Rediscovering your vinyl records

Q: We have tried unsuccessfully to have our Technics turntable repaired at the local authorized repair shop.   Could you advise us where-oh-where we could buy a new turntable, and which brand you would recommend?   We still have many LP records which we would love to be able to listen to, although when CDs came out we were guilty of giving away a very large number of our LP collection (which I ruefully regret to this day). We have since replaced many with CDs, but lots of them are not available in that form.

LaVerne Paris
Pittsburgh, PA

A: It may seem surprising to some, but whenever I mention turntables or record playback it generates a lot of correspondence.   People are rediscovering their record collections, and that’s a great thing because a good record-playing outfit is a great addition to any sound system.   What’s more, used record stores can be found in almost every major city, where a treasure trove of good music is waiting to be discovered- at very low prices.

Most of the general public doesn’t know what many audiophiles have know for years- that even today, records are capable of producing great sound that often has a little something that CDs and DVDs lack.   No, we are not talking about the pops and the surface noise, though undeniably they do exist.   Records have a quality often described as “musical”… simply put, the sound they produce is engaging, involving, and it draws you in.

Before you start turntable shopping see   if your receiver or amplifier has a phono input.   A phono input is much more sensitive than the other inputs on a receiver, and many new receivers do not have them.   If you do not have a phono input, you can add a phono preamplifier for around $50, but spending a bit more will get you better sound.

Next- the turntable.   If you want to get that great sound I referred to a few paragraphs ago, you have to go above the cheap plastic turntables sold in big-box stores for under $200.     You can spend over $100,000 on an extremely high-end turntable system, but fortunately good quality starts at the mere $300 price point.   The difference in sound quality between the plastic cheapies and a good $300 turntable is night and day, and the only way you will get a good turntable is via mail order or a specialty shop.

A turntable is composed of three parts- the turntable itself, the tonearm, and the cartridge.   These have to be well matched to each other and set up precisely to get good results, and audiophiles spend days on internet message boards comparing their setups to find what works best with each.   To take this onus from my readers, all my recommendations are delivered as a complete setup with the cartridge installed.

In the course of my research I uncovered a super buy that has to be my current top recommendation for an inexpensive turntable.   The Goldring GR 1.2 turntable and tonearm is based on entry-level products from Rega, a storied and highly praised British turntable manufacturer.   It’s had great reviews and is highly recommended at its suggested retail price of $425, but www.audioadvisor.com has it on sale for $299.95 including a Goldring Electra cartridge.

The Pro-Ject line from Sumiko is a good choice, as well.   The Pro-Ject Debut III includes an Ortofon cartridge at   a suggested retail of $299 in basic black or $329 in one of nine different designer colors.     You can find a local dealer by contacting Sumiko through their website, www.sumiko-audio.net.   It can also be purchased online from www.musicdirect.com or www.needledoctor.com, as well as other online sources.

Finally, to get the most out of your records you need a record cleaner.   Allsop’s Orbitrac II is $44.95 and is easy to use and does a great job.   It is available from the online sources listed above, as well as many others.

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