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April 18, 2010 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Replacing speakers: help me get better sound out of my vintage Empire turntable.


I have a vintage Empire turntable, shown here.

I picked it, along with speakers, up at a garage sale for 5 bucks. The turntable itself runs great! The speakers, however, appear like they might be on their last legs.

I know NOTHING about turntables, speakers, etc. There was a turntable post just a few days ago, and it's still a bit beyond me! I currently just have a Crosley.

Here's the speaker brand (doubt it matters an iota), and here are the plugs which go directly into the back of the unit. Here's the back, with its various bits that I don't understand.

The sound is ok; I have to crank the tone to 11 and it still sounds a bit muddy/muddled however. I am by no means an audiophile (obviously) and just want to find a way to produce decent sound that's a bit crisper.

So, my questions are, is it right to assume that it's most likely the speakers at fault? How do I connect modern speakers to this turntable (rewiring? Adapters? silly putty?)? Any suggestions for decent, lo-to-mid-end starter speakers if so? What's all this talk of amps and do I need one as the table plays without one?

If anyone could walk me through what I should do step-by-step it'd be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
posted by Windigo to Technology (17 answers total)
It could be the speakers or it could be the receiver putting out too little power for your speakers. Do you have another pair of speakers you could test it with? Or if you have a set of powered computer speakers with AUX input, you could connect it "Tape" output (they look like RCAs).
posted by wongcorgi at 8:01 AM on April 18, 2010

I assumed those plugs in the pics of my speakers are outmoded and aren't made anymore? So even if I had a second set of modern speakers I would need to do something special to connect them to the Empire?

I just have cheapy computer speakers, I don't think they have aux input.
posted by Windigo at 8:10 AM on April 18, 2010

The speakers use RCA plugs (sometimes called phono plugs) to connect to the Empire. It's a pretty standard plug, although more commonly used for video and low level (line) audio signals. Generally, using RCA for speaker connectors is a sign of pretty entry level equipment, which I mention only so that you aren't disappointed if you cannot get a great sound out of the setup.

You can find replacement RCA plugs at Radio Shack which will allow you to hook up other speakers to the Empire. Before you do that I should ask are the speakers hardwired to the cables? By that I mean to the cables just go in to the speakers or are they attached using plugs, screw terminals, or spring clips? If it's one of the latter two you should be able to use the cables with most other speakers. If it's hardwired you'll have to get new cables and attach RCA plugs to one end. Radio Shack will also carry speaker cable.

I would suggest trying to find other speakers to test the unit out with before buying new speakers of your own because the muddled sound may be due to the Empire, not the speakers. Surely, you have a friend that has some speakers you can test this out with, and possibly help you make new speaker cables to do so. It would also be good to test your speakers with another receiver.

One other thing to test: is the muddled sound present on all functions or just, say, the turntable?
posted by 6550 at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2010

Your sound quality issues are likely 85% speakers (or more) and maybe 15% due to the internal amplifier in the unit. You're right - the speaker brand doesn't matter. They are identical to the millions of cheap speakers that were produced during that era - crappy particle board with pressboard backs and ofter purely decorative tweeters. Your little 6.5" cones are similar to what you might find in the crappiest of econo car stereos.

Hooking up modern speakers will be easy - all you need to do it cut the wires off of your existing speakers (close to the speaker so you have lots of length), strip the cut ends and connect them to the standard spring terminals of your new speakers. Hopefully the wires are marked for polarity in some way - perhaps with a stripe or ridge along the insulation of one of the wires. Make sure you hook the marked wire up to the same terminal on each speaker (i.e striped to red on both speakers) or you will end up with speakers that are "out of phase" and will tend to cancel out each others bass frequencies.

If you go with different speakers, you may find that you run into the limits of the internal amplifier. Happily, your turntable has the "Tape Out" jacks which could be used to plug into pretty much any more modern receiever/amplifier. (if you have any sort of home theatre system, you could plug your tape out into an aux input on it)

You could pick up a set of speakers first, though, and if you find that the turntable amp isn't cutting it you could add an amp at a later date.

As far as speakers, you'll probably want to start with a nice little set of bookshelf speakers - if I were looking, I'd check out local pawn shops to see what they have. There's no reason why you couldn't even bring your turntable with you to test out the speakers before you buy - I imagine they won't have a problem with you doing this - there are usually a few AV geeks working at those shops that will help you get things hooked up.
posted by davey_darling at 8:20 AM on April 18, 2010

Oh, I just noticed it's got a headphone out. It uses the 1/4" style jack plug but Radio Shack will carry 1/8" to 1/4" adapters to allow you to hook up a set of headphones. That's going to be the easiest thing to test to see if the sound is endemic to the Empire. You want something like this.
posted by 6550 at 8:25 AM on April 18, 2010

By that rational, couldn't you run your sound through computer speakers, too, using the 1/8" to 1/4" adapters? Is there any reason not to?

Thank you guys so much! You've explained everything I needed to know but couldn't grasp. I have a nice pair of Grados SR60s and my BF had a 1/8" to 1/4" adapter. I gave it a test and I would agree with Davey_darling....85-90% speakers and the rest the Empire's internal amp.

Am I right in thinking that if my internal amp doesn't have enough oopmh, that's when I'd get an external amp, plug that in, and then plug the speakers to the external amp?
posted by Windigo at 8:54 AM on April 18, 2010

You can run the headphone output to your computer speakers. You can also use an 1/8" to RCA cable (here) to connect the tape output on the back to the computer speakers, assuming they are powered. Probably would get better sound with the latter.

TBH, if you end up going the route of getting an external amp just get a decent receiver (the Empire is probably not) and use the Empire for the turntable only.
posted by 6550 at 9:02 AM on April 18, 2010

Am I right in thinking that if my internal amp doesn't have enough oopmh, that's when I'd get an external amp, plug that in, and then plug the speakers to the external amp?

Yes. You would use an RCA cable from the Tape Out of the turntable into one of the in puts on the back of your new amplifier. The new speakers would plug into the speaker connectors of the new amp.

If you post your budget here, I'm sure you'll get some suggestions.
posted by paulg at 9:02 AM on April 18, 2010

Honestly, as a beginner to all this, I was hoping to not spend more than about 100 right now. I know that's a very low budget for this sort of thing.
posted by Windigo at 9:12 AM on April 18, 2010

$100 is tight. Take a look at T-amps like this Dayton DTA-1 for $45. Sub-$50 are all probably going to sound about the same. Take a look at these Dayton B652 or Sony SS-B1000.
posted by paulg at 9:21 AM on April 18, 2010

That is, sub-$50 speakers are probably going to sound about the same. The T-amps can hang with much more expensive amps when paired with the right speakers.
posted by paulg at 9:25 AM on April 18, 2010

You might want to consider a new needle for the turntable. They wear out.
posted by rhizome at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2010

I already replaced the needle, so we're good to go there :)

6550 - would that cable work? Doesn't the end need to be female to plug into most computer speakers?

If I went the route of a receiver (and aren't many receivers paired with an amp?) what would you suggest? It's Empire-->receiver-->amp(like that Dayton DTA-1)-->speakers, right? Though Empire -->amp-->speakers will work, too, though perhaps not as excellently.
posted by Windigo at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2010

receiver=amp with multiple inputs, and often a radio tuner (i.e. something that you could also plug in your ipod/dvd player/computer audio outputs into)

Honestly, I'd look around for a used two channel 70's/80's/90's receiver - if you keep yard saleing one of them is bound to turn up for around 20 bucks. (they will look something like these) - newer ones will be black instead of silver, and will be more likely to come with a remote control.

RE: 6550's cable - you're right, if you want to plug your computer speakers directly in, you'd likely need RCA to 1/8 female. (6550 was assuming a 1/8 input on the speakers)
posted by davey_darling at 9:55 AM on April 18, 2010

Empire -> amp -> speakers would work better than Empire -> receiver -> amp -> speakers. The more components you have in a signal chain, the worse it will sound. (Though, as a practical matter, you probably wouldn't hear much a difference with this equipment.)

You don't need a receiver. Your Empire is a receiver with an integrated turntable. A receiver is an amp (which boosts a weak, line-level signal to the strong signal needed to drive speakers), a pre-amp (which provides multiple inputs for turntables and iPods and sends the signal to the amp), and a radio tuner.

Your computer speakers are speakers with a built-in amp. If you ran the Tape Out from you Empire to your computer speakers, you would be bypassing the amp in the Empire and using the one in the computer speakers. If you bought the T-amp and new speakers, you'd be bypassing the Empire amp in favor the T-amp. Same deal.

You could start by buying better speakers for $100, use the amp in the Empire, and decide if you want to buy an external amp later.
posted by paulg at 10:17 AM on April 18, 2010

What speakers would you recommend at the 100 buck level, if I went that route?
posted by Windigo at 12:04 PM on April 18, 2010

Look at speakers from makers like Infinity or Polk Audio, like the Monitor 30's. (Also, make sure you're buying a pair not just one speaker.) Google AVS forum; threads like this one should be helpful.
posted by paulg at 3:16 PM on April 18, 2010

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