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—tradition and technology.
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: A turntable setup and a quality speaker system.
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 an old-fashioned record player provides an escape from our everyday, overly-connected lives.
Today’s Gen Xers, many of whom were born as vinyl was transitioning to cassette, look back with fondness at this era, while Millennials see it as a way to escape the all-digital world.
Turntables - An Evolution
If you want to play vinyl, you need a turntable setup. At its most basic, this is 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. The needle runs along the record's groove as the platter rotates, and those vibrations are sent through the turntable cartridge and translated into electric signals. These signals are sent to a set of output terminals, and then to a preamp, where they can be amplified to "Line Level" and output via a set of turntable speakers.For even more about turntable anatomy, here's a detailed breakdown of each component and how they interact.
Vinyl Record Player vs. Turntables - What’s the Difference?
Fun fact: A turntable and an old-fashioned 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 preamp (short for "preamplifier"). It doesn’t even need to include a cartridge (the part that houses the needle) to qualify. If you are serious about your vinyl listening experience, you'll want a turntable. 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 (i.e. a turntable receiver), and the turntable 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 carrying 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 with speakers 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 BEST SPEAKERS FOR TURNTABLE PLAYBACK
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 an active speaker vs passive speaker setup.
Powered speakers (a.k.a. active 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. No phono preamp necessary.
Not to brag, but our R-51PM power monitors are pretty awesome. Besides having internal amplification, they have a built-in phono pre-amp. Most powered speakers still require a separate phono preamp. In any case, internal amplification and the built-in phono preamp eliminate the need for two separate components – a receiver and discrete phono preamp.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to connect R-15PM powered monitors to your turntable:
- Connect the RCA and ground cables from the turntable to the R-15PM
- Ensure the switch on the back of the R-15PM is set to “Phono”
- Plug the turntable and R-15PM into power outlets
- Put a record on and enjoy
Klipsch’s The Three II II is also 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, like our RP-160M, 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.
You will only need a few things to set up your passive speakers correctly with a turntable: a receiver, phono preamp, RCA cables and a pair of speakers. While there are more components to setting up passive speakers than powered speakers, the process really isn’t much more involved.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to set up passive speakers with your turntable:
- Connect the turntable with the RCA cables to the preamp. (Some turntables require grounding)
- Connect the pre-amp to the amp with RCA cables.
- Connect the amp to the speakers.
- Drop the needle and enjoy
To Pre-Amp or Not to Pre-amp:
You can spend $50 or $500 on a preamp, depending on the quality and features you're looking for. The only turntable that doesn't need a preamp is a USB model plugged directly into a computer, but we don't recommend doing this if you can help it. The old-fashioned analog connection just sounds better.
Connecting a phono preamp to your turntable receiver is relatively straightforward. It should only require a pair of RCA connections (those old red and white audio cables) between your turntable and the preamp, and then another pair connecting the preamp with your receiver. Finally, you'll need to connect a grounding wire between your turntable and preamp. Without that ground wire connection, your turntable will have an audible hum underneath everything that you play. Phono preamps accommodate moving magnet cartridges, and some also accommodate moving coil + moving magnet cartridges.
So there you have it — the quick and dirty on getting in on the ground floor with a turntable setup. All you have to do now is to 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!