Confused about your turntable speed? Want to learn why the speed of your records could be playing too slow or fast? This article will answer any questions you have about record player speed and ways in which you can fix any problems your turntable currently has.
Turntable Speed: A Background And The Basics
Let’s start with the very basics and a bit of background. The speeds in which a turntable spins is measured in Revolutions Per Minute (RPM). This is the number of times over a minute that a record takes to complete a full spin on the record player.
The majority of record players these days feature only 2 speeds: 33 ⅓ RPM and 45 RPM. The size and speed of a record were determined by record companies back in the day, being defined by how much information they could fit on a record whilst keeping a decent quality of sound. Back in the early phonograph days, 78 RPM was pretty much a standard for a while, but by around the 1950s, this speed fell out of favour as record companies realised they could print the same audio quality onto the faster speed of 33 ⅓ RPM. This allowed them to have around 22 minutes of music per side.
Due to the listening time of around 22 minutes, 33 ⅓ RPM (12 inch) records are primarily used for LPs (Long Play Records) which house full albums split over 2 sides. 45 RPM (7 inch) records are smaller in size and cheaper to produce, and can house around 5 minutes per side. Because of this, 7-inch records are perfect for releasing singles which can house a couple of tracks on each side.
Switching Between 33 ⅓ And 45 RPM
Got the basics? Good! But how can they both play on your record player? Well, your record player is probably quite clever, and can easily switch from one turntable speed to the other to accommodate playing either a 45 RPM record or a 33 ⅓ speed record. As you may know, if you put an LP (12 inch) on a record player at a 45 RPM speed, it will be going too fast and therefore all the music will sound like The Chipmunks. High pitched and horrible. If you play a 7 inch single at 33 ⅓ RPM, you will be transported to something in the realms of a horror movie as vocals linger and drawn out sounds feel muffled and distorted due to the slower speed. (If you do want a bit of fun, however, some 45s can sound better slower… check out this article).
Depending on which record player you have, you will either have a switch that you can flick to play at a speed of either 33 ⅓ or 45 RPM, or you may have to manually move the belt underneath the platter if you have a belt-drive system rather than a direct-drive system. Speaking of belt-drives…
Belt Drives Versus Direct Drives
The type of drive your record player has is how the motor, which powers the movement of your record player, is connected to the system. This helps determine the turntable speed. In very simple terms, direct-drive record players have the motor directly under the platter that rotates the platter from straight underneath. A belt-drive record player has the motor offset which is connected to a spindle via a belt which then rotates the main platter – kind of like a pulley system.
“But why are there two different versions, and what does this mean for the speed?” I hear you ask. Well, wonder no more:
Direct-drives are mainly used by DJ’s as they get up to speed pretty quickly and the platter is free from any resistance without a band – These are pretty much necessities for DJing and mixing. The downside of this is that the vibrations from the motor, due to being directly under the platter, transfers some of its vibrations through the platter and can affect the sound you hear.
Belt-drives, on the other hand, take longer to build up to their correct playing speed so you may have to wait a bit longer before dropping the needle on your favourite record. However, having a belt-drive eliminates motor noise and gives you a more natural sound. One issue with belt-drives is that, over time, the belt can stretch or slip meaning that the speed of your platter is more likely to change.
How To Test The Speed Of Your Record Player
So, now you know all the background and basics about record player speed and how it all works. But how do you check that the speed is correct? Read on!
One day you might be listening to a record and feel the speed is a little off. You’ve recently bought your favourite record on vinyl and you just can’t get it out of your head that the speed doesn’t feel right. So, how do you test the turntable speed? Below, we discuss the two main methods.
You can download strobe discs for free from many sites on the internet, such as from here on the Vinyl Engine Forum. Download and print off the disc with markings and place it on your platter. Depending on your country, the lines on your strobe disc will either be set for 60hz (North America) or 50hz (Europe). You will also need to purchase a strobe light for this method. Start the platter spinning and, once up to speed, direct the strobe light at the revolving strobe disc. If the turntable hits the correct speed (either 33 ⅓ or 45 RPM depending on what you are testing) the strobe lines/markings will appear stationary instead of moving. This is a neat optical illusion that helps determine if the speed is correct.
Although strobe discs have been used for years, mobile apps have become a much easier, quicker and cheaper method – although some argue might not be as accurate. There are lots of apps out there, but at present, I recommend one called ‘RPM Speed & Wow’. All you have to do is open the app and set it on the stationary platter whilst making sure the counter on the phone screen says zero. Then start spinning! When it’s up to full speed, check the phone display which will show the RPM of your record player (hopefully 33.3 or 45 RPM respectively).
As a side note, some turntables, especially ones for DJs where speed is so essential, have a strobe light attached, such as on the Technics SL1200. This strobe is directed at the small dots surrounding the platter. Depending on whether the dots are moving or stationary is how you can determine the speed of the platter, just like on the strobe discs previously discussed.
My Turntable Speed Is Off. What Do I Do?
Oh no! You’ve been listening to records slightly out of time! What do you do? You have two options…
Try To Fix It Yourself
If you’re a beginner you might want to take it to a professional to sort, but if you’re brave enough to try yourself, here’s a few things to look out for (be warned though, we will not be held responsible for any damages!).
- If you have a belt-drive record player, one possibility is of slow down is that the belt is stretched or cracked. Belts usually last at least a few years without any issues, but it’s best to take the platter off now and again to check the belt.
- If, when you check, the belt only seems slightly stretched and not degraded, you can try and shrink it back to size. Fold the belt in half and measure the size to make a note of. Place the belt in a pan, boil some water and add this water to the pan. Leave the belt to soak for around 5 minutes before taking out and drying. The belt should have shrunk slightly, so put it back on your record player and test the speed again.
- Some turntables with have speed adjustment screws – check your owners manual to find out where. Usually, turning these screws clockwise with speed up the platter and anti-clockwise will slow it down. Once you’ve amended the screws, test again with a strobe disc or phone app until you get the speed you desire. Obviously, make sure your turntable is stable and level when you adjust the screws, otherwise, the speed could be off when you put it back in its natural place and stance.
- If any of the above didn’t work, make sure, if it’s a belt-drive, that the belt isn’t rubbing on anything or check the motor and platter for any other blockages or ‘gunk’ that could be affecting the speed. If the problem still persists, try taking off the belt and adding a couple of drops of oil (fully synthetic and non-detergent oil) to the rotor shaft where it exits the motor and move it around a little so it will seep into the bushing. Clean off any excess oil and reattach the belt.
There are plenty more in-depth methods around the internet so if any of the above doesn’t work have a search yourself, or…
Go To A Professional
If the above all seems a bit too complicated or you’re worried about damaging your record player, the best bet is to take it to a professional to sort out. Prices vary depending on where you go, so shop around for places near you or ask a few vinyl buddies where to find a decent repair shop or record store that provides the service. You could expect to pay around £30 – £40 pounds for a cleanup and belt replacement for example, or go for a full service which could help stop future issues but will be a little more expensive.
Maintaining Speed And Maintenance
As with anything, you need to look after your record player. Make sure the dust cover is on when not in use to stop dust and particles clogging up your system over time. If you’re confident in oiling and cleaning your system yourself, do this on a regular basis, if not, make sure to take it in for a service at least once every couple of years unless any issues arise, at which case do this earlier. Also, if you’re buying a second-hand record player, remember to check the turntable speed before you buy, and also check the quality of the belt if it’s a belt-drive.
That’s it! We hope you enjoyed our guide and found it useful. If you have any questions or comments, please drop us a line below!