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Parts of a Turntable – How Do Record Players Work?

HiFi Record Player - Vinyl Turntable

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Over the course of my audiophile journey, I have come across a wide range of sound and video equipment.

Each of these offers a rather unique way of producing high-quality sound or image. But one that truly fascinates me (and the audiophile community overall) is the turntable. 

It’s fancy, it is unique, and it is old-school, yet it gives off a rather unique and incomparable sound quality. With a wide range of electrical and mechanical parts within, the turntable is still a piece of technology that offers improved sound, feel, and aesthetics.

After all, I believe that there is something magical about mechanical sound production that electrical production simply can’t beat. 

In this article, I will go over the anatomy of a turntable and how it produces sound to help you understand why I am in love with this technology.

Furthermore, I will also discuss the difference between hi-fi speaker output and the output of a turntable in detail for you to make a “sound” decision.

How Do Record Players Work?

Vinyl records are played using a turntable, which is a spinning platform that the record rests on while being played.

The bottom of the turntable is usually made of metal or another heavy material to keep it from moving around while in use. 

Crosley turntable
Crosley Turntable Record Player | JumpStory

The platter, which is the flat, circular piece that the vinyl record rests on, is spun by a motor. This motor is controlled by a speed selector switch, which allows you to choose between different playback speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. 

A Closer Look

Most turntables also have a cueing lever, which is used to raise and lower the stylus onto the record. The cueing lever ensures that the stylus is properly placed on the record before playback begins.

The stylus, also known as the needle, is the small, diamond-tipped part of the turntable that makes contact with the vinyl record. The vibrations created by the stylus as it moves along the grooves of the record are converted into electrical signals by a cartridge

The cartridge is a small device that contains magnets and coils of wire. These magnets and coils convert the mechanical energy of the stylus vibrations into electrical energy.

The electrical signals from the cartridge are then amplified by a preamp and sent to a speaker, which converts the electrical signals back into sound waves. 

Types of Record Players

There are two types of turntables: digital and analog. Analog turntables are the most common type of turntable and are the ones typically used by DJs.

Digital turntables convert the analog signal from the cartridge into a digital signal, which is then sent to a digital-to-analog converter (DAC).

The DAC converts the digital signal back into an analog signal. This signal then gets amplified and sent to the speaker. 

Turntable Record Player platter
Turntable Record Player Platter | Make Life Click

Components of a Record Player

Turntable: The turntable is the spinning platform that the record rests on while being played. The bottom of the turntable is usually made of metal or another heavy material to keep it from moving around while in use. 

  • Platter: The platter is the flat, circular piece that the vinyl record rests on. The platter is spun by a motor, which is controlled by a speed selector switch. 
  • Speed Selector Switch: The speed selector switch is used to choose between different playback speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. 
  • Cueing Lever: Most turntables have a cueing lever, which is used to raise and lower the stylus onto the record. The cueing lever ensures that the stylus is properly placed on the record before playback begins. 
  • Stylus: The stylus, also known as the needle, is the small, diamond-tipped part of the turntable that makes contact with the vinyl record. The vibrations created by the stylus as it moves along the grooves of the record are converted into electrical signals by a cartridge. 
  • Cartridge: The cartridge is a small device that contains magnets and coils of wire. These magnets and coils convert the mechanical energy of the stylus vibrations into electrical energy. 
  • Preamp: The electrical signals from the cartridge are then amplified by a preamp and sent to a speaker, which converts the electrical signals back into sound waves. 
  • Speaker: A speaker is a device that converts electrical signals into sound waves. 
  • RPM Adaptor: The RPM adapter is a small device that allows you to change the speed at which the record is played. This is usually done by DJs when they want to play a record at a different speed than the standard 45 RPM. 
  • Pop-up Light: The pop-up light is a small light that is used to illuminate the vinyl record while it is being played. This allows you to see the grooves of the record as it is being played. 
  • Headshell: The headshell is the part of the turntable that holds the cartridge in place. The headshell is usually made of metal or plastic and has four screws that hold the cartridge in place. 
  • Tone Arm: The tonearm is the long, thin arm that holds the cartridge in place and allows it to move across the record. The tonearm is usually made of metal or plastic and has a counterweight at the end that helps to keep the stylus in contact with the record. 
  • Anti-skate Adjustment: The anti-skate adjustment is a knob that is used to adjust the amount of pressure that the stylus exerts on the vinyl record. This is important because too much pressure can damage the record. 
  • Pitch Controller: The pitch control is a knob that is used to change the speed at which the record is played. This is usually done by DJs when they want to play a record at a different speed than the standard 45 RPM. 
  • Stop/Start Button: The stop/start button is used to stop the record from playing and to start the record again. 
  • Quartz Lock: The quartz lock is a feature on some turntables that allows you to lock the speed of the motor so that it does not fluctuate. This lock ensures that the record is played at the correct speed. 
  • Belt Drive or Direct Drive: The belt drive or direct drive is the part of the turntable that spins the platter. The belt drive uses a belt to spin the platter, while the direct drive spins the platter directly. 
  • Pitch Fader: The pitch fader is a knob that is used to change the speed at which the record is played. This is usually done by DJs when they want to play a record at a different speed than the standard 45 RPM. 
  • Headphone Jack: The headphone jack is used to connect headphones to the turntable so that you can listen to music without disturbing others. 
  • RCA Outputs: The RCA outputs are used to connect the turntable to a speaker or amplifier. 
  • Ground Wire: The ground wire is used to reduce static electricity. Static electricity can damage the stylus and the vinyl record. 
Turntable Record Player
Denon Turntable Record Player | Make Life Click

Difference Between Analog & Digital Record Players

Analog record players use a stylus to read the grooves of a vinyl record (they are more mechanical than electrical), while digital record players use a laser to read the pits and lands of a CD or DVD.

These record players are generally considered to provide better sound quality than digital record players, but they are also more expensive and require more care and maintenance. 

Digital record players are more convenient than analog record players because they do not require a stylus or cartridge, and they can be used with any type of audio file.

DJ turntables are designed for use in clubs and other venues where music is played loudly. They have a higher-quality sound system and a heavier platter that helps to reduce vibration.

DJ turntables also have pitch control so that the DJ can change the speed of the record. 

All this shows just how complex yet satisfying turntables can be. While there are a lot of components within, because of their mechanical nature and easy placement, you can also easily repair or replace them to continue listening to music and feeling good! 

A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.


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