Turntables – the Break down

The Turntables are back. Did they ever go out of style? One of the longest-running technologies in music, still in popular manufacture. There is nothing more comparable to that rich sound when a vinyl record is played. No matter how many technologies attempt to replace it – the 8-track, the cassette tape, the CD or the MP3 – turntables are here to stay. 

Turntable/Record Players: What’s the difference?

The terms turntable and record player can be used interchangeably. Though technically the turntable is the platter. Some people consider a record player to be an all-in-one device while a turntable, a hi-fi component. However, Djs consider a record player as a low-end or consumer devices while turntables as high end or pro audio equipment.

Let’s get down to breaking the Turntables down to all its parts.

 

Parts of a Turntable:

Tonearm Mechanics :

  • Counterweight: It balances the tonearm horizontally and affects the stylus downward pressure on the record.
  • Anti-skate: The anti-skate adjustment controls the tonearm’s side-to-side tension. The needle rides in a record disc groove, naturally pulling the tonearm toward the centre to the turntable. The anti-skate spring setting acts against that force and provides tension adjustment toward the tonearm’s original position.
  • Cueing lever: It helps to safely raise and lower the tonearm. Intern, it prevents unintentional damage to sensitive surfaces. To ensure smooth function, the cueing lever designs can have hydraulic cylinders or other mechanisms.
  • Tonearm height adjustment: A set of threaded rings helps to adjust the height of the tonearm
  • Tonearm rest: The tonearm rest holds the tonearm securely in the place when not in use.

Cartridge and Stylus :

Cartridge :

The cartridge houses the stylus, magnet, and coils.

Stylus: 

The tip of the stylus (or “needle”) is normally made of sapphire or diamond. It is fastened to one end of the metal cantilever which has a flexible support bushing as a pivot, and a magnet at the opposite end. The stylus can have a different tip shape based on needs; common shapes are elliptical or spherical.

Coils: 

Electricity passes through coils of copper wire, and create an electromagnetic field.

Motor and Base :

Motor: 

The motor powers the turntable platter. Based on how it connects to the platter, are of two kinds, direct drive and belt drive. Dj’s prefer the direct drive as it gives them more control.
More information on the Direct drive and belt drive turntables can be seen in the article: Types of Record Players

Read about the types of motors here.

  • Platter Mat: The platter mat material can affect turntable functionality. For example, a rubber mat will grip the record and platter both. This allows the DJ to affect the speed of the actual platter and drive motor when hand pressure is applied to the record surface. A felt mat for cueing allows the record to easily decouple from the platter. It spins independently (or not at all) under hand pressure.
  • Circuit Board (Housed inside): Controls the electrical supply and functionality of the parts of the turntable.
  • Feet: Feet are adjustable for turntable levelling and can help isolate the turntable from external vibration.
    (Check out the adjoining images to better understand)

Other Parts:

  • On/Off Switch: It controls power delivery to the entire unit. Switch on the turntable like you would any electrical device.
  • Speed Calibration Pattern: The dot pattern on the side of the platter will appear to stand still under a strobe light when the platter spins at a certain RPM(revolutions per minute). This allows the Dj to visually evaluate playback (rotation) speed.
  • Speed Calibration Strobe: The speed calibration strobe light is located at the side of the power switch.
  • Start/Stop Button: It controls the platter rotation.
  • Speed Selector: The most common rotation speed (RPM) for a vinyl record is 331/3. Another common but smaller vinyl record rotates at 45 RPM and must be used with an adapter due to its larger centre hole diameter.
  • Platter: The platter is a solid disk-like platform that holds and rotates the record.
  • Cueing Lamp: It illuminates the stylus so the Dj can see where the stylus is in all light conditions.
  • 45/33 Adapter: The centre hole diameter in smaller 7” records are larger. The 45 adapter accommodates these records.
  • Head Shell: It is attached to the end of the tonearm, protecting the cartridge within.
  • Pitch or Tempo Adjustment: A fader knob controls platter rotation speed, which directly affects playback pitch and tempo.
  • Plinth: The plinth is the base of the turntable. It keeps crucial parts stable for better playback and less external disturbance.
  • Tonearm: The tonearm carries the headshell and houses audio wiring. It has varied adjustment capabilities for vertical and lateral behaviour.

Related articles on turntables include:

  1. Types of Record players
  2. Direct Drive
  3. Belt Drive
  4. Turntable Feet

 

Cracking The MIXTAPES Code

The Mixtape, for those of us old enough to remember cassettes and have used them, the mixtape brings back fond memories; childhood sweethearts would exchange tapes with songs that would spell out a special message; that unreleased track one acquired through a friend or bought at an underground music store to be played later at a party; the first time we heard a DJ mix; all of these memories are connected to a mixtape.  But what is a Mixtape?

As the word suggests its a compilation of songs taken from multiple sources (be it Radio, Records, another cassette, or any other media an album is released on); recorded typically on a cassette tape in a specific order, to give meaning to one’s mood or match a theme.

Traditionally revered in the age of cassettes the 1980’s like a personal compilation, gifted or exchanged between friends or sold commercially.

These recordings would simply have abrupt edits, some would have faded in and out effects between each song and the more sophisticated would transition the beginning and ends of each song to make it seamless. Private tapes become popular with the availability of technology to teenagers and youngster as a way of expression, popularised by the release of the Sony Walkman; but they were already popular & made active commerce in the 1970s.

Mixtapes were popularised by the Dj’s in the 1970s. Legends like Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Africa Bambaataa sensationalized the mixed tape for music listeners for generations to come.

Dj’s often used mixed tapes as demo’s to showcase their skills of song selection & beat matching to prospective clients; but most often these were simply recordings of their performances in underground events or clubs, to be sold to the general public to add to their own revenue and popularity. Often these tapes were referred to as a “Party Tape” and would be limited in quantity so as to be prized by the purchaser.

The mixtape was the way a DJ could show his programming skill and often also used it as a backup for commercial parties, in case of equipment failure. Hip-hop Mc’s and rappers created their own mixtapes as well, some with Dj participation and some pure recordings of their performances as demos or for sale similar to party tapes.

Mixtapes were, of course, pirated music in the 1970s and ’80s and caused their own set of issues in the music industry and an evolution was inevitable if the concept was to stay.

In the late ’80s, The evolution of the mixtape was popularised in 4 big ways:

  1. Dj’s had already started to piece together small parts or songs using these tapes to create mashups which evolved into the concept of remixes as more affordable technology became available to them.
  2. Commercial record labels had been recycling music through compilations music based on genre or themes; As Dj mixtapes became popular, these labels started curating dance music based on the popularity of Dj’s playing them and often employed the Dj’s themselves to curate these compilations.
  3. Solo Artists and Bands started to refer to their demo tapes as Mixtapes as well and reinforced the meaning of a mixtape as a compilation, adding to its popularity.
  4. The popularization of the personal music system such as the Walkman and Boombox, capable of recording and playing tapes made the Mix-tape a household commodity among the youth.
    Mixtapes popularity grew to such an extent, that at a point it was even considered an art form in America.

Post the 80s, saw the downfall of mixtapes.

The Digital Age brought its own revolutions to music and the music industry,  The mixtapes of the ’80s transformed to Mix CD’s when rewritable CD’s were introduced in 1997. They were not as popular, they lacked the analog feel of a tape and were more expensive. Besides CD writers were not cheap and took allot more time and effort to create than their analog tape counterpart. With the popularisation of MP3’s (the new compression format for music), the music lost a lot of quality and the number of tracks that would fit the CD increased drastically; this too was not Mix tape friendly as the whole feel of writing the names of the tracks on the Tape or in this case the CD cover was lost.

Around the same time in 1990’s the world wide web came into being, it changed the way we communicated forever and little did we know it would change the music business as well. The Mixtape was changing in form again and in the next 10 years, Digital Music Curation it seems was the new format, with a potential to be big business for the music industry.

Today, complex network servers running algorithms, allow tracking of music plays and royalty fee payments, disbursals results, etc.  There is less piracy of music than there was 5 years ago, but the mixtape has lost its physical form completely. Users and streamers are tracked, popularity indexes are created, marketed, and corporations not only make but push music to the listeners based on their listening habits. Curation is big business but it’s becoming more math, based on stats and algorithms than actual human curation and art propagation.

The idea of the mixtape has been completely transformed, but can we truly say it is a mixtape when there is no tape and we are just listeners without participation. There still exist “Tape Music Purists”, who continue to use tapes and wonder if they will see a revival of the Tape; similar, to the Vinyl records revival.

Are Mix tapes done?

Only time will tell the future of the curated music, the compilation, the mixtape or the playlists, for now, its music on demand.

Reference articles:
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/oct/16/google-play-music-streaming-playlist-creators-susan-boyle-test
https://www.forbes.com/sites/cheriehu/2017/05/08/inside-the-ongoing-quest-to-get-music-curators-paid/#7ca26e8314a6
https://pitchfork.com/features/article/9686-up-next-how-playlists-are-curating-the-future-of-music/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixtape
https://www.mixtapepsd.com/the-history-of-mixtapes/

Things You Didn’t Know About Direct Drive Turntables

The Direct Drive Turntable was a new technological advancement to the well-established belt drive turntable. The Direct drive system overcomes some of the disadvantages that the users of belt drive systems faced. Soon after the launch, Direct drive turntables became popular between live performers and Disc Jockeys. Due to its new and improved system, it actually overcame the main disadvantage of the belt drive turntables – the ability to handle a dj performance. In this article, we will overview the basics of the direct drive turntables.

Direct Drive. What is it?
In the direct drive system, the motor is housed in the centre directly under the platter. Instead of a belt, the motor directly connects to the platter. It has better torque, which was missing in the older designs. Fewer parts also mean less maintenance and less wear and tear.

Preferred by DJ’s
If you are a DJ, the Direct drive is for you. It reaches the optimal preset playing speeds very quickly with consistent platter acceleration. The high torque allows for a more stability while playing. The technical design allows for better control.

Direct drive is more resilient to external stimuli making it ideal for the tricks and motions of the DJ while scratching or backspins (Dj technique). Touching the platter was once a “no-no” in the early djing days, often causing mechanical issues on the belt drive. All the above factors lead to the direct drive turntables to gain popularity and are the most widely used turntables in DJing.

Sound Quality
Where Direct drive turntables surpass others in performers, they lose out in sound quality. Turntables are precision instruments, the stylus acts like a microphone picking up vibrations. The location of the motor connected to the platter transfers vibrations, which are caught by the needle, creating unwanted noise in the form of a hum or distortion during playback. But this is something which has been identified and corrected to acceptable levels in most professional turntables used for DJ’ing.
To overcome the hum, newer models have shock absorbing material between the platter and the motor, that helps to reduce the noise.

The legs of the turntables sometimes contribute to the hmm as well…

Related Articles.
Read more about the legs/feet of the turntables:  “Turntable Feet”.
Read more about the other different kinds of turntables : Guide to Types of Turntables. 

Levelling your Turntable Feet

The feet of the turntable comprises of the 4 pegs screwed into the bottom of the turntable that are responsible for keeping the turntable body off the surface on which it rests, primarily for the purpose of structural isolation.
What is isolation and why is it important and how important are the feet of turntables? To know more about this, do read our blog post on “Isolation and steady feet make for better music”. 

Turntable feet are responsible for levelling the turntable to ensure that this precision device works without any issue.


Levelling:
One of the most ignored aspects of turntable set-up is levelling.
The turntable requires an even surface to function properly and is very sensitive, one can even go to the extent of saying it is a precision instrument and will not function properly unless levelled.

What can happen?
– The stylus can skip off the vinyl groove
– Problems in anti-skating, pulling too far in one direction
– Instability in belt drive turntables causing hums and add-on vibrations
– Pitch instability
– Needle eating too deep into the vinyl and destroying the sound over time.
All of the above are real-world issues faced because of uneven levelling. But the solution is quite simple and mostly inexpensive.

 

In fact all it will cost you is time!

The feet of most turntables are adjustable and can simply be screwed or unscrewed to adjust the height or level. A simple bubble level indicator is best used on the platter to determine the correct level.

 

Belt Drive Turntables, the Basics

There are different types and shapes of turntables available in the market; from which the Belt drive turntables have some of the most innovative designs.

So, WHAT IS A BELT DRIVE TURNTABLE?

The term “belt drive” accounts for the Drive Belt used in the device.
In belt drive turntable, the motor which rotates the platter is placed off-centre of the platter and connected to it via a drive belt.

 

Mechanics
The Record player is an instrument that converts music stored on a vinyl record into sound through a needle that bounces on the contours of the record picking vibrations through the stylus, converting the same to an audio signal. This audio signal is amplified and heard through a speaker. The mechanics of how this happens in principle is standard for all modern turntables.

Here we understand the distinguishing parts of the belt drive and different from other modern record players that is the mechanics of how the platter rotates.

Understanding the mechanics of a belt turntable is quite simple. A belt helps the platter to rotate as it connects the platter to the motor.

Motor: The motor rotates the platter converting electrical energy into kinetic energy. Initially, DC servomotors were used and later upgraded to Helical armature motors to reduce noise. The motor is placed away from the platter and the stylus to reduce any noise that the motors moving parts may create.

Platter: It is the most distinguishing part of the turntable that you will notice first when you take a look at any turntable. It is a solid disk-like platform that holds and rotates the record. Platters are normally heavy providing more stability, though cheaper and lighter platters are now available based on improvements in design and technology.

Belt: The Drive Belt connects the motor with the platter and moves the gear to rotate it. It is made of elastic material. The belt could be wrapped around the outside edge of the entire platter or the inner platter that the outer main platter rests on. The belt is subject to wear and tear over a period of time and requires maintenance, though easy and cheap to replace.

 

If you want to dig deeper into the parts of turntables read: “Breaking Down the Turntable”.

Dj’ing on a Belt Drive?
If you are a Disc Jockey, you most likely will not use a belt drive. Low torque, high maintenance and delicate, these turntables are great for the precision of quality sound but not for performance. It can take a few seconds to get up to the full speed and is sensitive to touch which can often displace the drive belt.

Arjun Vagale playing a Vinyl Only set

 

Better in Sound quality. It MATTERS!
Belt drive turntables are less noisy compared to direct drive turntables. The elastic rubber belt connecting the isolated motor acts as an additional shock absorber or filter that prevents vibrations from the motor allowing for superior sound quality.

For Vinyl enthusiasts where sound quality tops performance, the belt drive is preferred. Innovations in designs have reduced noise from external vibrations and have given rise to isolation devices as well as modification to the turntable feet to deal with the slightest of external sounds. Some interesting designs & customised variants of belt drive turntables make for great functional show-pieces as well.

More information on the comparison of Direct drive V/s Belt drive is available in Types of record players”.

Beginners Guide to the Types of Record Players

turntable | Placing a record

Vinyl never went out of style, just out off mainstream production. Its back and growing steadily. From the origins of the phonograph to the modern day electronic devices for CD and digital playback, the recording and reproduction of sound has come a long way. The revival of turntables by modern DJ’s and record players by music enthusiasts has given a new lease to Vinyl. When choosing a record player or turntable there’s one main factor to understand and that’s between primarily 2 kinds of Turntables. These are based on the position and placement of the motor.

+ MoreBeginners Guide to the Types of Record Players