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How to Know When to Upgrade Your Turntable

I was shocked to find a brand new Audio Technica turntable in my bedroom upon returning home for the weekend. It was not so much the presence of the new turntable that made my jaw drop, but the sound quality. Prior to last weekend, I’d only ever played my vinyls on my Victrola. While I loved my trusty tie-dye Victrola, I knew that it was at the bottom of the barrel as far as turntables are concerned. The Victrola was $50 and I got what I paid for; a decent, but far from excellent listening experience.

My Victrola player was the standard starter turntable; a portable suitcase model with built-in speakers and bluetooth capabilities. When I got the turntable in 2018, it sounded excellent! My 16-year old self was not savvy enough to understand that the Victrola suitcase turntable was not an ideal way to listen to records; I’d just wanted a record player. It was only two years and about 30+ vinyl records later that I began to realize how subpar my turntable truly was.

The first indication of a low quality turntable that I began noticing was the lack of clarity in the speakers. Songs in which every individual beat and intricacy was audible elsewhere, sounded cacophonous on my turntable. This, I came to realize, was because the built-in speakers operated in mono. When speakers play in mono, the same sounds are channeled through both speakers, which creates a messy sound. My new Audio Technica turntable does not have built-in speakers, meaning that stand-alone speakers need to be connected in order for music to be audible. The two speakers I connected are manufactured by Edifier and offer a listening experience that is in stereo; when sound is heard in stereo, individual sounds are channeled through either of the two speakers.

The second turntable red flag for the Victrola was that my records began sounding off-key. I would play albums that I knew like the back of my hand on my turntable, and they would sound awful. Naturally, records do warp over time, and this negatively affects the sound quality. However, these were records that I had purchased maybe a week prior to playing them; there was no excuse for them to sound so off-key. I deduced that, perhaps, the needle needed to be switched; this did nothing. The change in key on the turntable became noticeable to me after roughly a year and a half of owning it. On a higher-quality turntable, records will play in the original key in which the music was recorded. 

Finally, I noticed significant playback errors around the two and a half year mark of my owning the Victrola turntable. I purchased a vinyl pressing of ‘ZABA’ by Glass Animals from Tin Dog Records in Downtown Beloit about a month ago, and went to return it after a week of owning it. When I played it for the first time on the Victrola turntable, my needle literally hopped across the vinyl, skipping through more than half of each song. The man working at Tin Dog played the record on his own turntable in the shop, and it sounded gorgeous; it sounded even better than the version on Apple Music. He explained that because ‘ZABA’ is such a bass-heavy album, my subpar turntable was not equipped to play albums with such intense bass. I was told that the needle on the Victrola was unable to settle into the grooves of the record because bass-laden records contain deeper grooves than the turntable was made to accomodate. 

I told my parents about this, upset that I could not play my brand new record until I bought a new turntable. The Tin Dog worker suggested a Heyday turntable from Target for $99, saying that it worked like a charm; I planned to purchase this. However, I returned home to find that my dad had gone out of his way to surprise me with an even higher quality turntable. I had always dreamed of owning an Audio Technica turntable, but had assumed that I would have to wait until I finished college and got my own apartment. Since I am so passionate about vinyl collecting, my dad thought I would benefit from a high-quality player; this one will undoubtedly last far longer than the Victrola. 

Of course, there are turntables that are of an even higher caliber than Audio Technica, but this is definitely an acclaimed brand. I would 100% recommend the Audio Technica LP60XBT turntable. It, like the Victrola, has bluetooth capabilities. The going rate for this model is $150. The only downside to an Audio Technica turntable is that replacement needles are roughly $25 each. But since the turntable plays so smoothly, needles will last longer, thus, needing to be replaced less frequently. Another thing I would recommend is purchasing a record cleaning kit; this not only keeps your vinyls in better condition, but helps them to play smoother.

Since the Victrola suitcase model is a reasonably priced starter turntable, they are popular among college students. However, if you begin to notice any of the issues that I did with my Victrola, please consider upgrading your turntable. If you truly care for your vinyls and cherish your collection, then do not continue to tarnish them if your starter turntable is beginning to malfunction. Spending a lot of money on a new turntable can be daunting, but if you love music as much as I do, it will pay off in the long run.

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