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How To Use An Old Record Player

Vintage turntables can be great decor for your home, with their distinct ornate look and feel. However, these turntables are often more than just nice-looking display items. If you own a vintage turntable that is still fully functional, you may be able to get great sound out of it. In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to listen to your favorite records on an old record player.

Vintage Turntables Aren’t Too Different From Their Modern Counterparts

When it comes to the basics of turntable use, not much has changed in the last several decades. The majority of turntables from the 20th century have components that will be familiar to you if you have played records on a more recent turntable.


  • All turntables include hookups for amplification – these hookups can either be attached to an external preamp or to a pair of speakers. We’ll discuss amplification more in the paragraphs to follow.

  • Every turntable has a cartridge. This component allows your turntable to translate the vibrations picked up by the record player’s stylus into electrical signals, which can then be amplified by a preamp.

  • All turntables have specific RPM settings. This means they can only play records at a designated speed. If you are using a vintage turntable, make sure that it is equipped to play the records in your collection. The most common speeds for modern records are 33⅓ RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. 78s were much more common in the early days of vinyl, and a vintage record player may be equipped with the capability to play these records.

  • Every turntable features a tonearm, but not all tonearms are the same. The tonearm carries the signal produced by your cartridge to your turntable’s source of amplification. Some vintage turntables have better tonearms than others. Look for a tonearm that is equipped with anti-skating control – this feature helps to keep your cartridge from wobbling and moving as a record spins. In addition, make sure your turntable’s tonearm has a counterweight – this feature will keep the tonearm balanced.

  • All turntables need speakers to make sound. Some more recent turntables feature built-in speaker systems, but these are always high-quality enough to produce good sound. Whether your turntable is newer or older, we highly recommend equipping it with external speakers.

Both vintage and modern turntables operate using the same components. If you know how to use one turntable, you have most of the knowledge that you’ll need to operate another. However, there are some important distinctions to know about between modern and vintage turntables as well.


  • Most older turntables do not have a grounded power supply. This may mean that you will have to be especially careful with how you plug in an older turntable. Most modern turntables are equipped with a three-pronged, grounded power supply which can provide a more stable current. However, the two-pronged power supplies on older turntables are not usually unsafe or unstable.

  • Many vintage turntables have components that can wear down over time. If you are having trouble getting an older record player to turn down, it may be because some of the mechanical or electrical components have degraded. Talking to an audio expert may help you diagnose these issues and get an old turntable up and running again.

  • Some older turntables, especially phonographs, cannot play modern records. In the early days of vinyl, most records were smaller and were played at higher speeds than modern records. Make sure that your turntable is compatible with a record before you try to play it.

Amplification: Everything You Need To Know 

In order to produce sound, any turntable needs a means of amplification. The electrical signal produced by your turntable’s cartridge needs to be sent through a preamp before it can be audible. The preamp amplifies the signal, which can then be played through a pair of speakers. The way you set up your preamp and speakers depends on the components included in your turntable.


Some record players include built-in preamps, which amplify the signal picked up by the cartridge. If your turntable has a built-in preamp, all you need to produce sound is a pair of passive (unpowered) speakers. Passive speakers do not require wall power to work, and they do not contain a preamp. These speakers are lightweight and easy to attach to your turntable.


If you suspect that your turntable has a built-in preamp but are not sure, there is an easy way to find out – hook up your turntable to a set of unpowered speakers. Using passive speakers with no preamp means there will be no sound coming from your turntable unless it has its own preamp. To save yourself some trouble, you can also check your turntable’s owner’s manual to see if it was built with a preamp. However, many vintage turntables – especially the kind you might pick up at a thrift shop or yard sale – may not come with an owner’s manual.


If you own a vintage turntable that does not include a built-in preamp, you will need to attach the record player to a set of active speakers. Or, you can use a standalone preamp to power a set of passive speakers. There are multiple routes that you can take when it comes to amplification, and all of them have pros and cons.


When it comes to using a vintage turntable, the means of amplification is a major consideration. If your turntable has a built-in preamp that is worn out or low-quality, you may want to get your amplification from somewhere else, whether it be from a standalone preamp or a set of active speakers. Amplification plays a crucial role in the quality of sound that you get from your turntable, whether it is vintage or modern. Without a good preamp and a high-quality set of speakers, you won’t be able to get the sound quality that you’re looking for.

Turntable Cartridges 101 

If you plan on using a vintage record player, you’ll need to make sure it has a high-quality cartridge that is in good shape. Your turntable’s cartridge is one of its most important components. As the housing for the record player’s needle, or stylus, the cartridge is the part of your turntable that comes into contact with the record itself. A low-quality cartridge can sabotage your listening experience, giving you inferior sound quality.


A subpar cartridge won’t ride smoothly in the grooves of a record, which can cause excessive noise and distortion. On a vintage record player, you may find that the cartridge is either worn out or that it was not of the best quality in the first place. If you plan on using a vintage record player as your main turntable, replacing the cartridge may be a worthwhile move to make.


If you are unsatisfied with the sound quality that you are getting from your turntable, replacing your cartridge is one of the best steps to take. Instead of getting an entirely new record player, sometimes all you need to do is replace the most important components to get better sound. A new preamp and cartridge can both make a major difference in the sound that you are able to get from records.

Old Records Need Special Attention

In the same way that you may need to take an especially careful approach to using a vintage turntable, vintage records also need to be handled with care. 


If you choose to fill your collection with older records, you may need to prepare yourself for some inevitable issues with sound quality. Old records often have been subjected to various forms of wear and tear throughout their lifespans. Many records that are decades old have been warped, scratched, poorly stored, and even dropped, which can have a major negative impact on their ability to produce clean, clear sound.


The more damage that a record gets, the harder it can be to restore. There are some steps that you can take to get old records back into better condition, but it’s important to note that these methods may not always work. Some records are just too far gone to save, and it’s important to know when vinyl is unsalvageable. 


If you have old records in your collection, these are a few of the steps that you can take to get them back into better shape.


  • Store vintage records properly. If you want your records to last as long as possible, they’ll need to be protected from dust, scratches, and other forms of damage. Using protective sleeves to act as a buffer between your records and the outside world can be extremely helpful.

  • Make sure to use vintage records properly as well. One of the easiest ways to damage your vinyl collection is by handling your records poorly. Practice proper care and maintenance whenever you can, and make sure to handle your records carefully when you play them.

If you’re looking for great albums to add to your collection, you can view our full selection by clicking here.


Sources:

From Record Player to Turntable: Charting the Evolution 1877 - 2017 | Mix Mag

What is a Preamplifier? Why Do We Need Them? | Ledger Note

History of the Cylinder Phonograph | History of Edison Sound

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