The record player came first.
Before we had the MP3 player, the CD player, the cassette tape player, and all the failed technologies no one even remembers, we had the turntable.
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.
Parts of a Turntable Record Player: The Six Major Components
These are the six major parts of a record player, although the final two are not included in many models. If they are not, you will need to get an external preamp or amp, or a receiver or mixer that has them built in.
- Tone arm
We’ll break down every record player part and tell you exactly how it works. We won’t go into extreme detail, but we’ll try to give you a basic understanding of how your turntable record player and its main parts function.
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 better 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.
It is fairly certain that something will eventually go wrong with the turntable. It is a component that suffers a lot of issues, most commonly a slipped belt, which means the turntable won’t spin correctly anymore. Luckily, this is easy to fix yourself. Head here for help with turntable repair.
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.
No matter what material it is made from, every stylus needs to be replaced after a while. Generally, you can expect to get from 1000 to 2500 hours of use out of a single stylus.
A stylus takes one of two shapes: elliptical or spherical. The former is able to get more contact with the record groove with leads to a more faithful reproduction of the sound. A spherical styles does not get the same sound quality, but it is more sensitive.
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. Neither shape is inherently better. DJs generally prefer a straight tone arm, because it makes it easier to scratch, but many people claim that a curved tone arm gives you better sound. Unless you are a DJ, you’ll probably want a curved one.
The cartridge is responsible for translating the grooves of the record that the stylus reads into the actual sounds you hear. The vibrations from the stylus riding the grooves travel through wires in the tone arm until they reach the cartridge.
In the cartridge, the vibrations hit coils inside a magnetic field, which transforms them into electrical signals. These signals are then sent on the the amplifiers and the speakers.
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. Usually, the amplifier comes in the form of a preamp, but if you have powered speakers (meaning they contain their own amp), you can connect directly to the speakers without the need for a receiver.
In the past, it was common for an audio receiver to have a phono pre-amplifier to boost the audio signals coming from a record player to the same level as a regular audio signal, but modern receivers don’t generally have a preamp.
Some record players have built-in preamps, but if yours does not, you will need to get an external preamp to boost the signal before passing it into a receiver. That said, most audiophiles will tell you that you should always use an external preamp anyway, since it makes for a much better sound quality. Read all about preamplifiers.
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.