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

When it comes to reading and talking about record players, the terms “record player” and “turntable” often get used interchangeably. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, music-savvy people might find themselves a bit confused. This is because, depending on the context used in, record players and turntables are actually two different things.

To clear things up, we’re here to talk you through the main differences between record players and turntables.

What is a record player?

A record player is an all-in-one machine that doesn’t require any external devices to play music. This means that to put it simply, record players feature all of the following elements in one:

  • Turntable
  • Preamp
  • Amplifier
  • Speakers

Due to requiring no external sources to function, a lot of record players are often portable. This makes them more widely used.

The logistics of a record player

As record players already have everything they need to function, the logistics are pretty simple. When your record starts to spin on the player, it creates sound vibrations that convert into electrical signals. The amplifiers then vibrate and feed the sound waves through to the speakers.

What is a turntable?

The turntable is part of a record player – it consists of the platter that spins the record and the tonearm that reads the music. However, this is often where the lines overlap, and people become confused. Turntables can also be their own standalone device that requires external assistance to play music. Simply put, unlike record players, turntables are not an all-in-one device.

The logistics of a turntable

While turntables also rely on sound vibrations to create audio, the logistics are slightly more complex. Here’s a step-by-step view of how most turntables work…

  1. The turntable uses a stylus to read the grooves that are on the record. From here, it converts the signals into electrical signals (also known as PHONO signals).
  2. The preamp takes the PHONO signal and inputs it into an amplifier.
  3. The amplifier then strengthens the PHONO signal, making it powerful enough to travel through to the speakers.
  4. The speakers then convert this power into the music that you hear.

This process is incredibly similar to the process of a record player, but the amps and speakers are external devices instead.

Try out: What is a turntable platter mat?

Record player vs Turntable: which is better?

Just like most things in the world of music, it’s impossible to say whether one device is better than the other. Similar to choosing between automatic vs manual record players, the answer will entirely depend on your preferences and purpose for playing music. There are, however, some advantages and disadvantages of the two devices.

To help make your life easier and judge what’s best for you, take a look at the pros and cons of both record players and turntables below…

1. Size

If you wish to carry your record player or turntable around with you, size is an incredibly important feature. And, if this is the case, record players probably aren’t the best option for you.

As record players contain all of the mechanics inside them, they are often larger and heavier than turntables. This makes them more suitable for home set-ups.

Top Tip: If you do buy a portable record player, be sure to look into its features carefully before making a purchase decision. Sometimes, cheap portable record players can damage your records. Do your research!

2. Convenience

When it comes to convenience, record players are the way to go. You don’t need any additional devices to make record players function, meaning your music can play at just the click of a button. On the other hand, turntables usually need to be connected to external sources to deliver the full experience.

3. Sound quality

Sound quality is undoubtedly an incredibly important feature of any music-playing device. If the quality is bad, your whole experience will be incredibly underwhelming.

In terms of sound quality, record players are often of lower quality than turntables. This is because the built-in speakers are pretty small, making it near impossible to deliver a full frequency range of music.

With turntables, you have full freedom to connect it to the highest quality device possible. While this can turn into an expensive venture, the quality of the audio will make it all worth it.

4. Vinyl preservation

As mentioned earlier in this guide, cheap record players have been found to damage vinyl records. This is usually down to a number of reasons, with cheap components scratching the record being the main one. Both record players and turntables can level up your aesthetics, but consider the potential damage to your vinyl.

If you have a beloved vinyl collection that you wish to keep intact, stay away from record players. Turntables are far more likely to protect your records.

5. Build quality

Record players are often built to a much poorer quality than turntables. This is mainly due to the fact that they are in higher demand, meaning they are manufactured as cheaply as possible. While this isn’t the case for all record players, the most popular ones are often built poorly to reflect an affordable price tag. It’s important to look after your record player to increase its lifespan, but turntables generally last far longer due to being made from better materials.

What do record players and turntables cost?

Realistically, most people choose a device based on costs. While price will entirely depend on the model and the way it’s made, record players are usually cheaper. This is mainly because they can get away with being made from cheaper parts, but this isn’t always beneficial in the long run.

How to decide what’s right for you

Ultimately, deciding what music device is best for you will depend on how you intend to use it. If you only care about playing music around the house, a record player will provide the most convenience. If you have a big vinyl collection and take music more seriously, however, a turntable will be most suited!

Alex, a dedicated vinyl collector and pop culture aficionado, writes about vinyl, record players, and home music experiences for Upbeat Geek. Her musical roots run deep, influenced by a rock-loving family and early guitar playing. When not immersed in music and vinyl discoveries, Alex channels her creativity into her jewelry business, embodying her passion for the subjects she writes about vinyl, record players, and home.

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