Kanto’s Turntable Buying Guide
If you’re interested in getting into the world of vinyl but don’t know where to start, this guide will help you make an informed decision about what to look for in a new turntable, how to extract the best performance from it, and how to make sure it lasts.
Parts of a Turntable
Before you start your search, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the various parts of a turntable. Our guide will be easier to follow, and you’ll be better prepared to calibrate your turntable or problem-solve issues if the need arises. Check out our Set Up and Connecting Guide for information about calibrating and troubleshooting your turntable.
All turntables will have these parts:
- Dust cover – Covers most of the turntable so that it doesn’t accumulate dust
- Base (plinth) – The body that houses all the components
- Needle (stylus) and cartridge – Physically sits in the grooves of the record and converts the tiny amount of movement into an electrical signal which can be amplified into sound
- Feet – Isolate the plinth from any vibrations that could be picked up by the sensitive stylus and cartridge
- Platter – What the record sits on while it rotates
- Tonearm – The arm that supports the cartridge and keeps it tracking correctly on the record
- Motor or belt drive – Spins the platter. The motor can be directly connected to the platter (known as direct drive), or the motor can be connected to the platter with a belt (known as belt drive)
- Speed control – Adjusts how fast the platter rotates for records that were recorded at a different speed. Most direct drive turntables will have buttons to adjust speed. Most belt drive turntables require you to move the belt to a different pulley
- Power input or cable – Provides power to the motor or drive and other components to the turntables
- Audio output – Transmits the electrical signal from the stylus and cartridge so it can be amplified. Usually, this is wired directly to the turntable, but some turntables have outputs that you can connect a cable to
Most turntables will have these parts:
- Headshell – The attachment point for the cartridge
- Cue lever – Raises and lowers the tonearm to place the stylus and cartridge on the record and lift it back up to be stored
- Counterweight – Adjusts the amount of force that the stylus and cartridge exert downward on the record, known as vertical tracking force
- Anti-skate weight or bias – Adjusts the amount of force that the stylus and cartridge exert sideways on the record
- Ground cable – Removes any hum that can be introduced by the power cable
Some turntables will have these parts:
- Pitch control – Allows minute adjustment of platter speed which changes pitch. Originally used to correct the speed of poorly recorded records but is now mostly used by DJs to beat match
- Phono pre-amplifier (preamp) – Converts the weak electrical signal that the stylus and cartridge generate into a signal that is sufficiently loud enough for an amplifier to utilize
- Automatic mechanism – Automates the cue lever so that you don’t have to physically touch anything when the record starts playing and when it finishes
What to Look for in a Turntable
Turntables amplify the vibrations stored in the grooves of a record to produce sound. Turntables need to be very sensitive to do this and are susceptible to vibrations. The plinth and platter need to resist vibrations to ensure the only thing you hear is music and not the rumble from the motor, or the vibrations from your speakers.
The easiest way to dampen unwanted vibrations is to add mass, which is why quality turntables use solid, heavy materials for certain parts. Metal, solid wood, carbon, and acrylic are high-quality materials to look out for. Materials with low mass can resonate and add distortion into the audio signal. When it comes to turntables, heavier is almost always better.
The counterweight on a turntable adjusts how much weight the stylus applies to the record. Every cartridge requires a different amount of weight to function correctly, so choosing a turntable with an adjustable counterweight is the safest bet. You can swap to a different cartridge whenever the need arises.
Many budget turntables have a fixed counterweight which means you are stuck with a specific model of cartridge. This may not sound like a big issue, but it can limit your options. The cartridge you require may be discontinued in the future leaving you without a solution if your current cartridge wears out or breaks.
Name brand cartridge
The cartridge has one of the most important jobs on a turntable, converting the vibrations from the record into the electrical signals that your speakers turn into sound. Low-quality cartridges do a poor job of reproducing the music contained on a record and can sound tinny and harsh.
Audio-Technica, Grado, Music Hall, Nagaoka, Ortofon, Rega, and Sumiko are some of the most trusted brands making cartridges. If your turntable has a cartridge made by any of these manufacturers, chances are you’ll be satisfied with how your music sounds. If the turntable manufacturer has made it difficult to determine what type of cartridge is included with their turntable, it is best to look elsewhere.
Turntables We Love
This is the entry point for turntables in our opinion. If you spend less on a turntable, you will be sacrificing one of the three criteria discussed in the previous section. The Orbit Basic sounds great for the price and comes in a variety of colours to match your Kanto speakers. Every U-Turn Orbit is built in Woburn, MA by a small team of engineers and music lovers.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120 is one of the best-selling turntables of the past decade for good reason. The quality of materials and feature set that Audio-Technica is offering for this price is unmatched. The plinth and platter are solid metal, the feet have great isolation from external vibrations, and the motor is precise and torquey.
The only fully automatic turntable on this list. Put a record on, press play, and watch your tonearm move automatically to the record and return when the record is done. The materials and sound quality are good for the price, but you can get similar quality from less expensive turntables without automatic mechanisms.
This turntable features a high-tech carbon fibre tonearm that is super rigid. This stiffness eliminates unwanted resonance found in tonearms made from less premium materials. Combined with the included Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, you get incredible sound rivaling turntables that cost double the price.
REGA is a legendary company known for creating some of the best sounding turntables ever made. The Planar 1 is their current entry-level offering but features technology from their more premium models. The only downside of this turntable is the speed adjustment to switch between 33 rpm and 45 rpm is below the platter making speed changes a bit tedious.
Calibration and Setup
Most new turntables are calibrated at the factory, but it’s a good idea to re-calibrate your turntable when it arrives as it can become uncalibrated during shipping. There are plenty of calibration guides on the internet, but we recommend using this one since it only covers the basics and is simple enough for a beginner to understand:
Turntable Setup Tools
The overall playback and the accuracy of the cartridge are dependent on the surface your turntable is resting on. A quality bubble level will ensure your turntable is perfectly flat.
Isolating and Damping
The stylus and cartridge of a turntable are so sensitive that any amount of vibration, internally or externally, will be added into the signal and cause distortion. Avoid vibrations and resonance by investing in some aftermarket accessories:
The perfect solution to vinyl that is slightly warped. This clamp flattens your record against the platter ensuring your tonearm doesn’t bounce up and down during playback.
The BigBen weight stabilizer is similar to the Clever Clamp but it also adds mass to your system to improve dampening. Keep in mind, adding weight to your platter can increase wear on the bearing and motor, so don’t go too heavy unless your turntable is designed to be extra durable.
Isolate your turntable from external vibrations that speakers and household noise can generate with better feet. Alternatively, you can keep your existing turntable feet and add these under them.
Decouple your speakers from your turntable with stands that sit on your floor or desktop. Keep speaker vibrations to a minimum with freestanding speaker stands. Speaker stands also help to align your speakers with your ears ensuring you get the best sound quality.
Cleaning and Aftercare
If you don’t keep your stylus or records clean, you’ll notice your audio quality degrade over time. Vinyl attracts dust through static electricity and dust covers aren’t enough to prevent dust from finding its way into the grooves of your records and building-up on the stylus. The longer you go without cleaning your gear, the more difficult it becomes to remove. Stay on top of it and your records and gear will last for decades.
A well-priced cleaning kit for both your stylus and records – a Kanto favourite. Includes nearly everything you need to maintain your system. This kit is perfect if you mostly buy new vinyl and want to keep it in great condition.
When your records are too dirty for a standard cleaning kit you need to resort to a deep cleaning kit. This kit is incredibly well thought out with a clamp to prevent labels from getting wet, a rack that allows multiple records to dry at the same time, and a funnel to collect remaining cleaning fluid. A great investment for those that collect older vinyl.
Display and Storage
Improper storage can warp your records and expose them to dust and wear. Protect your collection by keeping your records upright and sleeved so that they don’t wear away at the album jacket.
Store your vinyl in this easy to set up shelf unit. The Kallax series comes in many iterations with options for 4 to 20 cube units, plenty of space for your budding vinyl collection.