Beginners Guide to Turntables

two technic 1200 turntables with records on shelf

If you are starting out to be a DJ or learning to be one, you need to be well informed before you spend your money on expensive equipment. But having said that, choosing the right equipment can be a difficult task because of the countless options available on the market.

Turntable with laptop and speaker on desk

And this is why we have written this guide, to familiarize you with the often-used terminology, the numerous equipment options you will have and the software platforms. While putting together a DJ setup, there are a few things that you should keep in mind and this is what this guide is all about. 

Turntables vs CDJ vs DJ Controller

This is an eternal debate going on for some time now, and the answer is not as simple as pointing out which one is better. So here is a little information about each for you to make that decision:

Turntables

Having one of these really gives you that professional feel and using one can be quite a satisfying experience, because these spin a vinyl. But remember, using a turntable requires skill since you play it by ear and control the tempo and pitch manually. This will depend entirely on how much work you want to put into your craft because this is not the easiest route if you want to become a DJ.

There are two types of turntables, namely:

  • Direct drives
  • Belt drives

I will be talking about them later in this article. 

CDJs

Compared with turntables, CDJs are cheaper and are easier to transport. And these are fairly common, so you may find it in the club you are supposed to be playing at, so all you would need is the music you are going to play and the choice of headphones. But you should know that you will be relying on your mixing skills while using a CDJ, unlike a DJ controller which is the easiest to use.

DJ Controllers

Almost everyone can use a DJ controller since they are much easier to operate compared with CDJs or turntables. And the reason why they are so popular is that they are not very expensive. DJ controllers emulate traditional turntables and are very easy to set up. But professionals who have been DJing since the 90s will probably scoff at the idea for the very same reason.

Belt Drive or Direct Drive?

As we said earlier, there are two types of turntables; belt drive and direct drive. There has been much debate about which of them is better for the longest time, so let us take a look at both:

Belt-Drive Turntables

These types of turntables use an elastic belt to spin the turntable platter. A motor, which is attached to the side moves the belt precisely. The player itself is isolated from the motor and sits on a bearing. 

Belt-drive turntables are low maintenance, extremely precise, offer the owner adaptability and are able to make both rotational and linear movements. 

Advantages

  • Since the belt is made of elastic, the record player is resistant to vibrations.
  • They are known to produce better sound quality.
  • Reduced feedback noise.

Drawbacks

  • Slightly less accurate playback speed because the belt takes a few seconds to speed up.
  • The belt may eventually break, but it’s not necessarily a drawback.

Direct-Drive Turntables

As the name suggests, the platter is connected directly to the motor, which makes sure it starts up quickly and without resistance. They are very reliable and can last the user for a long time. Also because of the quick start up, the music is at the right pitch from the word go.

Advantages

  • Since there is no belt to wear off, the sound is consistent
  • High torque
  • Durable design, it will last a long time

Drawbacks

  • Playback quality can be somewhat lower than belt-drive turntables
  • Can encounter motor vibration noises

Portable Turntables

DJ Controller

For those who appreciate music, vinyl records have never gone out of fashion. Regardless of the advancement in music equipment, a lot of people still prefer the quality and clarity of a vinyl record. The exercise of dusting and taking a record out, putting it on the platter gently, and placing the needle is quite an experience in itself.

But it is not everyone’s cup of tea and many may find operating a device like that cumbersome. And hence, a portable turntable which lacks the delicate build and the complicated operation that a traditional turntable is associated with, offers you an alternate, less cumbersome option. A portable turntable is not only sturdy but can also convert your vinyl collection to digital without loss of quality.

Features and Specs

But as simple as they may look, portable turntables are serious, efficient machines with some carefully put components. Let’s take a look at them:

  • Cartridge: The turntable’s tonearm or the needle needs to be “put” on the record to play it. Or, the turntable can do that by itself if it is an automatic model. At the end of the tonearm, an electromagnetic device called the cartridge is attached.

The job of this cartridge is to fall into the grooves present in the record. When the needle moves, it creates a signal, which is sent to the turntable, which then sends it to the amplifier. After this signal is processed, it is sent to the speakers (or headphones).

  • Phono Preamp: Also called the phono stage, this component can be in-built or external and boosts the output of a turntable. Simply put, a phono preamp converts the phono output signal to a line signal. It also applies the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) equalization curve to the signal.
  • Torque: If the turntable has higher torque, there is less sound distortion and the platter would also be more resistant to scratches. If it has lower torque, it would mean a less accurate playback and the platter speed fluctuation would be more.
  • Pitch Control: With this functionality, the user can change the standard speed of the record. This is an important part of any DJ deck. 

Manual or Automatic?

This is another often debated topic that seems never ending, but what you will want from your turntable is entirely up to you. If you are using an automatic turntable, the machine will do all the work, that is, it will lower the needle at the correct spot and will lift it after it is done playing.

A manual turntable, on the other hand, well, you guessed it right — you will have to do all the work. So, choosing between the two depends entirely on the individual. 

Conclusion

Before you are setting up your turntable you should be mindful about the budget. The devices can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars so it is best you buy the one that fulfills your requirement. The best situation would be that you think ahead before you decide on a turntable of your choice and ask yourself what would you be using it for.

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