Dropping the Needle: A Not-So Novice User’s Guide to Records and Turntable Speakers

With most devices going wireless and getting smaller in size on the regular, there is something special to be said about listening to a vinyl record.

For the record (pun intended), we at Klipsch enjoy the best of both worlds.

Anyway, with the right equipment and a little patience, these pressed pieces of circular plastic can be a rewarding way to unwind and enjoy the music. Whether you’re an old hand at the record game, or looking to get set up for the first time, we’ve got the low-down on what this vinyl comeback is all about and how to get the most out of the experience with the right gear: A turntable and a set of speakers.

Revisiting Our Youth

Why is this inconvenient and somewhat fragile medium making a comeback? Nostalgia - pure and simple. Many people, including the writer of this blog, grew up in an era of ever-evolving music technology. Records, eight-tracks, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, etc. While each new format presented its own set of unique challenges, one thing was universal - the chances of you playing a record in your car were very slim. Baby Boomers, Gen X, and even Xennials can reflect upon their youth with the drop of a needle, while Millennials can enjoy the experience of music without being connected to the digital world for a while. Long story short, listening to records provides an escape from our every day, overly-connected lives.

Today’s Gen Xers, many of whom were born as vinyl was transitioning to cassette, are looking back in fondness at this era, while Millennials see it as a way to escape the all-digital world.

Turntables - An Evolution

The central device in any vinyl setup is the turntable. At its most basic, it’s a platter designed to spin at two possible speeds, 33 1/3 or 45 RPM, and a tonearm, which houses a needle at one end, and a pivot point at the other end. When the vibrations picked up by the needle are sent as electric signals to set of output terminals, they can then be amplified and run through a set of speakers.

Vinyl Record Player vs. Turntables - What’s the Difference?

Fun fact: A turntable and a record player are not the same things. Technically speaking, a turntable consists of just the motor and the platter, but most of the time, the term means a device with those parts, plus a tonearm, and some internal electronics for conveying the signal to a pre-amp. It doesn’t even need to include a cartridge (the part that houses the needle) to qualify. If you are very serious about your vinyl listening experience, you want a turntable because it gives you control over things like your choice of cartridge, belt or direct drive, how you want to run sound to a set of speakers, and the speakers themselves.

A record player, on the other hand, is a complete vinyl listening experience in a single device. It comes with everything, from the motor to the speakers, and everything in between. Some even come in their own carry-cases so you can take them anywhere. For those who simply want to throw a 12-inch on a platter and listen to the music, a record player is the easiest -- and often the most affordable -- way to do so. With a record player, you gain a ton of convenience by sacrificing control over the individual elements, like the cartridge, and the speakers.

Choosing the Right Speakers for Your Vinyl Experience

Even though record players have their own speakers, most can also be connected to an external set of speakers for an even better sound. Turntables, of course, must use external speakers. You can spend a small fortune on speakers, or only a modest amount, but before you do, you’ll need to decide if you want to use powered, or passive speakers.

Powered speakers have their own, built-in amplifiers. You need to plug them into a wall socket for power, and they usually need an audio cable to run between them (unless it’s a wireless set of powered speakers), but other than that, they’re a complete solution. You plug your record player or turntable into the audio-in jack on the master speaker, and you’re good to go.

Klipsch’s The Three is a marvelous choice for a powered speaker. Designed from the start to be phono-friendly, it’s also a wireless system that can be combined with other wireless speakers to create a whole-home system. Keep in mind, that with a powered speaker, you can’t separate the amplification from the speaker itself, which means you have less control over how the whole system sounds.

Passive speakers are meant to be connected to an amplifier, via speaker wires. They draw all of their power from the amp and come in a wide variety of sizes, quality, and price. True audiophiles wouldn’t think of using anything else, because it gives them full control over all of the elements, letting them select each component for its specific attributes. To use passive speakers, you need to connect your turntable or record player to a pre-amp, which boosts the signal enough that an amplifier can work with it, and send it to the speakers.

So there you have it -- the quick and dirty on getting in on the ground floor with vinyl. All you have to do now is hit your local record store, grab some LPs and come back here to help us amplify your jams no matter what they may be (as long as you play it loud and proud - we don’t judge). Let the good times roll!

What are your favorite records? Share in the comments and let’s listen together!


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