How To Set Up A New Record Player : A Beginner’s Guide

For those who are just starting to get into the vinyl record hobby, buying a new record player can be a little difficult to navigate. Even if you are just looking to upgrade your old unit, it can be a challenge. There are a lot of differences between turntables, both in terms of cost and sound quality. But once you have jumped in and bought a new turntable, what’s next? There are quite a few options for how to set up a new record player. Here are some of the primary considerations for you to review.

A Shiny New Toy

Congratulations – you just made a fine purchase. If you have read any of our posts here, you will see that we are very enthusiastic about vinyl. To properly enjoy your records, you need the right equipment to make them come alive. If you happened to buy one of our recommended turntables, we are confident you made a good choice. There are lot of great options available these days, as vinyl continues it’s comeback in the world of recorded music. But how do you set up a new record player, and how difficult is it to do correctly?

Now What?

Before you drop the needle on one of your precious vinyl recordings, consider whether the equipment is ready – have you reviewed every aspect of the setup? Although the majority of today’s turntables are “mostly” plug and play, this is not always the case. Besides the manufacturers setup guides, we would recommend you go through some basic steps on how to set up a new record player properly. While it may or may not be a necessity, a one time review of all the potential issues can help to prevent a poor experience later.

Unlike most other stereo components, a turntable has many more moving components and these mechanical and electrical aspects of the equipment can have a big impact on the sound. And while not always the case, the more expensive your equipment – the “audiophile” turntable – often requires more tuning than the typical lower-end unit, as they are more adjustable.

high end stereo with turntable

This may be a little over most people’s budget

Basic Setup – Your Components

Electrical Connections:

A vinyl turntable produces a relatively weak electrical signal from the needle moving along the grooves of the record. The basic concepts haven’t changed that much since the days of Edison, but the refinements of the signal production have of course improved tremendously. That weak signal is typically either amplified through an external per-amplifier or on-board the player itself.  Some players come with an option for both.

This pre-amplification to “line level” is an important consideration because many of today’s amplifiers don’t have a dedicated “phono” input. Many of the higher-end audiophile turntables also do not have a built in pre-amp, so you may require an external unit to connect to a modern amplifier or powered speakers.

Several types of turntable cartridges exist, with moving magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) types being the most common. Most external preamps can manage both types of cartridges, but the phono preamps built into receivers are often MM-only. The signal from an MC cartridge requires additional amplification vs. the MM cartridge, since it is a much weaker output due to the design. Some phono pre-amps will let you make adjustments to match the cartridge recommendations.

Vinyl Gear 101 - Putting together a stereo system to play vinyl

This can be a little confusing to a person new to turntables. The simple way to check for compatibility is to check if the amp or speaker input has a “Phono” label. If it doesn’t, either the turntable requires a built-in pre-amp or an external unit will be needed.

Amplifier with phono input

External pre-amplifier

phono pre-amp

Speaker setup:

There are basically 2 types of stereo speakers – passive and powered. A passive speaker requires an amplifier to increase the signal power to drive the speaker. For a system with a high-end turntable, this is the typically preferred setup. However, modern powered speakers can enable a smaller system footprint while providing reasonable sound quality.

As mentioned above, the system configuration may or may not require an amp+pre-amp setup. How you choose to set up your system can depend on your budget, existing components, and sound quality requirements. Two of the more simple options would be to purchase a turntable with a built-in pre-amp and connecting to an amplifier with passive speakers or directly to powered speakers.

Where to Place Your New Turntable:

A record player should be isolated from outside vibrations as much as possible. Any oscillation of the needle caused by movement of the tonearm can result in poor playback or even skipping. There are several factors to consider when setting up your system to improve vibration isolation and get the best possible results.

  • Platter mass and leveling – most quality turntables have high-mass platters that provide a solid base to prevent oscillation of the record. Typically there will also be a rubber (or other material) mat to provide further isolation. This isn’t always required – for example for an acrylic platter. The turntable also typically rests on adjustable rubber feet. This allows for proper leveling and further dampening of any outside vibrations.
  • Even with a high quality turntable set up properly, the placement of the unit is important. It is best to have a relatively heavy and stable base to rest it on. Typically it is best to have a stable floor stand, but a solid shelf or top of a stereo cabinet can also work. I would not recommend placing the turntable on top of your amplifier.
  • It is strongly recommended not to place any speakers on the same platform that supports the turntable. The strong vibrations from the speakers can have a very negative effect on the playback. Similarly, if a sub-woofer is utilized, it is best to keep it far from the turntable to prevent any vibration effects.

record player setup with stereo

While this is a nice compact setup, the speaker is probably too close to the turntable

Turntable Setup : In Depth

In addition to the basic component selection and placement described above, for most better turntables there may be some additional “tuning” required to get proper performance. While there are many very good turntables that require little adjustment, many of the high-end audiophile units require some additional “tweaking” to perform properly.

The following video gives a good overview of the typical setup procedures. Of course, make sure you are following the manufacturing recommendations prior to making any further adjustments.

Very Detailed Turntable Setup for Beginners

In Conclusion – Go For It!

Whether you are just starting out with only a few records, or you have a large collection and want to upgrade your record player, now is a good time. With the resurgence of the hobby there is no better time to make a investment in something fun. And records are fun – aesthetically pleasing and with more physical presence than digital forms. Vinyl records have a historical significance as one of the earliest forms of musical recording. It’s analog purity, the warmth of sound, is difficult to recreate in any other way.

A good quality turntable is critical to fully enjoy the depth and clarity of these recordings. Although there are many options, we don’t think you can go wrong with the choices we are showing below for turntables priced under $1000. These are some of the best value vinyl record players available and should fit well into anyone’s stereo system.

PictureBrand / ModelPricePlatter DriveCartridge IncludedUSB / BluetoothSpeedsPre-Amp
Audio-Technica AT-LP60X-BK $90-$120 (multiple colors)Belt-drive
Automatic
ATN3600LBluetooth optional on AT-LP60XBT-BK33 1/3, 45
Automatic
Yes
Sony PS-LX310BT$150Belt-drive
Automatic
AT3600Both33 1/3, 45Yes (switchable)
Teac TN-300SE-WA$170-$300 (walnut plinth)Belt-drive
Manual
AT95E VMUSB33 1/3, 45Yes (switchable)
Audio-Technica AT-LP120X-USB$225 (multiple colors)Direct-drive
Automatic
AT-VM95EUSB33 1/3, 45, 78
Automatic
Yes
U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus$300 (multiple colors)
External belt-drive
Manual
Ortofon OM5ENone33 1/3, 45Optional
($380)
Music Hall MMF-1.5$350Belt-drive
Manual
Music Hall MelodyNone33 1/3, 45, 78Yes
Denon DP-400$400Belt-drive
Semi-autom
DSN-85No33 1/3, 45, 78Yes (switchable)
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC$400-$460 (multiple colors)Belt-drive
Manual
Ortofon 2M RedNone33 1/3, 45No
Rega RP1$450Belt-drive
Manual
Rega CarbonNone33 1/3, 45
Manual
No
Rega Planar 2$670Belt-drive
Manual
Carbon MMNone33 1/3, 45No

 

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