The difference between a turntable and record player

Turntable vs. Record Player 

When you start your adventure into vinyl, one of the first things you’ll come across will be that the device you put records on is called both a turntable and a record player. The terms turntable and record player are regularly confused for one another, but there is a distinct difference. This can be confusing, as both devices do the same thing - play records on a turning table. 

Below, we define the two, and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each to let you decide whether you should buy a turntable or a record player to best enjoy your growing collection of records. 


What is a Turntable?

A traditional turntable needs a preamp, amplifier and speakers to play records. In this case, all the units are standalone components. The turntable reads the grooves that are carved into the record and transform them to a small electrical signal called a Phono signal. The preamp boosts the tiny Phono signal from the turntable so that it can be inputted to an amplifier or receiver. There is often a preamp built into the turntable or the amplifier. The amplifier strengthens the signal further so that it becomes strong enough to drive speakers - Some speakers have the amplifier built-in. The speakers convert the power amplified signal to vibrations - music!


The main components of a turntable and their uses are detailed below:

  • The Plinth is the base of the turntable.
  • The Platter is the part that spins. 
  • The Tonearm is the part that holds the cartridge and moves it across the records as it plays.
  • The Cartridge holds the stylus (needle) and converts the movement of the stylus into an electrical signal.
  • The Stylus digs into the groves that are carved into the records and moves with them.
  • The Speed selector allows you to select the speed at which the turntable spins. Speeds are usually 33 RPM or 45 RPM.

A turntable with a built-in preamp can be connected to an amplifier/receiver directly, without having to connect a preamp between the turntable and the amplifier/receiver. On most turntables, it is possible to change and upgrade the stylus and cartridge. This comes in handy if the stylus is worn out or if you want to upgrade the cartridge to a higher quality one that produces higher quality sound.


What is a Record Player?

In a record player, all the necessary components (most of them listed in the previous section) are combined in one unit. A record player will include a turntable, preamp, amplifier and speakers; everything is included, no extra boxes or cables are necessary to play records. Usually, there are very few options to change/upgrade components or to fine adjust cartridge alignment and stylus downforce on a record player. All this is usually fixed from the factory.


Which is better? 

Advantages of a turntable:

  • Build quality. The build quality of a turntable is usually much better than the build quality of a record player. Turntables are built to last. Record players are built to be cool, light, portable, have everything included and low priced. 
  • Sound quality. The sound of a turntable is of the highest quality. The sound quality of a record player is consistently at the lower end of the spectrum. The main problem is that the small built-in speakers (driven by a tiny amplifier) will under no circumstance be able to reproduce the lower tones (bass) in the music. Even with mid/low range separate components, the sound quality of a turntable will exceed the sound quality of almost every consumer record player.
  • Options. With a turntable, you always have the options to connect it with higher quality components (preamp, amplifier, and speakers), which will give you all the options in the world to set up a stereo with really good sound quality. 

Advantages of a record player:

  • Cost. There is a good selection of record players in the $50 to $100 range. For a turntable, you’ll probably have to spend around $200 and upwards. Even then, a good quality mid-range turntable that will last forever and give good quality sound will, however, set you back from $300 to $500, and then you have to add the other stereo components in your turntable based stereo setup (preamp, amplifier, speaker).
  • Aesthetics. There are many styles of record player to choose from, much more so than a turntable. Stylings tend to lean towards ‘retro’ styles from the 50s and 60s. 
  • Ease of use. Plug it in, turn it on, put the record on it, move the tonearm and stylus to the edge of the record, set it down and enjoy - that’s it. 
  • Portable. The benefit of all the components being in the same place is that you can pick it up and move it with ease and at will. There are far too many separate entities in a turntable setup for it to be a simple task to move it from one place to another. 

Conclusion

Basically, if you are a music lover, a turntable is your best bet. The sound quality is leaps and bounds better than a record player, they are more durable and therefore last longer. Although the price difference is stark, the money spent on a turntable goes a long way - record players are destined to break and will need to be replaced when that time comes.