A turntable converts sound vibrations on a record into an electronic signal that can be amplified and listened to through speakers. The turntable’s needle picks up these vibrations, turning them into electric vibrations from there.
I’m Donovan, a lifelong musician with a passion for studio recording. I’m also an audiophile and love to use and listen to vinyl records. I’ve used many turntables and know how they work through first-hand experience and research.
In this post, I’ll show you how a turntable works. I’ll explain how the design of a record is captured by the needle and then turned into a signal that can be heard through speakers. My goal is to give you a better understanding of this process.
Let’s get after it.
- Turntables pick up sound vibrations created by a vinyl record and turn these into an electronic signal that can be amplified.
- The needle on a turntable runs over the record as it spins and picks up these vibrations, so it’s important to keep the needle clean and in good shape.
- A turntable works much differently than common digital types of music you see today and is a type of analog musical playback.
- Many types of turntables are available, but they all function in nearly the same way relating to how they pick up sound from a record.
How Does a Turntable Work?
If you have ever watched a turntable in action, it’s very different from most modern ways of listening to digital music. And even though this classic music playback machine might seem complicated, it’s pretty simple.
Every turntable works by converting sound vibrations into an electronic signal that speakers can amplify. The sound vibrations are created when the needle of a turntable goes over the grooves on a vinyl record.
Technically, a turntable is the part of a record player that spins the vinyl record around so the needle or stylus can pick up the sound vibrations embedded into the record. But the terms turntable and record player or used interchangeably to describe the same thing.
No matter what type of record player or turntable you have, they all essentially work the same way. You place the record on the turn table, turn the player on to make it spin, and then lower the needle to register the sound.
In addition to spinning the record to pick up the sound vibrations, a turntable also converts these into an electronic signal. This signal can then run through the turntable’s outputs and become amplified through any speakers or receivers you have attached.
The essential parts of a turntable include the turntable, the needle (or stylus), the arm that holds the needle and wiring, and the other electronic and mechanical aspects of the player. Modern turntables can have other functions like Bluetooth or digital outputs.
The turntable needs to spin for a record to be played. Some turntables spin using a belt drive, and others are known as direct-drive, which use gears to rotate the table. Record players might look different aesthetically, but they all function nearly the same way.
How Do Vinyls Work?
Vinyl records hold the sound that a turntable can turn into music. This might seem complicated, but it’s actually relatively simple. Essentially, the grooves in a record hold the recorded sound that was created in the studio.
A needle is also used to create a vinyl record, and a master record is made that holds all of the sounds in ridges. But this master record works somewhat like the negative of a photograph in that it’s inverted from how the actual vinyl will be.
The grooves in the record hold stereo sound information. One side of the groove carries the right side of a stereo signal, and the left side holds the other side. As a needle runs over the grooves, this stereo signal turns into sound and an electrical signal.
Vinyl records are copies of the master record that can be mass-produced. Think of the master record as a stamp that gets pressed into vinyl to create grooves. This is how the production process of physical records that you listen to works.
How Do Turntables Work for DJs?
DJs often used turntables to create their shows or set in a live or recorded setting. There isn’t one exact way that turntables work for DJs, but they typically use at least two turntables at once to cue up continuous music.
A DJ-style turntable typically has a slider that lets them seamlessly switch from one record player to another. The DJ can get a new song or section of a song lined up on the turntable that isn’t playing while the other one is.
When the right time comes, a DJ will slide the knob from one turntable to the next, which is the classic DJ-like effect you might be used to. Then the DJ can get another song on the other turntable and repeat the process.
One thing to know about turntables for DJs is that they aren’t always used with vinyl records. Vinyl records are still commonly used, but some DJs use digital turntables that don’t use records in a classic way.
There are many other ways that turntables can work for a DJ, and the above information is just a quick look at how things work on a basic level. DJs can be super talented and use many different techniques and experiences in what they do.
How Does a Bluetooth Turntable Work?
A turntable with Bluetooth capabilities can seem a bit misleading if you have never used one. This type of turntable is a good example of analog and digital technologies working right alongside one another.
Most Bluetooth turntables work by allowing the electrical signal that the needle picks up to be converted to a Bluetooth digital signal that is then sent to a compatible device. This is commonly done to connect speakers without cables.
Bluetooth turntables can be convenient because you don’t need as many cables or speakers to get sound from a record. But remember that a Bluetooth signal is far less quality than the analog signal created from the record.
If you want the best sound possible and really enjoy listening to all the textures of a recording, using hardwired speakers will always sound better than using a Bluetooth connection.
Here are a few quick answers to some of the most commonly asked questions relating to how a turntable works.
What is the difference between a turntable and a record player?
There is no difference between a turntable and a record player. These two terms are synonymous and are both commonly used to describe the same thing. However, sometimes a turntable references the spinning plate of a record player.
How do they get music on a vinyl record?
Music gets on a vinyl record by creating a glass master record that captures the sound vibrations of the recording into grooves on the record. This master is then copied onto vinyl records, and the sounds can be played back.
Do turntables play without speakers?
Turntables can play without speakers, but the sound will be at a very low volume that you won’t be able to hear clearly. As the needle rolls over the record, the sound is slightly amplified, but it needs to be converted into an electric signal to be louder.
A turntable is a classic piece of music playback equipment that works by converting the sound captured from a vinyl record into electronic signals that can be sent to speakers or other means of amplification.
Turntables all work similarly, even though many different designs and models are available. A brand new record player works in essentially the same way as one made 50 years ago.
Have you ever looked at how a turntable works or made adjustments to the belt or gears? Let me know in the comments below.