With the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl records, people are looking to purchase record players or, turntables (I’ll clarify the difference between record players and turntables below). For most people, vinyl records are an unknown. If you were born after 1990, there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard a vinyl record. Where do you start? What is the best beginner record player? Having been a vinyl DJ for several years and a live sound engineer for over 14 years, I’d like to offer consumers a better understanding of record players, turntables and what to consider when buying.
Record Player vs Turntable
People often talk about a record player when they are referring to a turntable. A record player is an all-in-one system with a turntable, built-in speakers and amplifier. A turntable is a standalone unit with no additional built-in features. The outputs, usually RCA line or phono, are connected to an external HiFi or speakers.
Direct Drive vs Belt Drive
There are two primary drive systems in a turntable. Direct drive and belt drive. Belt drive turntable systems are the most common in consumer record players. Belt drives are simple and inexpensive. In the most basic terms, the motor is separated from the turntable platter. The motor turns the platter via a belt.
The belt also acts as a dampener. It prevents the motor’s noise and vibration from affecting the sensitive needle. If you have ever stopped a vinyl record with your hand, you’ll notice when you release it again, there is a second or two of lag before playback resumes properly. This is the belt taking up tension and starting to turn the platter again.
In a direct drive turntable, the motor is connected directly to the platter. Usually right below the center. When a direct drive turntable is turned on, the platter starts moving instantly. This immediate torque is why direct drive turntables are preferred by DJs, particularly turntablists and who scratch vinyl records.
Due to the noise turntable motors generate, direct drive systems require some form of dampening or shock absorption. The advanced motor system and dampening are what makes direct drive turntables more expensive.
If you are just playing records, a quality belt drive turntable is sufficient. If you’re a DJ or turntablist, you want to go with a direct drive system.
Cartridge and Stylus
Your stylus and needle affect tone, volume, frequency range, and timbre. There are three elements to this part of the turntable: cartridge, stylus, and needle.
A cartridge encases the needle and stylus at the end of the tonearm. The stylus sits below the cartridge housing the wiring and electrical elements. The needle fits to the stylus and runs along the grooves of a vinyl record.
The best record players and turntables allow you to change the entire cartridge. The cartridge is attached to the tonearm via a simple screw and a release collar. This freedom allows you to choose a cartridge and stylus from any brand.
Some needles and stylus are manufactured or tuned to accommodate a specific purpose. For example, a turntablist will likely want a cartridge system tailored to scratching records.
In a beginner record player or turntable, usually, only the needle is replaceable. The stylus and cartridge are part of the tonearm and cannot be removed.
Vinyl Cleaning & Accessories
One of the most important and neglected practices of owning vinyl records is cleaning and maintenance. Vinyl records require care and attention. The disc’s grooves are exposed to the elements and are susceptible to dust build-up or damage. Owning a vinyl collection is like caring for a child or pet. You need to make sure your vinyl collection is well looked after.
Cleaning is a relatively simple routine. Get into the habit of wiping your vinyl with an anti-static cloth before and after you played a record.
For a more detailed clean, you can use a velvet cleaning brush. Place a record on the platter and switch on the turntable without the needle. Subtly hold the brush on the surface of the record and allow a few revolutions. When you’re done, keep the brush on the record and gently swipe. Use an anti-static cloth to wipe off the dust collected.
If you are buying a record player or turntable for aesthetics, then go for an all-in-one model. But, know that you will either damage your vinyl or the record player will break in the first year. Most of these brands do not have any after sales service so you won’t get your money back.
A decent beginner setup doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You need a turntable and some entry speakers.
Best Beginner Record Player Recommendations
Next, we’ll take a look at some of the best beginner record players available:
1. HYM Seed Smart Turntable – Best Overall Beginner Record Player
If your heart is set on a true record player, then there is only one I would recommend for the serious vinyl enthusiast. The HYM Seed started out as a Kickstarter campaign. HYM Originals, the manufacturer, wanted to produce a record player with the best sound and design features.
The HYM Seed is a beautiful piece of equipment with an impressive 80W speaker system, wireless connectivity, remote control, and multiple inputs and outputs. If you want a modern-day record player, this is it!
2. Teac LP-R550USB -Best All-In-One
The Teac LP-R550USB is a perfect all-in-one record player for beginners. The LP-R550USB features a CD player, tape cassette player, FM radio, vinyl record player as well as stereo RCA AUX input. The LP-R550USB comes with 2 x 3.5W built-in speakers. There is a stereo RCA line out should you wish to connect to external speakers as well as a ⅛ inch (3.5mm) headphone output. You can also record all the inputs to the built-in CD writer or to your PC via USB.
Teac is a Japanese company who have been manufacturing consumer electronics for decades. Teac America is well established with good customer service and support through the US.
3. Audio-Technica AT-LP60 – Best Audio-Technica Setups for Beginners
Audio-Technica has been in the professional audio industry since the 1960’s. Their range includes turntables/record players, cartridges, headphones, microphones and much more. When it comes to record players, Audio-Technica is known for their superior quality cartridges and needles. If you are in the US or Canada, Audio-Technica has excellent after sales service and support. Recommend for: Beginner, intermediate, advanced. Budgets: Entry level to high-end.
The AT-LP60 from Audio-Technica is a great entry level turntable at an affordable price. The stylus is interchangeable, although the selection is limited. A pair of Mackie CR3 monitors, cleaning kit and replacement stylus is included. You can also upgrade to the AT-LP120-USB turntable. The AT-LP120 has a direct drive system, balanced tonearm, and replaceable cartridge. This means you have more options when it comes to changing your stylus and needles.
The AT-LP120 is also available with Samson BT3 Monitors, or with Harman SoundSticks III. If you’re looking for something a little different. The Harman SoundSticks are pretty out there. The alien looking SoundSticks come with a 6″ sub and light up when in use.
4. Fluance RT80 – Best Fluance Recommendation for Beginners
Fluance is a Canadian consumer audio brand which started around 1999. They offer a 2-year warranty on all their turntables and a lifetime parts and labor warranty on all speakers. Fluance have great after sales customer service and support.
The Fluance RT80 is stylish with a clean, modern finish. Unlike the AT-LP60, the RT80 features a balanced S-Type tonearm and a removable cartridge. The additional features add to the cost but significantly improve your listening experience. You will need to get additional speakers – I recommend a pair of inexpensive Mackie CR3 or Samson BT3 speakers.
Remember that, even as a beginner, it’s best not to skimp on a decent record player or turntable. If you have the money to spend, get a decent system right from the start. Alternatively, if you are on a tight budget, we will be speaking about great record players under $100, $200 and $300 soon – stay tuned!
My recommendation is: wait until you have at least $300 to spend and purchase a decent turntable and speakers. Once you have a decent turntable, you can always upgrade the speakers at a later stage.
Most importantly though, have fun and enjoy the vinyl experience!