There are a whole host of questions to ask yourself before you buy a turntable. How much do you want to spend? Do you want a turntable with a built-in phono preamp or do you want to be able to build out the system with your own amplification and components? What size records will you be playing and what speed(s) will you need the turntable to play? But after all that one remains: do you want a manual or an automatic turntable? And more importantly, what is even the difference?
In short, a manual turntable is more work, which many vinyl enthusiasts believe is actually the point of playing records. It makes playing the music very deliberate. With a manual turntable, you have to manually lower the tonearm onto the record to start playing and when the record is over, you have to lift the tonearm back into its resting position.
An automatic turntable, on the other hand, takes that work away from you. Once you place the record, all you have to do is press a button (or lever) and the tonearm will automatically lower onto the record and then, when the record is over, the tonearm with lift and return back to its resting position. It’s a minor bit of automation but with a big effect; it makes your turntable essentially a press-and-play machine.
There are hybrid turntables, of course. A semi-automatic turntable, for example, splits the difference by requiring you to place the needle into the groove, but after the album is done, the tonearm will automatically lift and return to its resting position at the end of the record. Most automatic and semi-automatic turntables will also turn off at the end of the record.
What are the advantages of an automatic turntable?
The biggest advantage of an automatic turntable is that you don’t have to worry about placing the stylus. That can be a big relief if you’re just getting into vinyl because you won’t have to worry about missing the edge of the record or placing the stylus cleanly. And it’s important to do so; if done improperly this can scratch and ruin the record, not to mention make a terrible screeching sound in the process.
With an automatic turntable, there’s also less likelihood of you damaging your turntable’s stylus; most automatic turntables have an “auto off” feature that also picks up and returns the tonearm, that way the stylus doesn’t keep riding the record for hours before you realize it’s still on.
Do automatic turntables sound better, worse or the same as manual turntables?
This is a topic of contention. Some people claim that automatic turntables’ abundance of moving parts can actually have a negative effect on the sound quality. There’s also the fact that most many audiophiles prefer manual turntables for the simple fact that they like the analog ritual of placing the stylus and having to pay closer attention to the music.
The bottom line, however, is that it comes down to the turntable. If you have a quality turntable and you take care of, it shouldn’t really matter if it’s automatic or manual.
Fluance makes some of our favorite entry-level turntables. The RT81 isn’t a fully automatic turntable because it actually doesn’t place the stylus, but it does have a vital automatic feature: it stops turning when the record is done. This prevents unwanted damage to the stylus and the record. It’s a nice compromise for those who want the practice of actually placing the record.
This is an excellent fully automatic turntable. It has a built-in preamp that you can turn on or off, meaning you can hook the AT-LP3BK straight up to some bookself speakers or your own external amp. It includes a MM cartridge, removable dust cover and a replaceable stylus.
Thorens TD 170-1
Out of the box, the Thorens TD 170-1 is able to play 33 1/3 or 45 RPM records, just like other two. It’s also capable play 78 RPM records, although you’ll have to buy a separate stylus and cartridge. True, this fully automatic turntable is more expensive than other options, but if you like faster records, this is the turntable to buy.