Do you know the difference between a turntable and a record player?
Many don’t. And there’s good reason for the confusion. I’ve seen so many articles that use the two terms interchangeably.
In fact, that’s the best way to tell the difference between a website that actually wants to help you and one that just wants to send you to Amazon to collect a commission on anything you buy (yes, that’s how websites, mine included, make money).
Sites that just want the commission hire writers at rock-bottom prices and they get what they pay for: someone who has no clue about the topic (or the English language). Luckily, you can almost always spot these sites within a sentence or two.
Since you’ve landed on this page, you are obviously looking for a good explanation of the differences between record players and turntables. So here goes.
Record Player Vs. Turntable: The Differences
Let’s begin by defining each of these two terms individually and taking a closer look at each. Then we will help you figure out which one is right for you.
What Is A Turntable?
In its basest form, a turntable is simply a major component of a record player. It is the part of the player that holds the record and spins it.
But turntable also refers to a standalone unit you can purchase.
In this sense of the word, a turntable is similar to a record player, except it does not come with built-in speakers or an amplifier. You will have to buy these separately and connect them to the turntable using RCA cables (usually).
A turntable like this only has a handful of components.
Obviously there is the turntable itself, which includes the motor and the platter. It also comes with a stylus, a cartridge and a tone-arm. Usually it will also have a pre-amplifier, which allows you to connect the turntable to an external component without a dedicated phono input.
In simple terms, the stylus runs in the grooves of the record and transmits the vibrations through wires in the tone arm to the cartridge, which takes that information and transmits it to the pre-amp which turns it into sound via an external amp and speaker. The tone arm also holds the cartridge and stylus in place.
For more on the components of a turntable, read this post.
A turntable will require external components for you to actually use it to listen to vinyl records, but most enthusiasts prefer them.
The options for customization are endless, depending on the components you pair it with. Also, using external components also means higher quality. Those built into record players are not usually anywhere near as good as an external one.
What Is A Record Player?
A record player is an overall audio system setup that includes a pair of speakers and an amplifier along with the turntable.
It is much more elaborate than a turntable and usually includes a ton of additional features, like the ability to play various other file formats (CD, MP3, radio, etc.).
The main drawback of a record player is size.
They are generally larger and heavier than turntables and thus not nearly as portable. For that reason, record players are usually kept inside the home on a dedicated stand or in a home entertainment center.
Obviously, they are also more expensive than turntables. Finally, as mentioned above, when all of these additional components are included in the housing of the unit, that usually means that they are lower quality components than their external counterparts.
The main advantage is convenience. You don’t need to get any additional components. You can simply plug it in and start enjoying your music. For many, that is all they want. That is especially true of so many of the newer vinyl fans who care more about aesthetics than sound quality.
Record players are not better or worse than turntables. They simply have a different target audience. You probably already know, or at least have a general idea, which one is better for you. If not, read on.
Which should I buy: a turntable or a record player?
Both the turntable and the record player have their advantages and disadvantages. Which one is better, depends on which advantages are more important to you and which disadvantages you can live with easier.
Many people prefer record players simply because they are ready to play music directly out of the box.
There’s nothing to set-up. Just hook the unit up and enjoy your vinyl records. In addition, most record players allow you to play your CDs and MP3s as well. Many will even stream AM/FM radio and have the ability to copy your vinyl records to a CD or to MP3 files.
The main problem is that all those included components are not usually the highest sound quality. That is especially true for the preamp and the speakers, meaning a much lower sound quality than if you were using external speakers and a preamp.
Luckily, most models will allow you to bypass the internal components and use external ones, if you choose to do so. That way you get the best of both worlds. Read our article comparing internal and external preamps for more.
Even so, a quality turntable will always beat a quality record player.
That is why those who are more serious about vinyl usually opt for a turntable.
They often already have the additional stereo components that are required anyway, but even if they don’t, they are happy to buy them.
As mentioned, no built-in record player amp and speaker combo can match the sound quality of a good receiver paired with a quality set of speakers.
When it comes to professional DJs, there is no decision: only turntables will do.
This should be obvious, but DJs need the customization you get with a turntable and they also need the portability. Try lugging a record player from one gig to another!
Even better, try spinning a record on one. Just typing that sentence made me laugh!
Which one is right for you depends on your needs. Do you just want to play some records without any hassle?
Then get a record player.
Do you want to coax the best possible sound out of your vinyl collection?
Get a turntable.
Whichever you choose, you can find the best values on this page. Those are not the highest quality players, by any means, just good value buys.
If you are serious about your vinyl, you will want one of these high-end models.
Whichever you buy, I hope you are happy with your decision and you enjoy those beautiful vinyl sounds.