Turntable vs Record Player: What’s the Difference?

Turntable vs Record Player: What’s the Difference?

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Whether you are looking to get a new machine to play your old records, or you are just starting out in this fun and rewarding hobby – eager to haunt dusty record shops and thrift stores and then rush home to listen to your new old treasures – you may have wondered what exactly you need – a record player or a turntable.

Or, more to the point, you may wonder what exactly the difference is between a turntable and a record player – are they the same thing, are they different, and should you opt for one or the other? 

So we here at Speakergy have written this quick informative article to answer just these questions, to help you understand the differences, and maybe even point you in the right direction if you are on the market.

Are a Record Player And a Turntable the Same Thing?

To make this – as my dad used to say – as clear as mud, yes and no!

Now, aren’t you glad you came to us for such direct and helpful answers?

Here’s what I mean – the words “turntable” and “record player” can be used totally synonymously, to mean exactly the same thing – simply a machine that plays records, whether they be 33 RPM albums, 45s, antique 78s, or anything else.

On the other hand, people can, and often do, mean two different things with the two different phrases:

Turntable – especially in hi-fi audiophile circles, but also in product listings on the internet or in electronics shops, the word turntable refers to a specialized high-quality record player that is designed to be plugged into and used with a stereo system, and will not work without them.

Almost always, when somebody says “turntable,” this is what they mean – a machine that does not have a speaker or speakers built-in, does not have its own amplifier to drive speakers with, and needs to be attached to a stereo system, – or in certain cases a computer – in order to be used. Often a turntable does not even come with a needle or cartridge to play records, although this is not always true.

Record Player –  on the other hand, when somebody specifically says “record player,” they usually mean an all-in-one type of machine that has everything you need to play and listen to records. Record players will have built-in speakers or at least included external ones, and an amplifier with enough power to drive those speakers.

So if you have a record player – as people almost always use this phrase – you have everything you need to enjoy records. Just plug it into a wall, put on the record, and start dancing – or don’t start dancing. Up to you…

Is a Turntable Better than a Record Player?

Would you be mad if again I said “yes and no?”

But it’s kind of true. A turntable is generally thought of as a very high-quality piece of equipment, and even the least expensive ones are designed, engineered, and built to provide excellent high fidelity playback of records. And turntables are often really beautiful machines – to look at as well as to listen to.

Add to this the fact that you often need to purchase a separate high-quality needle and cartridge to install into the turntable, and also need to plug it into an at least decent quality hi-fi stereo system, and yes, the overall experience is better – at least in terms of absolute accuracy and sound quality.

It was also a lot more expensive!

On the other hand, even the best record players can be relatively inexpensive, and have everything you need – a needle and cartridge, an amplifier, and speakers – just add records!

So in terms of convenience and affordability, you might think a record player is better. And, to be fair, some of the better models can sound pretty darned amazing, with rich, full sound, plenty of volume,s and low distortion.

No, they may not be the equal of a fine turntable connected to an audiophile stereo system, but either way, you will still get that wonderful and magical analog sound that only comes from records!

So, Which Should You Get – a Record Player or a Turntable?

Odds are, if you’ve read this far you already know the answer to this question, but let’s offer a little more information.

A turntable will offer the very highest level of audio quality, with accuracy and beauty of sound that the best record players can come quite close to but will never completely match.

But you will need to put your money where your ears are, as even the most basic turntable can cost one hundred dollars or more – and even if you get one cheaper than that, by the time you factor in an amplifier and speakers you will be at several hundred dollars at least – indeed, people can spend tens of thousands of dollars for the best turntables and associated equipment. 

If you do want to get a high fidelity turntable, I highly recommend you check out a couple of our related articles:

I will also include here links for a couple of great inexpensive turntables that Speakergy strongly recommends:

A record player will also offer beautiful sound – again, not the nth degree of fidelity, resolution, or sheer tonal beauty, but still, that lovely analog sound which, for so many people, is preferable to digital audio files like CDs, downloads, YouTube or internet radio.

A record player will also be much less expensive, and if you do get a more expensive machine you will get pretty amazing sound – although the best cheap ones can be quite impressive too. And a record player will tend to be more convenient and simple to use.

If you decide you want to get an all-in-one record player, please take a look at one of our recent articles for a lot more information:

And again I will offer a few of our very favorite complete record players, including a very low priced option, a popular and affordable upgrade, and a beautiful premium record player and complete sound system that’s still surprisingly inexpensive:

Final Thoughts – Digitizing your Record Collection

It occurred to me as I was writing this article that some readers might have come here to find the best options for converting their records to digital music files. 

In that case, it is quite simple – whether you get a turntable or a more complete stand-alone record player, simply get one that has a digital output and you will be good to go.

A turntable or record player with a digital output will also have built-in circuitry to convert the analog musical information on your records to digital, and they will either have an output jack so you can easily connect them to your computer, or a port where you can insert a USB drive or a memory card, which you can then use to play those new digital music files on your computer or digital music player.

 Even if you are not the most tech-savvy person in the world, this is an incredibly simple – in fact, automatic – process, and so easy to understand and do. If you have even a little experience with computers it is really a no-brainer, and even if you don’t it is still quite manageable.

Again, you can get more information in the Speakergy articles I cited above, and I will close by recommending a couple of fantastic products – one a record player and the other a turntable – that will make superb digital transfers as well as make easy work of the process: