They’re hip, they’re cute, their colours pop and they’re adorable. But does the seasoned audiophile want one? Erm. Let’s take a look.
All-in-one, one for all
Suitcase turntables are a new trend. They’re swanky, sleek and portable. Whether you’re going for retro/vintage, or quirky and cool, rich and expensive, or just plain functional- there’s one for you. My Google search yielded some of the coolest ones, alright! Basically, you can carry your record player with you wherever you go. Imagine carrying around your gramophone, back in the day. Say, to your friend’s place? Well, the suitcase turntable makes that possible.
So what is in these ‘suitcases’?
Most people use the terms “turntable” and “record player” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Technically, “turntable” only refers to the part of the record player where the record sits.
“Record player” refers to the overall device that houses all of the components, including the turntable.
Most turntable plates are made of metal or plastic and then covered with a rubber mat to protect the record from being scratched. Some plates are made from rubber themselves. In the center, a metal rod holds the record in place while it spins.
You’re probably familiar with the stylus from classic movies. It is the needle that rests on the record and runs in the grooves while playing.
Most stylus manufacturers fashion them from diamond and form them into a cone shape. They use diamond, because it is the hardest natural material. Some manufacturers prefer sapphires.
No matter what material it is made from, every stylus needs to be replaced after a while. Generally, you can expect to get from 1000 to 2500 hours of use out of a single stylus.
The tone arm and the cartridge
The tone arm and the cartridge work in tandem. The tone arm holds the stylus and connects it to the record player housing.
Some tone arms are straight, while others are curved or S-shaped. Neither shape is inherently better. DJs generally prefer a straight tone arm, because it makes it easier to scratch, but many people claim that a curved tone arm gives you better sound. Unless you are a DJ, you’ll probably want a curved one.
The cartridge is responsible for translating the grooves of the record that the stylus reads into the actual sounds you hear. The vibrations from the stylus riding the grooves travel through wires in the tone arm until they reach the cartridge.
In the cartridge, the vibrations hit coils inside a magnetic field, which transforms them into electrical signals. These signals are then sent on the the amplifiers and the speakers.
Pre-amplifiers and amplifiers transfer the signals from your record player to the stereo speakers. They are responsible for all of the different sound frequencies you hear, like the treble and the bass. The speakers they transmit the sound data to are either built into the record player itself or are external and connected via cable.
In the past, it was common for an audio receiver to have a phono pre-amplifier to boost the audio signals coming from a record player to the same level as a regular audio signal, but modern receivers don’t generally have a preamp.
Some record players have built-in preamps, but if yours does not, you will need to get an external preamp to boost the signal before passing it into a receiver. That said, most audiophiles will tell you that you should always use an external preamp anyway, since it makes for a much better sound quality.”
“Old school turntables look great, but the technology contained inside is unfortunately dated.
Newer models have upgraded tech, but they just don’t have the same aesthetic appeal?
Is there any way to get the best of both worlds?
The best vintage record players now come with all of the most modern features and technology. While traditional vintage models don’t offer many extra features, some manufacturers have been adding modern features into reproductions of the classic models we know and love.
These features include Bluetooth connectivity, CD players, AM/FM radio, three speed options, and many others that you won’t find on record players of the past.
Now that manufacturers are producing these hybrid models, it’s possible to get a vintage turntable that does so much more than just playing your old vinyl collection.”
From what I saw, this one was a real beauty:
It’s equipped with a built-in CD player and cassette player, is compatible with Bluetooth devices, and comes with a remote control that will allow you to skip tracks or adjust the volume, all without getting out of your chair.
This record player also has built-in speakers, a three and a half millimeter aux input, and a sixty-foot cable, and it features three speed options, which means it can play all types of vinyl.
On the outside, the record player’s gorgeous natural wood design gives it an elegant, classic look that audiophiles and antique collectors will love. In terms of quality and versatility, the Aviator really is the total package.”
With the demand for suitcase turntables growing bigger and bigger everyday, many brands have walked into the market in the hope of getting a slice of the pie. Cheap models, cheaper parts and tacky portables have found a spot and made themselves comfortable. Take a look at this article on cheap suitcases plaguing the market:
” What’s wrong with a cheap record player?
“What’s the problem?” I hear you ask. “They’re a starter piece of kit; they play records – what’s wrong with that!?”
Don’t get me wrong, they certainly have a place, there’s demand out there, and they’re serving a portion of the market. In fact, I even own a Steepletone for playing cheap and damaged records – it looks cool and creates a nice lo-fi atmosphere at dinner. If a fashion accessory is all you’re looking for great, I wish you luck. But if you’re hoping to start a vinyl collection for serious music enjoyment, I’m afraid I can’t recommend these turntables.
The Crosley Cruiser is arguably the best known cheap record player on the market, helped in part by their partnership with Urban Outfitters whereby Crosley provides exclusive turntables that change in style from season-to-season. In the UK, their popularity was fuelled further when Sainsbury’s supermarket started stocking Crosley record players in March this year. As the best-known player in this market, I’m going to use the Crosley Cruiser record player as an example of why you shouldn’t buy a cheap record player to start a serious vinyl collecting hobby.
Tracking force is the downward pressure your stylus (needle) places on the record surface. The typical tracking force will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most agree the safe area is between 1.5 and 2.5 grams. Track too light, and the sound becomes thin and edgy; track too heavy, and your music will sound dull and lifeless.
Incorrect tracking force will also have an adverse effect on the longevity of your records. Both light and heavy tracking prevent the stylus from accurately tracing the record grooves, which means the diamond stylus will mis-track, causing increased record wear.
A Crosley Cruiser tracks at an eye-popping 7 grams! At such a heavy weight, excessive record wear over time is inevitable. Unfortunately, the tonearm does not allow for weight adjustment.
Cheap record players cut a lot of corners when it comes to tonearm design. Namely, the cartridge is pre-fit and none-adjustable, meaning you cannot change or align your cartridge. Couple this with a very short tone arm and we’re likely to have a situation where alignment is poor, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Why is alignment important?
When your stylus tracks the grooves of a record, it’s important to maintain a steady position aligned neatly in the center of the groove as much as possible. If your cartridge alignment is off, the stylus will not accurately track the groove, and this will affect sound quality and record wear. The effects of poor cartridge and tonearm alignment are most noticeable at the grooves closest to the end of each side on a record.
It’s simple really – higher quality tonearms give you greater control, better build quality, and ultimately, better sounding records.
No adjustment options
Further to the lack of adjustment mentioned so far (no counter-weight and no cartridge alignment), the Crosley Cruiser (and other similar record players) do not allow many other crucial adjustments. There’s no anti-skate (a small weight that counter-acts the records natural pull toward the center spindle). There’s also no tonearm height adjustment (a critical piece in the cartridge alignment mix).
When playing a record, you’re literally dragging a microscopic diamond stylus tip (the hardest known material) through grooves cut into a polyvinyl chloride disc that are less than a human hair wide. Any misalignment through cheap components will easily cause damage.
Poor Sound Quality
The result of the above omissions is a tinny and shrill sound, with very little resolution and depth. This outcome is, of course, not helped by the small, cheap built in speakers, which fail to deliver – even when playing music from an iPod (one of the other applications you can use a Crosley, Steepletone, and many other similar players for).
Let’s be fair…
Crosley, Steepletone, and the likes, clearly aren’t going after the premium turntable market. A partnership with Urban Outfitters basically tells the consumer they’re buying a fashion accessory, but that doesn’t stop some people in the industry worrying about the impact of cheap turntables on the vinyl revival, as one anonymous audiophile stated in this article from the Guardian:
“The Crosley boom and subsequent disappointment with the product could harm the vinyl revival.”
…and you know what, they could be right; the screenshot below would certainly seem to suggest buyers remorse could well be a regular occurrence. How much of this is down to the product deterring consumers from exploring vinyl further is up for debate.
When all is said and done, you get what you pay for. If you’re happy to buy a fashion accessory for a bit of novelty value, then a Crosley or similar could be right up your alley. If however, you’re looking to start a real record collection (even just a casual one), I’d suggest investing a little more cash to save yourself a potential headache. Collecting vinyl records is a rewarding, if a little fussy, hobby. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get excellent results; you just need to invest to a basic quality standard.”
So you take a call. Is the suitcase for you or not?