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Just as playback is the mirror image of the recording process, in a similar way you are the playback equivalent to the recording engineer. So to have an understanding of what a good table is supposed to do not only helps you choose the right equipment to buy, but helps you operate it intelligently.

The turntable system’s job is to play the record groove while minimizing vibrations, which can bombard it from every conceivable mechanical and acoustic source. The degree of protection provided against these vibrations is one of the major differences among a lousy, a good, and an excellent table system.

While the presence of “sonic garbage” in the form of micro-resonances often goes unnoticed because you are probably so used to this muddied sound, its absence is immediately apparent in the overall sound quality. This absence can be achieved through better setup or by up grading your table. A “better” table will have both a better mechanism to keep resonances away and, just as important, precision-machined and fitted parts to avoid adding resonances of its own.

Turntables, whether belt or direct drive, consist of two basic sub assemblies: the drive system, which must ensure exact platter speed and supersmooth rotation, and the isolation system, which shields the stylus from spurious vibrations. The record itself becomes the final unifying element of the entire system. In fact, if there is such a thing as a single paramount ingredient in the vinyl playback system, it is the record. The disc is the software program that directs the stylus—the modulations of the spiraling groove literally drive the stylus, drawing the tonearm across the record.

As far as the plinth (table base) and dustcover go, when thought fully designed, these can offer some degree of acoustic shielding and of course provide very necessary protection against dust. The plinth, how ever, is largely a vestigial remnant from the Victorian origins of the gramophone. Stay away from flimsy plinths that sound boxy when you rap them with a knuckle. Boxy plinths resonate like the soundboard of a stringed instrument or piano. A poorly designed plinth and dustcover function like a giant “antenna” conducting mechanical and acoustic energy right up into the record and tonearm—.obscuring the music. In fact, in many tables, the dustcover is the primary culprit in acoustic feedback because it acts like a giant diaphragm.

A very few of the finest tables, such as the Oracle and the Mitch ell, are plinthless. Elite Rock offers a plinthless table as an option and at a significant saving. Probably the cost could be similarly reduced on most good tables by eliminating the plinth, but people are so conditioned to expect a box topped by a round platter that plinthless tables still remain the exception. As far as the mass-market mentality is concerned, a plinthless table is as unfinished as a Jackson Pollock without a frame.

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Updated: Friday, 2016-05-13 19:11 PST