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What kind of turntable should I get
AudioKing
post Dec 15 2012, 23:57
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I currently own 1 vinyl and I would like to purchase a good turntable. My budget is anything less than $160. I would like a record player that doesn't require the use of external stereo speakers. Is it sort of necessary to use external speakers with turntables? Help Me!!
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mjb2006
post Dec 17 2012, 03:50
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No, you don't need external speakers. However, you do need to plug it into something else, and that's going to cost you more money. If the turntable is a recent model with USB output, it can be plugged right into your computer. USB turntables have a bad reputation due to sound quality issues in the early models, but there are a bunch of options now and maybe the problems have been worked out.

If you get a normal old non-USB turntable, then you have to plug it into something that has "phono" inputs. As mentioned, this could be one of several items:
  • A phono pre-amp, which is a box with phono inputs and various outputs. It is dedicated to converting the phonograph's weak, strangely EQ'd electrical signal into standard "line"-level outputs. There are nice modern ones that are tiny and have all kinds of outputs, including a headphone jack and USB. Older ones will probably have only RCA line outs, requiring you to connect it to the "line in" connectors (sometimes labeled "CD" "aux" or "tape") on an integrated amp or receiver.
  • An integrated amplifier, which is a box containing (usually) phono inputs and pre-amp, line inputs, a master pre-amp (with volume knob and basic "tone" or separate bass & treble controls), a power amplifier for driving external speakers, and connectors for speakers. These are not very common, as people generally want a radio and more sound processing features.
  • A receiver, which is an integrated amp with a radio tuner built in. Also called an "AV receiver" or "home theater receiver". This is what most people who have external speakers have, as there are many affordable options for consumers. A receiver usually comes with the works: every kind of input, remote control, effects processing, surround sound support, you name it. They're often designed for home theater systems; you plug in all your equipment into it and operate it from a single remote. However, ones made in the last 15 years or so often don't have phono inputs, only line, so you have to pair them with a separate phono pre-amp.
So if you're buying a non-USB turntable, and you want to get something new to plug it into, then a cheap phono pre-amp is your best bet. If you're OK with something secondhand, I would get a receiver, as it gives you many options for expanding when you have more money. It sounds like you don't have the budget for it right now, though. You should probably just get a USB turntable.

You also need a cartridge and stylus. A new USB turntable almost certainly will come with both. The stylus is the "needle", the part of the turntable that actually fits into and "reads" the record's spiral groove. The stylus and cartridge work together to convert the groove's physical variations into an electrical signal. The cartridge is what the stylus attaches to; it's a little box hanging off the headshell at the end of the tonearm, normally.

Like I said, ideally, your turntable will come with both, but check to be sure. If buying a turntable secondhand, I'd assume the stylus needs replacement; if it's in bad shape, it can damage your record when you try to play it. Cartridges don't really wear out, but they're only made for certain styluses, so it's normal to buy both at the same time. The best bang for the buck is the Shure M97xE cartridge & stylus combo, which will run you $80 on Amazon. Most cartridges have standard connectors for attaching to the tonearm, though they may require hooking up some wires with tweezers or needle-nose pliers. However, some (many?) USB turntables aren't designed to attach to anything but the cartridge they come with, so research before you buy. Personally, I wouldn't buy a USB turntable if I didn't have the option of attaching my own cartridge to it.

This post has been edited by mjb2006: Dec 17 2012, 04:11
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