You might be looking into getting a turntable and stumble upon all the different models on the market, from super cheap suitcase turntables costing 50 dollars to HiFi turntables that can cost up to a few thousand. But what makes turntables so expensive and are they worth it?
For starters, there are a lot of components and parts within every turntable which are delicate and need to be precisely adjusted. This provides the best audio quality and causes the least amount of resonance. In addition, the manufacturing process is often done manually because of the delicate parts and the need for adjustments and testing. Finally, the market for turntables is relatively small and this usually affects the overall price of the item in the end. When you put all of these factors together, it is easy to understand why premium turntables can be expensive.
Which components are expensive
One of the reasons why turntables are so expensive is because they contain intricate parts that are sensitive and must be made to exact standards. They all need to work together to properly convert the small sound picked up by the stylus into a LINE signal. The main components found in the typical turntable include:
- Bearing: This is what ensures that the platter stays level and rotates consistently. It also helps ensure that the stylus correctly tracks the record. The bearing needs to be precisely manufactured as a deviation can have a huge impact on the performance.
- Cartridge/stylus: The stylus is the needle that is put onto the record and tracks the grooves. It has to be aligned and have an exact weight in order not to chip the record and destroy it. It is part of the cartridge that allows the stylus to move freely and do its job. The stylus and cartridge are often seen as the most important component of a turntable as it has the biggest impact on the sound quality. Cartridges range widely in terms of quality, the ones featured in cheaper can actually damage records and the material a cartridge is made of is really important.
- Motor: The motor is, of course, the heart of each turntable as it lets the records turn. There are DC and AC motor. A very important and precise aspect of the motor is that it needs to be speed consistent. The type of drive connecting it to the platter also is an important factor here, this is either direct drive or belt drive.
- Platter: This is the plate where the record is placed on. It is usually made with a felt or rubber mat on top to protect the record from resonating too much and make sure that it doesn’t slip around while it’s being played.
- Tonearm: This is a radial or pivotal arm that holds the cartridge. Tonearms are in most cases adjustable in terms of height and hold a counterweight that helps to balance the cartridge at the right height with the right amount of pressure. When done correctly it can offer optimal tracking and helps to prevent any damage to the cartridge or the records.
As you can see, all of these parts are intricately designed and must work together not just to play your records correctly but to keep those records safe from damage done of a long time. It takes a lot of experienced technicians and the right machines to make each component properly because if just one part is made incorrectly, it can ruin the mechanism of the turntable.
The primary purpose of each component is to get the best possible audio quality out of records. However, because of the small scale and the precision needed a second purpose for quality control is reducing possible resonance caused by any vibrations. The last purpose is because components are used for longer periods of time the endurance becomes an important factor. For example, take a look at our article on how long styluses can last where we compare a cheap low-quality stylus that lasts just 40 playing hours while a quality stylus can last up to 1000 playing hours.
Why most turntables are worth the cost
I could write a long monologue why turntables are worth their costs but instead let me give you the main reasons:
- What is expensive? You can buy a decent turntable for just 150 dollars. Most of today’s smartphones can cost a multiple of that.
- Quality turntables can last for decades, in fact many have and are still being used today. Cheap turntables can last just 40 playing hours instead of 1000 playing hours.
- They provide many hours of listening in higher audio quality then a regular Spotify stream.
- They provide a vintage feel of holding seeing your music playing, more so than any other device within the house.
- They can be a centerpiece within any house when you find the right design.
If you want to know about the price ranges within the vinyl market it is best to look at our guide on how much a turntable costs. Here we list the three categories of budget, midrange and high end turntables and write down what you should look for in each of these.
So which Turntables should you go for?
We have done reviews in almost every price category, in fact, you can find our article on our favorite turntable within each price category here. Or look below this article for more buyers quides. We have found that certain price ranges are perfect for different audiences without breaking the bank. After getting pretty much reviewing the whole market here are our findings:
- We found that most low quality suitcase turntables under 150 dollars are not worth the effort, maybe if you want to play a record 4 times a year and don’t mind lower audio quality. Instead, go to our buyers guide on what be consider to be the best cheap turntables.
- We have found that turntables in the price range of 150 to 300 dollars from premium brands like Audio technical, U-Turn, Denon and Pro-Ject are perfect for beginners and occasional vinyl lovers. They won’t damage your records and can provide really decent audio quality. Find our favorite beginner turntables guide here.
- For the more real vinyl lover, audiophile or someone looking to upgrade their beginner setup we recommend the same brands mentioned above but in the 300 to 600 dollar price range. These turntables always feature premium cartridges and quality components that provide even richer and detailed sound. The two turntables within this price range that are currently dominating the market quality wise are the Denon DP400 we reviewed there and the U-Turn Orbit Special we reviewed here.
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.