The world of vinyl can expose you to terms like record player and turntable while being quite cryptic about their differences. For the record, and despite how often these words get used interchangeably, there are some differences between them. So, no, if you’re wondering what turntable to get, don’t use the term “record player” when conversing with the store attendant.
What’s a Turntable?
A turntable can be either a fundamental component of a record player or an entirely separate unit. The former forms part of the system that allows a record player to function. The latter works in combination with other external components to produce a setup.
Essentially, a turntable has a platter upon which the record is situated, a cartridge, and a tonearm. Theoretically, everything about the turntable is simple: it’s a combination of basic elements that allow for the spinning of a record and the transference of sound from the grooves to the output of choice.
A turntable comprises the same trio of basic elements mounted onto a plinth or some base as a standalone unit. Most turntables come with built-in preamps, though they may also require you to purchase external speakers and amplifiers separately. Many users prefer to bypass the pre-configured amp for a more superior-sounding external unit.
The turntable selection process can often include tons of trial and error for the ever-dedicated music enthusiast. To produce the best sound, numerous mixing and matching are sometimes necessary. After all, it can be the little nuances in sound that mean the difference between good quality sound and the perfection you’re after.
The turntable grants you a level of customization the record player doesn’t. Thus, record collectors and audiophiles prefer it over its more historical counterpart. In most cases, when someone says “turntable,” they’re likely referring to the standalone unit unless the term is being used in the same context as a record player.
What’s a Record Player?
The most comprehensive way to play a record is to use a record player. Unlike a turntable, which tends to require other external components to play, a record player comes with all the necessary pre-configurations to play music from records.
In the context of turntables as part of record players, a record player has a turntable, a speaker, and an amplifier. More often than not, connectors and other external components aren’t necessary for this setup. You just plug it in and then play.
Even more modern record players come with state-of-the-art integrations, such as USB connectivity, Bluetooth features, and a radio. They also make for easier carrying than a turntable, with some coming in the suitcase-style design to take portability to the next level.
Being an all-in-one device isn’t always a good thing. The record player demonstrates that with its lack of flexibility around sound improvement. Unlike a turntable, a record player’s design makes introducing sound-improving components to the setup more difficult. Then again, this is sort of expected due to its lower price.
On the off-chance, a record player is more welcoming to additional components, they likely won’t be the highest quality units out there. Thus, there will still be limitations as far as how much they can improve sound output. In most cases, a turntable beats the record player for sound quality.
Another drawback to the traditional record player is its lack of fine-tuning abilities. As you may well be aware of, sound quality often comes down to customizations. Sometimes, it’s these personal touches made on the sound that makes for a more nuanced output.
Other areas where fine-tuning is noticeably absent are cartridge alignment and tracking force. Aside from impacting sound quality, the lack of adjustability in these components also makes your record player more susceptible to damage.
The Better Player in Terms of Components and Build Quality
In most cases, the turntable comes out the victor in both these departments. Aside from having superior build quality, its components tend to be more durable and longer-lasting.
Manufacturers of most modern record players tend to cut costs on the production process, thus producing poorer-quality options in general. Even the affordable turntables are generally superior in structure than record players across all price points. They also always win when it comes to sound.
Comparatively, every single component of this device caters to sound quality better than the components of a record player.
The Overall Better Player
Not so fast. The answer technically is the turntable from wherever you look at it except for the historical narrative. The record player came first. It’s the reason the turntable is around in the first place. Yes, that matters. In music, as in most other fields, you’d be hard-pressed not to count tradition in assessing an item’s value. Choosing between the two boils down to personal preference, but you can also consider having both.