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Buying a record player in 2022

If today’s vinyl boom is music to your ears, it could be time to consider a new record player.

Although cassette, CD, and streaming music formats have all had an impact on how we consume music, record players and vinyl never really went away. Technology has changed record players considerably however.

To choose a record player that complements your (future) record collection, here are some helpful things to know.

Healthy vinyl sales

2022 figures from Statista show that vinyl album sales in the United States have grown for 16 consecutive years. LP sales increased by 50% in 2021, eclipsing digital and CD album sales.

In Australia, 2022 figures from the Australian Recording Industry Association show that vinyl album sales albums were the biggest segment in physical sales in 2021.

For some people, the tactile ritual of taking a vinyl record out of the cover and setting it on the turntable is intoxicating. Others feel like the sound of vinyl records is warmer. And some vinyl proponents appreciate that they can better financially support an artist by purchasing their physical records – rather than subscribing to a music streaming platform that only allocates minimal royalties to the artist.

Record player anatomy

All record players share anatomy that impacts the sound of your records.

A record player turntable’s “platter” is the sturdy disc-shaped base that sits under your record. It’s a good idea to prioritise a weightier platter over a feebler one. Heavier platters are associated with better sound consistency and three-dimensionality of sound. Platter mats, which are the only point of contact between your record and the turntable platter, reduce vibration and sound quality noise too. Mats are available in various materials, including cork, felt, leather, rubber, and steel. Depending on the platter mat material you choose, expect variations in static, needle vibration, and even depth and warmth of sound too.

You’ll also want to be attentive to your record player’s needle. A record player needle’s performance is conditional on the material its designed with too. The cheapest needles are constructed out of metal, which can be determinantal to the longevity of your record and sound detail. Needles at the top of the range are made from materials such as diamond. These treat your records better and capture more detailed sound.

Another key part of your record player’s anatomy to pay attention to is the tone arm. The tone arm, which is headed by the needle, affects how steady your needle is while the record spins, which impacts the integrity of the sound.

Choosing speakers for your record player

When it comes to sound quality, speakers are the variable many vinyl owners care about the most.

Entry-level record players regularly feature in-built twin speakers. These are quite serviceable if you just want to play records quietly in your living room. But if you need a more comprehensive sound set up, you’re better off connecting external speakers to your record player. The best speakers are built to clearly put out the right mix of low-range, mid-range, and high-range (tweeters) frequencies at volume. Artists make their records to be heard in the low range, mid-range, and high-range. So if you want to hear the bass on classics like The Beatles’ Revolver or the harmonies on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the right speakers help ensure you can hear your records as the artists intended.

Bluetooth and USB

With Bluetooth record players, you can sync to any external Bluetooth speakers within the range of about 10 metres. That means you can listen to a new album through Bluetooth speakers while you’re loading the dishwasher or doing the gardening. Or you can pair Bluetooth headphones to listen to your records too.

You can also make your record collection even more portable with a USB record player. USB record players enable you to make digital versions of your records. Many record players plug into your computer for this, but some make digital copies of vinyl directly onto a flash drive. Once you have digitised versions, you can house them on your phone, computer, or music player.

How much should I spend?

If you’re new to vinyl, or in a honeymoon or rediscovery, you might prefer to test the waters with a budget turntable that’s equipped with built-in speakers for casual listening.

However, if you’re a long-life audiophile and vinyl lover, you’ll likely need to spend more to find a record player that also features better elements, external preamp, and speakers. Record players get pricey quickly at the high end, but if you have a lifelong love of records, you might find that justification easier to make.