There's a sense of warmth and nostalgia when you take the time to slip a vinyl of your favorite album from its plastic sleeve, place it in a turntable, hear the whirring motor, and watch the tonearm glide as a soft crackling is emitted from your speakers. But before you get to this point, it's going to take some time to pick the system right for your home. In 2021, the vinyl resurgence has lent itself to a range of affordable options perfect for any audiophile. Here’s Origin Hi-Fi’s guide to setting up your turntable.
A great turntable will be able to play your record at one of three speeds: 33⅓, 45, or 78 RPM. The turntable's surrounding body, known as the plinth, must be placed on a stable, flat surface to avoid vibrations that could throw the forearm off. There are two kinds of turntables: belt-drive and direct-drive. A belt-drive turntable has a motor that torques an elastic belt to a spinning platter. A direct-drive turntable motor directly rotates the platter. While most DJs and performers prefer a direct-drive player, record collectors swear by the belt-drive turntable. Unless you plan to begin spinning and scratching your discs, a belt-drive turntable is best for the home listening market.
The cartridge transforms the physical vibrations of the stylus running through grooves into transmittable electrical signals. There are two choices for cartridges: moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC). The most common kind is the MM; its diamond stylus feeds vibrations down a cantilever attached to a magnet that's connected to a pair of minuscule coils, which create the electrical signal sent to your amplifier. On the other hand, MC cartridges skip the magnet and place the pair of coils earlier in the chain, making the cartridge lighter and more prone to picking up subtle changes within your record. The two cartridges have different weights, so keep that in mind before playing your first record to avoid scratches.
The phono stage is what sets the listening experience of vinyl apart from other systems. Each record player has a weak phono signal output that omits bass frequencies and heightens treble due to the way records are manufactured. Low frequencies require wider grooves, so omitting most of them saves physical space and increases runtime to 22 minutes on each side. However, this means these phono signals are unlistenable and require conversion into a "line level" signal that is the frequency-balanced standard for other listening sources. This is where a phono preamplifier saves the day by adding the bass frequencies and taming the trebles. You may not need to purchase an external preamp as many modern record players come with built-in phono preamps. Check to see if your player has a Line output or Phono/Line selector switch in the back; if so, you're ready to rock!
The line signal continues to the amplifier, the engine of your setup, and is necessary to boost the signal for passive speakers. A stereo amp is the center for all your sources, with multiple inputs for cassettes, CDs, Spotify, and more. Amplifiers also enhance the dynamic range, bass definition, and overall sonic quality. You can opt between an integrated "standalone" or a pre/power "separate" amp. Integrated models are smaller and more convenient because they incorporate the circuitry for the preamp and speaker-driving power into a single unit. Check to see if your integrated model already has a built-in phono preamp. Meanwhile, pre/power amps refer to two separate units, which is sometimes preferred by audiophiles who may want to upgrade individual components in the future. Whichever setup you choose, selecting a sturdy amplifier is as important as the turntable itself since it can continue to power your system for decades to come.
The line-level signal can pass through a passive or active speaker system in a home Hi-fi setup. Passive speakers, the preferred model by audiophiles, are driven by a connected stereo amplifier/receiver, which requires main power. The amp exponentially boosts audio from the phono preamplifier and directs the appropriate signals to the correct speakers. An active speaker setup requires a dedicated power outlet and should not be connected to an amplifier; the signal enters one main speaker cabinet, is amplified, and then routed to a passive speaker. However, many consider the internal amplifier of an active speaker to be weaker than a standalone amp. Although you suffer from customizing your speaker setup a bit more, you get the amp and high-quality speaker in one, making active speakers easier to set up and manage.
RCA cables are necessary to attach your turntable to your phono preamp, amplifier, and/or powered speakers. You'll need to look for one red and one white connector on each end of the cable that goes into the appropriate sockets as you go down the chain of sound. If you've opted for a passive speaker setup, you only need two simple wires per speaker that connect to your amplifier. These made-to-order wires are terminated at both ends through alligator clips, spades, or banana plugs. Check the back panels of your devices to understand which type of speaker-wire terminals you'll need.
Now that you've learned every aspect of your turntable setup, it's time to begin finding your desired models. If your head is spinning from all the options, call our expert team at Origin Hi-Fi with any questions about your ideal system. We can help you design and install the setup perfect for your lifestyle. Contact us today to begin!