Turntable buying guide: What to look for in new & used record players

By Jos ยท 23 replies
Aug 29, 2014
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  1. We may be living in a digital world where you can hold thousands of albums in the palm of your hand, but an ever-increasing portion of the listening public is eschewing the convenience of MP3s for a seemingly anachronistic format:...

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  2. mctommy

    mctommy TS Addict Posts: 217   +38

    Dang, I remember I used to have the 1200MK2 some 14 years ago and bought them for $499 each. $1200? ouch!
  3. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,664   +1,949

    Oh, perhaps, it is best to pull your head out of your rear and buy a Pono or a similar player?
  4. I still have an old liner tracking turntable, though I have not used it in years.
  5. BabyFaceLee

    BabyFaceLee TS Booster Posts: 118   +37

    I absolutely loved my hi-fi 'back in the day'....and particularly turntables. I worked my way through various Garrards, a Pioneer PL12D, Pioneer PL112D and a Thorens TD160 Super...they were my absolute pride and joy. Regardless of the clicks and crackles, the sound quality from vinyl can be truly remarkable.
    Skidmarksdeluxe likes this.
  6. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,473   +126

    I still have my servo turntable from techinics in mint condition and a Pioneer Amp also two way stereo mixer and AKAI turntable also. Along with Albums from the 60s, 70s (disco) and some from 80's. 45 rpms too. Did have some 78s and some 33 rpms and special Disco 12-inch version. I'll have to dig them out. Cassettes are long gone, I had them though. 8-track Fisher Deck around too.

    Don't tell 3.5 1.44MB and 5.5 are making a comeback also I have these also some never opened..I won't throw them out either.. Just never know..
    Skidmarksdeluxe likes this.
  7. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    I loved them myself and I still have my Shure turntable with straight tonearm (can't remember the model though) boxed away in my garage, or workshop if you speak American along with a whole collection 33.3 vinyls, some are still 78 RPM bakelites (my mom's & dad's stuff) and a lot of maxi 45 singles. Those 'Shure" were the days. :)
  8. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    I still have a couple of cases full of C60 & C90 cassettes and I have a few cassettes still sealed in cellophane which I've never opened to use.
  9. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,993   +2,528

    This whole fad is patently absurd. And that's coming from someone who has never shoved in a set earbuds, and will only use Mp3 format as a last resort.

    I used to listen to a record once to set the levels, then transfer it to cassette.

    CD has a dynamic range exceeding 90db, vinyl records are lucky to have 60. Most don't. Dynamic range is what makes live music "live".

    There's a Technics Sl-1401(Quartz lock Direct drive motor), in my living room, a Shure M-95 ED mounted in a headshell, a preamp in place, and they just collect dust.

    Vinyl records suffer from the same thing they've always been prone to, having one track of decent "content", and 11 tracks of crap. Why would someone pay a premium, for a source material that degrades each time you play it, and doesn't sound as good as the other readily available format, CD?

    People here think I'm living in the past when I bring up CDs. Vinyl records, you gotta be joking!

    People complain about having to buy music in different formats such as when the shift from LP to CD came about. Virtually every CD I own has superior sound to the same thing in LP. That's even coming from analog studio tapes transferred to digital media.

    So now you're going to re-re-buy your CDs in vinyl? Wow, good luck with your credit card balances. It seems like a "fool and his money" issue to me.

    I could go on for pages about this, as I sold hi fi equipment during the LP era, and I'm very familiar with old audio equipment, and its limitations.

    Back to LP? No, never.
    MikeAcker likes this.
  10. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    Oh Captain.. I agree with you that buying a vinyl with 1 good track and every time you play it it sounds worse than before is not a great investment. But, the analog vs digital thing for music is something where analog is going to always win (at least on that first play).
  11. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,993   +2,528

    No, analog is en vogue in the creation of music. I've always taken note of the irony that you need super clean equipment to faithfully reproduce the gross amounts of distortion in, and added to, musical instrument amplifiers.

    Tube amplifiers, when clipped, create enormous amounts of harmonic distortion, which people seem to enjoy greatly. The lack of "damping factor" in tube amps, is largely responsible for the "sustain" that guitar players consider the "Holy Grail" of soloing.

    But to reproduce that without injecting any more distortion into the mix, requires a laboratory precise, post facto signal path.

    Now, if you were trying to use that same tube amp in that state, to reproduce your favorite love song, it would sound like sh!t.

    When digital tape recorders were first introduced to the studio, people made albums that were brittle, strident, and annoying. Bruce Springsteen's, "The River", is the classic example of this. Later on, in the mid 90's the engineers had it together, being able to milk the very best out of digital recording. I think recent studio efforts on the part of many bands and engineers, have laid the tracks onto CDs too heavily, resulting in upward signal compression, killing the available dynamic range that CDA can provide.

    The issue of dynamic range is evidenced by the compressors included in today's DVD and Blu-Ray players. This is the "night time setting" or whatever a maker chooses to call it. It takes the musical, (or FX), peaks, and compresses them downward, while lifting the whispers upward. In the end, the dynamic bandwidth is compressed. You get to watch your movie sometime past midnight, while the rest of the family still gets to sleep. But, for maximum effect and fidelity to the original source, dump the compression, and crank it up!

    As far as recording to analog tape, that's actually quite good, as the tape is pulled fast enough to render the "hiss" ultrasonic, and thus inaudible. Line losses past that point however, using analog methodology, leaves a lot to be desired.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2014
  12. MikeAcker

    MikeAcker TS Enthusiast Posts: 33

    spot on
    sound quality of an LP basically ends where CD begins.
    I said CD: 44.1khz/16 bit. CD is significatly better than the early MP3 although later versions of MP3 have improved now but still do not match FLAC or Ogg/Vorbis

    even still with a good TT ( such as the LP120 featured here ) you will soon discover that your system is limited by the quality of the mix that has gone into the production of an LP or CD. some are better than others. but this should surprise no one.

    but,-- what the hey!! to each his own. there still folks around who like to shot on film. I took all my film camera stuff to the recycling place. good riddance.
  13. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,304   +429

    Turntables need to do two things.
    1) spin the record at a constant speed
    2) isolate

    anyone that thinks vinyl is better then digital is wrong (sound included in that statement) vinyl can sound as crappy as a crum mp3 or whatever

    I have been giving my LP collection to my daughter and she discovered the inherent drawback in owning hundreds of records without me telling her. they weigh to much, take up too much storage space and are a bugger to move.

    IF you are a purist...ha ha ha too bad for you

    I do miss album covers though
  14. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,473   +126

    Do you have the TDK MA-R Aluminum Case With Transparent Clear Plastic Housing) Metal Tape Format. Those cost me like $20 and higher. I was really into those and TDK SA-X High Chrome. Are these worth anything today?
  15. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    I have a few TDK SA-X's Chromes, not the other one. I doubt they're worth very much today because they are well over 20 years old and I don't know if their quality degrades over time.
  16. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    @Skidmarksdeluxe - Just a guess, but I think they would work now as good as they ever did for new recordings. The arranging of the metal will degrade over time but if you freshly arrange (new recording) it should be fine. Unless they were used a lot in the past, because repeated recordings seemed to reduce the quality.
  17. All valid points with one exception: most digital recordings are not taking advantage of this huge dynamic range. On the contrary, most of them are mastered to sound well in noisy environments (think your car) or on equipment most people own (which is itself quite limited dynamically as all the more "serious" equipment also costs more serious money). This advantage had been lost in the "Loudness War" as producers pushed the loudness up constantly.

    The result is stuff that sounds awfully compressed regardless of the digital support, compressed or not. This was a tend that started at the beginning of the '90s when vinyl was proclaimed dead and the purity of digital was the new mantra.

    The truth is vinyl is a purely mechanical medium and will take loudness and compression only to a point at which the needle will simply jump out of the groove. It is funny how the limitation of this medium has actually brought it back to life.

    Mind you, at no time I've said vinyl is a superior media, it would be silly to even entertain this notion. There's absolutely NO question even the humble Red Book CD standard is way ahead in theory. What the people have done with it however is a whole different story and not a good one at that.

    Some of the more savvy bands out there release two masters: one digital and one analog, less compressed. Ask yourself why...

    Have a look here for a more general idea : http://dr.loudness-war.info/
  18. There's also the Project Debut Carbon that comes complete with an Ortofon 2M Red which is considered the golden standard on entry level turntables. Nice deck with a carbon fiber arm and a sweet sounding cartridge well reviewed by, well... everyone. Only drawback is you need a phono stage with it if your system does not have one.
  19. PopaBearDntCare

    PopaBearDntCare TS Rookie

    I personally love vinyl, in my opinion it has a nice warm sound, but it's more about the experience than anything since I've been collecting them for a decade since the age of around 11 (before this trend which has hiked up prices on me! Damn hipsters...) I'm open to opinions and I can appreciate someone who doesn't feel vinyl produces the desired range of sound (though for me it does as long as it's on good equipment, I have it equalized to custom settings for the style of music, and the records are taken care of). However, I must say that cd's though offering more decibels do not produce a clear result. The sound is just too compressed. Most cd's remaster the music of the vinyl era so the "better" sound is a mirage, it is still compressed leaving some to be desired. I'd recommend listening to .flac files if you're truly looking for "perfect" sound. To truly hear the difference in anything you have to listen to the same audio immediately between formats (which I have done). Flac's completely demolish mp3's and cd's. It's truly uncompressed sound much like vinyl (which is why many people enjoy them in the first place), as a file this quality never degrades, and has the luxury of modern mastering and re-masters for your classics. I'd never put down opinions, however cd's are not the technology to rely on. Loudness in music is all an illusion, it has to do with mastering (I produce as a hobby). All music is mastered slightly below, never exceeding 0 db. Above 0 db and audio clips (cuts out and distorts for those of you that may not know music lingo) The better the master, the more you can push the db on sound equipment with a clear result, so in your argument of cd vs. record you're correct, but it has to do with the advancement in studio mastering, not the format.

    Long story short: Vinyl up for debate, Cassettes no, 8 track hell no, Cd's no, Mp3's great for a jog not your high def. listening pleasure, .flac files yes.
  20. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,993   +2,528

    The excess compression in CDs is a recent development. In the 90's, they sounded much better than they do now, as recording engineers learned to take advantage of the greater dynamic range and extended frequency response being made available to them.

    People always used to complain about, "how loud", their TVs got when the commercials came on. The networks couldn't "turn up the volume" because it was (is) illegal to modulate the carrier signal past 100%. So, they did the next best thing, and compressed the sound upward as far they they could without over-modulating. The commercials would overpower the viewers, bending them to their will, while visions of whiter whites, and brighter colors, danced in their heads.

    This is a generation of mostly degenerate, tone deaf imbeciles, and to cut through the din of the voices in their heads, compression has come roaring back with a vengeance, while being actually able to sing, has become somewhat a deterrent to success. Recording engineers have kept abreast of the downturn in human intellect, and have wantonly digressed to catering to the "special needs children", which comprise today's listening public. Now, all you need to do, is shower a microphone with the most vulgar obscenities you can manufacture, and let the, "auto-tune" software make you a star.

    Take note that Auto-Tune (TM), when badly misused, is basically a wah-wah pedal for the untrained and awful sounding voices of today's pop stars.

    History does have a habit of repeating itself, and as George Harrison said back in the 60's, "you've given me a wah-wah, you've made me a big star", poking fun at the guitarists of his day, and so auto-tune has done for our "singing" contemporaries.

    As far as vinyl goes, anybody can talk all the sh!t they want about how good, warm, or mystical it is, the maximum noise floor is still at about -60Db. Not really Hi-fi, compared to what could be achieved with properly mastered CD.

    Classical music aficionados always seemed willing to tolerate record surface noise, as long as they could have the most dynamic range available for the orchestral crescendos.

    Oddly, the best sound, (IM, perhaps misinformed, HO), is the AC-3 (?) in movie DVDs. That sound doesn't turn to crap until they run the AM sounding packaged single songs along with the ending credits.

    As far as FLAC being better than CD, you need to consider how far the recording is away from the master, and who was the producer before you pronounce it, "simply the best ever". This codec only seems to be showing up up in esoteric, limited availability samples.

    Loreena McKennitt has made all her material available as both FLAC and MP3, for several years. Her CDs are top notch in sound quality as well. http://www.maplemusic.com/dept.asp?dept_id=2816

    EDIT: I have vinyl records dating back decades, and I've never regretted having to re-buy material in CD form. This is something I have absolutely no intention of doing with respect to DVD to Blu-Ray to 4K. Upsampled DVD is just fine, with a Blu-Ray thrown in from time to time.

    You have to pay attention to the symbols on CD cases, before you pass final judgement about sound quality. They tell you the mastering history of the disc in A's and D's (The analog and digital stages of mastering).

    And if anybody has some time to kill, search the web for information about "analog studio tape recorders". Two inch wide magnetic tape pulled at 15ips, wasn't half bad at putting down a groove. Here: https://www.google.com/search?q=analog studio tape recorders&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 That should keep you busy for quite awhile.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2014
  21. PopaBearDntCare

    PopaBearDntCare TS Rookie

    As far as music goes I don't see how AC-3 is relevant in a discussion of the best sound quality. Regardless, you are indeed misinformed, as a former film student I can tell you AC-3 (Dolby Digital) is not the best sound, as you discover when the music comes around. It is a compression technique (compression regarding data. the codec discards "unnecessary" information to obtain a high quality sound despite the very small file size). The real trick of it is when used in surround sound applications it has 5 individual channels of sound giving a lot of atmosphere. Just to shut down your misconception about AC-3 as quickly as possible, Dolby HD has more channels, is of a much higher bit rate and isn't compressed, therefore of a much higher quality.

    As far as any digital sound goes, the rate at which the file can be read is what accounts for the best possibility for a sound. Obviously if a master sucks, the sound will suck in any format. So I can say as a fact, .Flac provides the possibility of achieving a better sound than a cd ever could. The bits at which these digital recordings are at (ex.: 24 is more than 16 so 24 is better) matter when discussing the over all sound since the higher the bit of the recording the more dynamics and subtle effects and elements are retained.

    Your "points" about how a track is recorded are irrelevant to the main point of this discussion since we are discussing the format of listening. The recording all ends up on any of these formats, and it is all recorded the same way with the same equipments since it's the same song.

    I would never use the term hi-fi and cd in the same sentence, regardless of sound floor. It is missing way too much of it's possible elements in it's reading speed.

    I do not blame lack of intelligence because you clearly have intelligence, I blame ignorance since you seem to be unaware of certain aspects of digital sound.

    High quality digital files factually have higher capabilities making it a superior format. Yes if they make the .flac read slower with a lower bit depth (eliminating the purpose of the format in the first place) than your precious cd, the cd would sound better, but if properly produced it's capabilities are much higher than that of a compact disc.

    I can agree however that this superior to cd sound format isn't always easily obtained, I am just fortunate enough to have one of my favorite bands discography in .Flac. among a few other artists in my collection.
  22. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,993   +2,528

    No, I never claimed that. I simply said the the AC-3 during in the movie sounds more realistic than the song tracks normally found during the credits. This is music that has been recorded, (ostensibly), by "professional sound engineers", originally generated as free standing music tracks. I more or less alluded the fact that was probably an illusion.

    As far as the rest of your post goes, I know the sampling rate of CD is 44,000 Khz., and you're lucky if you can hear a third of that frequency. So really, I seriously doubt under any circumstance, that you can hear, "the spaces between the data", or the full bandwidth of either CD or FLAC.

    As for vinyl records go, conventional wisdom has it that, "if you can't say anything nice about a recording medium, say it's "warm sounding". Which it seems you've already done.

    Save your thoughts on my IQ for somebody that cares, and busy yourself looking for FLAC audio to wax philposophic about..

    This is the internet, and as one astute poster pointed out, "you have people on the internet who claim they can hear the differences in solder types in an amplifier"..

    My insight on compression was dead on, BTW.

    Seriously, you're trying to claim that was the only point you were trying to make?
  23. PopaBearDntCare

    PopaBearDntCare TS Rookie

    "Oddly, the best sound, (IM, perhaps misinformed, HO), is the AC-3 (?) in movie DVDs." - that was you.

    Want a medal for great opinion on compression? lol. I don't remember saying anything bad about your insights on compression. I completely agree. Especially in this new age of electronically produced music. Electronic music producers are constantly compressing and pushing for loudness. I particularly enjoyed your bit working in Harrison (honest to god kudos for including that quote... absolutely no sarcasm I liked that).

    I thought it was obvious the only point here is format of listening, so yes I'm honestly saying that's the only point trying to be made here.

    As far as you taking offense to the comment made on your intelligence, I meant no disrespect, nor should it be taken since I called you intelligent. Ignorance (the lack of not knowing) is different than lack of intelligence. That's why I emphasized that to me you seem smart, you're just missing that small piece of information preventing you from seeing this from a factual stand point. Nonetheless, I apologize if I made you feel belittled in anyway.

    Yes cd's do have great sampling rate. Just as good as any digital file can, I'll give you that. When considering that the sampling rate of .Flac and Cd is equivalent that's awesome for Cd's. They are so close it's almost the same.... almost. The difference comes in bit depth. Cd's are 16 bit's. A studio .Flac is 24 bits making it..... the closest you'll get to hearing exactly what the studio's recording is... which is THE BEST POSSIBLE SOUND for listening.

    Now of course many .Flac's from random sources (little Johnny uploading a torrent file in his mothers basement that was ripped from his killer cd of Metallica St. Anger < that was sarcasm) will be the equivalent of a cd at 16 bits since it was ripped from a Cd, but the fact remains a .Flac at 24 bits is factually better than a Cd, and I've listened to both my store purchased Cd and my .Flac files of the same album and the 24 bit took the cake. I hear more delicate notes of reverb, slight better separation of low- high frequencies, etc.
  24. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,993   +2,528

    Yeah, I miss-worded the intent of that statement. I was making a simultaneous comparison about the engineering involved, not the competence of the recording method itself.

    The sound engineers in the movie proper seem to have a better grasp of reproducing reality, than the engineers of musical content have , (it seems), on what I actually would like to hear. Since taste is subjective, I vote with my wallet.

    A person walking into a room in a movie, sounds like a person walking into a room. A person singing, (or rather lip synching in a music video), in the middle of nowhere, sounds like someone shouting at the bottom of a well.
    This is something that has existed since my childhood, (during the Pleistocene era). Frankie and Annette, (or was it "Gidget"), would be singing on a wide open beach, waves crashing in front on an incoming squall, and here again, those voices come, reverberant and full, wafting out of that deep, deep well, built for two....

    OK, my bad. The observations on compression were actually in response to the guest poster above you, (Post #18). I didn't respond to that when it was entered, and I thought I"d take care of two members with one stone, (so to speak).

    I'm not naive to the point that there has to be something better than CD, to make a CD. I have free standing DVD recorders which will easily equal the bit rate of a commercially mastered DVD, but they don't look 75% as good as this year's commercially mastered installment of "Iron Man". Line losses from encoding on the fly, and lack of true pro quality circuitry and components, combine to make an ugly truth.

    Although I have to say, the DVD I made of this year's OTA broadcast of, "The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show", I would watch again. Even Taylor Swift was in her underwear, and the backing tracks were loud enough to mostly drown out her vocals.

    FLAC may be the "best possible sound", (notice I skipped the caps), but it requires several concessions along the way to remain such.

    First of all, I'm absolutely not going to climb inside my computer and spend my whole life there. So, unless I can buy a "free standing FLAC player", at around the same price as a comparable CD player, I won't be using it. Yeah, I"m a Luddite, so what? (Which of course, would be simply another computer anyway).

    Second, for FLAC, "to be the best", the human segment of the signal chain has to adhere to the medium's quality, an not inflict the same abuse on it that has currently infected the the realm of CDs. So, for a better codec to become necessary, it seems to me it would make sense to first resolve the mistreatment of the codec you already have. With current recording sensibilities, if you put everything out as FLAC, all you'd get is 24 bit sh!t.

    I completely agree that good sound is paramount to the enjoyment of music. I sure wish that we had 24 bit DATs way back when, so I could hear how Simon & Garfunkel, (and many, many, others), actually sounded. As it stands, the album sits in the rack, tape hiss and marginal bandwidth destroying the experience for me. The further you go into the past, the more the musical perspective recedes.. A sovereign truth and a metaphor all at once.

    Third, to reap the maximum rewards of "the best medium", the signal chain needs to be up to the standard of said codec, all the way through. Which, BTW, includes, "the loose nut between the steering wheel and the seat".

    Plus, do you really want to listen to the "N word", some 3 dozen times in a 3 minute track, in 24 bit depth? I know I sure don't.

    We have a generation of *********, whatevers, who almost believe that a 4" paper cone driver in an oversize engagement ring box, is capable of being classified as, "a subwoofer".

    For better sound to be made more widely available, more people have to be able to understand it.

    So, the music you're getting on FLAC, seems to be targeted at audiophiles. A better recording process may indeed one day, "save music". Unfortunately,It might be a case of "overkill", in the same way you don't really need 4K resolution on a 14" laptop. But, people will buy it nonetheless.

    The central point of your argument comes back to something I said. The closer you come to the original, in terms of intermediate steps, the better the sound, all other factors being equal. AFAIK, studio mastering is done in 24 bits.

    As far as you silly hyperboly goes about, "not being willing to call CD hi-fi", it certainly is high fidelity as compared to anything that went before it.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2014

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