There’s something magical about vinyl players that captivates your eyes and ears and makes you lose track of time. Maybe it’s the spinning of the record that puts a hypnosis-like spell that soothes the mind and soul or the crackling sound of nostalgia that warms the heart. Or maybe it’s the deep, rich sound that allows you to connect with music on a higher level and consume it the way it was meant to be consumed.
Vinyl record players are a hot topic right now and you often hear things like ‘vinyl is back’ and ‘vinyl records are making a comeback. However, any seasoned melophile, audiophile or DJ will tell you that they’ve never left the scene. From Thomas Edison’s phonograph to Dual’s stereo playback turntables all the way to the legendary SL-1200 decks, and everything between and beyond, record players just kept getting more sophisticated with time.
What Makes Record Players so Special?
If you’re new to the vinyl world you may be wondering whether buying a record player is worth it. To be honest, your scepticism is well-founded because owning such a precious analogue toy comes at a certain price. But hey, they don’t say that home is where the record player is for nothing. This delightfully intricate device will change how you experience music forever. Yes, how you experience, not listen because vinyl record players offer auditory, visual and tactile input.
Unlike audiophile cables that offer subtle sound differences evident only to the trained ear, vinyl players offer much more apparent sound warmth, richness and depth. The stylus that resists against the record translates every single part of the grooves resulting in a greater quality of sound that can be perceived far more easily.
Then, there’s the very intriguing visual aspect that adds even more flair to the attraction. In contrast to digital formats and technology, vinyl record players captivate the eye with the distinctive features and mechanisms that you can see and observe. From the spinning record to the sliding stylus, seeing a vinyl player in work is quite a treat for the eyes. Of course, apart from the player itself, there are the vinyl records and their artworks, something that only adds to the overall aesthetic experience.
Last but not least, much like musical instruments, record players require engagement to function. Instead of just hitting play on your phone, laptop or tablet, you need to place the record on the platter, switch on the device, adjust the lever, move the tonearm… plenty of satisfying steps that make you feel closer to music.
Why Vinyl Sounds Better Than Digital?
Since you’re probably more interested in the difference in sound, let’s have a closer look at why, for most people, analogue triumphs over digital. It’s not a hipster or elitist whim, there’s an explanation why record players actually sound better. As you already know, the vinyl record is etched with grooves, those thin lines where the music is stored. Now, the vinyl player is specially designed to accurately read these physical etchings and translate them into sound.
Unlike digital technology where the soundwaves are translated from digital to analogue, this is an end-to-end process from recording to playback. With analogue technology, the data isn’t compressed which means less information is lost in the process of reproduction, resulting in playback that’s closer to the original recording played in the studio. The unmistakable warmth, richness and depth mentioned earlier are due to this lossless reproduction.
Choosing Your First Vinyl Player
Ready to embark on your vinyl sound journey? Before heading out to the store, there are a few things to consider that’ll help you make an informed choice. Although there are record players for sale even in the £100–200 range, cheaper decks are notorious for destroying vinyl records. If you’re fond of your vinyl collection, it might be better to spare a few hundred more to ensure it will sound great, keep your records safe and provide years of trouble-free grooving. Typically, high-quality turntables start at around £500 and go way up to dizzying six figures.
Belt-Drive vs Direct-Drive
But is the price the only thing to consider? Of course not. Even if you spend thousands of dollars, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make the right decision. See, there are different types of decks out there and your choice should mainly depend on the type of listening you’re planning to do. For instance, audiophiles are more concerned with getting the best sound possible, so they may opt for a belt-drive turntable. Belt-drive turntables, as the name suggests, feature an elastic belt that spins the platter. Since the elastic belt acts as a shield against vibrations, it makes the playback quieter and precise.
Although they’re said to deliver better sound quality, belt-drive decks are rarely a choice of DJs because they have less accurate playback speeds and less torque. DJs also need more durability since the art of mixing and scratching combined with the frequent travelling from gig to gig can take their toll on the belt-drive components.
Direct-drive turntables are built to last the rigours of DJing. The platter of these decks directly connects to the motor allowing for greater speed accuracy. This is very important for DJs who sometimes need to match the speeds of records with digital files. However, since there’s nothing to dampen the vibration from the motor, the sound quality may not be as good.
Once you have your priorities and price range set, you can start the hunt for your first vinyl player. To narrow down your search, here are two top-performing decks, perfect for any beginner who’s getting serious about vinyl.
Debut Carbon Evo
If you’re in for an entry-level, budget-friendly yet great-sounding device, you should check out the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO, the successor of the multi-award-winning Debut Carbon turntable. The Debut Carbon EVO is a manual, hi-fi player delivering top-class audio performance for an affordable price. Moreover, this well-built machine holds great aesthetic value and works a treat as a centre-stage in any home. Easy to set up and use, the Debut Carbon Evo is a fantastic choice for any serious vinyl enthusiast who’s just dipping their toes into the analogue waters.
The X1 player is yet another great Pro-Ject piece that won’t drain your wallet. Minimalistic in appearance, with a focus on core components, the X1 offers the ultimate bang for the buck. The X1 is, in fact, the latest version of Pro-Ject’s original vinyl player, standing the test of time for nearly three decades. If you’re after an audiophile-grade deck from the £800–1000 range, the X1 undoubtedly deserves a place on your shortlist.
With that being said, you’re now ready to hit your local hi-fi equipment store to meet some decks in person or shop online from the convenience of your own home.