The Vinyl Issue: Essential turntables
Hit the decks.
Looking to take the plunge into the world of vinyl? Then you’ll need a turntable to play it on. Whether you’re on a tight budget or you’ve got money to burn, here’s our guide to buying wheels of steel.
Vinyl rules, okay? After 25 years in the wilderness, the true king of music formats has once again regained its crown. The resurgence of vinyl means that we all need record players once more, and thankfully there are plenty to choose from, all the way from plasticky beer-budget models to state-of-the-art behemoths.
Turntables are fundamentally quite simple things, consisting of a platter with a bearing in a plinth that is driven by a motor via a belt. Add a tonearm to hold the stylus or cartridge as it tracks the groove and you’re done. But because the process of reading the minute variations in the wall of a vinyl groove is a mechanical one, doing it well requires precision engineering, and that’s expensive. One reason CD took off is that few people were prepared to pay for a decent turntable. Another reason for vinyl’s fall from supremacy was the crackle and pop. Records get noisy when they get scratched and they’re played on cheap turntables. There are simple answers to both these problems, and they don’t need to be spelled out.
Turntables sound better than digital sources because there’s no processing of the signal involved; with CD players, iPods, you name it, number crunching gets between you and the music. With a record player, the signal remains in analogue form all the way from stylus to speakers. This is what gives it its characteristically warm sound. As you are probably aware, classic rock originated in the vinyl era, and the music recorded back then was made to sound right on this format. As a result, if you want to hear a 70s or 80s classic album at its very best, then you need an original pressing and a great record player.
So where do you start in the quest
for great vinyl sound? The answer is: with a simple separates system that’s built with this goal in mind. You can of course connect a CD player, mobile phone or iPod to any of them, but they’ll sound limp compared to the black stuff.
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If you really want to transcend the physical world and escape your cares, it’s difficult to beat a really serious system. At this price level you can start to taste the high end, the sort of turntables that audiophiles lust after because they are so well made and sound so good.
For these turntables you could do a lot worse than a Leema Essentials phono stage (£495) and Leema’s superb Tucana II integrated amplifier (£3,595). Leema is a British company that was founded by former BBC engineers, so they know their electronics onions, and this beefy yet sensibly sized amp is one of the best at the price.
In this price bracket here are plenty of loudspeakers to choose from, but one that stands out is the Eclipse TD510Mk2 (£1,920). Used by Brian Eno, among other professionals, it has a single drive unit for maximum coherence. It won’t give you floor-shaking bass, but the sound picture it produces in the room is breathtaking in its realism.