In the height of digital platforms and music streaming sites, it can be hard to get ahold of vinyl records.
However, hope’s not all lost because artists are starting to produce vinyl records of their recent work. So, not only can you enjoy oldies but goodies, but you can also listen to your favorite pop music.
Before all that, have you asked yourself: what do you play vinyl records on?
Vinyl records are played on record players or turntables. They produce sound by spinning on top of the player where the stylus reads the engraved grooves on the disc and generates an electrical signal for the amplifier. Turntables are also available in a variety of materials and accessories, each of which has a different effect on the sound quality of vinyl records.
Choosing the right type of turntable can instantly label you as an audiophile or a DJ. Audiophiles prefer a system with fewer vibrations, while DJs prioritize speed and durability.
As suggested by its name, a belt drive contains an elastic belt that spins the record’s platter. Most turntables use this system.
Since the belt’s material is elastic, the record player is naturally resistant to abrasive reverberations of the motor. As a result, you’ll be able to listen to clean-sounding records.
This type of player has rapid and accurate movements due to the position of the belt and the motor. The platter also stays on top of a bearing, making it possible for the player to move in a line and rotation.
A belt drive system is ideal for those who are looking for a low-maintenance yet reliable turntable.
Direct drive turntables have their platters sitting directly on top of the motor. So, you can expect more vibrations.
What makes direct drive great for some people is its reliability and robustness. It’s perfect for DJs because it has a quick start-up time and a stronger torque, which are essential for controlling the DJ tables.
The platter is where your vinyl records sit. It’s what makes a turntable produce sound, along with the stylus that generates electrical signals.
Depending on your priorities, you can choose from a wide array of platter materials. Each of them offers unique performances and playback.
However, we’ll only cover two of the most common turntable platter materials in the market: acrylic and medium-density fiberboard.
You can identify acrylic platters from their transparent plastic material. What’s great about this material is that there can be an infinite number of designs.
In terms of performance, acrylic platters offer consistency in their speed due to their mass and density. Plus, you get a better flutter and wow measurement rating.
From the material alone, acrylic platters can easily trap and distribute the energy it receives. So, this platter can further dampen undesirable vibrations and enhance sound clarity.
Another great feature about this platter is that you won’t need to have a turntable mat, which tends to attract static.
Medium-density fiberboard platters, or MDF in short, are beginner-friendly turntable platters. This material is the result of binding wood fibers under extreme heat and pressure.
If you’re one to prioritize durability, MDF may be a good starting point. This material offers a more open sound, which can be ideal for some records. Additionally, it traps less sound, resulting in a sharper yet brighter tone.
MDF platters typically use turntable mats to improve their sound quality. With this, you’d achieve the same degree of dampening as acrylic platters.
Turntable mats are one way to upgrade your system both visually and audibly. Different materials for the mats can immediately elevate a turntable’s look. Plus, they can also protect your records from potential scratches.
For audiophiles, adding turntable mats means a better listening experience because they dampen mechanical sounds and enhance the overall quality of sounds.
If you’ve got an acrylic platter, you don’t need to concern yourself with turntable mats. However, any other platter will need some kind of turntable mat.
Here are some of the most-used materials for turntable mats:
A standard turntable mat starts with felt, a lightweight material that’s effective at preventing scuffs. It also has a soft surface and encourages low friction.
The biggest downside of this material is that it attracts lint, dust, and static, like a moth to a flame. Over time, you may notice more damage than protection to the vinyl records when using this mat.
A cork mat is a better upgrade than felt. It provides the same protection without sacrificing the sound quality and attracting static.
By using a cork mat, you’ll hear reduced resonance and a more full-bodied sound. Take advantage of its visual appeal and use it on clear vinyl.
Another attractive upgrade is the leather mat. This option is trendy for record collectors who value aesthetics.
Leather mats can dampen sound and improve bass tones. As a result, it can produce unique sound qualities.
Using rubber mats can be a hit or miss for some audiophiles. For DJs, rubber mats do an excellent job of isolating the record from vibration.
They do, however, generate the most static. Even newer models that are designed to reduce static don’t completely eliminate it.
Unless you’ve got a high-fidelity system, chances are you’ll need additional equipment to complete your vinyl record experience.
Some turntables come with a built-in preamp. However, investing in a good-quality preamp can make a world of difference for vinyl records.
A phono preamp amplifies and equalizes the signal coming from the phono cartridge. Without this device, you won’t be able to hear the signal. Even if it’s audible, it may sound like nails on a chalkboard.
Although some lower-end record players come with a built-in phono preamp, trust that it won’t exactly be of great quality. So, if you want your records to sound flawless, you should invest in a preamp.
The need for speakers mainly depends on what kind of turntable you have. You’ll only need them if you’re not using a high-fidelity turntable system.
At the back of your set-up, you may see an AUX input. This slot is basically the gateway for the preamp to release an output.
A beginner-friendly tip is to invest in a self-powered speaker. This equipment already has its own amplifier, so you won’t go through the hassle of mixing and matching different receivers and speakers.