The vinyl revival over the past few years has been great. We’ve seen vinyl reissues of rare titles that haven’t been available in decades and vinyl sales are at their highest in 20 years. The resurgence has been a great help to independent record stores all around the United Kingdom. Chain stores like HMV have begun selling vinyl again. It’s super cool.
Unfortunately, we’ve also seen a resurgence of cheap turntables. The market has been flooded with “all-in-one” style record players and “briefcase style” turntables from manufacturers like Crosley, ION and Jensen. A visit to HMV, Amazon.co.uk, Argos or Urban Outfitters will show you how these turntables litter the shelves and web pages of online and brick-and-mortar record stores in the UK.
This post is in no way meant to be elitist. It is merely to inform buyers of the potential damage a cheap turntable can cause to their precious vinyl records and how terrible these turntables sound. I hope this post helps you to stay away from cheap new turntables and get something that will get the best sound out of your vinyl records.
What makes cheap turntables so bad?
- The lack of a counterweight.
This is a counterweight. It is there to balance out the tonearm so that all the weight of the tonearm and cartridge do not rest on the record. Modern records can survive hundreds of plays when the counterweight is set correctly. The weight at which the arm rests on the record is known as the tracking weight. The tracking weight of a turntable should be between 1 and 2 grams. A good turntable has one of these. They are adjustable so that the tonearm can be balanced if a new cartridge is added.
This is the tonearm of a cheap turntable.
This is the tonearm of a cheap turntable. It does not have an adjustable counterweight. It has a chunk of plastic. This turntable will grind away at your records at 2-3 times the proper tracking weight. Records begin to sound deteriorated after just 10 plays. You won’t hear it on this turntable though due to its cheap design.
- Built in speakers
Turntables work by amplifying the vibrations made by the stylus (needle) as it rides the groove on the vinyl record. Speakers work by making vibrations. When speakers are built in to the record player you get terrible sound quality, skipping and damage to your records as the stylus bounces up and down in the groove. No decent turntable has built-in speakers.
- Undersized platter
See how the record hangs off the turntable? The tonearm tracking heavily on one side of the platter causes the record to flex and bend while it spins. Again, this results in a loss in sound quality and groove damage to your vinyl records. It also results in the needle skipping over the record. An infamous problem in Crosley, Jensen, 1byone, ION and other brands that import these cheap turntables from China.
- The stylus is the wrong size
The stylus used in these turntables is far to large for modern (60s-present) 33rpm records and far too small for old (pre-1950s old) 78rpm records. The manufacturer chose this stylus to save costs. Turntables should have two different styli to play 33rpm and 78rpm records. In fact, most good turntables don’t even include a 78rpm speed because of all the changes you need to make to play the old format properly. This large stylus causes the turntable to skip over the grooves and damage your records.
- The lack of anti-skate
Anti-skate is a feature on turntables that stops the arm from swinging in towards the center of the record or out towards the outside of the record. If the arms tries to move towards the center or the outside while the record plays it will grind away one side of the groove while it plays. Anti-skate keeps the stylus riding the center of the groove, maximizing sound quality and minimizing damage to your vinyl. Cheap turntables don’t have anti-skate.
Can these flaws be fixed?
No. You can’t fix them all. There is no correct sized stylus that fits on these turntables. You can’t put a bigger platter on these cheap turntables. The motor won’t handle it.
Some have suggested putting a penny on the head of the tonearm to prevent skipping. You should NEVER do this. The added weight will grind your records to a fine vinyl powder in just a few plays.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next post: A list of these cheap turntables that you should avoid.