Vintage Turntables Vs Modern: Which Sounds Better?

Records sound the same whether you play them on a vintage turntable or a modern one. Or is that so? The answer comes down to the brand of the turntable, your sound system, and the general state and size of your vinyl.

Vintage turntables differ from modern turntables in terms of ease of use and maintenance. Although many vintage turntable brands still exist, it can be a nuisance to repair them. Limited access to restoring parts may lead to compromising sound quality.

Vintage turntables have appeal to them, as they are full of stories, memories, and emotions connected to them. Modern turntables compensate by being more suitable for this day and age. The sound coming out of them is almost the same. However, the contrast between the two is clear.

Modern Versus Vintage Connections

You can connect modern turntables to all sorts of audio outputs. Speakers that connect via USB or Bluetooth are the most popular choice, as they are accessible via any device. They’re also easy to buy and replace if necessary.

Vintage turntables don’t always have so many speaker options available to them. Historically manufacturers built record players to connect manually with wires to heavy speakers that can take up a lot of space. One thing they do enable is excellent sound quality.

As visually appealing as vintage turntables might be, they can mean a lot of work. Having a specialized repair shop that knows how to fix any broken parts is essential. Although built to last without proper care, these types of turntables could pose more of a problem than enjoyment.

Vintage Turntables

Is there anything more nostalgia-inducing than putting the needle down to a record? Yes, if the turntable playing it has seen more history than you have.

Vintage turntables are steadily growing in popularity. It’s because of the quality of sound these devices emit when they play your most beloved vinyl. It’s also due to their elusiveness and clever marketing strategies.

No matter which category you fall into, you’re bound to have your favorites. The Garrard, the Linn Sondek LP12, the Technics SL-1700 are all examples of fine vintage turntables in fashion in the latter half of the last century. (1)

Companies such as Yamaha, Thorens, and Dual have been making turntables for more than half a century. Mass production and high demand have led them to develop new models over time. This rise paused with the emergence of CDs and the commercialization of popular music.

Music videos gained so much popularity that it seemed as if they’d take over the entire listening experience. Suddenly what’s on the screen became more essential than what comes out of the speaker.

Luckily, real music lovers never stopped digging through crates in search of good tunes. The feeling of putting the vinyl to play is like nothing else.

Vintage turntables are making such a comeback in recent years for a reason. Wax is re-gaining on value, and record shops are popping up in cities all over the world. But how did turntables come into existence in the first place?

History of Turntables

Turntables have been around longer than any of the devices we use to play music. It all started with Edison’s invention of the phonograph back in the 19th century. He managed to find a way to document the vibrations produced by his voice onto tin foil. (2)

This foil was the predecessor of records – manufacturers engraved the sound into its surface in various grooves. Later designs contained different materials, such as wax, which was easier to handle, and the sound came out cleaner. (2)

The introduction of the first gramophone by a German company called Berliner occurred not long after. Two people-powered it manually: one person cranked the lever, and the other held the machine for stability. The disc could be pressed into many copies after it was treated with acid. (2)

The introduction of the turntable as a household item got sidetracked with the popularity of the radio. It was simpler to use, it broadcasted both the music and the news, and its price was more affordable.

Those who still wanted immersion in their music would gather to play records. Turning the knobs to tune into a radio station doesn’t play the next song you want. No matter how much you try.

Spending evenings surrounded by friends with the perfect soundtrack came to be an art in itself. Not everyone could figure out how to manage a record player and produce the desired sound.

Turntables became even more sought-after during the 1970s with the rise of new music genres, playing styles, and trends. Records started getting sampled, DJing turned into an art, and hip-hop was born.

You can read more about the history of turntables and vinyl in the following article that I wrote.

Turntablism

The turntablist is one of the three distinguished types of turntable artists. The other two are the DJ and the turntable materialist. They differ from one another based on the number of hours spent practicing mixing, sampling, and scratching. (3)

Scratching as we know it today was first discovered by accident by Theodore Livingston (Grand Wizzard Theodore) back in 1977. The record is moved back and forth in a specific spot in this technique. The turntables back then (which we consider vintage nowadays) had strong motors, which made for easy record movement. (4)

The sound that comes out is broken and re-broken. There’s a danger of damaging the vinyl if incorrect scratching techniques are employed. Some artists thrive to attain the hiss that a damaged record produces. Best to avoid these performances if just reading these words had you wincing.

Turntablists prefer using the Technics SL-1200 more than any other turntable because of the strength of its motor. They tend to spend hours getting to know the machine they’re working with to manipulate their sound as they choose to. (3)

Other techniques, such as crossfading and mixing, were also invented during this period. A crossfader connected two turntables, so switching between them was seamless. DJ battles became a fad too, and the audience wanted more out of turntables. (4)

Jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock started using turntables, as well as disco artists. This movement gave way to a whole new array of experimenting with music genres such as house, electro, or metal. Turntables became a sort of bridge between classic and contemporary forms of music. (4)

Live music stopped meaning seeing a band playing or hearing a singer singing. The traditional elements intertwined with growing expectations the audience was having. These new trends gave rise to the production of brand-new kinds of turntables.

Modern Turntables

Modern turntables came together with the high demand for this way of playing music. Once forgotten in a sea of iPods, walkmans, and CDs, turntables have made quite a comeback in the last decade or so.

Depending on your intentions with your vinyl collections, there’s a myriad of options to choose from for playback. If you want to embark on a sonic adventure, you might be interested in brands such as Pro-Ject or Rega Planar. Though pricey, these turntables offer the best sound quality there is.

Yet, if your goal is to digitize your 45s, look into what Sony has to offer. You can have their record player connected to almost any kind of speaker you’ve got on your hands. Don’t expect to be blown away by the sound – its primary function is to bring your records to the 21st century.

Forget about wires that connect your turntable to the speakers and the amps. Turn Bluetooth on your smart speakers and allow yourself to feel the music. Remember: the better the speakers, the better the sound.

The critical thing to take away from here is that modern turntables will deliver that caliber of sound, as vintage turntables do. They will take you there using a different route, as they vary in production methodology and sizes.

If there’s an issue with your turntable’s sound output, chances are the solution isn’t far away. Try replacing the cartridge instead of buying it all anew. A hand-me-down cartridge can wear out your records, even if your turntable isn’t low grade.

If you’ve wanted to grow your connection to vinyl, but you’re not sure where to start from, look no further. Choose a modern turntable to get yourself re-acquainted with your most precious memories.

Best Modern Turntables for Beginners in 2021

According to Wired.com (5), here’s a list of beginner-friendly turntables, ranked from least to most expensive:

Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT

Audio-Technica’s LP-60 pairs with any speaker via Bluetooth or plugs into a stereo. It’s reasonably priced, making it ideal for entry-level turntable enthusiasts to-be.

Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT-BK Fully Automatic Wireless Belt-Drive Turntable (Black) (ATLP60XBTBK)

Sony PS-LX310BT

Inexpensive doesn’t have to mean inadequate. Sony’s turntable proves so with its USB and Bluetooth plugins. Rip your favorite records to your PC with this great piece of technology.

Sony PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Turntable: Fully Automatic Wireless Vinyl Record Player with Bluetooth and USB Output Black

Fluance RT81 Turntable

A turntable Don Draper would approve of comes with a built-in preamp at a pretty reasonable price. Its pleasing wooden exterior makes for a great addition to any living or lounging area.

Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity Vinyl Turntable Record Player with Audio Technica AT95E Cartridge, Belt Drive, Built-in Preamp, Adjustable Counterweight, Solid Wood Plinth - Walnut

Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB

This model offers a USB port to allow you to convert your music from analog to digital on your own. The pricing is fair at Amazon, and it comes with a preamp. It’s easy to have it upgraded, and the quality of sound is impressive.

Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB-BK Direct-Drive Turntable (Analog & USB), Fully Manual, Hi-Fi, 3 Speed, Convert Vinyl to Digital, Anti-Skate and Variable Pitch Control Black

U-Turn Orbit Plus

With a look reminiscent of The Jetsons, the Orbit Plus will be sure to take you on a journey. It’s not necessarily a long one; you’ll have to switch between your 33s and 45s by moving its belt manually.

U-Turn Audio - Orbit Plus Turntable (Black)

Rega Planar 1

The sleek look of this turntable matches the enjoyable vibrations coming out of it. It has a unique motor that guarantees a pure sound, making it well worth every penny.

Rega - Planar 1 (Black)

Pro-Ject Audio Debut Carbon Evo

One of the few models from this list that doesn’t come with a built-in preamp is the Carbon Evo. It has top-notch parts; the tonearm construction is carbon fiber, and the platter is thermoplastic. The attention to detail results in superb sound, and its cost for said sound quality seems pretty reasonable.

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO, Audiophile Turntable with Carbon Fiber tonearm, Electronic Speed Selection and pre-Mounted Sumiko Rainier Phono Cartridge (High Gloss Black)

Pro-Ject Audio Debut Pro

The latter model’s big brother brings in the sound without bringing in the noise. It does so due to its hand-crafted Rainier phono cartridge by Sumiko in addition to the carbon tonearm. It sounds as sharp as it looks, in this case, you definitely get what you pay for.

McIntosh MTI100

An all-encompassing turntable, to say the least; McIntosh’s MTI100 comes with a price. The price is fairly high, although if you look at the brand it might be an indication of why the cost seems inflated. There is no need for any extra purchases though as it comes with a tube preamp and a power amp ready to blast your socks off. At the time of writing you cant buy McIntosh online, but you can find your local dealer here.

All of the modern turntables from this list will have you enjoying your all-time favorite musicians in a brand new way. Get ready to be re-acquainted with some albums by hearing sounds you might have missed. The crispness of sound these turntables produce is a force to be reckoned with, for sure.

Just because a turntable doesn’t cost a fortune, it doesn’t mean that it won’t do its job. But is there an alternative that gets you that little extra for just a few extra bucks?

Does a More Expensive Turntable Guarantee a Better Sound?

There are so many turntables to choose from; it can be tricky to figure out which one is for you. They come in different sizes, some weigh more than others, and some cost way more than others. But are they worth it?

The short answer is yes, they are. A high-quality sound system consists of many things, including the (pre)amps, speakers, turntables, tonearms, and cartridges. (6)

A set that doesn’t have good parts can damage the records you’re playing. It’s essential to invest in a sound system or build it little by little. It’s better to get used to simpler turntables than to use a more complex and pricier one in the wrong way. (6)

Speakers

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the speakers you connect to your turntable. Invest in speakers that don’t cost a fortune but go the extra mile. Make sure that the turntable communicates with them accordingly.

It’s needless to say that there are turntables on the market that cost a few thousand dollars. And they do the job they’re supposed to – the sound that they produce is unforgettable. They are an investment on their own and require regular care.

If you cannot afford this at the minute, don’t fret. There are plenty of reasonable solutions out there. And they come in style.

Top 5 Vintage Turntables That Won’t Break the Bank

It’s not that likely you’ll find the perfect old turntable just waiting for you in a yard sale or on the internet. Let’s also forget about cheap turntables that double as tiny suitcases for a second here. Here’s a selection by Ecoustics of great vintage turntables that don’t cost as much as the rent. (7)

  1. Technics SL-1700 – a classic among the classics, you can assemble this model in no time. Even if you’re not a pro turntablist, you can replace parts, and the amazing sound is guaranteed. The other turntables from this line cost around $900+, but you can find a used SL-1700 for double the price. Who knows, you might find yourself getting an extra table so that you can play the part.
  2. Thorens TD-125 – built to last, the Thorens TD-125 is famous for more reasons. It’s affordable, looks like a million dollars, and has electronic speed control. Thorens sold more than 100,000 copies of this turntable in 1975, and it’s becoming more sought-after today too. Give it a spin to enjoy its pleasing sound for yourself. 
  3. Dual 701 – a vintage turntable with a straight tonearm, this one is for fans of powerful, rugged tones. It weighs more than 20 lbs and has a motor running at low speed at all times. The Dual 701 is the quintessential vintage turntable with its woody feel. It costs about $600. 
  4. VPI HW-19 – when you first see this record player, you might mistake it for a modern turntable. Don’t be fooled; this model has been around since the 1980s. It’s not easy to find it for under $800, but the unmistakable sound coming out of it is well worth the search.
  5. Yamaha YP-701 – Yamaha is fond of building large turntables, and the YP-701 is no exception. Unlike its looks, use it when playing softer records due to its elegant tone. Pair it with music that has a lot to say without shouting it out. 

Why Vinyl Came Back

There’s been a lot of discussion as to why vinyl came back in style. Music in digital form is easier to use both for listening and playing purposes. DJs playing all sorts of music don’t require training in handling vintage turntables in order to be successful. 

Having an extraordinary record in your hands, removing it from its cover, and placing it on the table has something tangible to it. It’s like a ritual, and you find yourself repeating it with another record. And another. Even though you can’t put your finger on a good tune, you can feel like you’re closer to it. 

Vintage turntables have made us reminisce and slow down. Music shouldn’t be consumed; it should be experienced. It isn’t passive; it’s an active exchange of emotions and vibrations.

Culture is contradictory by default, as it wants what it cannot have. It yearns for the past while keeping an eye out for the future. Exploring the roots of these needs gives solutions on how to better deal with what is right now. 

Cultural Approach To Turntables

Can you imagine your parents dancing with air pods in their ears, jamming to their favorite beats? Or do you see them hanging out with their friends with an unsuspecting turntable in their midst? Stereo sound has made it possible for us to share the music we like with those we love.

Vinyl is unique because of the grooves we feel on its surface. These same grooves are then met by a needle when placed in a turntable. It’s this bond that we sense when our favorite song is playing.

Cassettes could’ve never made it to this century. Not for long, anyway. They were lifeless, complicated, and unattractive. Nobody misses their Walkman these days.

The same goes for CDs. They had an actual use, but we didn’t feel that connected to them. They were a part of the globalized necessity for mass production of music instantaneously. But that’s about it.

Not to mention mp3s, mp4s, iTunes, and all kinds of streaming services where we devote our attention (and money). We know they’re here, at the touch of our fingerprints, but we cannot see them. There’s no intercommunication going on.

It is just the opposite with vinyl. Turntables could never go out of fashion. They were and are a real thing that we cannot help but feel drawn to and intrigued by their operation. We’re fascinated by them, and the more stories they tell, the better.

Modern turntables use this to their advantage. They combine the best out of both worlds. They allow us to explore our sonic curiosities when and how we want to. They even helped create a whole new way of conceptualizing tunes.

Digilog

After the commercialization of CD culture, there was a halt in the alternative music industry. Artists such as Shellac were struggling to get to where they wanted to be. They felt they were missing out, and they were planning on doing something about it. (8)

They were the first band to release their new album both on vinyl and digitally. This move pleased the more modern audience members, as the loyal fans of records sighed with relief. They were able to treat their forgotten turntables with some fresh wax. (8)

More artists came to follow in their tracks, and vinyl sales rose. The cultural exchange between musicians and their most loyal fans could continue. Nobody expected it to go this far, but it did.

Vintage turntables have been dusted off and repaired or sold for a pretty price. Record labels keep pressing records and aren’t stopping doing so anytime soon.

It goes for all genres of music, but mainly electronic and experimental music. Vintage is becoming mainstream, while digital isn’t going away either. The fusion of the two is shaping up as an exciting process everyone can participate in and enjoy.

If you want to buy a ticket to join this voyage, join anytime you want to. Be prepared to know what’s available to you and where you would like to go. It’s an individual choice, after all, and your stance on the subject matters.

There’s a lot to look out for when selecting the best turntable for yourself. It depends on what kind of music you like and expect from your designated music player. There’s one thing you shouldn’t compromise on, though: the quality of sound.

Sound Quality of Vintage vs Modern Turntables

Turntable/Component

Loudness

Consistency

Transition

Recognition

Smoothness

Vintage

high

high

high

high

medium

Modern

high

medium

high

high

high

The best way to see which turntable provides you with the sound you want to hear is to test them out side by side. Drop by a well-equipped record store and listen to the same record on vintage and a modern turntable.

Check for the following components: how loud is the record playing? Is the turntable motor spinning at the same consistency for both of these types of turntables? What about the transition between the songs? Can you recognize each of the sounds with no problems whatsoever? How smoothly is the record being played?

These are just some of the things you should keep in mind before deciding on a turntable. If you know someone who owns a vintage turntable, why not take your favorite record along with you and give it a spin. The same goes for the modern version.

Alternatively, stop by a specialized shop and ask for some guidance. There’s no correct answer here; choose based on what you feel is the best fit for your listening needs.

Breakdown of Modern Turntable Vs Vintage Turntable Sound

It’s safe to say that turntables are not a thing of the past. Demand for vinyl has kept them close to our hearts and ears.

There are many companies still producing turntables. They are user-friendly and offer lots of replacement parts. Combined with today’s tech equipment, you can have the best sound system there is.

It isn’t even that expensive to own a great-sounding system. A modern turntable will be sure to provide you with a grade-A experience if you choose wisely. On the other hand, vintage turntables have a charm you can’t resist.

They can be robust and trickier to handle, but they last. Their sound output depends on the brand, but also the type of music you’re playing.

You cannot go wrong either with a modern or a vintage turntable. You will find rewards with the most authentic sound money you can buy.

Sources

1. https://thevinylfactory.com/features/the-8-best-vintage-turntables-and-what-to-look-out-for-when-buying-second-hand/

2. Todd Souvignier: “The World of DJs and the Turntable Culture,” p.28

3. Takuro Mizuta Lippit: “Turntable Music in the Digital Era: Designing Alternative Tools for New Turntable Expression”

4. Kjetil Falkenberg Hansen: “Turntable Music”, p.4-7

5. https://www.wired.com/gallery/best-turntables/

6. Corpsman, Volume 7, Issue 22, Job Corps., 1971

7. https://www.ecoustics.com/articles/best-vintage-turntables/

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