So you might have recently started looking into turntables or just want to learn more about the world of vinyl. In any case, you will come across a lot of new terms such as components like the cartridge, tonearm, counterweight, platter, etc. The same goes for how the turntable is driven, this can either be via Direct Drive or Belt Drive. But what exactly is a Direct Drive turntable?
A direct-drive turntable has its motor placed beneath the platter directly rotating it via the bearing. This is different from a belt-drive turntable where the motor is connected to the platter via a belt. Direct drive has the benefits of a faster response time making it for example suitable for DJ’ing.
Direct Drive Turntables
Within record players, there are two types of drive most used in turntables, direct drive or belt drive. There used to be a third mechanism where turntables had an idler wheel as their driving mechanism but they are mostly collector items now. As you can tell these drives get their names based on the type of coupling found between the motor and the platter of the turntable.
If you are looking for a general explanation of what exactly a turntable is you can look into our article on the definition of a turntable.
The direct-drive turntable started to get really popular in the 70s. First, they most common within audio productions and studio’s because the lower response rates and easier handling making them perfect for music production. However with the reduction of the components and manufacturing the direct-drive turntable started to become also popular with the consumer. Especially the DJ scene gave the direct-drive turntable a boost where it became the standard, in the modern-day most DJ’s will use digital DJ controllers but there is still a niche DJ’ing with vinyl records.
but the direct drive turntable is the most common type and in fact is used by most DJs. One of the reasons for this is because with direct drive turntables, you get a faster start-up speed and less possibility of the sound being affected by things such as the weight of the stylus as it glides across the record.
Since the direct drive turntable operates without belts, it tends to be a little more sturdy and long-lasting. With this type of turntable, you can get up to the speed you need almost immediately, and the record can spin freely without resistance once the turntable is turned off, which is something DJs love. But of course, the fact that the motor of the turntable won’t get damaged when you reverse the record or change the tempo to blend one song into another song using two turntables is also a DJ favorite.
In order to help you fully understand what to look for when choosing a turntable, it is best to get familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of direct-drive turntables and belt drive turntables. While the difference between the two drive types are getting smaller with modern equipment
Reasons to pick or avoid a Direct Drive Turntable
So, now that we’ve answered the question, what is a direct drive turntable, let’s take a look at in what areas they stand out. But also in what areas you might want rather go with a belt-drive turntable. Instead of writing down the advantages and disadvantages of each drive type, I will discuss the different drive types based on a few topics.
Speed and Controls
Like described DJ’ should only go with a direct drive turntable, a belt drive simply would not perform in the way that a DJ needs it to. A direct-drive turntable has the advantage that the record starts and stops spinning immediately after pressing a button. Not only that but in general they tend to be more speed consistent and stable playing records.
Besides that, a direct drive allows for manually reversing records and scratching the records, with belt drive these actions would not be possible. This makes suitable for DJ’s where scratching is one of the most used actions in classic DJ’ing. It also is needed to align records that need to be mixed together, together with the speed consistency these direct drive turntables make them perfect for mixing.
Longevity and maintenance
There is a difference in components and build between direct drive and belt drive turntables. Direct drive turntables tend to have more small components that establish the speed and direction of the spinning platter, these are always internally. Belt drive turntables on the other hand tend to have fewer components where the belt is either placed inside the plinth or above it around the platter.
In practice these differences have a few consequences for longevity and maintenance. A disclaimer beforehand is that it is hard to pin down general differences because of the drive type because other specification and the different price points will have way more impact than the drive type itself. A 100 dollar turntable with drive type A will never be able to compete with a 1000 dollar turntable with drive type B.
However, when looking a the overall market the consensus is that direct-drive turntables have longer longevity and need a little bit less maintenance than a belt-drive turntable. This is mostly because the belt is often the component that needs the most care, especially when it is above the plinth where it can pick up dust, dirt and the room atmosphere. Don’t worry, it won’t wear out quickly, this can take years or decades. While the direct-drive turntable has more component the majority is within the casing an save from external facors.
At this same time when something is broken in a direct drive turntable and needs to be fixed or replaced this will be a more difficult and costly operation compared to belt drive ones. This is simply because a direct drive turntable has more components, smaller components and are all placed within the casing so they can be hard to reach.
Sound and Resonance
To be very clear, you won’t hear any difference in sound quality whether it is a direct drive or a belt-drive turntable. But the case is different when it comes to resonance. There used to be a difference in noise reduction and resonance although this gap has almost been closed in the last decade.
Keep in mind that most drive turntables are sturdy and very well-made, but they still have a high-torque motor sitting right underneath the platter. Manufacturers nowadays make sure that any resonance coming through is absorbed so it does not reach the spinning record. At this point, almost all direct drive turntables will have great noise and resonance reduction even ones that are 150$ dollars such as the Audio-Technica AT-LP60USB that we recommend as the lowest priced decent turntable.
The other factor that increases the chances of resonance within a direct drive turntable is the fact that there simply are more small components within the turntable. More components mean more possibilities that something can break down or start to rumble. This is often a reason that audiophiles will opt for a high-end belt-drive turntable.
In general direct drive, turntable cost a bit less compared to their belt drive counterparts. This is not necessarily because they are cheaper to produce but rather that HiFi turntables that can cost 1000+ dollars will almost always be belt-drive turntables.
In the middle to high segment, you will find good turntables on both sides of the coin for example take a look at our guide on the best turntables within each price range.
Lastly, in the budget segment, direct-drive turntables really excel over belt drive ones in terms of durability and sound quality. For example the Audio Technica At-LP60X we reviewed in-depth is the only turntable we recommend under 150 dollars. And the Audio Technica AT-LP120X is our top pick in the budget segment in our best beginner turntables guide.
Where to look when buying a Direct Drive turntable
Now that you have an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of a direct drive turntable it might be worth looking into what other things to keep in mind when buying a turntable. If you feel like a direct drive turntable would be your best option we have reviewed many models and made a buyer guide of what we consider to be the best direct-drive turntables in today’s market.
Looking for something else?
If you are looking for a turntable with a specific feature or within a certain budget you can take look at one of guides below.