Portable turntable with a decent tonearm?
February 15, 2013 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Having spent years spent listening primarily to MP3s and Internet radio, we've been thinking about taking the big, clunky, 90s-era stereo components off of our living room shelves. However, one of those components is a turntable, and we'd like to have the option of occasionally playing our vinyl. We were thinking of a retro-styled portable turntable like this Crosley, but it looks like the non-weighted tonearm and styli aren't so hot. Are there any portable, suitcase-style turntables out there with decent tonearms that we can fit with a good cartridge? Our primary concern is that our records stay in good condition.
posted by eschatfische to Technology (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
When I was looking for a portable turntable (to play records at work or when I'm hanging out in the park), I asked my trusty record shop friend for recommendations. He suggested the Numark PT01USB because it has a nice cartridge that you can easily replace. So I bought one and have really loved it. The tonearm is fine. He warned me that those Crosleys, while good looking, can damage records. That said, one of my good friends who is a Northern Soul DJ (read: fanatic about her vinyl) has one of those Crosleys at her home and she hasn't had any problems.
posted by kendrak at 11:21 AM on February 15, 2013

I own the Ion version of the mentioned Numark unit (apart from the branding they're pretty much identical) and it's fine for what it is. That said, I would guess it tracks about 4 to 5 grams. It's OK for playing common thrift-shop records, but I would not get it anywhere near my direct-to-discs or Japanese pressings or the like.

In the old days, you could put speakers in the same cabinet with a turntable because the tracking forces were high enough that a loud impact in the bass wouldn't launch the stylus out of the groove. Nowadays, when a good tonearm and cartridge will track (typically) in the one to two grams range, the turntable needs some isolation. The modern portables work because they have either high tracking forces, or little in the way of bass, or both.
posted by in278s at 11:48 AM on February 15, 2013

> Our primary concern is that our records stay in good condition.

So before you disassemble your component stereo, rip absolutely as many of your LPs to high-bitrate MP3 as you can make yourself do. Those records will stay in good condition forever because you won't ever need to get 'em out of their jackets again.

If you're going to DIY you could also use one of the more obscure formats (e.g. lossless FLAC) in case a posse of audiophile snobs comes 'round, but a 320kbps MP3 rip played on good speakers rather than earbuds is going to sound just fine to anyone's ears.
posted by jfuller at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2013

jfuller has the right idea, but I'll just add that the main advantage of ripping to a lossless format is that you can then transcode it to any other format in the future.

Lossy to lossy transcodes always suffer some irretrievable quality loss. Lossless to lossy avoids that problem.

A 320kbps mp3 will most probably sound fine, but there's a very good chance that a smaller mp3 or particularly some of the more modern formats will sound equally transparent at a lower bit rate / smaller file size suitable for playback on a portable device where a collection of 320k constant bitrate files is a waste of space, considering that a 160k variable bit rate AAC or ogg vorbis will probably sound just as good. Therefore I suggest FLAC (or ALAC if you're already in the Apple eco system) for your "master copies" and don't forget to back them up.
posted by dirm at 5:50 PM on February 15, 2013

Besides the Numark one, there's also the Vestax Handy Trax.
posted by box at 5:52 PM on February 15, 2013

Response by poster: I've got our favorite vinyl ripped - this would be for those loved but only occasionally listened to LPs. While we don't have a huge collection, I don't even want to think about how long it would take to rip all of those.

Unfortunately, the Numark, Ion and Vestax all appear to come with heavy, ceramic cartridges with sapphire needles (like the Crosley I posted above), which I'd be pretty concerned with long-term.

After taking some time to read this thread in depth (and decipher what's real and what's speculation, since there seems to be a lot of half-baked information there), it does appear that a handful of Crosleys (the Keepsake, Spinnerette and Revolution) have magnetic cartridges with diamond styli, but the tonearm design and construction quality is still problematic. I may pick up a Keepsake on sale and see if it's reasonable or can be easily modded.
posted by eschatfische at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2013

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