This is a difficult question to answer.
‘Good’ is a relative term. What is ‘good’ to one person is not ‘good’ to another.
A cheap record player that outperforms its price level is ‘good’ to someone on a budget.
But it would be ‘bad’ to a serious audiophile with tons of money to spend.
That said, it is possible to define certain features and characteristics that contribute the most to a record player being ‘good’.
When we do that, we can actually boil down what makes a good turntable to two basic things.
Keep reading to learn exactly which two factors contribute the most to a turntable being considered ‘good’.
What Makes A Good Turntable?
The sound and the features are what make a good turntable. Vinyl is the purest form of hearing music, and a good record player will reproduce the sound on the record as accurately as possible.
That is the most important aspect in determining a good turntable. But the features the player offers also contribute to making a record player ‘good’.
We are going to take a look at the sound first and get into the various factors that contribute to it. Then we will look at common features you will find on record players
Turntable Sound And What Creates It
The sound is by far the most important thing about a record player. If a record player does not sound good, it is simply no good. But what makes it sound good? let’s find out.
The phono cartridge is the part that holds the stylus. It is called a transducer, which is a device that changes energy from one form to another.
In the case of a phono cartridge, it converts the grooves in the record to small electrical signals which are amplified and changed into soundwaves heard as music.
Cartridges come in two forms, moving coil (MC) and moving magnet (MM). Moving coil cartridges use tiny delicate springs inside the cartridge to hold the stylus. The movement of the stylus against the springs is what produces the signal.
In MM cartridges there is a magnet attached to the end of a cantilever. When the stylus moves, the cantilever moves, and thus the magnet, which produces the small electrical signal that is sent down the wires to the speakers.
Why Are Cartridges So Expensive?
A lot is going on inside of a phono cartridge. All the delicate parts need to work together perfectly, or the cartridge will not sound good and could produce unnecessary noise. It is not easy to get parts that small to sit exactly where they need to inside a small plastic shell.
It requires special manufacturing and engineering. This is expensive.
Because of all the delicate parts, and because cartridges are so important to the sound of a record player, they can be extremely expensive. It should also be noted that, like all other things in the world, they are expensive simply because they can get away with it.
As long as people continue to pay 500 dollars for a small part that goes on a record player, manufacturers will be happy to continue making and selling them.
What Are the Best Cartridge Brands?
Most of these brands have lower or entry-level cartridges, but some of them start right off with the high-end stuff costing over $400. There are some really good carts out there for $150 to $300.
This seems expensive for one part of a record player, I know. Keep in mind that the cartridge is the thing that creates the sound your record player produces, so it has to be good. Nothing contributes more to the sound than the cartridge, and with it, the type of stylus.
Any component that the sound travels through has the potential to have a major impact on how the sound ultimately sounds.
The cartridge generates the electrical signal from the grooves on the record. Those electrical signals then travel down the small wires attached to the cartridge to the output RCA jacks.
The goal with your audio cables is to keep the sound that is at the RCA jack the same when it reaches your receiver or phono preamp input. In other words, you do not want the cable to negatively affect the sound, since you already paid so much money to get the sound this good.
Some people refuse to accept that the cable you use affects the sound you hear coming out of your speakers. But trust me, the cable matters more than you think.
Of course, just as there are people who say cables mean nothing, there are people who say they need to be five hundred dollar custom cables imported from Japan specially made for your turntable.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. You want to have good cables that do not carry buzz, hum, or add any noise, and do not make the sound quieter.
To be fair, all cables will reduce the volume at some level, since they add impedance to the signal. But you want this impedance to be as low as possible.
Good Cable Brands
- Audio Quest Golden Gate
- Pro-Ject Audio
- Better Cables
The features of a turntable contribute a great deal to that turntable being perceived as ‘good’. For example, if you have hundreds of 78RPM records and your turntable does not have a 78-speed option, that turntable is not good for you.
In other words, good is a relative term when it comes to features, since not every person cares about every feature. Here are some of the most common features many people like.
33, 45, and 78 are the 3 speeds most turntables come equipped to play. Some turntables do not bother having a 78-speed, but all of them have 33 and 45. If you have 78 records you will need a turntable that also plays that speed, or it will not be good for you.
Lots of people want to rip their LPs to the digital domain. Having a USB output helps a turntable appeal to more people who want to use this feature to enhance their enjoyment of the unit.
This is a feature I don’t really care about personally. However, I can see the appeal that it has to many people. Having your record player stop automatically when the record ends make sense. This is a feature some people care about, but it is not very high on my list.
If you tend to leave your record player running overnight, this feature is a must. Otherwise, the turntable will continue to spin with the needle stuck in the last section, which ca damage both the record and the stylus. It’s not great for the motor either.
This is a feature I could not live without. My turntable has a dust light that is parallel to the surface of the records. It allows me to see every speck of dust. It makes it as easy as possible to clean my records completely.
DJs like this feature, so they can play a record backwards. This is great if you like hearing music backward. I do not care about this, but it is something some people look for and seek out in a turntable.
Variable speed is an important feature for compensating for the imperfect nature of motor speeds. Some motors are just a tad too fast or slow. This is a known issue, and every audiophile is aware of it.
A vary-speed knob allows you to slightly increase or decrease the speed at which your platter is spinning, so you can hear the record at the exact intended speed.
What Makes A Good Record Player: Final Thoughts
The most important factor in a turntable being considered ‘good’ is how well it reproduces the sound from you vinyl records. That is its primary task, so it only makes sense that a good turntable should perform that task well.
After the sound, the features a turntable has can also contribute to making it either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If a record player lacks a feature you need or want, it is not a good model for you. And if it has all the features you want, it is perfect for you. Assuming it sounds good, of course!
Finally, there is the matter of cost. You want to make sure you get a good value and don’t overpay. Many turntables are overpriced these days. How much does a record player cost on average? That post goes over the cost you can expect in each price range.