Before there were MP3s, CD players, and cassette tapes -- heck, even before eight-track tapes -- there was the record player.
Record players are more popular than ever. Serious audiophiles are constantly adding to their expansive record collections. There's even a "Record Store Day" for lovers of vinyl to get limited releases.
Are you looking to add to your collection? Check out our Top 12 list of best records to grab for vinyl lovers at any level.
When Did Records Become A Thing?
Once record players came onto the scene in 1877, they didn't leave until almost a century later -- although they never fully left. Nostalgia, as well as preference for the sound quality, has kept vinyl alive.
DJs and hip hop artists still use turntables as part of their music-making. We celebrate the beauty of albums and record collectors with our collaboration with Classic Album Sundays - monthly active listening sessions of entire albums in a studio setting with the best equipment available. It's a truly unique experience.
But, have you ever wondered how the record player actually creates sound? We'll break it down for you.
How Does It Work?
What are the different components, and how do they work together to produce sound?
Let's take a closer look at this amazing game-changing contraption and it's components:
Although "turntable" and "record player" today are used almost interchangeably, a turntable is technically the part of the record player and it's where the record sits. Sometimes the turntable is also called the "revolving platter."
The center of the turntable includes a metal rod, holding the record in the center as it turns. The plate of the turntable itself is generally metal, typically covered with plastic or rubber so the vinyl isn't inadvertently scratched.
The least expensive record players use steel for the turntable. The steel plates are light and cheap to produce, however, the consequence is that these plates have low inertia, meaning any instability with the motor speed are quite pronounced.
A more expensive turntable plate is aluminum. Aluminum plates have better balance, reduce vibration, and don't accentuate motor speed instabilities.
The turntable's rotation is controlled by the turntable drive system. The two main types of drive systems are the belt-drive system and the direct-drive system. The belt-drive system goes a long way in reducing noise heard from the motor because the elastomeric belt helps to absorb vibrations and other low-frequency sounds. A direct-drive system, by contrast, doesn't use intermediary gears, wheels, and belts. The advantage of a direct-drive system is later models had stronger motors and pitch control sliders. For this reason, direct-drive turntables were favored by disc jockeys for decades.
The stylus is the needle that rests against the record. Ideally, a stylus is a cone-shaped component made from diamond, which is the hardest natural material on Earth. Besides diamonds, sapphires are also commonly used for record needles. The stylus is connected to the tonearm by a flexible strip of metal. The flexibility in the middle allows for the stylus to ride up and down within the record grooves.
The stylus can be either spherical or elliptical. Elliptical styli have the advantage of increasing the fidelity of the music by allowing for more contact with the record groove. An aspherical stylus provides less fidelity but is more sensitive.
Even a diamond-tipped stylus will need to be replaced after a while. Experts recommend changing the stylus after every 1,000 to 2,500 hours of listening pleasure.
The Tone Arm and the Cartridge
The tonearm holds the stylus and, together with the cartridge, it is responsible for actually producing the sounds. Tonearms can be straight or curved. Which one is better? It depends on who you ask. Some people insist curved tone arms produce better sound, but DJs and hip hop artists usually prefer straight arms because they're easier to scratch with.
As the stylus follows the grooves of the record, vibrations travel through the metal wires inside the tonearm and arrive at the cartridge at the tone arm's end. The cartridge contains coils within a magnetic field, and when the vibrations hit these coils, they are transformed into electrical signals. These electrical signals can be amplified and broadcasted through the speakers.
Amplifiers and Preamplifiers
Today, most audio receivers are designed for signals that come out of a CD player, DVD player, an MP3 player, and streaming services.
That means they are not necessarily well-equipped to play the audio signal coming out of a traditional record player. Older audio receivers included what was called a phono preamplifier (also known as a preamp or phono stage) to boost record player signals to appropriate levels, but modern receivers lack phono preamps. Talk to a true audiophile, however, and they will insist that you get a dedicated preamplifier for the best sound quality.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention that the Klipsch The Fives powered speakers include a phono preamp, which equalizes the signal to replicate the master recording as closely as humanly possible. The Fives deliver the perfect soundstage for vinyl lovers.
We hope you enjoyed this short tour of the anatomy of a record player.
Did we leave out anything crucially important? Do you still listen to vinyl? Let us know in the comments section below.