Turntable vs Record Player – What’s The Difference? Which Is Best?

Is there even any difference between a turntable and a record player?

And does anybody even care?

Well, the answer to both questions is an emphatic ‘yes’!

Yes, there is a difference between turntables and record players.

And yes, some of us, even if we are a bit of a minority, do care!

Let’s get down to it!..

turntable vs record player in black text on yellow and green diagonally split background

Turntable vs Record Player – What’s the Difference?

It’s fair to say that even those who know the difference between a turntable and a record player, still often use the terms inter-changeably.

I know I do…even on this site. 

And that’s probably because, most of the time, the differences aren’t that important.

But sometimes they are. 

What is a Turntable?

A turntable is a stand-alone audio unit that converts the sound vibrations produced between a vinyl record and a stylus, and outputs the resulting electrical signal.

The electric signal that turntables output, offer very little in the way of volume, so they must be relayed to an amplifier (and sometime also a pre-amp) to make them louder.

Once the signal has been through the amp (and pre-amp if necessary) it will have enough volume to feed into your speakers.  

The main components that make up a turntable unit are:

  • Plinth (the base)
  • Platter (the actual ‘turntable’ part that spins)
  • Motor
  • Tonearm
  • Cartridge
  • Stylus

If you’re after a little more detail, here’s a pretty dodgy scan from an old turntable manual that you might like:

All turntables require further devices to be connected to them, in order for you to be able to play and listen to your records.

They never have speakers built-in.

The never have amplifiers built-in.

They sometimes have pre-amps built-in.

One big reason why audiophiles prefer a turntable to a record player, is because of the customisation options that turntables make available.

And audiophiles love this stuff.

You pick your turntable, you pick your pre-amp, your amplifier, your speakers…

…you have absolute control over the quality of each link in the sound chain.

And of course, you can upgrade over time, as and when you have more money to spend, or something new and amazing comes to market.

What is a Record Player?

Nowadays, when someone specifically refers to a record player…

…they tend to mean something that has all the required components, in order to be able to play and listen to vinyl records, all integrated into the one unit.

So it’s got the turntable, the pre-amp, the amplifier…and maybe even the speakers, all wrapped-up in the one ‘record player’.

An all-in-one audio device, if you like?

The problem with record players is that they tend to be very expensive, but each of the integrated components tend to be of bang average quality.

And of course, you can only ever upgrade the entire unit.

But on the plus side, if you just want to plug-in-and-play, they are super convenient.

How Do Turntables and Record Players Work?

It’s actually pretty simple.

Well, to explain anyway!

If you’ve ever tried building a turntable from scratch, you’ll know it’s not a simple thing to pull-off.

Here goes, in very brief outline:

  • The stylus follows the grooves in the vinyl record
  • The diamond tip of the stylus picks up the sound vibrations laid down on the vinyl
  • These sound vibrations are are converted into electric signals within the cartridge
  • The electrical signals are then transmitted through wires within the tonearm
  • The tonearm transfers the electrical signals to the pre-amp for signal boosting
  • The pre-amp transfers the boosted signal onto the amplifier for further boosting
  • The amplifier transfers the fully boosted signal onto the speakers

As I said, that’s a very brief outline which is probably enough for this article.

I might bore you all by writing a full length explanation one day.

Which is Best? Turntable or Record Player?

There is no best.

Whatever serves you and your specific needs best, is best…for you.

Personally I’m a fully committed turntable man…all audiophiles and DJs are!

And I love the whole set-up process, the tinkering about with different bits of the set-up to squeeze every last bit of juice out of the potential sound quality…

…I just love it!

But you may see that as just one big massive hassle.

You may want to simply have one piece of kit that you can listen to vinyl on.

And as long as you believe you’re not going to become too obsessed with sound quality, a record player is probably best for you.

Wrapping it Up!

I hope this has been helpful.

If you’re thinking about whether to buy a record player or a turntable, just consider what you’re going be using it for…

…and how important optimising sound quality is to you.

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