When the time comes to buy a record player, whether this is your first venture into a decent turntable set up or you’re upgrading to a new system, of course you want to buy the best for the funds you have. Often this means buying second hand. In reality, with a turntable setup, the technology hasn’t really moved on much in the last 20 years. This means there’s a massive amount of old equipment for sale out there that’s just as good as some of the newer equipment but for a fraction of the price. But where do you look? How do you know if it’s any good? Is it risky? This article aims to answer these questions and give you tips on how to navigate the potential minefield of buying second hand.
I’m going to stick to discussing a setup along the lines of the holy trinity of components: Turntable, speakers and amp. These are the basics you need for a vinyl setup (and maybe a pre-amp – discussed later). Please note, this article is for Vinyl setups for listening to music, rather than for DJ’s who use their equipment for mixing, shows, etc.
Where To Start
First off, here are a few general pointers when buying used record player equipment:
- Set a budget that’s affordable to you and stick to it. It’s always tempting to pay that little bit extra if a special deal comes up, but where do you draw the line? Stick to what you can afford and get the best for what that price is.
- I recommend spending similar amounts on all three components of turntable, amp and speakers. You don’t want to have a cheap amp and expensive speakers and turntable, or any other mixes of the three. It’s best to have a setup where all components are evenly priced and, therefore, even in quality.
- If you have the chance, test any equipment before purchase. Even on eBay this is usually possible if you’re collecting the item personally. This will help save disappointment at parting with your hard-earned cash only for something not to work or sound like you want it to. You can even ask the seller if you can bring some of your own equipment to try out with your potential purchase. Speaking of collection…
- Where possible, always make sure you pick up any components yourself. With delivery of such sensitive equipment as turntables, you really don’t want to trust the bumps and shakes it may incur along the way to your house, especially with older equipment.
- Ask questions. I can’t emphasise this enough. Ask as many questions as you can so you feel comfortable with what you’re buying. Any decent seller will be happy to answer any queries. On top of this, visit record shops for advice on equipment you might be buying; they’re usually more than happy to help.
- Use online forums for help and guidance. These are great and filled with a bunch of friendly people willing to answer your queries and help out with any vinyl setup questions. Remember to pay back the advice you receive by also answering other people’s questions if you can. One place that has been great for me and I have first-hand experience with is the forum on the Vinyl Engine website.
- A few aesthetic scratches can really lower the price of second hand products. As long as there aren’t too many and they don’t affect the actual sound, you can get some great bargains if you’re not worried about a few marks or scuffs. Just make sure there isn’t too many; this could mean the item hasn’t been very well looked after and other problems could pop up in the future.
- Read reviews. It’s always a good idea to read reviews and get a general gist of the sound and quality the product your looking at offers. Don’t rely on them too heavily, however – you want your system to have a sound that appeals to YOU. You’re the one who’ll be listening to it, so as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.
Where to Look
Ebay is great for used stereo equipment, but sometimes the bargains are harder to find than you’d think. Also check out other selling sites such as gumtree or craigslist. Don’t forget to check out vinyl and stereo forums which sometimes include a classifieds section, as well as local newspaper classifieds and shops that sell second hand goods. Obviously, you’ll have more luck finding something you specifically want on sites like eBay, but look around, you might get lucky!
The Record Player Holy Trinity
Above, I’ve discussed a general guide to buying musical equipment second hand, so now I’ll go into more detail on each component you’ll need to complete your turntable setup. This is a guide for only one type of setup: a turntable, an amplifier and passive speakers. In case you don’t know, passive speakers use the amp as a power source, whereas other types, such as powered speakers, have their own power source. To keep things simple I’m only discussing a passive speaker set up. For more details of other setups, feel free to search around the web and Google away to your hearts content.
When buying used, you can get some oldies but goodies out there. But, as with anything, the older it is, the more problems you may have with it. Here are the things to look out for with turntables:
- Check the speed of the turntable. If songs sound faster or slower to your ears when playing music, they probably are. There are various tools you can use to check the speed, such as strobe discs or phone apps. For a phone app, type in ‘RPM calculator’ into the google play or iphone stores and a few free options should be there available to download. You can open the app and place your phone on a turntable as it’s spinning and it will tell you the speed. Strobe discs are a more low-tech option, being a piece of paper you can add to the turntable and use light to assess the speed. You can download your own strobe disc for free from this link.
- Take it in for a service. Often it still works out much cheaper to buy second hand and get it serviced than to buy brand-new. Services can include general maintenance and part replacement and can be from as little as £50.
- Often with used turntables, the cartridge will need changing, and this is a part that’s best to buy new. Check out forums and websites to decide which cartridge will suit your own turntable for the sound you want.
The amplifier is integral to your setup if you want to be able to shape and mould the sound to what you want. Here are some tips:
- Make sure to note whether the amp you’re buying needs a preamp. With record players, a preamp is a must to raise the current and drive the speakers. The first thing to check when buying an amplifier is if it has a phono stage where you can plug your turntable into the amplifier. Some amps come with the preamp built in, which you can usually tell by checking if there’s a terminal on the back labelled ‘phono’ to plug your turntable into (or you can ask the seller the question when buying second hand). Others will need a separate preamp to be purchased and plugged into the amplifier to use your turntable. There are advantages and disadvantages of both, so look into it to see which one suits you.
- Amplifier sound varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model-to-model, so it’s worth doing a little research to see which amplifier will suit the sound you’re looking for. Read reviews, visit message boards, try out different brands in shops to decide which sound you want, and then hunt for those second hand bargains.
- Make sure an amplifier includes the connections you want, or may need in the future. If you’re planning to add other components to your amplifier, such as a CD player, tuner, or digital components, make sure your chosen amp has the right set up to accommodate this.
Speaker technology hasn’t really changed that much over the last 20 years, so buying used can get you a really good deal. Also, think of the following:
- Search for speakers that will suit your room. Floorstanders, bookshelf or wall-mounted speakers all have their different qualities, and it’s worth a little research to see which suits your room before forking out.
- Speaker positioning. This one is hard to do before you buy, but the way you position speakers in your room can have an immense effect on the sound. Check out this link from Cambridge Audio for more info.
- Cables! Often, used speakers won’t come with cables so you may have to buy your own. Look into the different kinds and types you can buy, and again, it will probably be best to buy these new. These days you can buy cables with ‘burn in’, which, some argue, give them a better sound. You can often find retailers that perform burn in on their cables free of charge so take a look around. Read more about burn in here.
Again, just to reiterate, this is just a rough guide to one setup you may want to choose for your record player. There is plenty more info out there if you want to get more in-depth, but this guide is meant to help get your head around where to start when buying second hand. I hope this helps people, and if you have any opinions or other tips on buying second hand, please leave a comment!