The simple answer is no, no it doesn’t. Despite popular opinion, due in large part to those cheap little suitcase things, record players do not come with inbuilt speakers. In fact, there are four separate components necessary for any record to make sweet sweet music, it’s just that the suitcase setup has them all wedged into one unit. Now it sounds appealing, at least considering its price. However, the sound quality is anything but. A moderate table alone starts at around $300, a good one at $500, and rising from there you really start to appreciate the true value of analogue audio. But all that is for another time. For now, lets go through the basic set up and dispel a couple of myths.
The above list comprises of four individual components needed to make music from vinyl. And considering most people know what one or more of these things do we’ll try not to focus too much on details. But for the sake of clarity, we’ll go through the most basic functions in their relation to records.
Put simply, a record is a vinyl disc with groves etched into it. The groves being a physical form of sound vibration or, in more specific terms, sound information. The easiest analogy might be that records are like brail for the blind: the etchings in your record are a physical form of sound information the turntable reads. In this case it’s acoustic information, and it’s the turntable’s role to read that information and convert it to electrical signals. The tone arm swings across, the needle drops, and it vibrates according to the grooves cut into the record. Finally, the cartridge at the end of the tone arm turns those vibrations into electrical signals and sends them on to the next link in the chain. That’s it. That’s all it does. The turntable reads the record and turns it into electrical signals. Simple as that! Well, look, it does a lot more than that but at its core that’s its basic function.
Now, the signal produced by the turntable is analogue – as apposed to a digital, meaning it’s very weak (approximately 1,000 times less than the output of a CD player). So before you can plug it into an amplifier you have to send it through a pre-amp to wind the signal up. The pre-amp or phono stage as it’s commonly known is a mini amplifier for the weak signal coming from your turntable. If an amplifier is an engine for your speakers then a pre-amp is an engine for the electrical signal coming from your record player. Back when vinyl was the most common source of music every amplifier had a phono stage; these days it’s a little less common. However, thanks to the resurgence in vinyl’s popularity some turntable manufactures build them into their turntables and some amplifier manufactures again build them into their amplifiers. Either way, they’re essential to the process of playing records.
So, thus far we’ve got record to turntable, turntable to electrical signal, electrical signal to pre-amp, which revs it up and makes it stronger. Following? Cool.
The next link in the chain is the amplifier, and to put it very simply the amplifier is an engine for your speakers. Contrary to popular opinion you can’t just plug speakers into a record player and get sound. Speakers alone are like a car without an engine, and without the engine you’re not going very far. No engine, no sound. And if we’re using automotive analogies then we’ll envision the electrical signal as the car’s fuel, the amplifier the car’s engine, and the speakers all the parts responsible for the car’s handling. Alone, none of these parts let you to drive anywhere, but together you get action and it’s much the same with analogue music.
A turntable’s specific function is to read and interpret records, turn physical grooves into electrical ones. Pre-amps and amplifiers do exactly what their titles suggest, they amplify electrical signals so you get volume. And speakers convert the electrical signals back into sound waves so your ears can drool over the velvety tones of vinyl records. Now, I know what some of you are thinking. I’ve got a Bose portable speaker and it makes music! Yes, it does. But whether or not you know it, and many people don’t, there’s a little amplifier in that portable speaker powering it. Speakers don’t make noises on their own, and neither do turntables.
So when you’re looking to purchase your first turntable bear in mind you’ll need a few other things to go with it: namely, you’ll need a pre-amp, amplifier, and some speakers. You don’t always have to buy them individually, and you might already have a few of these things in which case you may only need a turntable and pre to get you started. But if you’re new to this – and look, it’s completely cool, so many of us are and that’s why Vinyl Revival exists! – just be aware you won’t get music from the record player alone. Oh, and trust us on this one, whatever noise is coming from those cheap little suitcase things sure as heck aint music either.
If you are looking for quality alternative with only two individual components, powered speakers could be a very cost effective and space saving solution. Powered speakers have typically been the realm of computer or benchtop speakers that have been a satisfactory replacement for the tiny speakers that have emitted sound from your laptop and present a fuller sound than was previously delivered from the micro speaker within your computer. However, they still provide a poor substitute for quality amplification and current hifi speakers technologies and designs that deliver the dynamics and fast transient response that bring the music to life at whatever the volume.
Things have changed substantially for the better. We now are finding speaker designers including famous ones that are recognising that active or powered speakers not only can deliver the convenience of compact design with high quality hifi amplifier and speaker cone technology that is matched to deliver exceptional performance but also incorporates modern technologies that create convenience and deliver wireless connectivity that makes the whole thing make sense.
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