How to choose a turntable: Old-school tips for the best record players

How do you choose a good turntable Tips for the best record players, direct from 1975

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Here’s how to choose a turntable that will make your vintage vinyl records come alive, based on all the retro tips on what really made a difference back in the day.

Little change in turntable since Edison (1963)

By Preston McGraw – Western Kansas Press (Great Bend, Kansas) December 14, 1963

One part of a high fidelity stereo system is basically unchanged from the model Thomas A Edison laid out. That part is the device that spins the record.

Nowadays, the device is called a turntable, a record changer or an automatic record changer. It is tremendously refined, but in essentials, the same thing Edison used.

Most people buying a components system for the first time debate with themselves or with a salesman whether to buy a turntable or a changer.

The radio-phonographs done up in cabinets all use changers, so there is no room for argument there.

If a components buyer dislikes the idea of changing records or turning a record over every 25 minutes he buys a changer. If he wants to get the ultimate out of his equipment, he buys a turntable.

To get the best out of his equipment — preamplifier, amplifier and speakers — he wants to make a record turn at exactly the speed the master record was cut.

Dec 6, 1968 Turntable - record player tech
Dec 6, 1968 Turntable – record player
Turntable best

The best device to do this is a turntable. A good turntable comes with a four-pole or synchronous motor. It has a heavy table — the thing upon which the record rests — and the heavy table acts as a flywheel.

The flywheel evens out the revolutions of the motor so it is a completely smooth operation with no jumps and jerks anywhere in the cycle. Moreover, the good turntable has a motor-to-table connection calculated to transmit the least mechanical vibration.

This is difficult because a great deal of mechanical action is required to change records, and it is difficult to isolate the mechanical parts from the turning table.

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As records pile up on the table of a changer, it tends to slow down the turning table. But the automatic turntables are so good now they will satisfy anybody except the perfectionist.

The automatic turntable can also be used as a one-record-at-a-time turntable, which further reduces its disadvantages.

One thing about the automatic turntable that many perfectionists do not like is the fact that the pickup arm which comes with it cannot be changed out.

This restricts the choice of cartridges that can be used. A pickup arm on an automatic changer or plain record changer also tracks heavier than most of the pickup arms that can be bought for manual turntables.

It boils down to this: If a listener wants continuous music and is not the type that sits around listening for faults in his rig, an automatic turntable should suit him.

But if he wants the ultimate from his records and from his equipment, the turntable is his dish.

Teen party with records and milk 1950s

What makes a good turntable? Tips to choose a good turntable (1975)

From the Hartford Courant (Connecticut) November 23, 1975

When buying a stereo, we recommend that you start with the speakers (the kind of sound), then next decide on a receiver powerful enough to drive them (how much sound), and finally then choose a turntable (a sound source). Which is not to suggest that your choice should be an afterthought.

In fact, when you consider that the most expensive part of your system will probably be your records, it makes a lot of sense to spend money on a better turntable so your records will stay in good shape.

How do you choose a good turntable Tips for the best record players (1)

Technics turntables - Panasonic 1977
Technics turntables – Panasonic 1977

As for price, expect to pay between $90-$200 for a good automatic or manual table, with state of the art equipment priced about double that. In order to know what you’re getting for that money, and what makes one turntable better than another, we invite you to become familiar with the following turntable basics:

The Drive: There are three ways the motor can turn the platter — Idler drive, belt drive, and direct drive. The idler system uses rubber idler wheels to transfer rotational force from the motor to the rim of the platter.

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The belt system minimizes motor vibrations by using a belt to turn the platter. And the newest types of direct drive tables (which cost more) employ an extremely slowly turning motor whose shaft is the turntable axle.

Although the best turntables we know of are direct drive mechanisms, no one of these systems is “always better” than another. In the end what counts is the performance.

How do you choose a good turntable Tips for the best record players (3)

Oct 6, 1972 Sony stereo - turntable
Oct 6, 1972 Sony stereo – turntable

The Tone Arm: is basically a metal tub, pivoted on low friction bearings, supporting a cartridge assembly in the headshell. It is shaped or curved to provide the proper offset angle for minimum tracking angle error as the arm moves across the record (radial tonearms track tangentially without any tracking angle error or skating source).

Look for: low friction at the pivot point (1/20th gr. or less) and low mass of the total arm (the stylus then has less inertia to overcome). An adjustable counterbalance, and viscous damped cueing should also be built into any respectable tonearm.

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Anti-Skate Adjustment: To counter the inward skating force (see below) caused in any pivoted arm by the offset angle of the headshell, a turntable should be equipped with an anti-skating force adjustment.

How do you choose a good turntable Tips for the best record players (2)

Zenith stereo system from 1976
Zenith stereo system from 1976

Isolation: Sound from the speakers can cause vibrations which the turntable will pick up and regenerate. Freedom from such acoustic feedback becomes very important for people who listen at loud levels (or dance a lot). Turntables differ in their ability to resist these external vibrations.

Other Features: A dust cover is always a good idea. For convenience, there is auto-shut off, variable pitch control, and, in automatics. stacking.

Built-in strobes, heat-sensitive touch controls, and other flashy stuff is available for those who are willing to pay the price.

Manual or Automatic? Most turntables sold are automatic, and for that reason cost little or no more than manual turntables offering the same technical performance.

The absolutely best specs are still the domain of the manual turntable, however, and if you’re planning to spend over $800 for your system, we’d definitely recommend a manual turntable. Below that figure, it becomes a question of convenience vs. record care.

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Nov 14, 1969 Panasonic stereo
Nov 14, 1969 Panasonic stereo

Choose a good turntable: Turntable specs

Wow & Flutter are fluctuations in the speed of the turntable which affect the pitch of a record. 0.15% is about the maximum you should tolerate.

All the direct-drive tables (and some of the best belt drives) use a servo system that electronically maintains speed and reduces flutter to an insignificant amount.

Rumble: A low pitched sound, caused by mechanical vibration acting on the turntable or tone arm. Rumble often sounds like power line hum, but disappears when the arm is lifted from the record.

Rumble is stated in dB, the higher the number the lower the rumble. 50dB is acceptable, but the best table measure upwards of 70dB.

Tips on turntables

Bring in your worst records (pressed oil-center, warped, or with small center holes) to evaluate a turntable’s ability to cope with less-than-ideal conditions.

Run through a few test runs to try out the “handling” characteristics of the layout and tonearm. Check for ease of operation and eccentricities (like the arm being pulled outward by anti-skating while it descends).

Specifications may be weighted (to compensate for how the ear hears) of unweighted. Make sure you know which you are comparing.

MORE: How can you convert vinyl records to a digital format?

Diagram descriptions (from left to right)

1. One form of indirect drive uses idler wheel to couple torque from motor shaft to turntable inner rim.

2. The belt drives inner of turntable and is therefore not visible to user.

3. The newest types of direct-drive systems use slow-speed electronically controlled motors.

Vintage portable turntable - Stereo phonograph from 1963
Vintage portable turntable – Stereo phonograph from 1963

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Vintage stereo system from 1976
Vintage stereo system from 1976
Dec 6, 1968 Panasonic turntable - Stereo
Dec 6, 1968 Panasonic turntable – Stereo
Sony HP210A stereo from 1972
Sony HP210A stereo from 1972
Sony HP-610 stereo system from 1971
Sony HP-610 stereo system from 1971

ALSO SEE: MORE: V is for Victrola record players: The history of the famous gramophones that entertained millions

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