What makes a good turntable? Tips to choose a good turntable
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 which 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.
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.