Is there a difference between a record player vs. a turntable? If so, what is it? These are questions that get asked fairly often, and the answers can be somewhat confusing, mainly because these terms are often used interchangeably.
While both record players and turntables play vinyl and records, the main difference between these devices is the components they include.
Generally speaking, a turntable is a significant component of a record player. But this doesn’t mean you can’t purchase or use a turntable on its own.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the differences between these two popular devices, as well as which one of them will best suit your needs.
A turntable is a device found within a record player. All record players have turntables, but turntables can also be sold separately. The turntables that are not within all-in-one record players require extra equipment to play sound.
Record Player Refresher
We’re sure you already know what a record player is, but to accurately compare one to a turntable, it might be best to refresh your memory slightly. To put it simply, a record player is an all-in-one device designed to play sound and audio from external records.
All record players need a turntable to function, as a turntable is a platter or surface on which a record is placed and then rotated. A record player requires no additional equipment to play the sound from a record.
All you need to do is put a record on the platter, lower the needle, and you’re good to go. That’s one of the significant benefits that you’ll enjoy with a record player, among others.
No extra components are required, but a record player is typically more expensive than a turntable.
What Is a Turntable?
A turntable on its own is a device onto which you place a record. However, it’s not as simple as just putting a record onto a turntable’s platter and having it automatically play the sound back to you.
Turntables also come with a mechanism, known as the tonearm and cartridge, that recognizes the record as a playable device with sound recorded.
However, to hear what’s on the record, you would need to have a separate preamp, speakers, and an amplifier. All of these components already come included in a record player.
To put this all together, a turntable is a device found within a record player. All record players have turntables, but turntables can also be sold separately. The turntables that are not within all-in-one record players require extra equipment to play sound.
Record Player Components:
The stylus is a typically cone-shaped needle that allows the record to play by picking up the vibrations from the grooves engraved into the vinyl. The stylus is connected to the tonearm with a flexible piece of metal.
The exact shape of a stylus can vary from being spherical to elliptical, and these slightly different structures can have other effects on performance and application, resulting in different prices.
The most common and least expensive stylus shape is spherical, though some claim that this type of stylus can wear records down faster than other stylus types.
Note that most turntables will also come with a stylus.
Tonearm and Cartridge
The tonearm is the movable, arm-like part of the record player that you use to lower the needle onto the record. The tonearm works hand-in-hand with the cartridge, which holds the stylus and converts vibrations into electrical signals. These signals are then sent to the amplifiers or speakers.
Like the stylus, the tonearm and cartridge can come in several different types that all have their pros and cons.
Note that most turntables will also come with a tonearm and cartridge.
Amplifiers and Speakers
Amplifiers transfer the cartridge’s electric signals and tonearm right into the attached stereo speakers within the record player. This is what allows us to hear the sound engraved in the vinyl records.
Audio signals are created via the audio receivers and pre-amplifiers to generate sound signals we can listen to and enjoy as music.
Note that turntables do not come with these components. They must be purchased separately.
A turntable will require external components for you to listen to vinyl records, but many music enthusiasts prefer them. This makes selecting specific components and upgrading the existing components much easier and should lead to a better audio experience.
The following are the major components that come included with a turntable.
The platter is the rotating surface that a record is placed on top of. The platter is typically made from metal material but can also be made of plastic, rubber, or vinyl.
To protect the record from being scratched or damaged by the platter, a slip mat is placed on top of the platter and serves as a cushion. These are typically made of rubber, cork, or acrylic.
A metal rod holds this all in place.
Steel platters are very commonly found in entry-level turntables, as they can be cheaply produced. You may eventually want to upgrade to an aluminum or vinyl platter.
A more expensive type of platter is made from aluminum. Some people believe that aluminum is more stable than steel and allows for vibrations to be cast at a lighter level.
A turntable can either use a belt-drive or direct-drive system to spin the platter. A belt-drive, as the name implies, uses a belt to turn the platter.
This belt is connected to the motor but can quickly be separated from it if issues arise. Belts will eventually have to be replaced, as they can wear out, but this is usually an easy and inexpensive task.
A direct drive system does not use gears, belts, or wheels to turn the platter. They are directly connected to the platter, which means that they can quickly reach full spinning speed and cause no resistance to the platter when turned off.
These are the systems that are often found in the turntables used by DJs. Direct drive systems offer speed control settings, and you’ll often see DJs spinning records in both directions without damaging the motor.
Record Player Sound Quality
Vinyl records that are played on a record player offer a real, authentic sound quality that you won’t find in a CD or digital media. The quality can be compared to sitting in the studio and listening to the performer make the record live.
These days, vinyl is viewed as a work of art and something that a music connoisseur owns to hear the sound as it was meant to be heard. Possessing a record player can fill in a picture of the music’s historical backdrop and how it sounded to those who first heard it.
Classic But Limited
A record player already includes amplifiers and speakers, whereas a turntable requires additional equipment to work. That being said, if something goes wrong with your record player, it could be challenging to find out which part is malfunctioning.
If you can’t figure out which part is causing the problems, you might have to replace the record player altogether. Even if you happen to find out what the specific issue is, you may end up paying quite a bit of money to fix or replace the individual components.
On the off chance that low-quality amplifiers and speakers were used when making the record player, the result will be an inferior sound quality that can be hard to fix or improve.
However, if you’re willing to take the chance that the sound quality might not be perfect but instead a classic, authentic sound, a record player can end up being the more cost-effective choice.
Turntable Sound Quality
There’s no doubt that turntables are a more modern device. While they still allow you to listen to classic vinyl records, they’re upgradable with technology that musicians and music-lovers of previous generations did not have access to.
If used with the right equipment, turntables can provide a pure, streamlined sound that record players of old simply can’t match.
Modern But Fussy
As mentioned before, turntables require extra equipment to play sound. This can be an advantage because users can control exactly which parts they want to use to get the sound quality they desire.
This also means that turntables can be finicky and fussy, as you might not know exactly what a particular setup will sound like until you hook it up to your turntable and turn it on.
Because of this, turntables can be a lot of hassle, and you may end up buying and returning individual components until you find a particular setup that you like.
If you enjoy the idea of having complete control over the parts required for your setup, a turntable will be the perfect device that provides you with the more contemporary sound you desire and options to adjust and upgrade pieces in the future.
Record Player vs. Turntable: Which Should You Choose?
When choosing between a record player and a turntable, you have to keep in mind what it is that you’re going for. Do you want an all-in-one, no-fuss device? Or do you want something that you can upgrade a bit more easily?
Here are a few things that you should consider before making a decision.
A turntable can be upgraded to improve the sound quality to whatever you desire, while a record player is harder to upgrade or fix. These factors lead to some differences when it comes to the overall cost.
While a record player can initially be more expensive to purchase than a turntable on its own, an entire turntable setup with the necessary amplifiers, speakers, and other gadgets can easily outprice a record player.
However, if something were to ever go wrong with your record player, trying to find replacement parts that work with your specific record player can be a challenge – and an expensive one.
You might even have to end up buying a whole new record player if you can’t pinpoint the problem or find the right replacement parts.
High-quality turntables can undoubtedly cost quite a bit, though, so do some research and budgeting before you commit to one option or the other.
Ease of Use
Record players are, simply put, much more user-friendly than turntables are. All you have to do is put a record on the platter and drop the needle.
To own and use a turntable, you need a bit more know-how when it comes to not only scoping out and buying the best add-ons but hooking them up to your device.
If you want to listen to your records right away, buy yourself a record player. If you like the idea of a challenge, try your hand at making your turntable setup.
A record player is a complete audio system that requires no additional equipment to play your favorite records. Some modern, high-tech record players can play everything a turntable can and then some. This includes CDs and other forms of digital sound.
A turntable requires that you buy extra components before you’re able to play any sound at all, but you can also upgrade these devices to your heart’s content.
If the idea of testing out and buying additional parts makes you break out in hives, go for an all-in-one record player instead. And, if you would like even more information on the differences between a record player and a turntable, check it out here.
Record players and turntables are similar devices that can offer very different sound experiences. Depending on your musical needs, you have the option of purchasing a classic record player that evokes a time gone by or a modern turntable that can be upgraded as time goes on.
Both items are seen as art pieces that remind us how music and audio were first introduced to the public. Either choice is sure to provide a fantastic sound experience.
We hope you enjoyed this record player vs. turntable guide. Now go enjoy some music!