When most people think of turntable players, they immediately conjure up images of the old-fashioned vinyl players that DJs use at parties, complete with giant 12-inch records and needles that scratch and make loud scratching noises as they cross over the records.
Over the years, though, Turntables have changed dramatically to allow users to listen to all sorts of audio formats, not just CDs and cassettes, but also MP3s and even streamed internet radio stations like Pandora. Here’s how turntables progressed from their beginnings in the early 20th century to the hi-fi devices they are today.
Vinyl – the Original Digital Audio Platform
Overlooked for years as an inferior medium, records have been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. Originally, records were highly prized for their superior sound quality—as far back as World War II, vinyl was hailed as a high-quality alternative for capturing music on tape for radio broadcasts.
Over time, however, turntables and vinyl fell out of favour as new formats like cassettes and CDs dominated mainstream markets. However, there’s been renewed interest in digital turntables over the past decade; now you can use records at parties or at home or even archive them digitally—they’re not going anywhere!
Why Everyone Bought Records in the 70s (And Still Does)
Since they could reproduce music more accurately, records gained popularity over FM radios. A single LP could hold 20–40 minutes of music compared to a 10–15 minute song on an average record. This allowed listeners to hear longer songs or entire albums by their favourite artists.
With records being physically smaller than other formats like cassettes and 8-tracks, listeners were able to listen and dance at home parties. With no need for conduction headphones or stereos, people were able to access music in new ways—like listening in groups with friends and loved ones or jamming out alone.
How Music Technology Evolved
Up until World War II, phonographs were devices reserved for music collectors and well-to-do families. Then, in 1942, with vinyl records and shellac discs becoming increasingly popular, sheet metal worker Eldridge Johnson designed a phonograph with a 3D tonearm that allowed users to change records without having to get up out of their chairs.
His design quickly gained traction and by 1945 his company (which was called ‘Phonograph Corp.’) was selling more than one million machines annually. Even after getting knocked off by various companies offering cheaper models, Johnson’s design held strong—and even enjoyed an upgrade or two—well into the 21st century.
The History of Modern Turntables
Before we get into why vinyl records sound better than digital recordings, let’s look at how turntables went from low-fi to hi-fi. This post will answer all your questions about how turntables evolved and gained popularity.
We’ll talk about different types of technology and explain which is best for your home listening needs. We’ll also show you everything you need to know about selecting a new record player or updating an old one, including our picks for eight of the best record players on today’s market!
Why Are We Still Buying Vinyl?
You wouldn’t believe how many different ways have been invented to play music, but it wasn’t until 1877 that Thomas Edison created a practical way of playing and recording sound. Around 1890, Emile Berliner invented a disk that could record sound on both sides; and in 1925, radio companies started using his technology to broadcast their shows.
The vinyl era began when they started producing 33 1/3 rpm records—and all you need to know is that 33s were superseded by 45s, which were superseded by LPs, which were superseded by CDs. Soon, we saw turntables being made for each format—which is still our case today!
The Birth of Compact Discs (CDs)
In 1948, a new audio format called a compact disc was developed. It was created by researchers at Polygram in West Germany and Bell Labs in New Jersey. The first commercial Compact CDs went on sale in 1982 but didn’t become widely used until later that decade.
Even though early CDs only contained up to 20 minutes of audio (compared with about 2 hours for an LP), their ability to skip less frequently than vinyl records made them much more appealing.
But it wasn’t just convenience that made consumers gravitate toward compact discs; the sound quality was also a major selling point. Music played on CDs sounded better than anything people had ever heard before because they were digital recordings instead of analogue—which meant they wouldn’t wear out as quickly either.
The Rising Popularity of MP3 Players, Portable Hard Drives, and Streaming Platforms
In late 2000, MP3 players emerged and quickly gained popularity as a means of listening to music without having to carry around large CD cases. These portable devices now came equipped with small speakers, eliminating an entire component of traditional turntable setups.
As portable music listening became more popular, demand for high-quality sound began to grow among audiophiles. This led many audio experts and manufacturers to design new turntables with higher audio fidelity and better sound quality than ever before—thereby preserving that crisp vinyl scratch while improving sound quality and enhancing your listening experience. Today’s turntables are equipped with advanced technology that brings consumers closer than ever before to vinyl’s natural analogue experience.
Is It Worth It to Buy a Modern Turntable?
The number of turntable sales has been on a steady decline since its height in 1984, but according to recent reports, vinyl is growing in popularity. Sales were up more than 50 per cent between 2011 and 2012. That’s good news for any audiophiles out there who never want to let go of their old records.
But if you’re tempted by all those colourful 7 singles at your local music store, ask yourself: Will I ever really use my turntable? If it just seems like a fun toy or conversation piece, that’s probably all it will be.
In today’s market, turntables are as much about functionality as they are about performance. But even with all of these technological innovations, there will always be a special place in our hearts for music made on vinyl.
So whether you plan on spinning records at home or kicking it old school during your next trip to a music festival, we hope that our list of turntable reviews will make your listening experience better than ever. Cheers!