How does a turntable work?

How does a turntable work?

February 26, 2016 | Blog

Theoretically, an MP3 is more complex than a record. There’s bytes and bits and digital sound data and that’s not even touching clouds and streaming and other vague next-gen words. Even so, putting a record on certainly does feel like some kind of crazy arcane ritual.  Promise, though, there’s no dark eldritch magic at work in your record player. Just some pretty cool machinery. Let’s take a look at how these suckers work.

 C100 Turntable Diagram

At its very base, a turntable does exactly that; it turns. The older word for these guys is “phonograph”, which you can still use if you want to be steampunk and old-fashioned. Using a direct drive or a belt drive motor, the turntable turns a platter, which holds your record. The tonearm, carrying the headshell and its matched cartridge (either magnetic or ceramic), is what actually makes sound contact with the record.

You’ve probably seen what a soundwave looks like. If you haven’t, here you go.

Sound Wave with Surfer

Our ears pick up on sound through the vibrations caused by a soundwave. When music is recorded, these vibrations are captured to the finest detail so it can be replicated or replayed.  This is called “cutting” a record, and what you end up with is a “master” that all of the copies will be duplicated from. So now that you’ve got your record, you extract it from the gatefold and million sleeves and pop it on the platter. something’s gotta make your turntable well, turn. There’s two main kinds of motor to spin your record. There’s Direct Drive, which is the type of motor that most DJs prefer, since it allows for more manual control of the turn speed, lets you grab the record for scratching, and gets up to speed quickly. Belt Driven is more common. A set of two drums turn with an elastic band between them to turn the platter. 

Taking a look at the record itself, it looks like it has minuscule rings, like a tree.These tiny, literally microscopic grooves are pressed into its surface during its creation, which the stylus, sometimes called a needle, catches into. The stylus reads each little wiggle and bump and translates that back into soundwaves, which roll through the preamp to be played out your speakers. Some record players have this pre-amp built in, some can be customized with different components. (More on that later.)

The speed at which a record’s played depends on what it was “cut” at. Most records are either 33.5 rpm (rotations per minute), or 45rpm. Older records sometimes have the rare 78rpm. Typically an LP (Long Play!) record plays at 33, and singles play at 45, though not always! The surefire way to know for sure is if the audio sounds like it’s being played by chipmunks, then it’s playing too fast. If it sounds like it’s groaning out of the gates of hell, it’s probably playing too slow.  On some players you can mess with the tone further by using the pitch tuner, especially with older records.

Next time, we’ll get into what kind of turntables are out there and which one we’ve got! See you soon!


Lilly Higgs
Lilly Higgs

The attraction is only natural.

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