Turntable Vs Record Player: The Main Differences Explained - Vita Audio

Turntable Vs Record Player: The Main Differences Explained

Turntable and record players. They might sound the same, but they do in fact have significant differences. Turntables are mechanical devices that spin records at high speeds. They were originally designed to play vinyl records, and not much has changed with them in terms of application.

They’re still spinning away, letting us enjoy our favorite tunes in high quality. But how does this differ from a record player?

Turntable Vs Record Player The Main Differences Explained

There are three main differences between these two types of turntables. First, turntables are usually larger and heavier than record players. Second, record players require electricity to operate whereas, historically, turntables don’t (although most modern units do).

Third, turntables are typically much more expensive than record players; however, their sound quality is much higher. 

We look at the differences in closer detail, as, although both terms are often used interchangeably, the truth of the matter is that these devices are very different beasts. Let’s jump right in.

Before We Begin

Before we begin this article, it’s important to know that a turntable is a platter with a tonearm and cartridge. It operates as a standalone unit and requires additional components to play any kind of music.

A record player is one device and does not need extra components to play music. This is because it already includes the turntable assembly, amplifier, preamp, and speakers.

There are also nuances around the word “turntable” because it can be used to refer to a specific part of a record player.

It has, however, evolved in recent times to refer more often to the single unit that is hooked up to other pieces of equipment, either as part of an entire stereo system or as part of an old-school DJ-style set-up.

Turntables

The term “turntable” refers to the actual rotating platter on which the music is played. It was originally designed to play 45 RPM records, but now it can handle 33 1/3 RPM discs as well.

In addition to playing music, a turntable will allow you to change the speed of the disc being spun by adjusting the tonearm height.

It can be used in two contexts, the integral component of a record player, or the standalone unit. Used as a record player, it forms part of the unit, but as a standalone, it is combined with other pieces of equipment and external components to form a full music system.

A turntable is made of a platter where the record sits, a tonearm, and a cartridge. A turntable is a combination of these elements which are needed to allow a record to spin and transfer the sound from the grooves to a form of output.

As a standalone unit, the parts of the device will be mounted on a base of the plinth. They will often have a preamp built-in, yet they will need an external amplifier and speakers.

These need to be bought on their own and then connected to the turntable. The pre-built preamp can often be swapped for an external preamp and most users prefer this option.

Audiophiles who want to achieve the best sound they can from a set-up will mix and match external components with the turntable. This often produces higher quality sounds through the customization that this amount of modularity allows.

For this reason, audiophiles and record collectors typically prefer and opt for a turntable over a record player.

When referring to a turntable, it will usually be about the standalone unit, unless this is referred to in the context of the make-up of a record player.

How Does A Turntable Work?

Turntables are relatively simple machines, but their mechanics are very complex. When the record is on the platter, it is secured with the spindle and slip-mat. These help to avoid the record slipping when the platter rotates.

When the platter begins moving, the tonearm is put into place above the record and lowered gently. This brings the stylus, which is the needle, into contact with the surface of the record. The stylus is placed in the cartridge, which is connected to the end of the tonearm. 

When the needle contacts the record surface, it makes its way into the record’s grooves. It tracks through the grooves and passes the vibrations to the cartridge via what is known as the cantilever.

The cartridge converts those movements into an electric signal as a result of the magnets and wire coils within the device.

The electric signal is known as a PHONO signal and at this stage of the process, it’s usually too quiet to hear. This is where external components and equipment kicks in.

A preamp converts the PHONO signal to a LINE before it is passed along. Once the signal has been converted, the remaining process happens away from the turntable.

An amplifier will take the signal and pass it along to the turntable’s speakers, yet some speakers have an amp built into them. 

The two best methods in which the platter is driven are direct-drive, or belt-drive. Direct-drive devices have a motor placed under the platter, and this rotates the platter around, whereas belt-drive turntables have a pulley system installed that connects the motor and the platter.

Record Players

A record player is an electronic device that plays music through its built-in speaker. Unlike turntables, record players have no moving parts, so they are generally lighter and smaller. However, they still require power from an AC outlet.

A record player is an electronic component that plays back audio signals recorded on a medium like vinyl, and sometimes CD, cassette tape, or digital files stored on a hard drive. These days, most people think of record players when they hear the phrase “HiFi.”

But before HiFi became synonymous with high fidelity sound, record players were just as important as the first phonographs.

A record player is always simply one device and, unlike a turntable, contains all the components that are required to be able to play music off of a record. You will not need to buy any extra cables, extra outside components, or anything else you might need with a turntable.

Simply plug your record player in, and you’re ready to go.

Modern record players built today often have elements added to them too. These can include radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, and much more.

They are also much more portable than a turntable, as newer models come in a suitcase-style format, although the quality of these portable models isn’t exactly top-notch.

What Is the Difference Between A Turntable And A Record Player?

So what exactly is the difference between a turntable and a record player? To understand the answer to this question, we must take a step back and examine the history of each type of device, as well as their features and the quality of music they can play.

Turntables vs Record Players

Turntables were invented in the late 1800s and were initially used to play 78 RPM records. Since then, they have been improved over time to accommodate newer formats such as 45 RPM, 33 1/3 RPM, and 12-inch singles. They can be used with manual pitch controls and can create a great quality of sound.

Record players were developed in the early 1900s and were initially used exclusively to play 78 RPM records, but later evolved to include 45 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM records as well.

Although both turntables and record players are commonly referred to as hi-fi systems, they are quite different. While turntables are considered low-end systems, record players are known as high-end systems.

This is because turntables are typically used for playing older recordings, while record players are used for playing new releases.

Another major difference between turntables and record players is the size. A turntable is usually larger than a record player, or larger than the record playing facilities of a full music system record player at least.

While turntables are generally more expensive than record players, they are still relatively inexpensive compared to other hi-fi equipment.

If you want a system that’s going to last forever, consider investing in a turntable instead of buying a record player. If you want something that looks great and fits into any room, a record player may be right for you.

If we look at disadvantages, a record player might lack flexibility if you want to upgrade components to improve sound, as some stock components can be much lower quality, translating to a so-so audio output.

You might also not be able to fine-tune things such as the tracking force or the alignment of the cartridge. This can sometimes lead to damaging records.

Closer Comparisons

Components And Quality Of Build

As we have mentioned, turntables are usually of a much higher build quality. These higher-quality parts mean the products are typically more durable and longer-lasting. 

A lot of record players on the market cut costs in the production process, and as a result, they end up being made to a much poorer standard. On the other hand, you still might come across cheap turntables when searching, but bear in mind, the lower price will reflect the build quality.

Overall, if it’s quality you are after, a higher-priced turntable might be your best option.

Sound

Sound is such an important element when it comes to buying either a record player or a turntable. You buy vinyl to experience the delightful sounds it can produce in that format, so you want it to sound good. 

Again, in this category, the turntable wins every time. Their higher quality components out of the box produce much better sounds. The product also comes with endless possibilities to combine a turntable with extra pieces of equipment to improve the sound quality further, making them extra flexible.

When it comes to record players, the options can be limited. In most cases, you’re stuck with the product you take out of the box, meaning you’ll often find the sound is very low quality. Therefore, it will not be as pleasurable, and you will not have as high-quality a listening experience as you would with a turntable setup.

Price

Although a turntable is usually higher in price and will require you to spend extra money on external components, in the long-term, we promise this is worth it.

Moreover, you can spend what you can afford on a set of speakers and then always upgrade when you have a little more money, as your turntable will definitely stand the test of time!

Although record players are cheaper, this means they are less durable and might damage your records.

Impact On Records

This leads us to how each device can impact your records. A turntable with its tonearm set at the right tracking weight and a good quality stylus will be kinder to your records than a cheaper record player’s stylus.

A cheaper stylus will not have the ability to have the tracking force adjusted, and this might permanently damage your records.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has taught you everything you need to know about turntables and record players, and you understand how each device can suit an individual’s needs. If we were looking for one winner, a turntable might top it in terms of sound quality, listening experience, not damaging your records, and more.

But remember, they are a long-term investment. If you don’t have the money to buy the fanciest one on the market just yet, keep in mind you can always upgrade at a later date!

Jacob Stable
Latest posts by Jacob Stable (see all)