If you are from the era of the MP3 players, then you may have heard of the CD player, but a cassette tape may make you pull a funny face before all these come the record players for our vinyl records.
The record players become a forgotten technology, and something people would only see in their grandparent’s house. Things are changing, and the record player is having a resurgence in popularity.
For some people like me, the record player never went out of fashion, and the richness of the sound produced from vinyl can’t be reproduced from any other format. However, people are starting to want to get into the vinyl scene and getting a collection of their own.
Whether you’re an old-timer or new to record players, know the different parts of a record player will help you enjoy the whole vinyl scene so much more.
Know the different components will help you make a more informed purchase. Also, diagnose problems and fix parts on your turntable if you ever have a part breakdown.
10 Major Components of the Turntable Record Player
These are ten of the major parts of a record player that you need to know. We have included the Amplifier or Pre-amplifier, and some models don’t have these but more on that below.
- Dust Cover
- Tone arm
- Cue Lever
- Speed Setting
- Amplifier or Pre-amplifier
We break down each of the ten parts and explain what each piece is for and how it works. Don’t panic; we don’t go to geeky on the detail. I want to give you an understanding of how each part works, not blind you with jargon.
As the name suggest a dust cover does what is says protects your record player from dust.
The dust cover has no impact what so ever on the sound quality, so let’s get that out of the way first.
They are straightforward to remove as some people like to have no dust cover on, and some of the most expensive models don’t come with dust covers. The reason people prefer no dust cover is aesthetic, and it’s easier to change over your vinyl with no cover to lift.
With no dust cover you are much more likely to get dust on your record player platter.
I personally like to leave the dust cover on as you have to clear the turntable less often, and dust can lead to poor sound if it gets on your vinyl and cartridge needle.
The Stylus is the needle that comes into contact with the record and runs in the grooves when the record is turning.
Most styluses are made from stone or diamond and are shaped into a cone shape. Diamond is thought to be the best material as its hardest natural material. You may find some manufacturers will use sapphires over diamonds. Don’t be put off with sapphires as it’s still a hard material that will not be damaged from scratched records.
Styluses eventually need replacing no matter what material you have on your turntable. I have always changed my needle after 1000 hours of playing, but you can get up to 2500 hours before sound quality will be affected.
You can get styluses in two shapes elliptical or spherical; the spherical come in more contact with the record and picks up more sounds. The elliptical is more sensitive to sounds but doesn’t pick up as much detail as a spherical stylus.
The cartridge is what houses the stylus, but this is not its only job. Inside there are many coils that translate the grooves of the record that the stylus runs over into the sounds that we hear.
The vibrations hit the coils inside the cartridge, which is a magnetic field. This transforms the signals into an electric signal.
The tonearm carries the electric signal that the stylus and the cartridge create up the tonearm into your turntable.
The tone arm also allows the head to move over the record grooves in a smooth motion.
There are two different options when it comes to tonearms. There is the straight tonearm that DJ’s tend to like as it’s easy to scratch. There is also the curved tonearm that is said to be much better at picking up sounds. I have never found there to be any difference between the two. However, this is a big debate people have, and most will side with the curved tonearm unless they are a DJ.
At the opposite end of the head on the tonearm, you will have the counterweight. The counterweight balances the tonearm witch controls the tracking force of the tonearm.
The tracking force is how much weight is pushing down the stylus onto the record. This can affect the sound and also damage the record if not set correctly.
If you have the force set to heavy, then it will carve up the grooves and damage your records and the stylus. However, if you have the force assigned to light, it will skip across the record and scratch it.
It is crucial to set up your tonearm correctly; it’s not hard to do, and once done, you don’t have to do it again.
The cue lever is often not used by new users of record players, which is a big mistake. This simple looking lever lowers and lifts the tonearm enabling the needle to come in and out of contact with the surface of the record.
As I said, new users will often not use the cue lever, mistakenly thinking they can drop the needle onto the surface of the record by hand. What the cue lever does is place the needle onto the surface with no side to side movement. Using our hands, we get a side to side movement, which will cause scratches to the vinyl. Our hands are just not steady, and it’s essential always to use the cue lever.
Next is the platter; this is part of the turntable that spins and supports your vinyl record when in use. They can come in a variety of different materials, from plastic to acrylic.
It is said that you want your platter to be heavy to give a more even spin and acrylic is perfect for this. I replaced my plastic platter with an acrylic platter, and I can’t say if the sound was any better, but it sure looked cool.
The platter mat sits between the platter and the record; the mat helps with any vibrations that you get from the turntable motor. Also, it prevents the platter from scratching your record.
There are many different types of platter mats, and this is a whole article on its own. This article is to point out what each part is. However, if you want to no more on platter mats, then you will enjoy our Turntable Platter Mat Guide.
The turntable spindle is located in the canter of the platter, which is attached to the turntable motor that turns it. The spindle holds your record in place by slipping your record onto the spindle.
If you are playing different size records, then you are going to want to know about the speed setting.
On your record label, you will see a number followed by RPM; this is what you will have to set your speed setting at. In most cases, it will be 33 or 45 RPM, and in infrequent circumstances, you will get 78 RPM.
For a quick guide in case, there are no indications on the label. The below setting are the norm, but they are times when there are exceptions to the rule.
7″ Record is 45 RPM
10″ Record is 78 RPM
12″ Record is 33 RPM
RPM on vinyl records stands for revolutions per minute.
Different turntables may have different ways of changing the way you set the RPM. Some will be by pressing a button to toggle between the settings. Others, you may have to change the belt to adjust the RPM manually.
You can buy a turntable with or without a built-in amplifier. An amplifier is what transfers the signals generated from the cartridge into the sounds that are played through the speakers. These signals are then transmitted into all the different sounds you hear from the treble to the booming bass.
Most people chose to go with an external pre-amplifier over a built-in amplifier. A built-in amp will be much smaller as it’s cramped onto the turntable, and the quality will be lost here. If you have an inbuilt amp, then you may want to still add an external amp to boost the signal.
You can also get an amplifier built into your receiver, and a lot of people chose this method for a much simpler setup.
We have put together a complete guide on how to set up a turntable system to see what amplifier route is best for you.
There is no right or wrong way of setting up, but a quick tip would be to try and shy away from just a built-in amplifier in your turntable.
The humble record player may seem like a thing of the forgotten past, but with the technology used to build today’s record player, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Knowing some of the essential record player parts will make your journey into the humble record journey a much more enjoyable one.
There are many other parts to a record player, but I feel these are the most important. Knowing these parts will also help you fix any problems you may run into over the years.