What to AVOID in a turntable in 2020
Would you expect to combine your fridge, stove and dishwasher into one device? Would you cut your steak with a butter knife?
You’ve probably seen plenty of those ‘briefcase’-style decks around. They’re pretty, and pretty cheap, but they’re also pretty bad if your goal is audio quality and preserving your records. Here’s the problem with plastic / all-in-one turntables:
- Inbuilt speakers. This is where the rot starts. They’re small and sound tinny, so you won’t get much bass or detail. But there’s an even bigger problem: because turntables rely on delicately tracking physical etchings in records, having speakers (basically big vibrating diaphragms) inside the same chassis creates a crazy feedback loop.
- Stylus and cartridge made out of the wrong materials. The stylus, attached to the cartridge, is the sharp element that makes contact with the groove to read the information stored. Because the cartridge is typically made of ceramic (nice for crockery, not for record players!), it requires higher downforce pressure. This wears the stylus out faster, degrading sound quality and accelerating groove damage to your records.
- Tonearm not designed for acoustics. These are typically short on such players, meaning that as the arm tracks towards the centre of the record, the stylus becomes less than perfectly parallel to the grove, creating differential pressures between the right and left channels.
- Small platter. These can lead to warping of your records as they hang over the edge.
- Irregular motors that can't keep time. Key to accurate sound reproduction is an accurate rotation speed. On these decks the speed can vary widely, producing totally inaccurate pitch.
Would you believe that’s only the half of it? Many of these issues plague the conventionally-shaped mass-produced plastic decks too. Look out for them! They're possibly the worst value-for-money path you could take.
This guy puts it well about one of the better known 'plastic' brands (we're too polite to mention it by name):