Record Player Parts: The Six Components You Should Know

Record Player Parts: the tone arm and stylusBefore we had the MP3 player, the CD player, the cassette tape player and all the failed technologies no one even remembers, we had the record player.

Today most consider the record player an old-fashioned technology. It is something used by our parents or grandparents and collected (but not used) by hipsters. But in some circles, the turntable player has been making a bit of a comeback. In others, it never went out of style.

More and more people are interested in getting a record player and starting up a little vinyl collection of their own. But before you buy a player, you need to know exactly what you’re getting. You need to know the different parts of a record player. Not only will this help when making a purchase, it also helps when using your player and when you need to replace a broken component.

Knowing the functions of each record player component makes it easy to diagnose problems and figure out which part needs repairing or replacing.


There are six major record player parts:

  • Turntable
  • Stylus
  • Tone arm
  • Cartridge
  • Pre-amplifier
  • Amplifier

We’ll break down every record player part and tell you exactly how it works.


The turntable

Most people use the terms “turntable” and “record player” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Technically, “turntable” only refers to the part of the record player where the record sits.

“Record player” refers to the overall device that houses all of the components, including the turntable.

Most turntable plates are made of metal or plastic and then covered with a rubber mat to protect the record from being scratched. Some plates are made from rubber themselves. In the center, a metal rod holds the record in place while it spins.

Many turntable styles are available. Most entry-level turntables use steel plates, because they are more affordable. They are light and cheap to produce, but they have a low inertia. This means that any slight instability in the motor speed will have an effect on playback.

Aluminum plates are a good solution. Not only are they more stable, they are heavy enough to reduce vibration. Their weight also makes for better balance. But naturally, they cost more.

The turntable drive system controls the rotation. There are two main types of systems: belt drive and direct drive.

A belt drive system generally gives you better sound quality, since the elastometric belt absorbs vibrations and other low frequency interference, which reduces noise coming from the motor.

A direct drive system does not use intermediary gears, belts and wheels. It is favored by DJs, because of a stronger motor and pitch control sliders. Quality direct drive players are more expensive. Cheap ones are generally useless.


The stylus

You’re probably familiar with the stylus from classic movies. It is the needle that rests on the record and runs in the grooves while playing.

Most stylus manufacturers fashion them from diamond and form them into a cone shape. They use diamond, because it is the hardest natural material. Some manufacturers prefer sapphires.

The stylus is connected to the tone arm using a flexible strip of metal. The flexibility between these two components allows the stylus to move up and down within the grooves of the record.


The tone arm and the cartridge

The tone arm and the cartridge work in tandem. The tone arm holds the stylus and connects it to the record player housing. Some tone arms are straight, while others are curved or S-shaped. The cartridge is responsible for translating the grooves of the record that the stylus reads into the actual sounds you hear.


Pre-amplifiers and amplifiers

Pre-amplifiers and amplifiers transfer the signals from your record player to the stereo speakers. They are responsible for all of the different sound frequencies you hear, like the treble and the bass. The speakers they transmit the sound data to are either built into the record player itself or are external and connected via cable.


Record players might be an old-fashioned technology, but the technology used to build today’s record players is anything but. Modern record player parts are crafted using the latest technological innovations. As a result, today’s turntable record players deliver sound quality on par with more modern digital technologies, like CD and MP3 players.

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  • Updated September 5, 2016
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