Parts of a Record Player: The Ultimate Guide
So you’ve bought a record player. Congratulations! You’re on your way to great tunes and beautiful records.
When you buy a new record player, you’ll quickly realize that it takes a little more manual maintenance and manipulation than streaming music on your phone or even listening to CDs. If you’re trying to become a turntable expert, we’ve helped you get started with this handy guide so that you can play your new records like an expert in no time.
The Parts of a Record Player
On one hand, record players seem very simple and mechanical. On the other hand, they have a lot of moving parts. If something breaks, you might not know where to start.
If you want to be good at record player maintenance or just know how to get the best sound from your turntable, you’ll need to start by learning all of the parts that make your records play. This list details all of the critical components of a record player and what they do.
The plinth is the foundation of your record player. It’s the base that all the other parts of your turntable rest on or are connected to. Usually, it’s square or rectangular.
When you set up your record player, you want to ensure that the plinth is sitting on a flat, even, sturdy surface, like a table or turntable stand.
The platter is what spins your records around underneath the needle. It’s the moveable, circular part of the record player that sits on top of the plinth.
Usually, platters are made of metal. To protect your records and decrease vibration noise, they’re covered with a circular piece of soft material called a turntable mat.
The long arm that extends over the platter and can be raised and lowered is called the tonearm. The tonearm holds two vital pieces of the record player: the needle and the cartridge.
Needles (also called styluses) usually have diamond tips. They’re the part of the record player that reads the grooves in a vinyl record and creates sound.
A needle does this by tracing those grooves while the record spins on the platter, which creates vibrations that are processed by the next important part of a record player — the cartridge.
The cartridge turns the vibrations created by the needle on the record grooves into an electrical signal. That signal goes to the record player’s speakers and is turned into music.
How To Use a Tonearm
Manual records players require the user to pick up the tonearm and place it on the record themselves. Using a small handle called a cue level, audiophiles carefully pick up the tonearm and gently place the needle on the record to play it.
Automatic record players do this process for you. There are even semi-automatic turntables, which make users place the need to begin the record but have a mechanism that automatically lifts the tonearm at the record’s end.
No matter what kind of record player you have, before you play a record, you’ll have to balance your tonearm. Then, you’ll set the tracking weight.
To balance the tonearm, you’ll need to set it up so that the needle rests on your records gently, without too much pressure. If your tonearm is unbalanced, you may have sound problems or accidentally damage your records.
Belt or Direct Drive
Direct drive and belt drive are both types of turntables. Each one has slightly different parts that you need to know about.
Direct drive turntables feature a motor beneath the turntable. That motor works to turn the platter and power your listening experience. You can basically plug in and use a direct drive turntable right out of the box with minimal setup.
The motor on a belt drive turntable is set off to the side of the platter. It’s there to reduce the effects of vibration on the platter so that your records sound crisper and cleaner, with minimal noise interference.
That motor is still connected to the platter, though. Between the platter and the motor, a belt spins the platter as it cycles. Turntable belts last for a long time, but they do wear out, which means that they’ll occasionally need to be replaced by the user.
If the turntable belt breaks or wears down, the platter won’t spin, and your records won’t play. With a little bit of practice, it’s easy to learn how to replace an old belt whenever it gets too worn to spin the platter evenly.
The Speakers and Preamp
There’s a lot of variation in speakers and preamps, but all record players need them to produce sound.
Preamps amplify sound before it gets to the speakers. Some record players include a built-in preamp, which is easier for listeners who are new to record players.
A preamp built-in on your record player makes setup easier. More experienced audiophiles will probably want to purchase a separate preamp to have greater control over their record player’s sound output.
Just like preamps, speakers can be built-in or separate. Built-in speakers are very easy to use because all you have to do is plug in your record player and put on a record, and sound comes out without any extra steps. The sound output might have limitations, but it’s tough to make a mistake setting up a record player with built-in speakers.
Separate speakers are often higher-end and offer a more serious listening experience. You can also mix and match speakers with features that you want to customize the sound output from your record player.
It’s a little harder to set separate speakers up, but fortunately, cables and sockets are often color-coded, and if you get stuck, you can always look at the manual or our setup guide for more information.
Some speakers have additional accessories that you can use to customize your player and your listening experience, especially the newer models. You might be able to get features such as Bluetooth and wireless connectivity, smart connectivity to services like Apple or Google, and various other features.
Depending on what you want to do with your sound system, some of these features might be a nice complement to your record player.
It’s Easy To Understand the Parts of a Record Player
Record players are made up of many moving parts, but they’re easy to understand and logically connected. If you plan on being a serious audiophile, it’s a good idea to know what all of those parts are, what they do, and how to replace them if you need to.
Once you have a good idea of how the parts of a record player work together, you’re ready for the fun part — playing a record. If your collection needs expanding, take a look at our catalog of vinyl.