The vinyl record hobby is such a fun and exciting one to experience, especially in the digital age. But turntables can be tricky, and you might have more than a few questions about utilizing your new piece of spinning tech properly.
In fact, because vinyl is delicate, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing everything properly. Is your tonearm level? Is the tracking force and anti-skate set? Is the cartridge secured and correctly aligned?
Well, if this all sounds like a foreign language, dob’t worry—you’ve come to the right place. Because in this article, we’re going to examine how to play a record player properly, so that you can you can not only hear your vinyl records, but the music sounds great coming through your speakers!
Preparing to Use Your Turntable
Before you can expect to hear anything from your turntable, we must have all four elements of vinyl playback working together: a turntable, a preamp, an amplifier, and speakers. These components must be present and adequately connected to transmit audio from your vinyl record and out through speakers (and into your ears).
It’s become more common in our contemporary climate where we can find a turntable with a built-in speakers or a built in phono pre-amp. Other people prefer to purchase an external phono preamp and external speakers.
Whatever you have, it’s important to know beforehand, as the kind of record player you’re using will determine how we can go about using and setting it up.
How to Play a Record Player
Standard manual-driven turntables such as the Audio Technica AT-LP120 or Technics SL-1200 will come with a power button often found near the bottom of the turntable’s base. Make sure the turntable and accompanying speakers are plugged in. If the power button illuminates (assuming the table comes with a button that can illuminate) and the platter begins to spin, your turntable is on and we’re already doing great!
Always make sure your slip mat is resting on top of the platter. Some higher-end turntables don’t use slip mats at all (like my Clearaudio Concept or the Marantz TT-15S1, for example), but for the ones that do, you’ll want to place the record over the spindle and on top of the slip mat.
Placing a Needle on a Turntable
This is the most crucial step in playing an LP on a turntable. It’s simple enough, but it’s also easy to make some common errors during this step. A record needle, or stylus, is a pointed piece of diamond placed on top of the record via the turntable’s tonearm. It’s job is all about transmitting the sound from the grooves of the record through the turntable’s audio channels (and out through your speakers).
The stylus can easily scratch up a beloved record if it were to be precariously maneuvered. That’s why it’s best to utilize the tonearms cueing lever when placing a needle on and off a record. Our hands are never as sturdy as they seem and cue levers eliminate any unnecessary scratching, thus preserving the longevity of your vinyl records.
Where to Place a Needle on a Record
There are nonessential grooves located on the outermost layer of the LP’s face. This is where we should place our stylus when starting a vinyl record. When your turntable is on and your record is spinning, lift your tonearm via the cue lever and place it on the outer grooves and your record should be playing within a few quick seconds!
Playing a Specific Song on a Vinyl Record
If you want to place it one a specific track, notice that there are darker circular rings (or grooves) placed a fairly even distance from one another. Those darker rings are the actual tracks for each song.
So, if you know you want to play track three, place the stylus over the third groove. Make sure the cueing lever is up while you do this. While the record is still spinning, and the tonearm is still hovering over the spinning record, slowly lower the cueing lever down. This will cause the stylus to carefully enter into the groove, thus playing your music.
When the Record is Ends
Manual belt-driven turntables require attentiveness while in use. If your record is about to end, or if you know you’re nearing the end of Side A or Side B, it’s important to hang by your record player until that last track finishes, and you begin noticing your tonearm slowly drifting towards the center of the record.
When this happens, it’s an indication your record has finished playing. So you’ll want to lift the cuing lever up (which, in turn, lifts up the tonearm—and the stylus) and manually bring your tonearm back to its armrest.
After that, turn off the motor or power of the turntable.
Do note that if the turntable needle continues to lie in place while a record spins, the needle will potentially get damaged. On top of that, you’ll have the motor running for a long period of time, which isn’t great if you have a belt-driven turntable, because a belt drive turntable only has so many revolutions or hours of use it’s capable of before the belt itself needs to be replaced.
And while replacing a turntable belt is a fairly simple process, you don’t want to have to expedite that process because you were being inattentive.
Fully Automatic Turntables
Operating one of these is as simple as a click of a button. You press start, the turntable spins, and then the tonearm lifts up, finds the first groove (track) in the record automatically, and then lowers the stylus into the groove on its own so you can hear the music.
You can then either press a stop button to pause the record (if someone were to ring the doorbell, for instance) or you can let the record continue all the way to its natural end. Once that happens, the automatic function kicks back in by lifting the tonearm up and returning itself to the armrest. The turntable will also turn itself off, too.
So it sounds perfect, right? What’s the downside? Well, the main downsides to these record players is that they often lack range for swapping out different cartridges and needles they could be more expensive due to their built-in preamps, and their built-in components exchange quality for connivence.
This mean that a record player with built in speakers is likely not going to emit as good of sound as a manual turntable connected to external speakers. The record needle (stylus) won’t be as high of quality, and you don’t have as much freedom to tweak certain settings within he turntables (like tracking force, for example) to improve the sound fidelity (as these are usually all preset by the manufacturer on an automatic record player).
This is a nice in between option for those that want some convenience but also don’t completely want to sacrifice quality either. Another option for those who might doze off during a record. Contrary to fully autos- a semi-auto requires the listener to place the stylus on the record as they do with a manual turntable. But like the fully automatic, the stylus will lift itself off the record and shut down the turntable when the LP has ended.
Semi-Automatic turntables are within the pricier spectrum of turntables due to their sound quality and convenience of having a tonearm that resets itself when an album has ended.
Turntables like the Audio Technica LP-120XUSB are considered the archetypal model among vinyl newbies and even people who have been in the hobby a couple of years. This is a very nice manual record player that’s pretty good quality while also being quite affordable.
Manually driven turntables are great because they afford you the ability to always upgrade. If you’re concerned about wanting the ability to tinker with your sound quality from every single aspect—you’ll want a manual turntable.
Manual turntables are also pretty heavyweight—which is ideal because the more mass a record player has, the more stable it will be. You don’t want to be the victim of footfalls, for example.
I’m a big proponent on upgrading your equipment slowly over time (check out my video below) so that you can best understand what matters most when it comes to achieving excellent sound quality from your vinyl. So don’t worry if you’re starting your journey off with a record that has built in speakers. Just begin the process. You’ll appreciate where you end up so much more if you upgrade slowly as the months and years go by, rather than beginning with the best or most expensive manual turntable.
Playing a vinyl record for the very first time is incredibly exciting. This is a special hobby, but it’s also a hobby that you’ll want to get right, as it will improve your overall listening experience.
Hopefully, this article detailing how to play a record player will help you as you embark on what will be a fun and exciting musical journey.