If you’ve bought a record player recently, then you’re lucky enough to live in an age where listening to vinyl is as easy as it’s ever been. However, turntables and records still require a little bit more TLC and general know-how than most other listening formats. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy for beginners to make tiny mistakes which can have a huge impact on the quality of their listening experience. To help get your head around the various components of turntables, records and speakers, we’ve put together a nifty little guide focussed on how to use your new record player. We hope this will help you to take good care of your records and keep spinning wax with no worries.
Anatomy of a turntable
Before looking at how to use your record player, it’s important that you understand the basic components of your turntable. Regardless of brand, make, and year, almost every record player shares the same basic components in order to operate the unit. One of the most obvious components here is the turntable itself, also known as the platter, which is the centrepiece of the unit where the record sits and spins around. Platters tend to either be made out of metal or aluminium, and most manufacturers will include a nice little platter mat made out of plastic or felt to avoid any scratches or static which can play havoc on your records.
The arm is one of the most important parts of the record player and contains two essential components needed to play vinyl – the cartridge and the stylus. Also known as the needle, styluses are made out of diamond, and move across the grooves of vinyl records to create vibrations which are picked up by the cartridge, which contains a magnetic field. The cartridge then transforms these vibrations into an electrical signal, allowing it to be amplified through speakers or headphones. If you’re a downright audio junkie and want to pimp out your record players sound, you can replace both these components with a variety of modern and vintage alternatives, with prices ranging from $20 all the way up to $20,000.
Because of the huge role these parts play in processing your audio signal, it’s really important to take care of your record player’s needle and arm. Try to avoid exposing them to dust and liquid as much as possible, and unless you know what you’re doing (let’s face it – you probably don’t), never try to emulate the record scratching sound synonymous with old school hip-hop, because you’ll probably just end up wrecking your needle and disk alike. No matter how well you look after your turntable, you will have to replace your record player’s needle at some point. Usually this is required after about 2,000 hours of listening time, which equates to about 12,000 listens of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”. So unless you’ve bought a vintage record player or you’re just a huge fan of Led Zep, it’s not something to stress about too much.
While many entry-level turntables have them built-in, other record players require a preamp to convert PHONO signals into a line level signal to work with your speakers. This basically acts as the connecting point between your turntable and external speakers with red and white RCA cables, and vary from being simple little input boxes to huge systems which allow for further control over the EQ and tone of your signal. If you’re starting out with vinyl, it’s easiest just to buy a turntable with a built-in preamp, however, it’s definitely worth considering different preamp options if you’re looking at upgrading your setup at any point in the future.
Setting up your speakers
If you’ve bought a modern record player with built-in speakers, then you’re ready to start listening to your disks. However, if you’re a bit more of an audiophile, or you’ve got a bit more of an advanced set up, it’s important to know how to hook up to speakers properly. There’s an enormous range of external speakers available and these can really enhance your listening experience. Let’s look at how to use your record player with external speakers.
Thankfully, setting up your speakers isn’t too hard – if you’ve got a turntable with a built-in preamp, you literally just need to connect the speakers and record player with a red and white RCA cable via their corresponding ports. Some turntables will instead provide a 3.5mm line out jack which can be used for headphones or again to wire to external speakers using the correct cable. For external preamps, just make sure you’ve plugged everything in the right way so both your speakers and turntable are hooked up to the preamp’s input and output, and you should be all good to go.
Some record players today even boast the feature of Bluetooth connectivity to either stream music from your device to your turntable’s built-in speakers or play music from your turntable to wireless speakers. This can eradicate the need for endless connection cables and make your set up nice and clean. To make the most out of this feature, simply connect your chosen speaker or device to your new turntable via the Bluetooth settings and press play – it’s that easy.
Playing your records
Understanding speeds is important when learning how to use your record player. Vinyl is designed to be played at three different speeds – 33 1/3, 45, and 78 – measured by the amount of rotations the record makes per minute, which is known as RPM. Most of the time, you’ll be listening to full length albums, or LPs, which are 12 inches in diameter and are made to be spun at 33 1/3 RPM. This is the default setting for most record players, so you shouldn’t need to make many adjustments if you just want to jump straight in and listen to your new records.
However, if you manage to come across a 7-inch single or EP (extended play), you’ll need to adjust your record player to make sure it spins at the correct speed. Most 7” singles are made to be played at 45 RPM, however, you can also find 12” singles, which are also made to be spun at 45 RPM in contrast to their full length friends. To avoid confusion, it’s always best to read the designated instructions imprinted on the record – most should say which RPM is suitable for the job.
While 78 RPM records are still easily found in op-shops and second hand record stores, you’ll almost never have to deal with them – these records were made between 1895 and 1955, so many modern record players don’t have 78 RPM as a built-in option.
Once you’ve got your head around the different bits and pieces of the record player, it’s time to find your favourite artists and start spinning discs! All you need to do now is place your record on the platter, make sure you’ve got the right speed and size selected on your turntable, find the starting groove on the record to locate the first track, drop the needle, and pump out the jams.
Caring for your records
Because vinyl is essentially a plastic material, records are extremely fragile and can easily be damaged if not looked after properly. It’s really important to store your records correctly, and whatever you do, don’t stack your collection – the weight of stacked records can warp your precious vinyl and make it unlistenable. To avoid this, it’s best to store your records vertically in a storage unit or crate. While many vinyl purists swear by IKEA’s longstanding KALLAX shelf units, conveniently designed to perfectly house records, you can also use a record basket, bookshelf, or even milk crates as long as you’re storing them properly.
Vinyl records create static, which easily attracts dust, dirt, and other fibres which can wreck your record. Try to keep your fingertips away from the surface of your records, and when cleaning your records, a simple carbon fibre brush or cleaning cloth should do the trick. Make sure you don’t use water or any other kind of chemical agent unless it’s a designated record player cleaner. If you want to get really fussy, you can even purchase a record vacuum to suck out all the gunk and leave your vinyl nice and shiny. Also, it seems obvious, but make sure to keep your records stored away in their sleeves when you’re not listening to them – that way, you should be able to optimise the life span of your collection for years and years of listening.
We hope this guide has helped provide some useful tips for you on how to use your record player. As always, if you’d like any further advice, feel free to get in touch with us.