A typical turntable setup goes like this – turntable to preamp to receiver to speakers. You’ll need all the necessary cables to make this setup work. Some turntables have built-in preamps, while others will just spin a record.
I’m Donovan, a long-time musician who is also passionate about listening to vinyl. I have an extensive record collection and know through first-hand experience how to set up a turntable for optimum listening and enjoyment.
This post will show you how to set up a turntable. I’ll walk you through all the steps to get your turntable up and running while providing some other critical information along the way. I want to ensure you can listen to your records and get great sound.
Let’s get to it.
- Key Takeaways
- Best Turntable Setup
- Beginner Turntable Setup
- How to Set up a Turntable
- Final Thoughts
- Most turntables require additional equipment connected to them to listen to records. A stand-alone record player might not need this, but it won’t lead to optimal sound.
- The typical turntable setup includes a turntable, preamp, receiver, and speakers. You also need the appropriate cables and wires to connect all of this equipment.
- There are various options for which exact models you use for your ideal turntable setup, and many will lead to good sound.
- Some turntables come with built-in preamps, and you can connect these directly to speakers, although using a receiver is still ideal for controlling the audio.
Best Turntable Setup
If you are reading this post because you want to achieve the best turntable setup you can, you’ll want to get a few added pieces of equipment in addition to your turntable. A turntable on its own won’t produce sound at all.
To amplify the sound coming from your turntable, you need to connect it to a preamp. And then, this preamp should be connected to a receiver to process the signal. That receiver will be connected to speakers, ultimately delivering the amplified sound.
So the best turntable setup goes like this: turntable – preamp – receiver – speakers.
As far as which exact models or brands you should use for each of these items in the chain, there are too many good ones to list here. There isn’t one exact turntable or preamp or speakers that is the best.
Everyone will have their own preferences regarding which gives you the best or ideal sound. But regardless of which exact models you go with, the setup for superior sound remains the same.
Keep in mind that you also need to get cables or wires to connect all of this equipment together. Getting better quality cables will lead to a better-sounding setup in the long run because you can avoid noise-altering issues like buzzes or grounding problems.
Beginner Turntable Setup
The information above might seem complicated if you are new to using turntables and listening to records. While it’s not that difficult to set up, even if you’ve never done so before, there are also more beginner-friendly ways to go about it.
You can get record players with all this equipment built into one unit. Some will have the turntable, preamp, receiver, and speakers all built into a single record player that you can start using right out of the box.
This setup won’t give you the best audio quality, but it is straightforward to use. You can also get turntables with built-in preamps to skip this step in the chain, simplifying things a bit.
To really get the best turntable and vinyl experience, you’ll want to use all of the proper equipment separately. I recommend doing this even as a beginner if your goal is to get the best sound possible.
But if you just like the idea of being able to listen to records and don’t care much about sound quality, using a stand-alone record player is a quick and easy way to accomplish this. And it’s often much cheaper than purchasing the whole setup separately.
How to Set up a Turntable
In this section, I’ll show you how to set up a turntable from the ground up. I’ll give you directions on everything you need to make this happen and some valuable tips to make the setup go smoothly.
I’ll focus on the full turntable setup here, rather than a simplified all-in-one record player setup. If you have a record player with built-in speakers, you just need to plug it in and drop the needle to start listening.
Let’s first get started by listing everything needed for an ideal setup:
- Cables, wires, extension cords, plugs
The first step to setting everything up is choosing the area or room where you want your turntable. You’ll need a flat surface, such as a shelf or table, to place the turntable on. And then enough room for the rest of the equipment.
Keep in mind that you’ll need enough electrical plugs to plug in 4-6 pieces of equipment. You might need to use an extension cord and outlet expander to make this happen. But place everything close enough to an outlet so you have power.
How to Set up Turntable Arm
When you get a new turntable, you should ensure that the arm and cartridge are set up correctly. This is critical for getting sound from the records, and without a working arm, you won’t get far with setup.
- Take the turntable out of its packaging and place it on the surface where you want to set it up.
- Inspect for any issues or coverings that might be included with the packaging. Remove any ties or wraps that might be holding the arm down.
- If the cartridge is not attached to the tonearm, you’ll need to connect it. There are several wires running from the arm that need to be attached to the cartridge. Then screw down the cartridge to the arm with a small screwdriver.
- Many turntables will come with the tonearms already balanced from the factory, but this is a good thing to check as you are setting things up initially. You need a balanced arm to get the ideal sound and function from the turntable.
To balance the arm, you’ll want to move the counterweight around until the entire arm stays flat when you move it off the mount. You can adjust and move the weight until this happens.
Once the arm is set up, you can move on to the next steps for connecting the rest of the equipment. You can also set up the arm afterward, but I think doing it first is best.
Quick Note: Some people take tonearm balance really seriously and are very meticulous about it. You can do plenty of research into that if you want to spend the time, but getting it balanced is a good enough place to start.
How to Connect Turntable to Amplifier
The next step of the setup process is connecting the turntable to a preamp. Sometimes people call a preamp an amplifier. Preamp stands for pre-amplifier, and either term can be used to describe the same thing.
- Determine the proper cables you need to connect from the turntable outputs to the preamp inputs. These are likely RCA cables, but it depends on the make and model of your turntable.
- Plug the cables into the turntable output and preamp input. Ensure the cables are pressed in securely so they don’t slip out if you move the preamp or turntable around.
- You need to plug in the preamp for it to turn on. There also might be a power switch or button that needs to be pressed once it’s plugged in.
Quick Note: Waiting until you have the entire turntable setup complete to plug in the power cords is a good idea. You don’t want to risk getting shocked during setup.
How to Connect Turntable to Reciever
Once the turntable is connected to the preamp, you need to connect that preamp to a receiver. A receiver functions like a control station for the audio signal and gives you controls such as volume and eq.
Connecting the preamp to the receiver is essentially the same as connecting the turntable to the preamp. You just need to get the proper cables in the correct position on both units.
- Determine the proper cables needed to connect the preamp to the receiver.
- Plug audio cables into the output slots of the preamp and the input (or phono input) on the receiver.
- Plug in the receiver and power it on when you are ready to use it.
Receivers come in many different setups and styles. Most will have a phono input that is designed for record players. But many are also designed to accept inputs from other equipment you might have (tv, computer, digital, etc.).
You can use other inputs on the receiver besides phono, but you’ll need to ensure you have that input selected on the receiver to get audio playback when everything is up and running.
How to Connect Reciever to Speakers
The final step in the turntable setup process is connecting the speakers to the receiver. There are an almost endless amount of speakers out there, and you have a ton of options to choose from.
Some speakers need to be plugged in for them to work, while others can be powered from the preamp and/or receiver. You’ll use different cords/wires to connect these to the receiver, so determine which you need before setting things up.
- Determine the types of cables/wires needed to connect the receiver to the speakers. This might be speaker wire, or it can also be RCA, XLR, or ¼”, depending on the setup you are working with.
- Plug cables into the output of the receiver into the speakers. Be sure you put the left audio output in the left speaker and the right audio output in the right speaker for authentic stereo sound.
- Plug in your speakers to an electrical source if needed and power them on if they have a power switch.
It’s a good idea to position your speakers how you want them in your listening room before connecting them to the cables and doing this afterward. Moving an unconnected speaker is much easier if you need to make adjustments.
Additional Setup Tips
The entire setup process is pretty straightforward and should be simple to figure out, even if you’ve never done it before. Just be sure you put the cables in the correct output and input locations so you don’t need to backtrack and troubleshoot later.
I like to keep all my power plugs in one electrical strip that has a power button or switch. That allows me to turn on my turntables, preamp, receiver, and speakers with a single switch rather than doing each of these individually.
After you set everything up, it’s time for a sound check to ensure it’s all operational. Be sure that you have the volume down on the receiver and speakers before dropping the needle, you don’t want to blow out the speakers or hurt your ears.
If you don’t get sound right away, you’ll need to backtrack your setup and see if anything is out of place. Start with simple potential problems first (like ensuring everything is plugged in) before attempting anything too drastic.
If you are adding a turntable to your existing audio listening setup, then you just need to connect the turntable to the preamp and that to the receiver. Since your speakers are already set up, you can skip that step.
Here are a few short answers to some of the most commonly asked questions related to setting up a turntable.
What setup do I need for a turntable?
If you are using a turntable rather than a stand-alone record player, you’ll need a preamp, receiver, and speakers to complete the setup. You also need all the cords or cables to connect everything together. Stand-alone record players have all of this in one unit.
How do you use a turntable for the first time?
To use a turntable for the first time, you must ensure speakers and an amplifier are connected to produce sound. Then you can move the needle over the record’s outside edge, and it will play. You might also need to install the cartridge and balance the tonearm.
How do you break in a turntable?
You don’t technically need to do anything, in particular, to break in a turntable, although many people say that you won’t achieve optimum sound from your stylus until after you use it for a few weeks. Regular use of your turntable will help break it in.
Is a preamp necessary for a turntable?
A preamp is needed to boost the sound coming from the tonearm so you can listen to it. Some record players have built-in preamps, and you don’t need to use an external one. But a good preamp will help you get the best sound possible from your turntable setup.
Can I connect my turntable directly to speakers?
If you have a turntable with a built-in preamp and powered speakers, you can connect them directly to one another and get amplified sound. But most turntable setups require you to use a preamp and/or a receiver.
Setting up a turntable for the first time can seem intimidating, but it’s really pretty easy. If you take your time and ensure you have all the proper cables plugged into the right inputs/outputs, you can complete the tasks relatively quickly.
You don’t need to buy the highest-end equipment to get quality sound from your turntable setup. If this is your first time, you can choose more affordable preamps, receivers, or speakers. Any future setup will follow the same process listed here.
What is your current turntable setup like? Do you have equipment recommendations? Let me know in the comments below.