Very often, we might feel as though we know how to do something, having done it many, many times. However, it is never too late nor too early to brush up on our knowledge, and this is nowhere more the case than with how to use a record player.
It is a very individualistic medium indeed, but you can never know if your own methods for using a record player might be damaging your records / stereo system unless you check in with the experts. So, today we will be elucidating for you best how to use a record player and some tips and tricks you can accrue along the way.
The Anatomy of a Record Player Setup
Before you go right on ahead and answer the question of how to use a record player, we must first understand what makes up a record player, what parts come together to form a consistent whole, a whole which can take these great disc shaped hunks of polyvinyl and turn them into our favorite sounds.
And in such a way that we come flocking to it time and again despite the relatively high price point in comparison with music streaming and the like. In understanding how these separate parts can come together to form a whole, we can at least begin to understand what the central question for today asking of us.
Of the three elements of the record player as a whole, the turntable vs record player will likely be the part that is coming into contact with the actual disc the most.
Even the turntable itself can be dissected into several other parts. The platter, for example, is that upon which the disc is placed. Once on the platter, the disc will be spun at whichever speed is desired, between 33 1 / 3 rpm and 45 rpm usually, though sometimes there are 78 rpm exceptions.
Alongside the platter, the stylus and needle occupy the role of the other central elements on the turntable top, for they are the parts that also come into contact with the disc itself.
It is the job of the needle, once placed in the nooks and grooves of the record, to transmit the vibrational data imbibed within the grooves through its body and into the preamp where these vibrations are amplified so that it can actually be heard.
The needle is equipped with a diamond tip that runs along the grooves. The cartridge / stylus contains a magnetic field of sorts with transforms the vibrations into electrical signals which are then transmitted and amplified by the preamp and out through the speakers.
The motor and belt drive inside the turntable are oft neglected though of equal importance, as they have everything to do with the proper functioning of the turntable platter, making sure that it spins at a consistent and reliable speed.
If the drive inside, either a belt drive or direct drive, were to eschew its responsibilities enough, then the disc in question would be near unlistenable, warping and melting all over the place with the pitch going up and down without reproach.
Most record players will have one of these already built in, especially if they are the kind of record players that consist of one whole unit, for example, record player with speakers.
Even more modern turntables come equipped with one of these as standard within their machinations, so that the signal is more than audible enough by the time it is sent to some adjoining speakers.
Older turntables, however, had to be paired with a separate amplifier, a costly and bulky part of the stereo system which you will have to prepare yourself to purchase if you intend to use an older piece of kit.
If, indeed, you do intend to do so, this preamp will be vital in your audiophilic peregrinations. While the stereo system will be doing the job of amplifying the signal once more before it is sent out of the speakers, there will still be a need for a preamp, for the base signal coming from the turntable is simply too quiet to properly process without a bunch of surface noise.
The preamp’s job is about as simple as you have likely already surmised, taking the weak naked signal from the turntable directly and amplifying it to the same level as other sound signals so that it can be better heard and so that it can produce a stronger and clearer signal once amplified again through the amplifier in the stereo system and then out through the speakers.
Like we say though, most modern turntables will come fitted with a built-in preamp as standard, no questions asked, so unless you intend to purchase each separate component for your record player setup separately, or unless you intend to spend a whole heap of money on equipment that is likely going to separate each of the components out for the purposes of specializing, then you really can’t go wrong with a modern turntable like so, especially if you are just starting out.
Many would purport that this is the most important element of the record player setup, for it is the component that is literally sending forth the sound waves into the air and into your ear holes and your brain feelers, though I would pose the question of where would be without an at least decent version of any of the other elements of the setup.
Some record players, such as those with all of the elements built into one holistic unit, will come with speakers attached alongside all of the other elements (turntable, preamp, amplifier etc). If, however, you do not have one of these units and are choosing, instead, to pick and choose separate elements to combine together for maximum tone then you will need to investigate and invest in a pair of the best powered speakers for your turntable.
Speakers are usually relatively straightforward to set up and can leave you wishing you had always had a pair of external speakers like so. Many audiophiles would suggest purchasing a pair of separate speakers even if you do own a record player unit with all attached; the speakers built into such units are usually no good at reproducing and sending forth the sound of your records the way you would like.
The job of the speakers is more than likely the easiest to understand, being as they simply send forth the sound from the stereo setup once it has been processed by the other seemingly more complex elements.
Record Player Speeds
Of the three main speeds and vinyl record types of how to use a record player, 78 rpm is certainly the least popular and fashionable these days, with the amount of records produced to be played back at this speed being as good as none. The main reason for this speed existing in the first place was the precedent set by Emile Berliner, the inventor of the gramophone and market leader when records were popular, who believed this to the optimum speed to play a record for sound quality. However, a faster speed means less space to store music, so this form was soon phased out in favour of 45 rpm and 33 1 / 3 rpm speeds.
And so comes the advent of 45 rpm records in the 1950s, which were manufactured to compete with Columbia’s already immensely popular 33 1/3 rpm format. The 33 1/ 3 album didn’t become a medium that was taken seriously until the 1960s – other than in the collation a selection of unrelated singles – so the 7 inch single soon became the currency for the exchange of popular music, able to contain in a smaller format the content from an upcoming release without sacrificing too much of the audio fidelity that a 78 rpm record can offer.
Soon, however, it was records that were intended to be played at 33 1 / 3 RPM that became the standard currency for releasing sounds into the commercial realm. Though the format had a less than welcoming birth into the world, Columbia records embarked on an advertising campaign which attempted to assimilate the format with the music of the western classical elite, lending it new standing in the music community, purportedly able to hold what is considered by many to be the utter pinnacle of artistic achievement in the musical sphere, at least as far as the end of someone who looks down their nose can see.
How to Use a Record Player: Step by Step
Now that we have laid the groundwork and helped to flesh out our central question today, we can finally begin to look properly at how to use a record player. Despite being a relatively simple process, we will be taking this step by step so that anyone who prefers to take things a little slow will not miss anything along the way.
Step 1 Take the Record out of the Sleeve
Grab whichever disc you are looking to play and remove it from the sleeve / jacket that it is currently residing in to protect it from the influence of dust and other contaminants. Here you can read our full guide on how to handle vinyl records.
If there is already another disc on the record player already, make sure to return it to its rightful sleeve; all too often, records are left out of their jackets / sleeves / place on the record shelf and can very easily accrue dust and microscopic hunks of dirt which can have a seriously detrimental effect over time.
Step 2 Place your Record on the Platter
Place the record you have chosen onto the turntable platter, once you have removed a record that might still have been inhabiting it of course.
Step 3 Lift the Stylus into the Air
Lift the stylus into the air. In the case of almost any record player or turntable that you are presently using, this will also set into motion the motor mechanisms within the inner machinations of the record player, as well as the belt drive or direct drive that might be working its magic in there. Thus, by this step we will have the turntable platter performing its primary function, that being to spin the record at a correct and consistent speed for adequate playback.
Step 4 Place the Needle
Next, in learning how to use a record player, you will want to place the needle wherever you wish to start listening from. I might suggest, if these are some of your first attempts at using a record player (or if indeed this is you using a record player for the first time), that you place the needle at the beginning of the record.
This is easily done by placing the tip of the needle (while holding onto the cartridge / stylus) on the very edge of the disc, where there will be an ample amount of space to place the needle wherever, the trenches designed to make sure the needle eventually ends up on the main grooves of the record.
Many turntables / record players will in fact come with buttons and features that allow for an auto queueing system wherein the stylus and tonearm will be automated and, once implemented, will place themselves on the edge of the disc with the requisite amount of care needed, ensuring that no more damage is done to the record than necessary.
These mechanisms are all well and good, but if you are enough of a record collector and vinyl enthusiast the time will come when you need to manually place the needle on a record, so it would be most useful to learn how to do so as early as possible.
Step 5 Adjustmt the volume
Now you will want to make any adjustments to the volume and tone of the playback. You might even, as the case may be, want to change to a different song or otherwise try your hand at manually playing a specific song from the middle of the record, which I would strongly encourage, for this is a vital skill for a record enthusiast to learn and for those wanting to know how to use a record player.
This can of course seem rather daunting at first, just as many new skills can seem before they are learned and imbibed well within our psyche, this one especially seeing as the health of our records and thus our own copies of our favourite music is at stake, for you can very easily damage a record if you are not careful with where you are throwing your needle around.
Most records will have several noticeable rings within the grooves which differ very much from the texture of said grooves. These are the moments of relative quiet or silence in between each of the songs and are, thus, the points you will be looking to place the needle at prior to the song of your choice.
So, there you have it! Hopefully this comprehensive step by step guide through the various ins and outs of how to use a record player has been of some use to you, whether in you personally being able to invest in some of the equipment elucidated above yourself, or rather in showing you some handy new tips and tricks to playing your records aloud. Who knows, we might even have changed the way you think about spinning those sweet discs of yours!
FAQs How to Use a Record Player
Excusing all of the very technical aspects of setting up a record player (which really just boil down to plugging it in and making sure that it turns on), then the question of how to use a record player is about as simple as you want it to be. Place the disc on the turntable platter (the disc shape on the turntable part that spins), then get it spinning (usually done automatically when you follow the next step), lift the stylus and place the needle wherever you want to listen from on the disc (though I would advice starting from the edge of the record if this is your first time); if all is set up properly, you should be good to go!
Step 1: Place the disc on the turntable platter. Step 2: Get the platter spinning (usually occurs automatically when you follow the next step). Step 3: Lift the stylus into the air (which, as mentioned above, will also set the drive and motor into motion within the inner machinations of the turntable). Step 4: Place the needle on the edge of the disc (or wherever else you want to listen from). Step 5: Adjust the volume if necessary. The rest of the work will be done by the record player: the grooves will send vibrations to the needle whose cartridge will convert it to electrical signals which then amplified twice, by the preamp and amplifier respectively, and then these signals will be sent forth through the speakers.
The needle can go just about wherever you want it to, provided it is actually on the record. As the needle is equipped with a diamond tip, it should not be messed around with too much, particularly if this is the kind of needle that you have spent a considerable sum of money investing. You will more often than not be inclined to place the needle on the edge of the record, starting the album or single that you have chosen from the beginning. You might, however, wish to listen to a specific song on an album or EP single, i.e. if you are in a DJ type situation, and so will need to place the needle at the specific point on the record that represents the song you wish to play. Some make this easy, with a dedicated tracklist on each side of the record’s face, though some others do not, so proceed with caution.
Most modern record players will mostly be set up to play straight out of the box, though you might do best to make some initial adjustments before you go on and play your favorite tracks, as it can very often lead to woe and misery pities if not. The main thing you will want to adjust is the needle / needle cartridge itself. Many all in one record players, such as those built by Crosley, come with built in needles that are simply no good, and which will likely do your discs some serious harm if left unchecked. With some external speakers and a new cartridge, however, these all in one record players can very easily become a more than decent stereo setup, and one that can offer more than an older single purpose setup.