Even though record players and turntables are often used as interchangeable terms, they have actual technical differences. A turntable doesn’t produce sound on its own, while a record player has built-in speakers.
I’m Donovan, a lifelong musician passionate about home recording and vinyl. I love everything about listening to records and using record players. Through first-hand experience, I know the main differences between record players and turntables.
This post will show you the main differences between turntables and record players. I’ll provide you with some good information on both of these and give you some related details. My goal is to help you get a music setup you love.
Let’s get rolling.
- Key Takeaways
- Turntable vs Record Player
- Should I Get a Turntable or Record Player?
- Record Player vs Digital
- Is there a difference between a turntable and a record player?
- Do all turntables play vinyl records?
- What is the advantage of a turntable?
- What is the difference between a Victrola and a record player?
- Can you play a vinyl without a turntable?
- Do you need speakers for a turntable?
- Why are turntables more expensive than record players?
- Final Thoughts
- Turntables and record players are commonly used as interchangeable terms and can refer to the same machine.
- Despite being used to describe the same thing, there are technical differences between a turntable and a record player.
- A turntable typically is the unit that turns a vinyl record and is not capable of producing sound on its own.
- Turntables can also refer to the spinning plate that moves a record on a record table.
- A record player refers to a stand-alone unit that can spin the record and produce sound through connected preamps and speakers.
- The differences between record players and turntables are technical and particular, and most people still use the terms interchangeably to describe anything that can spin a record.
Turntable vs Record Player
|Cost||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Audio Quality||Better sound quality||Not as good sound quality|
|Additional Equipment Required||Requires speakers and preamp to amplify sound||Can be built as stand-alone units with built-in speakers|
|Ability to Play Vinyl||Can play 33s and 45s||Can play 33s and 45s|
|Who Should Buy||Audiophiles and others who want the best sound quality||Average music listeners or anyone on a budget that doesn’t care about sound quality|
The table above gives you a brief look into the main differences between turntables and record players. I’ll break these down in the sections below for a more in-depth look, but the factors above are a good starting point.
Before diving into the differences between these, it’s important to touch on how they can also be the same thing. I’m not trying to confuse you with that statement. I’m just trying to give you a better understanding of the terms.
If you are new to the world of vinyl records, you will often hear turntables and record players used as interchangeable terms. The average person calls them record players more often, while those who listen to records are likely to call them turntables.
But these terms can refer to the same thing. The two have technical differences, but they are also essentially the same thing. A turntable can be a record player and vice versa. At least when you describe and talk about them in a general sense.
Despite this everyday use of both terms for the same thing, it’s still good to know and understand their differences. This will help you get the best vinyl listening setup you want or need.
What is a Turntable Used for?
A turntable can initially be described as a piece of equipment that does exactly what its name implies. It turns the table that a vinyl record sits on. It’s a critical component of any record player and is used to spin the records so they can get amplified by the needle.
A turntable can refer to the entire piece of equipment that some people might call a record player. This includes the base, tonearm, cartridge, needle, and table. Some people also refer to the turntable exclusively as the part that spins the record.
With all that in mind, the main purpose of a turntable is technically to spin a vinyl record so that it can be amplified.
What is a Record Player Used for?
A record player includes the turntable and every other part of the vinyl playback system I mentioned above. But it also includes a way to amplify the sound that the needle picks up from the spinning record.
This means that a record player will have a preamp and speakers to make it a stand-alone unit that you can put a record on and listen to without additional equipment. It has more functions than a turntable on its own.
Turntable/Record Player Differences
Now that you understand the basic differences between a record player and a turntable let’s take a closer look at things in-depth. It can be a bit confusing to distinguish between the two, especially if you are just getting into playing records.
Ok, let’s start with something basic – the cost of turntables versus record players. Turntables are generally more expensive than record players when you buy them brand new.
Turntables are built with more quality parts to deliver higher-end sound. This translates into added costs for the consumer. A really nice turntable can cost thousands of dollars, and even basic ones will run a few hundred.
On top of the added quality of components, you also need to factor in that turntables don’t come with preamps or speakers. You’ll need to buy these separately in order to play your records, which increases the cost.
Record players are usually cheaper, even though they might be stand-alone units that come with speakers and preamps. The tradeoff is that you get lower audio quality, which I’ll explain more about in a second.
Turntables have better audio quality than record players. Part of the reason why you are listening to vinyl records instead of digital music is because of the increased sound quality, so this is a significant difference to keep in mind.
High-end turntables are designed to amplify and highlight the exact audio characteristics existing within the record. If you want the best of the best with audio quality in mind, there’s no substitute for a high-end turntable.
Record players can still allow you to listen to records, but there’s an inherent lowering of the sound quality. This is especially true with record players that have built-in speakers.
Additional Equipment Required
If you just buy a turntable, you won’t be able to listen to records until you also purchase a preamp and speakers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll need to do some more research into how a record player setup works.
A preamp helps translate the vibrations of the record from the needle and tonearm into a vibration that can be amplified. Speakers take this signal and turn it into a sound that you can listen to.
You need to connect both of these to your turntable to listen to records. It will result in excellent sound quality and an amazing audio experience, but it also is a more complicated setup than just dropping the needle on a record player.
A record player is built to be a stand-alone unit, meaning you don’t need to purchase additional equipment to get sound out of it. It’s a much simpler setup, even though it is technically the same setup, just in a single package.
You’ll make sacrifices with sound quality if you buy a record player, but you won’t need to buy or set up as much other equipment to start listening to records.
If you go with a turntable setup, you can customize things to your liking. You can get whatever preamp or speakers is in your budget, and always change these up if you don’t like them or want to try something else.
If you go with a stand-alone record player, you’ll be stuck with what you have in terms of the speakers and preamp. You might be able to upgrade the cartridge at some point, but you can’t change the speakers because they are built in.
Should I Get a Turntable or Record Player?
There are a few ways you can use the differences mentioned above to help you decide if you should get a turntable or record player.
If audio quality is your number one concern, getting a turntable is the way to go. If you are a big music fan who wants the ultimate listening experience, you’ll want a good turntable paired with great speakers and a solid preamp.
If you are looking for an entry-level setup that is easy to use and affordable, then go with a record player. You can find a stand-alone unit that doesn’t require additional equipment and can just drop the needle and start listening to your favorite records.
Turntables are recommended for anyone who enjoys listening to vinyl’s depth and character compared to other listening methods. If you can afford it, I recommend any vinyl enthusiast gets a turntable and proper setup rather than just a record player.
That doesn’t mean that record players are bad. They can be great for introducing this type of musical listening to someone unfamiliar with it. Stand-alone players can be a lot of fun and spark interest in good music.
Record Player vs Digital
Many people like listening to turntables and record players because of their improved audio quality over digital music. If you compare streaming music to a good turntable setup, the turntable will be better, hands down.
But if you use a cheap record player to listen to vinyl compared to a good digital system, you might not notice any difference in audio quality at all. The record player might even sound worse than the digital system.
That’s why I always recommend going with a turntable rather than a record player if you are serious about your music-listening pursuits. Analog music just sounds better than digital, as long as you have the proper equipment at your disposal to highlight this.
Some stand-alone record players can give an authentic analog sound compared to digital systems. But if you really want that to stand out, you should go with a good turntable paired with excellent speakers.
It’s also important to note that some people can’t tell the difference in audio quality at all. I’ve had friends listen to my high-end turntable setup, and then the same song on a Bluetooth streaming speaker, and they couldn’t tell the difference.
That’s crazy to me, but everyone has different ears and experiences with music. Some people don’t have the ear to detect differences in audio quality.
Here are a few short answers to some of the most commonly asked questions related to the main differences between turntables and record players.
Is there a difference between a turntable and a record player?
Technically, a turntable can spin a record but not play sound, while a record player can spin the record and play sound. But many people use these terms interchangeably to describe anything that can spin or play vinyl records.
Do all turntables play vinyl records?
Yes, all turntables can play vinyl records. The turntable can refer to the entire piece of equipment that spins a record or just the spinning plate that drives it around. All turntables can play common 33-rpm records or smaller 45-rpm ones.
What is the advantage of a turntable?
If you are trying to decide between getting a turntable that does not produce sound on its own or a record player with built-in speakers, know that a turntable will typically lead to better sound quality when paired with good speakers and a nice preamp.
What is the difference between a Victrola and a record player?
A Victrola is basically the original record player, but it doesn’t use electronic amplification or speakers. A Victrola uses a large attached horn to amplify the needle’s vibrations, while a record player is instead connected to speakers.
Can you play a vinyl without a turntable?
Some boutique gadgets technically allow you to play vinyl without a turntable, but you won’t get good sound from them. You need a turntable of some sort to spin a vinyl record so it can be amplified and played back.
Do you need speakers for a turntable?
Technically, you do need to use speakers with a turntable. A turntable will not have built-in speakers like a record player might. You need to connect a preamp of some sort and then your speakers to amplify the sound coming from the vinyl on your turntable.
Why are turntables more expensive than record players?
Modern turntables are more expensive than record players because turntables will produce better sound quality and contain high-end components. Stand-alone record players are designed for consumers who are less audio-focused.
The main difference between a turntable and a record player is that a record player includes speakers and a preamp to play back music on its own, while a turntable does not. You’ll need to buy speakers, a preamp, and the necessary cables separately to listen to vinyl.
A good turntable setup will sound much better than a stand-alone record player. Going with a turntable setup is highly recommended if you are an audiophile or want to become one. You might spend a bit more money but certainly won’t be disappointed.
Can you think of any differences between turntables and record players that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below.