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The record player, called a phonograph and then gramophone around the beginning of the 20th century, dates back to Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell and their teams in the late 19th century. Later in that century, Emile Berliner moved the media from cylinders to flat discs. Records were the dominant format of commercially storing audio for about a century.

Recently, records (and thus turntables) have made a comeback, outselling CDs for the first time in decades in the US in 2020. Nostalgia, DJ culture, aesthetics, and “analog warmth” are all factors contributing to the revival of vinyl and record players.

CDs and digital music formats are not the first serious competitor to records as a format. In the '20s, radio and the Great Depression compressed the industry. In the mid '50s, Philco introduced the first record player that resembles the retro-style standalone unit that many consumers are familiar with from contemporary brands, such as Crosley.

Through the '60s and '70s, record technology advanced, making players cheaper and more portable, as well as introducing higher-end, better-sounding equipment for audiophiles. Some of these advances included quadraphonic sound, belt and direct drive, better balanced arms, and better needle cartridges with improved frequency response.

What are automatic and semi-automatic turntables?

The automated part of a turntable is the arm, the long plastic or metal piece that holds the needle and connects to the player at a rotating joint. On an automatic turntable, pressing the play button will cause a mechanism to move and drop the needle onto the record with no other physical manipulation required from the user. Automatic turntables will also return the arm to it’s home once playing is complete.

Semi-automatic turntables will do most of what’s described above, but require the user to actually move the tonearm back to its support after a side has played.

Ideally, this convenient mechanism leads to a consistent and safe amount of pressure being put on the needle with each play. However, these mechanisms can cause more surface noise, decreasing sound quality and accuracy. When any moving parts are added to a machine, the chances of needing repair increase. Automatic turntable arms are difficult to replace, especially for consumers.

Can I buy a turntable with stereo speakers?

Most contemporary turntables are stereo, but must be added to a home audio system that includes an amp and speakers. Crosley, Victrola, and Pyle are a few brands that sell complete systems that include built-in speakers and other components, such as FM radio or bluetooth.

What should I look for in a DJ turntable?

The Technics SL-1200 has been the industry-standard turntable for DJs for decades. However, vintage, reissue, and iterative models are not affordable for everyone, including beginners. There are a few criteria to look for when considering a turntable (or two) for DJing.

First, it should be direct drive, which allows for precision. Secondly, it should have a manual tone arm that’s replaceable. Most DJs prefer S-shaped arms. Lastly, look for models with a pitch fader instead of the 33/45 or similar switch found on most models for home audio. Pioneer, Denon, Numark, and Audio-Technica are a few brands to consider.

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