Are Turntables and Record Players the Same Thing?

An old looking record player with a radio in it and external speakers

Turntables, record players, aren’t they just two different terms referring to the same thing? I’ll let you know ahead!

Are turntables and record players the same thing? No, they are not the same thing. Turntables need additional hardware to play tunes while record players do not. Those components often include additional speakers, an amplifier, and a preamp. Record players are considered an all-in-one solution for playing music.

In today’s guide, I’ll further elaborate on the differences between turntables and record players, including the pros and cons for each. I’ll also include a section on choosing between the two, so check it out! 

Turntable Vs Record Player

What Is a Turntable?

Let’s start by talking about turntables, shall we?

A turntable includes a myriad of parts, so let’s go over each one now. 

  • Dust cover: This component is self-explanatory. The dust cover keeps the turntable from accumulating dust that could gunk up all the small components of the system. 
  • Tracking force gauge: Tracking force refers to how much downward pressure the tonearm applies by weight to the cartridge stylus. The stylus then applies that weight onto the vinyl record and music plays. 
  • Counterweight: The counterweight is near the tonearm’s rear end and is usually numbered. If you want to increase or decrease the weight of the tonearm, you’d use the counterweight to do so. 
  • Anti-skate: Another component that puts weight on the tonearm is the anti-skate. As the name implies, the job of the anti-skate is to prevent the tonearm from skidding off-track on the vinyl record. 
  • Cueing lever: The job of the cueing lever is to allow you to raise (or lower) the tonearm while your vinyl disc spins without scratching or otherwise ruining your precious vinyl! 
  • Tonearm: The tonearm is one of the most critical components of the turntable. It’s what allows you to put a needle over your vinyl record and then move the needle onto the vinyl grooves. Tonearms feature a needle or stylus on one side within the turntable cartridge. 
  • Pitch control: Known as the variable speed pitch control or vari-speed, pitch control allows you to swap between pitches. 
  • Plinth: A turntable plinth keeps the parts separated from one another and provides support. It’s usually a heavy-duty component. 
  • Headshell: On one side of the tonearm is the headshell that keeps the stylus and cartridge in place. 
  • Cartridge: That cartridge, by the way, holds the stylus or needle, as mentioned above. 
  • Speed selector: Like you can set the pitch of your turntable, you can also adjust the speed using the speed selector. 
  • Power button: The power button turns your turntable on or off. 
  • Speed calibration strobe: Most turntables include a strobe that flashes at 100 to 120 times per second. The disc or platter has lines or dots, and the strobe fills each dot or line with light to ensure speed accuracy when playing music. 
  • Platter: What is the platter? It’s the spinning surface that you place your record on. The right platter will limit vibrations and ensure speed accuracy and consistency. 
  • Record adapter: A record adapter is a piece of plastic or metal that you use for a 45-RPM record when you want to play it on a 78-RPM spindle. 

Turntables can be either automatic or manual. A manual turntable is a lot more old-school, as you’re in charge of moving all the components.

That means it’s on you to drop the needle, manage the speed, and remove the needle after you’re done listening to your favorite vinyl records. 

An automatic turntable will automatically drop the tonearm and then lift it after the first side of the record is done playing. 

Turntable Pros and Cons

Now that you understand turntables better, let’s delve into the pros and cons of this means of listening to vinyl records.

  • Turntables are not something you see all that often anymore, so they have a type of old-school appeal that’s undeniably charming to certain subsets of music listeners. 
  • Most turntable components are made of high-quality, heavy-duty materials such as the stylus and will last for many years. 
  • The turntable itself could last you for decades so you can keep listening to music in a way that many people don’t anymore.
  • You can select between manual or automatic turntables depending on your level of comfort and preferences. 
  • The resale value of turntables is usually excellent, but obviously, this depends on the condition you keep yours in. 
  • A turntable does not come with all the required equipment you need right out of the box. You’ll have to purchase a separate stereo system (if you don’t own one already), an amplifier, and an external or built-in preamp. This can make owning a turntable costly.
  • Turntables have a lot of components, and, to the uninitiated, some of them can be a little confusing to master.
  • You have to be willing to spend at least $100 on a turntable and ideally more. Cheaper turntables usually scratch vinyl records, damaging your collection.
  • Turntables are typically space hogs, so if you have a small home or apartment, you might want to rethink buying one. 

What Is a Record Player? 

Known as the phonograph, record players sure have come a long way since their inception in 1877. 

No longer do they come packed with a large horn, which is technically known as a sound horn. 

Instead, a record player is a compact, all-in-one device. That’s what separates record players and turntables. You don’t have to bother with preamps or other external equipment.

Everything you need in a record player is in there right out of the box. 

Record players utilize many of the same components as turntables, but it’s only fair to take a thorough look into these players just as we did turntables.

Without further ado then, here are the components of a record player.

  • Amplifier: Now here’s something you won’t see packed with a turntable, the amplifier. As the name implies, the amplifier is what allows you to hear the music you’re playing so you can enjoy the experience. 
  • Preamp: The amplifier works in conjunction with a preamplifier, which is usually just called a preamp. The preamp is an audio component that also helps augment the volume of your music. 
  • Cartridge: The cartridge of a record player has coils within it. When the vibrations from playing music reach the coils, the magnetic field from the coils converts into electrical signals. The signals reach the amp, then the speakers, and you hear beautiful music!
  • Tonearm: The tonearm is what houses the stylus or needle. In record players, you might see S-shaped, curved, or straight tonearms. Some people say that curved tonearms produce the highest-quality sound. Try for yourself and see! 
  • Stylus: Then we have the stylus aka the needle that sits on your record when you want to listen to tunes. Most record player styluses are made from diamonds, and if not, then sapphires are another common material. Even still, no stylus lasts forever.

Record Player Pros and Cons

As I did with turntables, I now want to look into the pros and cons of record players. 

Record Player Pros
  • Record players are incredibly convenient, as everything you need comes with your purchase. You can bring your record player home, take it out of the box, and begin listening to music right away.
  • Compared to buying a turntable, purchasing a record player is usually a lot more inexpensive. 
  • A record player is often smaller than a turntable, but that depends on the size of the model.
  • Record players can be a great introduction into the world of vinyl music for today’s modern music listener. 
  • A record player could have a good resale value if yours isn’t a basic model, and you care for it well. 
Record Player Cons
  • You still have to get to know how a cartridge and tonearm work when using a record player, which is like speaking a different language if you’re used to listening to digital music. 
  • The build quality of record players tends to be less than turntables unless yours is a really high-end model. In the eyes of some, that may make record players more expendable.  
  • Record players can easily tear your records, especially if your record player is on the cheaper side. 

Turntable or Record Player – Which Is Better for You? 

Putting turntables and record players to the test, if you have to choose only one for playing vinyl records, which should it be?

Turntables have some clear advantages that record players don’t.

Let’s take a closer look.

Turntables Usually Offers Better Sound Quality

If you’re just getting into records, you might have listened to only digital music for a long time now. You’re used to beautifully crisp, high-quality audio. 

You want to replicate that same level of audio–give or take–when listening to a record.

The many components that are needed to make a turntable run are usually produced better than a record player’s parts. Again, that can vary if you do model-by-model comparisons, but generally, it’s the case.

That’s usually due to how much more expensive a turntable is compared to a record player. You often get what you pay for in this hobby.

Spending a little more on a turntable can mean the difference between cheap plastic parts and well built parts made of steel or metal that can lend itself to producing music that sounds noticeably better!

Turntables Often Offer Superior Build Quality

It’s not just the components responsible for producing lovely sounds that are better in a turntable. It’s the entire component.

Again, this goes back to investing more money to have a higher-quality product. 

You can trust in the turntable cartridge, and all the pitch and speed adjustment switches, and even the dust cover to stand up to the test of time. 

When it comes to components like the headshell, the tonearm, and the platter that truly affect the quality and stability of your sound, you want these parts to work well for as long as possible. That’s usually the case with a good-quality turntable.

Turntables are Generally Less Likely to Scratch Records

No one wants a scratched record! Once a record becomes too scratched up, the experience you used to get from listening to the record is destroyed. When it comes to scratched records you usually have no choice but to buy another copy and either allocate the scratched copy to decorative wall art or the trash can.

That’s not such a big deal if the record is new and still in print, but what if the record is something ultra-rare? Replacing it can be next to impossible and often very expensive.

Record players tend to scratch vinyl records more because most record players are more inexpensive and thus lacking in quality. 

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like all record players will scratch your precious record collection. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

If you’re willing to shell out more money for a record player, such as between $400 and $700 (which is usually how much a good turntable costs), then you won’t have to worry about scratches as much as you would if you were trusting your records on a record player that cost less then $100.

I also want to reiterate a point from before. Low-cost turntables that are $100 and under can leave gnarly scratches in vinyl just like a cheap record player can. 

Overall, prioritizing quality is the best way to safeguard your records. 

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