What Is A Direct Drive Turntable?
Understanding Record Players
To listen to your favorite albums on vinyl, you’ll need a great turntable. Picking out your first record player – or even an upgrade – can sometimes be daunting, which is why we’re here to help equip and inform you with all the knowledge you need.
In this article, we’ll be discussing two of the primary types of turntables on the market – belt-drive and direct-drive record players. For decades, vinyl collectors and audiophiles have debated over which of these turntables is better. All the while, many newcomers to the vinyl format are altogether unfamiliar with the distinction between these two types of record players.
We’ve set out to distinguish belt-drive and direct-drive turntables in clear, simple terms in this post, as well as to determine if there is a clear winner between the two.
Let’s get started!
Belt-drive turntables are powered by a motor that spins a belt, which rotates the platter that holds your records. As the belt spins at a fixed rate, your record player’s cartridge rides in the grooves on a record, producing vibrations that can then be amplified and turned into sound.
A belt-drive turntable is made in such a way that the motor – the mechanism that allows your records to spin – is completely separate from the platter, which holds the record as it spins. Separating these two components of the turntable has some alleged benefits in the realm of sound quality.
One attribute to take note of in belt-drive turntables is the timing difference in the “cueing” process. Cueing is the process of getting the stylus, or needle, onto the record and getting music playing. A belt-drive turntable needs some time to get up to speed, which means that there is a small possibility that your record may play slower than desired for a second or two as the belt starts spinning. However, this is highly unlikely, especially if you are setting the tonearm of your record player atop the record at a leisurely pace.
Like any record player, a belt-drive turntable will need routine maintenance and upkeep to keep it running smoothly. One component that will need to be periodically replaced is the belt itself. The belt-drive mechanism can wear out over time, but that doesn’t mean your record player is broken, nor does it mean that you’ll need to break the bank to get it running normally again.
Replacing the belt on your turntable should be both quick and cheap. Many manufacturers sell standalone belts for replacement purposes. You can typically purchase a replacement belt from the manufacturer’s website and install it yourself without any headaches or hassles.
The primary distinction between belt-drive turntables and direct-drive turntables is the positioning of the motor. Like a belt-drive record player, a direct-drive turntable has a motor, which allows the platter to spin at a specific speed to play a record. However, a direct-drive turntable’s motor sits directly below the platter, which eliminates the need for a belt. Whereas the belt-drive turntable’s namesake belt acts as the link between the motor and the platter, the motor itself spins the platter on a direct-drive turntable.
Because there is no separation between the motor and the platter on a direct-drive turntable, these record players can start spinning at the desired speed nearly immediately. In addition, most record listeners report that the positioning of the motor on a direct-drive turntable does not add significant whirring or other noise to the listening experience.
The DJ’s Favorite Turntable
Direct-drive turntables have specific features that make them the go-to record players for disk jockeys everywhere. First, a direct-drive turntable has the ability to quickly adjust the speed of a record. Whereas belt-drive turntables need a few seconds to adjust a record’s play speed, a direct-drive mechanism allows a DJ to make quick switches between RPMs. This may sound unimportant to the average vinyl listener, but for a DJ, it’s absolutely essential.
DJs frequently use the speed adjustment feature on a direct-drive turntable to warp and distort a record’s sound. This ability can be useful for the sake of transitions, effects, and adding flavor to a performance. However, the ability of a direct-drive turntable to quickly change speeds is not necessarily a major selling point for at-home listening.
If you’re a professional disk jockey, a belt-drive turntable is definitely not for you. The relative slowness with which these turntables adjust speeds makes them clumsy tools in a medium that is all about fast and seamless transitions. In addition, belt-drive turntables lack some of the speed-related features that direct-drive record players have, making them out of the question for DJs.
So, there’s a clear bottom line on the best turntable for disc jockeys. But what about everyone else?
Which Is Better for At-Home Listening?
If you’ve gotten into vinyl collecting for the sake of enjoying albums at home, chances are you aren’t particularly concerned with your turntable’s ability to change speeds quickly. For you, the small perks of a direct-drive turntable may be irrelevant, and you may even be better off with a belt-drive instead. Here’s why.
Belt-Drive Turntables Tend to Be Better at Giving the Listener as Little Noise as Possible.
The at-home vinyl listening experience is all about hearing the nuances of a record as it spins, getting an immersive glimpse into the depth of each song as it plays. That means that whirring, clicking, and other sounds can detract from the overall sound quality and throw off what is known as the “signal-to-noise ratio.”
This delicate balance refers to the amount of music you hear when you turn on your turntable and spin a record versus the number of mechanical sounds, cartridge flaws, and other factors that you hear.
Belt-Drive Helps Keep the Motor Away From the Platter, Leading to a Quieter Machine Overall.
The distance between the motor and the platter on a turntable tends to be a good thing for at-home listening. The motor powering your record player has some considerable power, and it is inherently noisy.
However, this noise is much less discernible when the motor is further away from a spinning record. Many high-quality belt-drive turntables even include a suspended motor, which means that mechanical noises and vibrations are even further away from your turntable’s platter.
Belt-Drive Turntables Are Better at Maintaining the Desired Speed.
To get the most faithful reproduction of the music that has been pressed onto a record, you need a consistent turntable. Belt-drive record players tend to be better at keeping a record’s speed from gradually changing as it plays, which can lead to slight, almost indiscernible distortion. This change in speed may sound negligible, but it’s a big deal when your goal is achieving the perfect listening experience.
The presence of a heavier platter and a motor that is further from the platter itself tends to lend itself to a more consistent speed. This makes belt-drive turntables excellent options for at-home listening.
So, is the belt-drive turntable the clear winner in this competition? Not necessarily. Direct-drive technology is continuing to improve, with consistency in speed and reduced noise becoming more attainable in higher-end direct-drive record players. However, “higher-end” in this case can often mean several thousand dollars, an unattainable price tag for many at-home listeners.
Overall, belt-drive turntables tend to be better at offering listeners a more consistent experience with a more attainable price tag. Unless you’re a DJ or have a quadruple-digit vinyl setup budget, sticking with belt-drive is most likely best for you.