As you browse through turntables from your favorite manufacturers, you’ll see that some are manual, others semi-automatic, and others still fully automatic. If you want to learn even more about the nuances between manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic turntables, you’ve come to the right place.
What are manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic turntables? Automatic turntables move the tonearm, raising it and then placing it on the record when you’re ready to listen to music, then lifting the turntable after listening. Semi-automatic turntables have less autonomy, and manual turntables require the listener to pick up the tonearm before and after every listen.
In this guide, I’ll discuss all three turntables in detail (including pros and cons) and even delve into which one might be best for your needs.
What Is a Manual Turntable?
The first of the three types of turntables is the manual turntable.
As with anything in this life that requires manual effort, a manual turntable means you have to do everything.
When you want to put a vinyl record on, you’d lift the tonearm so you can insert the record and then lower the tonearm into place.
As the record spins, you could sit back and relax, listening to and enjoying the music.
Then, as soon as it was time to flip over to the other side of the record, or when the album finished and you wanted to change records, you’d have to get up again.
This time, you’d have to lift the tonearm from the vinyl record so you can take the record off the turntable.
Then rinse, wash, and repeat for every use.
When you finally decide you want to call it a night and wish to turn your turntable off, you’d be in charge of powering it down if you have a manual turntable.
If you forget, then depending on how your turntable is powered (batteries versus plugging into a wall outlet), you could come back to a dead turntable the next time you want to use it.
Plus, not powering off your turntable after use is a terrible waste of electricity.
- As you’ll see, semi-automatic and fully automatic turntables often include tonearms with attachments for easy lowering and raising. This might make using the turntable more convenient, but it impacts the quality of the sound. Thus, manual turntables often have the best sound of the three.
- Since manual turntables have fewer components than semi-automatic and automatic turntables, there are fewer parts that can break.
- Manual turntables usually cost less than semi-automatic and fully automatic turntables.
- Compared to semi-automatic and fully automatic turntables, manual turntables are the most common and thus widely available. You’ll have your pick when shopping for turntables.
- There’s something very satisfying about lining up and lowering the tonearm yourself.
- If you’ve never touched a record player before, the prospect of using a manual turntable can be very daunting.
- You must truly understand how a tonearm works and how to align it or your record sound quality could be diminished.
- If you’re not too careful, you could scratch the record, especially if you’re a complete beginner when it comes to using a turntable.
- It’s inconvenient to have to be the one to remember to do everything.
What Is a Semi-Automatic Turntable?
That brings us to semi-automatic turntables.
Think of semi-automatic turntables as the best of both worlds. They’re more automated than a manual turntable but less automated than a fully automatic turntable.
You still have to position the tonearm when you want to listen to a vinyl record and then lower the tonearm into position.
Then you can sit down and listen or jam out and dance to your favorite tunes. It’s your choice, of course!
A manual turntable would require you to get up and raise the tonearm and then flip the vinyl record over to the other side (or replace it with a new album if the first one was over). That’s not the case with a semi-automatic turntable.
When your record ends, either that side or the entire album, a semi-automatic turntable will raise the tonearm and then power down the turntable.
This takes all the pressure off you to stop what you’re doing, get up, and tend to the turntable.
Of course, you’ll still want to take your vinyl record off the turntable and put it back in its sleeve so it doesn’t collect dust, but it’s nice how much more hands-off a semi-automatic turntable is compared to using a manual turntable.
- Semi-automatic turntables are not fully automatic so you can still enjoy the experience of lowering the tonearm, but you don’t have to bother lifting the tonearm when the album is done playing.
- You don’t have to worry about accidentally forgetting to turn off the turntable when using a semi-automatic turntable, as it will do it for you. If you fall asleep or get busy, that’s a nice feature to have in a turntable.
- Compared to fully automatic turntables and especially when compared to manual turntables, it’s a lot harder to find a semi-automatic turntable.
- Since they’re rarer, semi-automatic turntables are usually more expensive than a manual turntable.
- It’s convenient that a semi-automatic turntable will power off the turntable after listening to a record, but if you have a double-sided record, this feature can be annoying. You’d have to power on the turntable again to listen to the other side of the album.
- The tonearm of a semi-automatic turntable will include attachments for automation, which makes the turntable more prone to issues than a manual turntable.
What Is a Fully Automatic Turntable?
The third type of turntable is fully automatic.
As that name implies, this turntable does everything for you. When you power on your turntable, the tonearm will automatically lift from its resting position and then drop onto the record.
You don’t have to worry about whether the alignment of the tonearm is correct as you would with a manual or semi-automatic turntable.
Since it’s all automatic, the turntable gets it right every single time.
When your record is finished, a fully automatic turntable will lift the tonearm and then power off the turntable.
At no point do you have to stop the riveting conversation you’re having, the meal you’re enjoying, or the slice of life you’re experiencing to move the tonearm or turn off the turntable. Everything happens without your intervention.
- If you’re stressed about scratching your records by manually using a tonearm, that’s never a concern with a fully automatic turntable. Everything is automated. All you have to do is put the record in the turntable and the automatic turntable will do everything else.
- You also don’t have to worry about accidentally damaging the stylus through handling with a fully automatic turntable, especially if you’re new to turntables in general.
- Few types of turntables are as user-friendly or convenient as a fully automatic.
- The stylus of a fully automatic turntable will have the most attachments and thus is the most prone to wear, damage, and breakage.
- The audio quality of a fully automatic turntable is less than a manual turntable.
- Due to all the tech that goes into building a fully automatic turntable, they’re the most expensive of the three turntable types.
Manual vs. Semi-Automatic vs. Fully Automatic Turntables – Which Is Best?
Now that you have a better understanding of manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic turntables, the question becomes, which is the best?
Well, that depends on what you prioritize.
Audio purists will want to buy a manual turntable over a semi-automatic or fully automatic turntable.
The audio quality of a manual turntable is a lot greater because it has the least complicated build.
You’ll be the one to lower the tonearm, which I mentioned before is truly a great feeling. When it’s time to change records or flip over your vinyl record, you’ll raise the tonearm and then reset it.
As an audiophile, you’ll take joy in handling the turntable, even if it can be inconvenient at times, because you know you have unmatched audio quality.
If you’re after convenience and don’t necessarily care if the audio quality of your turntable is as clear and pristine as it can be, then a semi-automatic or fully automatic turntable would suit you a lot better.
Keep in mind that if you’re interested in any level of turntable automation that you’re going to need a bigger budget compared to shopping for a manual turntable.
Semi-automatic and fully automatic turntables are rarer and more expensive, just to remind you!