Turntable vs. Record player: (We Explain the Difference)

Playing vinyl records is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have. If you’re into vinyl records, you may have faced the dilemma of having to choose between a turntable or a record player. So, are they different? 

While turntables are the main part of record players, they can be standalone units. However, they need external amps or speakers. Turntables are compact, portable, and upgradeable, whereas record players are bulky, stationary, and non-upgradeable. However, record players often have more features.

Keep reading this article to learn more about the differences between turntables and record players. We’ll go over each one in detail to help you make an educated choice. 

Are Turntable and Record Players the Same?

Turntables and record players aren’t the same, yet they work similarly. While both spin the records and use a cartridge to read the musical footprints carved onto them, turntables can’t play music independently. Conversely, record players have all they need for outputting music and even more.

Here are some pros and cons of both devices to consider when you’re trying to figure out which one suits you best: 

Turntable

Pros

  • Easy to upgrade 
  • Customizable 
  • Portable 
  • Unlimited sound quality potential
  • Portable  

Cons

  • Require maintenance 
  • Can be expensive  
  • Require additional components to set up

Record Player

Pros

  • Can work standalone
  • Lots of additional functions
  • Budget-friendly 
  • Stylish

Cons

  • Sound quality may degrade over time
  • Large and stationary
  • Require care
  • Little upgrading potential   

What Is a Turntable?

You may have seen turntables as one of the main components of record players, but as we said, they’re purchasable as standalone units too. 

A standalone turntable unit is a device for playing musical records. It’s made of components like a stylus, cartridge, and tonearm, but it doesn’t have any built-in speaker or amplifier. However, turntables are highly customizable, allowing you to enhance the sound quality.

How Many Vinyl Records Are Sold Eac...
How Many Vinyl Records Are Sold Each Year?

The biggest drawback of turntables is the lack of built-in speakers or amplifiers, but it can also be seen as their most significant advantage! 

The lack of any components reduces their size and weight, making them even more convenient to carry around, leading to their higher customization potential. 

Consequently, you’re free to add different components from the brands you prefer. Your options are literally endless. By choosing the right parts, you can improve the sound quality. As you know, built-in speakers and amps are no rival for external ones. 

And while a turntable has limited features to offer compared to the record players, you can “scratch” them — something you can’t do on record players. Scratching is a technique used by DJs and turntablists in which they move the vinyl record back and forth to produce percussive or rhythmic sounds. 

A turntable gives you the freedom to add any device and use it for different aims, but it all comes at a cost. While the turntable itself can be cheap, adding those external and high-quality components can significantly increase your expenses.

The Components of a Turntable 

A traditional turntable setup requires a preamp, an amplifier, and speakers for playing vinyl. Note that all these components are standalone units. 

The turntable reads the records, and the preamp boosts the signal. The amplifier also strengthens the signal, and the speakers transform it into music you can hear.

However, a turntable has more components. Although the parts in question vary by model, these are the most common ones found in almost every turntable:

  • Plinth: It’s the foundation of the turntable and supports the other components by separating them mechanically. So, ideally, it’s best if it’s made of heavy metal.
  • Tonearm: It’s the part of a turntable that grips the cartridge and moves it on the records while playing. One end of it is connected to the plinth.
  • Stylus: commonly called the “needle,” the stylus gets into the carved grooves on records and reads them. It’s ideally made from diamond, but, most commonly, it’s made of sapphire.
  • Platter: This is the part of the turntable that the records are placed on. This spinning surface plays a vital role in turntables. It maintains a consistent speed and prevents undesired vibrations.
  • Cartridge: It’s an electro-mechanical device translating what’s in the record’s grooves into an electrical signal that turns into music by amplification.
  • Speed selector: This component allows you to select at what speed the turntable spins. It will enable the turntable to spin and play music at 33 RPM (rotations per minute), 45 RPM, and occasionally 78 RPM. 

Some turntables also have a preamp and produce line signals, while a turntable without a preamp produces phono signals. 

Turntables allow you to change or upgrade some components to add the required parts. For example, you can change/upgrade the stylus or cartridge whenever you want. The stylus can wear out over time, and upgrading the cartridge can improve sound quality. 

Besides, most turntables allow you to adjust the cartridge alignment, the stylus downforce, and anti-skate. Such adjustments can make the turntable deliver the optimal sound quality and reduce the wear and tear of your records.

How a Turntable Works 

As the name suggests, a turntable turns. It has a belt drive or direct drive motor that makes the platter that holds the record turn with it. Then when you place the stylus or needle on the record, it catches into the carved grooves on its surface. 

These grooves, which appear as rings on the record, are pressed into it when it’s created. The stylus then reads these grooves and translates them into soundwaves (or phono signals) that go through the preamp to get amplified. 

The audio signal is the electrical translation of vibrations from the record. It’s too weak to go into the speaker before amplification.

That’s why they need other components. A turntable can’t play any music by itself. It needs a built-in or external preamp to boost the phono signal coming from the turntable. The preamp boosts it to a line-level frequency to make it usable by the amp.

Then the signal is sent to an amplifier for further boosting, and finally, speakers output music as we know it.

The speed at which a vinyl record is played is also critical — that’s why they’ve got a speed selector. This depends on the speed at which the record is originally “cut.” Most of them are either 33.5 RPM or 45 RPM. The older ones sometimes run at 78 RPM. 

What Is a Record Player? 

A record player is a comprehensive audio system setup equipped with built-in speakers, amplifiers, and a turntable. Besides, it comes with many additional features that allow it to play different file formats, including MP3, CD, radio, etc.

Record players aren’t just simple players; they’re comprehensive systems with many components and functional features. They have their own built-in speakers and amplifiers, plus a turntable. So, basically, there’s no need to pay extra cash to buy additional components. 

While these built-in components mean lower sound quality, they can suffice for most people to enjoy their music. However, most record player models allow you to use external components like preamps and speakers to improve sound quality.

Besides, a record player offers convenience. You just need to plug it in and enjoy the music directly out of the box — no setup required. That’s why they’re usually budget-friendly unless you want extra functions, have an external preamp, or prefer high-end models.

What’s more, record players have a lot of additional features in one place. For example, they can play a wide range of different formats, from MP3 and CD to AM/FM radio. Some can even copy the vinyl records to MP3 files or a CD. 

However, record players are usually hefty devices that can’t be moved or carried easily. The inclusion of all those built-in components has turned them into large musical devices that occupy a lot of space. That’s why you typically set and forget them.

Another drawback of record players is that you can’t use them for scratching.

The Components of a Record Player

Record players also come with a plinth, tonearm, stylus, platter, cartridge, and speed selector. But there’s more.

Record players also have built-in preamps, amplifiers, and speakers. Since they’re all included in the box, you won’t need additional boxes or cables to play records. This feature poses some limitations regarding changing or upgrading the components or adjusting the cartridge and stylus. 

Some modern record players have additional features that turn them into an all-inclusive audio entertainment set. Here are a few of those features:

  • Built-in CD drives
  • Cassette players
  • USB ports
  • Bluetooth
  • AM/FM radio

You can even see record players equipped with audio converters and recorders, which allow professional musicians to record audio files and transfer them from vinyl to digital devices. 

How a Record Player Works

The basics of a record player are almost the same as a turntable. All those steps we mentioned above happen behind the scenes, and all you have to do to enjoy music is plug the record player in. 

As mentioned, record players have all their required parts in one place and don’t need additional devices like speakers or amplifiers. Thus, once you power it on and place a record on its platter, the turntable does its job, and the produced signal is then amplified and heard from the speakers.

The Difference Between a Turntable and a Record Player

The main difference between a turntable and a record player is that a record player is an all-inclusive device. Turntables are only the main part of a record player and can’t play music without additional hardware. That’s because turntables don’t have built-in speakers and amplifiers. 

This lack of built-in speakers and amplifiers leads to another key difference between the two devices — a turntable is small and more compact than a record player, making it much easier to move and carry around. 

Another distinction between the turntable and the record player is the number of features. Turntables have very few features compared to record players. While modern versions of turntables come with Bluetooth, USB, and software, record players have more versatile features like audio converters and recorders. They allow you to mix and play vintage records with modern audio components. 

Turntable vs. Record Player – Which One Is Better? 

You can’t say with certainty which one is better; it heavily depends on what you expect from the device, along with a few other considerations. Besides, both have their own advantages and disadvantages. 

A record player can’t work without the turntable, and a turntable cannot play music without additional devices to output the produced signals. 

Today, many people prefer record players and are quite happy with them. That’s because it’s an all-in-one device that’s ready to play music once it’s plugged in. You don’t need additional devices or a specific setup. Besides, they offer a lot of functions, such as playing different formats and copying vinyl records to CDs.

However, the biggest issue with a record player is the inability to upgrade its components, which usually aren’t of the highest quality — especially the preamp and speakers. Although some models allow you to use external hardware, a good turntable always beats a decent record player. 

That’s why professionals and those who care more about sound quality opt for turntables. They’re highly customizable, allowing the DJs to connect whatever components they want to the turntable to achieve superior sound quality. Besides, turntables are more compact, allowing for better portability.

The final decision, however, depends on your needs and considerations. 

If you just want to enjoy music, get some retro vibes on budget, and don’t care about its large size and lack of portability, a record player can be your friend. But if you want excellent sound quality, have a high budget, and want something portable, only a turntable can satisfy you.

Final Words 

Turntables and record players have their own unique advantages and shortcomings. Look at your needs and consider your budget to make a wise decision. Not all people have sensitive ears. Some of us just want a pleasing retro record player as room decor!