Hepcat's Turntable Primer!

Hepcat

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Here are some of my semi-random thoughts on turntable selection and operation.

1. You can throw $thousands on a more expensive amplifier or CD player and not be able to discern the difference in a blind listening test, but spending more on a turntable/cartridge combo after a bit of research/thought will yield big time dividends. This also means that you're not going to get decent reproduction if you cheap out when buying your turntable though.

2. Having said that, decent reasonably priced turntables are made these days by companies such as Pro-Ject, Music Hall, Thorens and Dual. These Pro-Ject Debut III turntables are a particularly popular choice for people who want a decent turntable without spending too much money:

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This website provides a very decent overview on turntable pricing:

Needle Doctor

3. If, however, you find your budget stretched, I'd suggest you get a completely refurbished Dual turntable from this fellow:

Fix My Dual

They just don't build turntables of the quality of the old Duals anymore unless you're willing to spend $3500 or more and you can get a completely refurbished old Dual for less than $300. I mean most of the turntables you see these days have bases made from bakelite or some other cheap polymer. Among the old Duals, I like the belt-drive 601 and 1249 models myself but others may disagree.

Another plus associated with vintage Dual, Garrard, Thorens, etc. turntables is that they included both a speed selector dial and an auto return feature, something you don't find in the Rega, Pro-Ject or Music Hall turntables these days. Believe it or not, but they now want you to lift the platter and move the belt yourself to change speeds! And don't fall asleep in your armchair while listening. Your needle will still be tracking in the out grooves of your record when you wake several hours later if you have a Rega, Pro-Ject or Music Hall turntable. Dual turntables and the Thorens TD-240 turntable are among the very few turntables with these very practical features these days.

4. I'd suggest the following to anyone looking for a new turntable:

A) Make sure it's a belt-drive model. While the phrase "direct drive" sounds great, keep in mind that the last thing you'd want to do is couple a motor directly to the platter. The way vinyl technology works is that the grooves of the record make the stylus vibrate. These vibrations are converted into electrical energy by the cartridge. But have you ever encountered a motor that does not itself vibrate? The last thing you want is for the stylus to be picking up your turntable motor's vibrations i.e. rumble.

Since the devil is in the details though, the execution of a concept is typically every bit as important as the design. As a result, some very good direct drive turntables were marketed in the 1970's, including the Dual 721 ("Silence is golden.") and some Technics models.

B) A suspended sub-chassis. This helps to isolate your platter from ambient vibrations coming from your speakers. If your platter isn't properly isolated, you'll get feedback in the form of a loud hum. Feedback will drive you nuts, believe me.

That's why I'm leery of Rega turntables. They don't incorporate a suspended sub-chassis and I've heard of users plagued with feedback problems.

C) Weight, the heavier the better. The heavier the platter, the more will its own inertia help it to maintain an even speed in the face of minuscule variations in motor speed. The more solid and heavier the plinth, the "deader" and less susceptible will be your turntable. to picking up ancillary vibrations

5. A good cartridge is about as important as the turntable itself. I like the Ortofon 2m series of cartridges which may be the best moving magnet cartridges produced today. I have an Ortofon 2m Black but that's a $670 model. The Red, Blue and Bronze models are available for $100, $200 and $390 respectively.

There are those who extoll the merits of generally more expensive moving coil cartridges but those usually require replacing the whole cartridge when the stylus wears out! As a result, I admit I haven't even given the moving coils a test listen.

Once again, the Needle Doctor website provides a good overview of cartridge pricing.

6. I'd suggest you order your cartridge from your friendly local stereo shop instead of getting it online though. Your neighbourhood stereo shop should not only be able to match online prices but as part of the service they supply the shop should precisely set up your turntable with your new cartridge for ideal tracking. I can't overstress the importance of setting up your turntable with precision. They're not plug and play gadgets like CD players but a good turntable/cartridge combo provides far richer sound reproduction than any digital source.

Moreover, if you don't support your local stereo shop today, it might not be around when you actually need it for something like servicing your equipment tomorrow.

7. If your amplifier does not have a dedicated phono input, you will also need a phono linestage also known as a phono preamplifier. A decent one will cost at least $139. Don't cheap out and buy one of the carded $29 ones that a record store might offer to a newbie. A phono linestage is not just a connection. One of its prime functions is to add back the bass that has been lost as a result of being compressed into a record's narrow grooves! Pro-Ject, Graham Slee, Thorens, Creek, many audio component manufacturers make very good ones.

8. Don't put your turntable on top of one of your speakers! Remember what I said about not wanting your stylus to pick up ancillary vibrations? Rumble, feedback, etc? Speakers of course vibrate. Placing your turntable on a solid dresser full of clothing or a bookcase loaded with books and records would probably prevent your turntable from picking up ambient vibrations being transferred up from the floor. You might want to check that the surface on which you put the turntable is level so that you get even tracking. A level can be picked up for $1.50 at the hardware store.

Another thing I'd suggest is putting hardwood carving boards/butcher blocks under both your new turntable and your speakers. This also helps prevent ambient vibrations from your speakers from being transferred to your turntable by means of the floor and muddying the sound you get.

9. Always remove the dust cover completely to play a record. The reason is that the dust cover itself picks up sound vibrations and then carries these back down to the platter on which your record is revolving - which is something you definitely do not want. You'll hear the improvement immediately. Taking off the dust cover makes a very obvious difference to the sound you get from your records.

10. Clean/wash your records. Good commercial solutions and systems are available including the Nitty Gritty record cleaning machines. All the money you've spent on a better turntable will be wasted if your records have a dirty film covering them from years of smoking or just being left lying around so that dust can settle upon them.

11. I'd be reluctant to pay the premium price of newly issued vinyl these days. Almost everything recorded since the early nineties has been recorded digitally anyway so vinyl pressings of these recordings theoretically shouldn't provide the additional magic or warmth for which analog recordings are famous. Reissues of older recordings on 180 gram vinyl are most often very, very good, however.

:****:
 
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Dave78

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Re: 8 Track Flashback

Hepcat - do you prefer direct-drive or belt-drive turntables?

Maybe I fell prey to all the marketing hype, but I always used belt-drive for their supposedly lower "wow", "flutter" and "THD" levels.

I also suspended my turntable from a wall shelf system so it wouldn't skip when I walked around in my room or used my desk. :heheh:
 

Hepcat

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Re: 8 Track Flashback

Hepcat - do you prefer direct-drive or belt-drive turntables?

Maybe I fell prey to all the marketing hype, but I always used belt-drive for their supposedly lower "wow", "flutter" and "THD" levels.

I thought that the argument for direct drive was that without the intervention of a stretchy belt, even speed can be maintained more easily thus lessening wow and flutter! I prefer belt-drive though because the belt acts to absorb any vibrations from the motor thus reducing rumble to negligible levels.

:****:
 
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Dave78

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Re: 8 Track Flashback

I thought that the argument for direct drive was that without the intervention of a stretchy belt, even speed can be maintained more easily thus lessening wow and flutter! I prefer belt-drive though because the belt acts to absorb any vibrations from the motor thus reducing rumble to negligible levels.

I'm glad you asked though because I just wrote this treatise:

http://www.classicrockforums.com/forum/f4/hepcats-turntable-primer-7496/

:****:
True the direct drive models were technically more accuarate to a degree, but I believe Quartz Timing supposedly corrected for that on the belt-drives.

But for the reason(s) you mentioned, I always used belt-drive turntables, too. :)

I also used a Grado F3E+ cartridge/stylus. Not sure why I still remember that after 25+ years. :heheh:

Now to check out your link...
 

Dave78

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Reissues of older recordings on 180 gram vinyl are most often very, very good, however.

:****:
****** vinyl! :D

Reading this takes me back to a neighbor of ours in the late 70's who had a dedicated sound room with Phase Linear separates and Bose speakers. A sound system like that cost a lot of money back then, and it required a lot of TLC, but it was worth it. :bow:
 

b.o.b.

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Nice guide for the vinyl beginners and not only Hepcat. When I bought my turntable I studied myself the problem over the internet so my choice was a belt drive with a suspended sub-chassis :grinthumb.
 

LG

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Always preferred Direct Drive to belt drive turntables and always will. My old Kenwood 500 with my SME tonearm has worked flawlessly for over 31 years. There is no motor noise at all, no rumble or wow and flutter.(At least not detectable with the human ear, maybe instruments tell a different story but that doesn't affect my opinion about most electronics anyway.) My brother had nothing but headaches with his Rega belt drive TT, and I'm not saying they are rubbish or anything but a quality direct drive table can hold it's own with any belt drive system.

Total cost of my old turntable when I bought it, about $800.00 in 1978, years of enjoyment with no maintenance at all, 30+ years.:grinthumb
 

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