A man, a record, and no record player.
November 2, 2010 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a record player but I don't know the first thing about record players.

I don't know anything about cartridges, amps, phono, receivers, pre-amps, level-outs, converters, or the like. And maybe I don't need to. Perhaps just a 1, 2, 3, of what I need to play a record for the truly uninformed?
posted by Avenger50 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Is there an audiophile-oriented store in your area? You might be best off going there and asking for advice, since they'll know what they're doing. If you end up getting a used player, it would still be a good idea to take it to such a shop and get them to check the needle and adjust everything properly (because a bad needle or maladjusted player can wreck your records).

Your amp either needs to have a "phono" input, or you need to get a pre-amplifier that you put between the record player and your amp's "aux" input. The signal that comes out of a record player is different than the signal that comes out of a tape deck or iPod, and the pre-amp will adjust it if your amp doesn't have an input that is made for record players.
posted by Emanuel at 3:28 PM on November 2, 2010

You need one of two things: either a) a bog-standard record player and a receiver or amp (a.k.a. a stereo) with a "Phono" input on it, or b) a record player and a pre-amp, which you can then plug into any receiver you happen to have.

This is because the signal from the record player is very quiet and requires amplification, unlike modern things like your CD or DVD player. Receivers without a special phono input aren't equipped to deal with this, so your record will sound wrong unless you use a separate pre-amp which goes between the player and the stereo (or a record player with pre-amplification built-in).

A used Technics direct-drive player (like you can find at a record or audio store or on Ebay) would be ideal to start with -- they're cheap, they're common, they sound good, and they're easy to use and relatively hard to break. If you don't have a phono input, you could still get a player like that along with an affordable pre-amp. Sony also makes some cheap record players with built-in pre-amps, but they kind of suck -- a good player with phono input or a separate pre-amp will sound much better.
posted by vorfeed at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: I just bought this turntable-- the Audio-Technica LP-120. I really like it so far.

I wanted one with direct drive, because in my experience, every time something has been wrong with a turntable in the past, it's been the belt. I also wanted one with an available pre-amp so I could plug it directly into my home theater receiver, which doesn't have a phono input. (For what it's worth, I didn't get it for the USB output, and I can't imagine ever using it.)

I have never set up a turntable before, and I was able to assemble it, adjust the balance and anti-skate on the tone arm, and get a record playing within 15-25 minutes.

I was also considering this AT model, for about a third of the price.
posted by supercres at 3:44 PM on November 2, 2010

As for the built-in preamp: like I said, I wanted something that I could get off the ground quickly. (It was a birthday gift, and I only had the space of a dog-walking to get it set up and running. I'm only half joking.)

But it is switchable, so if I find that it's necessary, that the built-in preamp sucks, I can get a better preamp or a stereo with a phono input and still be golden. So far, though, it sounds great as-is.
posted by supercres at 4:07 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: Turntable Basics: advice is a bit long, but covers it all, from direct drive vs belt-driven to stylus selection, except pre-amps.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:49 PM on November 2, 2010

I enthusiastically second the Audio-Technica LP-120. I picked one up from Amazon a few months back and it's a steal for the price (usually discounted to around $200). Assuming you have a stereo receiver with either an AUX or PHONO input, you should be fine. As far as I know pretty much any receiver will either have one or both of those and you can just flip a switch on the back of the turntable to indicate which you're using. Couldn't be easier.

If you have any specific questions about that model, feel free to message me.
posted by dhammond at 5:22 PM on November 2, 2010

At one point I owned a Sony record player with a built-in preamp, and here were my complaints about it:
- A (really faint) 60Hz hum, whether I used the built-in preamp or not. I know that some record players have a grounding wire you can connect to your preamp or receiver, and that seems to fix the problem
- No way to adjust the tonearm pressure. If you're worried about records skipping but don't mind a little extra wear, better turntables will let you increase the stylus pressure.
- I couldn't play 10" records easily. The player was fully automatic, and would start at the beginning of a 12" or 7" record at the touch of a button. I might be remembering this wrong, but I believe I had to play 10" records with the 12" setting, and move the needle over at just the right moment.
- I couldn't play 78 RPM shellac records. This might not be an issue for you, but there was no way to set the speed to 78 RPM, and no wide-groove needle available for that model.
- Finally, the thing was cheap and plasticky, and after a few years the sensor that detects the end of the record would trip at random.

Sadly I have no specific recommendation for a better record player, but those are some things to look out for.

Remember to change your needle every year (they're cheap on amazon or ebay), and clean your records! Brushes never work for me, so I always use a spray: AM Record Cleaner for vinyl, and Groovy 78 Record Cleaner (which is probably just deionized water) for shellac.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:26 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The other question: Are you an audiophile?=What is your budget?

If you do not have the big bucks to spend, then spend some time experimenting in Goodwill and Salvation Army.
posted by ovvl at 6:15 PM on November 2, 2010

We bought the Audio Technica AT-LP60 that supercres mentioned.
My boyfriend is an audio engineer and loves vinyl. His old record player broke and we wanted a really cool vintage one.

But it became too much of a hassle. So we bought an affordable one at Guitar Center (i think).

It's extremely user-friendly and sounds awesome.

It may not be top of the line or vintage - but we realized we didn't really care so much about that anymore.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:13 PM on November 2, 2010

I essentially have this Crosley model*, which my wife got me for my birthday while we were still in college.

Not the best by any means at all. But since you don't know anything about record players that could be a good thing.No other equipment needed.

If all you want to do is play records then I'd say something simple like this would be a good start. And if you decide to get something better later then you have two record players. Nothing wrong with that.

*I don't have the axillary input jack in mine. Not a big loss at all to me, but I haven't seen them without it when I've seen them in the store.
posted by theichibun at 4:06 AM on November 3, 2010

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