When you’re not satisfied with the sound of your turntable, it’s easy to assume that everything sucks. And with that logic, you can believe that a new turntable will magically solve your problem. But you need to focus on a different upgrade: your speakers.
Warning: This article is intended for beginners.
Why does your turntable sound bad?
Turntables and turntables contain dozens of components. And, unsurprisingly, each of these parts contributes to the overall sound quality of your setup. That’s why hardcore audio nerds obsess over cartridges, cymbals, tonearms, and motors.
But here’s the thing; if he’s a novice record collector, his speakers are probably the weakest link in his setup. And until it has a good pair of speakers (plus a decent amp), turntable upgrades from it won’t bring a significant increase in audio quality.
This is especially true if you’re using a turntable’s built-in speakers. Turntables are vulnerable to vibration, so their built-in speakers can’t be very loud or bassy. Built-in speakers also tend to be very cheap and small, of course.
But what if you’re using a set of external speakers? If that’s the case, I’d suggest doing a quick test of those speakers with your phone; Obviously a phone sounds different than a record player, but this will give you a decent idea if your speakers are the problem. (Note that a turntable’s headphone jack is not designed for full-size speakers. You must use the turntable’s LINE or PHONO outputs.)
Obviously, if your turntable isn’t playing records properly, a mechanical component is to blame. The strap, tonearm, and cartridge are the most likely suspects: straps and cartridges wear out, and the tonearms need to be balanced if they don’t move properly.
Speaker upgrades are easy and worth it
A new set of speakers is always a good investment. Not only will they improve the sound quality of your turntable, but you can also use them with other audio sources, including your TV, phone, cassette player, or radio. And unless you abuse a set of speakers, they should last for decades – the same can’t be said for other audio upgrades!
Now, if you’re on a budget, I suggest you go for a set of motorized Speakers; that’s a fancy way of saying “speakers with a built-in amplifier”. Modern turntables only offer PHONO and LINE outputs, both of which require amplification; if your turntable only has a PHONO output, you’ll also need a preamp (or an active speaker with a PHONO input).
There are plenty of powered speakers to choose from. Most people buy bookshelf speakers, though you should also look into soundbars, which tend to offer better bang for your buck. After all, sound bars often have multiple audio inputs (including Bluetooth) and can even come with a subwoofer. (Whatever you do, check that the inputs of a powered speaker match the outputs of your turntable.)
But if you want to create a more “professional” listening environment, you should skip the powered speakers. Instead, buy a set of passive speakers and a dedicated audio receiver: the receiver will contain an amplifier, radio tuner, various inputs and outputs, adjustable equalizer settings, plus other essential goodies. It’s basically an all-in-one controller for your hi-fi setup.
Keep in mind that audio receivers can be very expensive and hooking up a suitable hifi system is not always an easy task. That said, if you’re trying to do this on the cheap, you can find a set of passive speakers and receiver for under $100 at just about any thrift store, flea market, or garage sale. (I use a nice Onkyo receiver that a walk-in clinic left near their dumpster. This stuff is easy to find if you have time to look for it.)
VIZIO V-Series 2.1 Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer
This affordable VIZIO sound bar comes with a wireless subwoofer. Connect it to your TV via HDMI and connect your turntable via AUX cable. It even comes with RCA to AUX cables, which are perfect for your turntable!
Do not neglect cleaning or maintenance
This article is intended for beginners and I don’t want to give you wrong ideas. Your speakers (and amp) are important, but your turntable still has a huge impact on sound quality. This is why cleaning and maintenance are so important.
You must clean your vinyl records to preserve their fidelity Y Keep dust off your turntable stylus. Over time, a stylus will wear out, requiring the entire cartridge to be replaced; dirt, dust, and sand will speed up this process. A stylus brush will help keep the “stylus” clean, and when your stylus wears out, think of it as an opportunity to purchase a higher-quality cartridge. (Just make sure you find a cartridge that fits your turntable’s tonearm.)
And unless you have a direct drive turntable, you’ll need to replace your turntable’s belt every few years. A worn or stretched belt can present all kinds of problems, such as skipping, stopping, or strange changes in playback speed.
Keep in mind that while minor upgrades to your turntable are never a bad idea, they can be a bad investment. If you’re using a really cheap turntable, upgrading to a higher quality turntable will provide a more noticeable increase in sound quality. (Again, this boost is only noticeable if you’re using decent speakers.)