A Guide to Buying Vintage Turntables April 02 2021

vintage turntables

Vinyl is back, and it’s making a new name for itself among vintage lovers and audiophiles alike.

If you know anyone with a record player, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard them rave about how much their music experience has changed for the better. For plenty of people, vinyl isn’t just a way to listen to their favorite songs, it’s a way of life - and once you learn more about what makes vinyl so special, don’t be surprised if you’re ready to make the switch yourself.

But before you head to your local big-box store for a modern record player with a mile-long list of features, you might want to consider going vintage. Sure, a vintage turntable might not boast all of the tech-savvy options that come with a brand-new one, but it has something that even the best new record players can’t offer: charm, character, and a truly authentic vinyl experience.

We’ve put together a handy guide to vintage turntables, making it easy to find your music match made in vintage heaven. From the benefits of buying vintage to tips for finding the best models to suit your needs, we’re covering it all.

Are Vintage Record Players Better than Modern Models?

While there’s plenty of debate surrounding the topic of new vs. vintage turntables, there are pros and cons to each end of the argument. Generally, it comes down to personal preference - what are your top priorities for a record player?

When you’re considering whether to buy a vintage or modern-made record player, keep in mind that:

  • Many modern record players are made with a focus on affordability rather than quality. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that all new, budget-friendly turntables are poorly made, you can expect to make some compromises on the quality of the device components and sound itself.
  • In some cases, modern models can actually harm your vinyl records. So, even if you save money by purchasing a super-affordable player, it can end up being an expensive mistake when your vinyl collection is damaged.
  • If you don't mind making a big investment in a top-quality model, you can expect better construction. Additionally, newer models will have modern technology that vintage ones simply don’t: Bluetooth compatibility, USB connectivity, etc.
  • Interestingly, vintage record players also have some features that modern ones don’t. For example, many modern turntables don’t offer auto-return, which lets the tonearm gently lift off of a vinyl record and return to the resting position when playback has finished.
  • The biggest argument in favor of buying vintage record players is the incomparable sound quality. There’s no shortage of vinyl devotees that swear that the older technology contributes to a “warmer” sound, something that can’t be replicated by technology.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide between vintage and modern - but if you do choose to shop second hand, we have a few tips to make your search simpler (and probably more successful).

How to Choose the Best Vintage Record Player for Your Home?

Are you ready to start shopping? First, take a little time to prepare and learn about your options.

Set a budget - and stick to it.

A vintage turntable can range from fairly affordable to a major investment, so deciding what you’re prepared to spend is a good first step. Quality, demand, and rarity are three key factors in the price of a vintage record player.

Figure out where you’re willing to compromise to save money and what your non-negotiables are. With that information and a solid budget in mind, you can be a much smarter shopper.

Know your materials.

Even if you’re working with a tight budget, being familiar with the materials used to construct turntables can help you avoid subpar models:

  • Steel: You’re most likely to see steel construction in earlier models, and it’s a material that offers both pros and cons. Obviously, steel is sturdy, so it can stand the test of time. Also, steel can give you the benefit of vibration resistance.

On the other hand, because steel-constructed record players have platters that require significant energy to turn, problems with the motor can be common. In some cases, the inconsistency of the motor’s performance can highlight motor speed instability.

That being said, stainless steel is nevertheless a fairly reliable option for budget turntables.

  • Aluminum: Many modern models are made with aluminum, with the reason being that it’s an outstanding material that boosts sound quality with its excellent vibration resistance. Vintage players with aluminum plinths (bases) and platters are typically very high-quality builds, with solid inertial qualities and next to no motor instability issues. When we’re asked, “what is the best vintage record player,” aluminum is one of our go-to answers.
  • Plastic: Plastic record players started showing up in the 1980s, mainly because it was cheap and easily accessible for manufacturers. Unfortunately, even if you’re an 80s enthusiast, you might want to avoid most plastic models. They offer next to no vibration resistance, and cracking and warping is almost unavoidable.

Materials might not be the only way to find the best vintage turntables out there, but they’re absolutely a good guideline. Understanding the differences in materials - and their quality levels - can also be incredibly helpful in deciphering the multiple price points you can expect to see while browsing.

Do your research.

If you’re an experienced record lover, you probably have a working knowledge of the basic components of a turntable. But if not, you’ll want to know your way around the pieces and parts that make up different types of turntables.

Here are a few key differences to look for from model to model:

  • Drive types: A vintage turntable will have one of three types of drives - belt-driven, direct-drive, and idler-wheel. Although idler-wheel were the most common in early constructions, they’re now the least desirable of the three due to lower sound quality. Instead, aim for belt-driven (fairly inexpensive and easy to replace if needed) or direct-drive (more modern with a higher price but advanced performance features).
  • Tonearms: Like many other topics in the world of vinyl, tonearms is one that’s frequently debated. The shape of tonearms is generally either straight or curved, and there are people that adamantly prefer one or the other. Try to spend some time listening to players made with each shape if you’re unsure so that you can figure out where your own preferences lead you.
  • Cartridges: The cartridge is the unit directly attached to the tonearm and is widely considered the most important component of a record player. Within the cartridge is the stylus, or needle, which is the small piece that runs along the grooves of each record. Usually, a stylus has a lifespan of about 1,000-1,200 hours, so vintage ones often need replacing. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping so that you can be prepared to locate a compatible part when needed.

Browse Vintage Record Players in Long Beach at Urban Americana

At Urban Americana, we’ve seen our fair share of vintage record players pass through our doors. When you shop secondhand, you can choose from a broad range of options in excellent condition, with every price point, brand, and style covered. We might be biased, but we’re firm believers that when it comes to vinyl, vintage is always best.

Visit Urban Americana in Long Beach to experience the best vintage vinyl shopping in Southern California today. We do sell and ship 99% of the items in our store, however, we do not sell or ship any audio equipment or records.

Featured Image: Vladimir Sukhachev/Shutterstock