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Your record player really should be the star of your system. Its beating heart might be the amplifier, and the speakers are its face, but your source is why you built the system in the first place.
If you’re starting from scratch and want a traditional set-up, you also need an amplifier, speaker cables and interconnects, and unless there’s one built-in to either your turntable or amplifier, a phono stage will be required as well.
Of all this, the record player itself shouldn’t really be much more than a quarter of your overall budget. Your system is still going to work even if you have a deck that the speakers and amp can’t justify.
Setting an early budget will at least pare down your list of turntables for which you’ll want to read the reviews and, ideally, hear for yourself. The other thing that will help this trimming is to make a list of the features you desire in your new deck. An easy one to begin with is how many speeds you need it to spin. Far more important are the features that dictate what you need in the rest of your system, such as phono amplification and wireless capabilities.
The cartridge isn’t perhaps something you need to worry about straight away; pretty much all budget and mid-range turntables come with one fitted, so you only really need to find a package you like the sound of as a whole, but it’s a good budget-friendly future upgrade, and it's good to understand anyway. It’s the job of the cartridge to track the groove.
System-building always deserves careful thought, but it can be even more significant with a turntable where there are even more components to match. It’s worth noting here that many turntable manufacturers like to dial in a bit of what you might term ‘analogue warmth’ - really just emphasising the idea you’re listening to vinyl rather than a digital reproduction.
That’s fine, if that’s the kind of sound characteristic you’re after, but it does mean you’ll need to be a bit more careful with the rest of your system as too much emphasis on lower-mid frequencies, for example, can all add up to make a muddy, slovenly sound. If you want to hear precisely what your deck is saying, you’ll want to focus on transparency elsewhere in the system. It’s a bit like a relationship, where opposing characteristics can actually be the most complementary.
There are a few things you can think about before you even get your deck home. Most important is positioning and support. The surface on which you place your record player needs to be perfectly level, low resonance and positioned as far away from sources of vibration as possible - and that includes your speakers.
On a hard concrete floor, a floorstanding support will work fine but the same support will emphasise footfall on a suspended wooden floor. If you have such a floor construction, we would recommend investing in a dedicated wall shelf. This kind of support avoids the footfall issue totally. Just make sure you use proper heavy-duty mounting screws and fixings, or the consequence could be expensive…