Baby boomers remember spinning discs of music on record players that sat like status symbols in scores of living rooms. Teenagers danced to the Billboard chart's top hits and young couples danced to songs of love and moonlight. It was an era of romantic melodies, bubble gum music and dirty dancing. Music happened when a lightweight robotic arm with a pin-like needle made contact with a vinyl platter, which turned at 33 1/3 or more revolutions per minute.
In recent years, the turntable became a favorite of DJs looking to mix and modify tunes. The music industry went the way of eight-track and cassette tapes to CDs and MP3s. Just like the record going round and round, it's now come full circle. Purists and music connoisseurs longing for the record sound quality are bringing vinyl back. Newer records are being pressed and old albums are resurfacing for sale. Sales of vinyl albums are at an all-time high and more than twice as high as the '90s. But don't go dusting off that old phonograph player that's been stored in the attic just yet.
Vinyl is fragile; it can scratch, break and warp. Don't risk doing permanent damage to your collection of great tunes by putting an old, dull needle or an unbalanced turntable to work. The evolution of the record player brings us an a la carte menu for a record-player system. Except for portable record players with generally limited potential, the "turntable" is just that, it is no longer a one-pot meal of turntable and speakers. The newer versions hook up to your home entertainment system making use of an amplifier, more versatile speakers, remotes, USB and Wi-Fi connections. Swing-arms are featherweight with diamond pointed needles, the speed switch is often variable between the 33 1/3 to 45 to 78 RPM range. And the USB connections make downloading vinyl quality music to CDs or MP3 players easy for preserving a favorite song.
If you are ready to enjoy a bit of nostalgia and want to add a turntable to your home entertainment system, do your homework first. What kind of records do you plan to play? Make sure that your preferred unit plays the speed(s) you need. Do you have an existing sound system? Read the manual to make sure that your new purchase is compatible. Are you planning to take your turntable along with you to parties or leave it in a set place? Portable units have lighter housing, often times plastic, built-in speakers and tend to be more economical. Stationary units may be built on wooden bases, which tend to stabilize better against vibrations and need to be matched up with external speakers and amplifiers. External speakers usually allow for greater sound personalization.
Turntables are either belt driven or direct drive. The belt driven is less expensive and the belt is usually relatively easy to replace. That being said, the belt does sometimes need to be replaced. Belt drives are often not automatic and manual placement of the needle is necessary. The direct drive tends to be more consistent, provides better speed control and is the preferred choice for professionals. Fully automatic, the motor starts the turntable spinning and gently places the needle on the record. The noise from the motor can cause interference when digitizing the sound track.
A USB turntable will connect to your computer or MP3 player and a software system will help to digitize the music to take the warm vinyl sound with you anywhere. An analog turntable does not alter the rich sound of a vinyl record but does require a computer conversion sound card if you want to digitize your music for prosperity. In addition, the majority of analog turntables are more expensive than USB models.
Whichever system you purchase, make sure that you remember to purchase good cleaning accessories to maintain both your vinyl and your needle. Dust settling in the groove tracks can damage the stylus and muffle the sound of music. Don't wipe the vinyl with your hand or a flat dust rag, you'll risk pushing the dust further into the grooves. Electronic accessory shops sell special anti-static brush cleaning kits to help you out.