New to Vinyl? These Are the Three Features to Look for in a Turntable.

New to Vinyl? These Are the Three Features to Look for in a Turntable.

A lot of turntables look cool. But what we really want is a turntable that sounds cool, meaning records won't skip and we can hear details that don't come through in lower quality digital streams. Vinyl is the highest-quality audio format you can buy, but the wrong turntable makes it much harder to enjoy the medium. To get the most out of the vinyl experience, look for these 3 qualities in a turntable:

1) A full-size (metal) platter

The platter is the big circle that the record sits on while it spins.

A lot of cool-looking suitcase turntables have a small platter that's only about 2/3rds as wide as a standard record. Unfortunately, that means a lot of records will wobble and skip on the first couple songs. Why? Because the needle's applying pressure downwards but there's nothing under the record to keep it from getting unbalanced. This is especially true on newer vinyl, which tends to be heavier than older vinyl. (For more on why that is, check out this post). 

You need a full-size platter to avoid regular skipping. Ideally, that platter is also metal and slightly lifted up from the body of the turntable like the one above. That combo creates maximum isolation for the vinyl, meaning it's not as impacted by people walking by with heavy footfalls, etc. But the #1 thing is that it's full size. Always.

2) A counterweight on the (metal) arm

The counterweight adds a little extra pressure on the needle as it plays. That reduces the impact of any imperfections in the vinyl itself. For example, if an old record has some scuffs on it, a counterweight makes it less likely that it'll skip on them. And every once in a while, a record you buy might not be perfectly centered on the vinyl. With a counterweight on the arm of your record player, you may not ever even notice that issue. 

Most turntables with a counterweighted arm will also have a fully metal arm. The arm is the main piece through which sound is conducted, and plastic arms have less isolation (there's that word again!). You want as much isolation as possible so nothing interferes with the audio. So make sure the arm is fully metal. 

The turntable you buy should come with instructions on how to set the counterweight to the right level. But if you need a hand, try this YouTube video.

3) A universally upgradeable needle/shell

The grooves on a record are soundwaves intricately carved into vinyl. Better needles tend to be made out of higher quality materials (like diamond) that can be sharpened to exceptionally fine shapes that will "ride" into those grooves a little more deeply and closely. That will allow the needle to pick up every nuance of the shape of the groove, which is the shape of the sound itself. 

Unless you have high-end speakers, you probably don't need a fancy needle. So I wouldn't sweat the needle itself too much when starting out. But someday, you might upgrade to fancy speakers. And if you do, you'll want to upgrade your needle. If your turntable has an upgradeable needle shell, that's easy! If not, you might have to buy a whole new turntable.

To make sure you can upgrade your needle, look for a twisty knob at the back of the shell, like the one in the top right corner of the pic above. Also look for the two screws at the top of the needle shell. If you see those, you'll be able to upgrade either the needle or the whole shell anytime you're ready. Future-proof!


Any turntable with these three features is likely to make you a happy listener. Our favorite model is the Fluance RT80.

It's the best $200 turntable ever, with all of the features we recommend. You'll never need another record player. If you're local, come test-drive it in our shop and take one home! If you're outside of Philly, we recommend ordering from the Fluance site.

What about Bluetooth on a turntable?

As a backup, or an extra little add-on to the experience, it's fine! But we don't advise it for your primary method of listening. The audio quality of vinyl is really high, but Bluetooth is only able to capture a small percentage of that. To stream the audio wirelessly, it has to heavily compress the sound. That makes it about the same as streaming from Spotify. 

But if you want an extra speaker somewhere in the house or outside, it can be a nice addition. The best model that has all of our recommended features plus Bluetooth is the Audio Technica AT-LP3XBT-BK. 

Again, you can come see it in our shop locally or look online wherever you buy electronics.

Happy spinning, y'all!



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