Maybe you have heard about that new craze called the turntable? They’re even portable now! If you know what a turntable is, consider yourself an audiophile. If not, read on.
By the time you’re finished with this article, even if you’re an amateur, you will be able to fool the audiophiles and sound like the most experienced connoisseur.
Find the Best Portable Record Player
The top ten best portable record players on the market!
The Crosley Cruiser portable turntable is perfect for the vinyl lover on-the-go. It features a 3-speed record player with dynamic full range stereo speakers and the ability to play 7”, 10” or 12” records. The built-in speakers are connected to an internal amplifier that powers them with 3W of total sound output (RMS). This means you can take your music wherever you go without having to connect it to any external speaker system.
Victrola Vintage – Victrola is a brand name that dates back to the earliest gramophones. If you’re into the vintage flair a Victrola is for you, plus it sports a spare stylus. Besides the popular and stylish Vintage, Victrola offers an eight-in-one that includes an AM/FM tuner, Bluetooth, CD and cassette player, Line in, a USB player, a USB recorder, and oh, yeah, a turntable.
The suitcase design makes it easy to carry around, while the built-in stereo speakers provide great sound quality. This turntable also includes an aux-in for playing music from any non-Bluetooth device, RCA aux-in and headphone jack. The vintage style suitcase comes in three different colors.
Audio Technica AT-LP60
Audio Technica AT-LP60 – The AT-LP60 is a fully automatic player and you don’t have to worry about loss in audio quality because there are no built-in speakers. You will have to buy them separately and it is worth it. Probably the best high-end model on the market.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60 fully automatic belt-drive stereo turntable features a high-performance, low vibration synchronous motor for smooth start-up and quiet operation. It has a die-cast aluminum platter and an anti-resonance, slip mat that suppresses vibration. The AT-LP60 comes complete with a removable hinged dust cover.
Numark PT101 – What makes the PT 101 special is that it is the first portable player built for DJ scratching! Plus it is often considered to be the best player with built-in speakers on the market today so Numark is the best choice for any self-respecting DJ on the go.
Numark PT101 is the portable DJ turntable that can accompany you on adventures, in every scenario. You could be DJing in your bedroom, on the subway to work or at a party and never have to worry about losing the rich, dynamic sound quality of the PT101. It is powered by battery or AC adapter. The versatile player is equipped with a power saving auto stop function which allows for 12 continuous hours of play while plugged into AC power.
Ion Audio Ford Mustang 4-in-1
Ion Audio Ford Mustang 4-in-1 – Here comes the retro! Yes, this player is named after the iconic Ford automobile and the design is reminiscent. You can record and convert music from vinyl or the AM/FM radio feature and the stylus is diamond-tipped.
Pyle Suitcase – What makes this turntable unique is that the built-in speakers fold out on the sides, giving the audio a directional quality that improves the sound.
1byOne Belt Driven
1byOne Belt Driven – This is the player for your grandfather and his 78s. It’s a sturdy 3-speed model.
Wockoder Antique Suitcase
Wockoder Antique Suitcase – is the model for beginners. It has an intimate vibe, shock-absorbing feet and comes at a great value.
Byron Statics Record Player
Byron Statics Record Player – Another solid choice for beginners and it’s a 3-speeder that comes with a replacement stylus and bluetooth.
Jensen JA-222 – A company that dates back to 1915 and a price that feels like it, plus some of the best built-in speakers on the market.
The only question left to answer now is how to cart around that pesky record collection!
Been Playing A Long Time
When was the record player invented? The birth of the modern turntable can be traced back to the invention of the phonograph in 1877, an accomplishment which is generally credited to Thomas Edison.
The phonograph was a device that could both record and play back sound. It did this through the use of a cardboard cylinder wrapped in tinfoil. Seriously.
But this actually was derived from an earlier model introduced by a French inventor, which used vibrating diaphragm and stylus to record sound waves. This invention was called the phonautograph.
The phonautograph evolved into the phonograph which led to the gramophone, eventually becoming what we know as the modern turntable record player. And it caused much more than just revolutions per minute, it revolutionized the world. Now people could stay at home and hear music. They didn’t have to go out to hear it live.
And now, hear we are. The cycle has swung round to the other side of the vinyl, and people want a record player they can take anywhere they want to go, so they can listen to music anywhere, instead of being stuck at home. Ironic, huh?
The Rest Is History
Originally, the device was composed of shellac and hard rubber. Only later did manufacturing companies migrate to vinyl. What we affectionately call vinyl records today also used to be made of rubber! During World War Two, a shortage of resin forced manufacturers to switch to vinyl.
Other innovations over the decades include the invention of the first vinyl “long play” record by, of all things, a Hungarian physicist, who must have moonlighted as a music enthusiast.
But it was primarily Emile Berliner’s innovations, including mechanizing the machine to create the turntable using a belt or a direct drive system, that would make recorded audio at home a reality.
An early version of the turntable was released in 1934. But with the invention of radio, demand for record players wavered. It was in the 1960s, when “hi-fi” was introduced, that the record player became common in every household.
Of course, the popularity of record players declined, as other formats arrived, such as cassettes and compact discs. But as music increasingly is produced and consumed digitally, people are returning to the warm, cozy sounds of hi-fi, or high fidelity.
What is High Fidelity?
“High Fidelity” is a great movie about a music store that record junkies can appreciate and the amateur can learn a few things from.
The movie’s title is derived from a term that refers to the audio quality and one you should be able to define. High-Fidelity audio is a different concept altogether from high definition audio.
Let’s start with low fidelity. Low fidelity is the recording in its rawest form with all its flaws. Some audiophiles prefer it, saying it feels more like being there at the original recording. It’s “organic”, you could say.
High-Fidelity, then, is by powers of deduction, the music once it has been cleaned up to eliminate distortion and noise, resulting in “higher-quality” audio, depending on your preference. That’s why so many older records sound so scratchy, and why remasters have become so prevalent.
How The Devil Does It Work?
Basically, the needle reads the grooves in the disc as it spins. As the needle moves around, it picks up the vibrations. The vibrations move through a metal band to the wires of a cartridge.
A coil then converts the vibes into an electric signal. The signal is carried from the wires to the amp and then transformed into sound like magic. But it’s just science.
So What Are Record Players Made Of?
A record player has many variations and even more components. You should know what they are so you know what to look for and to maintain proper care of the precious device.
Belt Drive has become the dominant driving force of the player, but you might have a record player that uses direct drive systems, which is less prevalent. In very rare cases, an idler wheel system, certainly not on a portable version.
Besides all that, here is a list of the main components of a standard modern-day record player:
- Stylus – Better known as the needle. Many portable models come with a replacement stylus, which is a nice feature worth keeping an eye out for.
- Motor – This is what keeps the record spinning using the old fashioned method that never goes of style – pulley with an elastic band.
- Platter – What the record sits on that helps reduce scratches and minimize vibrations. The motor turns the platter.
- Bearing Assembly – This is important. The more precise bearings you have, the smoother – and therefore quieter – rotation. Pay special mind to this component.
- Phono Cartridge – The phono cartridge is the mini electrical generator that produces the music signal – basically your translator for the vibes the needle is feeling.
- Tonearm – Again, an important component you should not overlook. The tonearm keeps the cartridge and needle steady despite the spinning record.
- Plinth – Plinth is a fancy word for the base that keeps all the components tucked in and helps prevent rebel vibrations.
- Feet – Most models will come with adjustable feet, so you can ensure your turntable stays and plays on a level field, which reduces damage to records in addition to the device itself.
- Outputs – Most but not all will have ports for external components like speakers and these days, USB so you can digitally convert your music or play music from a computer or other newfangled techie thingie.
Basically, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the less you hear your turntable working, the higher the quality it is.
By the way, turntables and record players are basically the same thing. If you want to sound like an audio snob, call it a turntable. But really, turntable is usually just a distinction between lower and higher end players, turntable being what the latter is most commonly called.
A Brief History Of Records
You might have heard your mom or dad talking about listening to their old 45s at the sock hop, or your grandma talking about the 78s she used to play on her Victrola.
What is this referring to? RPMs, or revolutions per minute, which is the speed that the record is spinning. You will see most players come with buttons to switch the speed.
78s were the first records, ironically called “long play.” It was later that the format wars produced 45s and a competitor, 331/3s. 45s went on to become the dominant format for singles while 331/3 won out as the preferred format for full length albums.
There is also another important distinction: mono versus stereo. The debut of stereo records coincided with the rise of high-fidelity in the sixties. By the seventies stereo came to be the format for the majority of records released. The switch had been hindered by a need to convert hardware to play it, much like society’s recent switch from analog to digital signals in cinemas and our home televisions.
Fun Fact!: What makes it stereo is that the stylus can move both horizontally and vertically, while on mono it moves horizontally only.
Selecting A Portable Record Player
Lest this article become a dry technical history, here are a few last tips on what to think about when selecting the best portable turntable for your needs, then a presentation of the best models on the market. Let the needle drop!
One thing to consider that might surprise you is your favorite genre of music. Funky R+B will play better on some models while psychedelic rock will sound nicer on others. This is because of the audio capabilities of portable record players in particular.
Audio quality is not so “hi-fi” on portable record players, especially models with the speakers built in. However, external speakers decrease your portability – and you have the records themselves to tote around. Decide what matters most to you.
Portable record players come in many different styles from vintage to retro – yes, those are two different things – to nouveau chic. Most of them are built into a suitcase and equipped with a handle and that will influence your design choice as well. Many models are also available in multiple colors.
Some specs to look out for are speed variation, which means spinning accuracy and should be below 0.25. S and N ratio, which basically means the ratio of signal to noise – how clean it will sound. Also, check your playback speed. All of them will feature 331/3, most of them 45, but only some of them also feature a 78 RPM speed option.
Look for inputs and outputs, especially if you prefer external speakers. Many models will have a USB port to play or record music from or into your computer. Some models even have Bluetooth capability.
Automatic play functions are easiest – just push a button, but that can diminish the audio quality because of the hardware necessary for the automatic function.
Pick up an anti-static vinyl cloth to wipe away the dust and debris that can damage the player.
When selecting needles, a Diamond stylus will last over twelve thousand hours, but a Sapphire-tipped stylus will protect your vinyl collection. Speaking of the collection, pick up a hard case for your records to prevent them from weather damage.
The best brands, which offer a diverse array of models and appear over and over on best lists are Audio Technica, Crosley, 1byOne and Victrola.