Vinyl Record Players vs Turntables: What’s the Difference?

Vinyl records are becoming popular again. We live in a digital age, where all it takes is to put on a pair of headphones, tap on our phone and play a song in a matter of seconds. But still, many of us are embracing the old-new approach to listening to music and invest in vinyl players. 

There is something romantic about vinyl record players and the way they make us stop our fast-paced lifestyles for a moment and appreciate this rare experience. If you have just discovered the joys of vinyl and are thinking about buying your first turntable, or want to upgrade or replace an old record player, here is what you need to know before exploring the market.

Are Turntables and Record Players All the Same?

Vinyl players are electromagnetic devices designed to turn the sound vibrations created by the spinning record into electrical signals, which are then sent into electronic amplifiers that vibrate and feed the resulting sound into speakers. When in the market for a vinyl player, you will see both record players and turntables. Very often, the two terms are used interchangeably and it can get quite confusing, but there is a difference between them and knowing it can help you narrow down your options. Then you can choose from a selection of vinyl players and find the one that meets your needs and preferences.

What’s the Difference?

One of the main reasons why so many people confuse a turntable with a record player comes from the fact that a record player consists of a turntable. It’s the main part of the record player, however, the term turntable can be used in another context as well, as a standalone unit that is most often used for scratching, something that is not possible with a record player. 

While a record player is an overall audio system setup that doesn’t need external components, a turntable doesn’t come with an amplifier or built-in speakers and it’s made up of the following parts:

  • A plinth, or the base of the turntable
  • A platter, or the spinning surface that holds the record
  • A stylus or needle, which goes into the groves that are carved into the record and moves with them
  • A cartridge, which holds the needle
  • A tonearm, connected to the plinth on one end, holds the cartridge and moves it across the record. This movement is converted into an electrical signal and there is a speed selector as well, which enables the turntable to play 33 RPM, 45 RPM or 78 RPM.

Which One Is a Better Choice?

Deciding which one is better than the other is not easy as both devices have their advantages and disadvantages and choosing one should be based on your needs and preferences. If you are a music enthusiast who wants to achieve the best possible sound from a setup, a turntable will give you greater control and freedom over the components you choose, so you can mix and match external components of your choosing and get a higher quality sound. 

When it comes to playing your vinyl records with a turntable, keep in mind that it will require a separate preamp, amplifier and speakers. Some turntables include a preamp, but still many audiophiles prefer to use an external preamp. This is one of the main accessories for a turntable, the one that brings the quiet signal from the turntable up to line level, so you can enjoy your favourite sounds.

Also, you might need other basics related to setup and maintenance, such as a record brush, instructions on how to clean the stylus and a level to make sure your turntable is set up correctly. Maybe you will need to balance the tonearm and set the tracking weight, which is easy and simple as long as you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, so you can make your turntable deliver the best sound quality and lower the wear and tear on your vinyl records.

There are many possible configurations to set up a turntable, and whatever you choose, you need to make sure that the four essential components of a vinyl player setup, turntable, preamp, amplifier and hi-fi speakers are included and connected correctly. 

When it comes to a record player, very often there is no need for additional cables, external components or else. It has all the components required to be able to play music from a record, but it lacks the flexibility around upgrading components to improve the sound, which is a drawback when it comes to comparing a record player to a turntable. However, there may be a few options allowing you to change or upgrade components or to adjust cartridge alignment and stylus for better sound quality.

Most record players these days have a radio, USB, Bluetooth and other elements integrated into them, but also you can find a wireless Bluetooth turntable if you wish to stream your vinyl selections or a USB turntable, which is great if you are looking for a way to digitise your vinyl collection.

How to Choose?

Build Quality

Whether you opt for a turntable or record player, before buying, consider its build quality. Make sure you invest in a high quality turntable or record player by a reliable brand in the industry that is built to last and has a guarantee of longevity.

In the end, your choice comes down to your budget and needs. You can find anything from affordable record players and turntables to premium ones if you are looking forward to improving your system’s sound quality. 

Sound Quality

Consider the sound quality as well, as some record players come with small built-in speakers that are driven by a small amplifier and are not able to reproduce the lower tones, such as bass. 

If you travel more frequently, a turntable may be a great choice as it’s sleek, lightweight and easily portable. However, newer models of record players are designed in a suitcase-style format, which makes them portable as well and easy to carry around.

When it comes to a vinyl record, it’s the physical experience that counts. Delicate records, liner notes, beautiful covers and the needle that spins across the jagged surface, bringing to life your favourite artists’ music.