Connecting a record player to an amplifier or a set of active speakers might seem like an effortless job but more often than not, a lot of people end up realising they’ve either bought the wrong audio cable or that the music sounds odd or distorted. In this blog, I’ll present a (hopefully) clear-cut explanation of how to properly connect your turntable.
- First Things First: Amplifier or Active Speakers?
- Do I Need a Phono Preamp?
- Record Players with Built-In Phono Preamp
- Record Players without a Built-In Phono Preamp
- Record Players with a Built-In Power Amp
- What Kind of Cable(s) Do I Need?
- See Also
First Things First: Amplifier or Active Speakers?
If you’re looking to connect your record player directly to your speakers, then they need to be active speakers, meaning that they come with a built-in amplifier. Their counterpart, passive speakers, always require either an external amplifier or a record player that comes with an integrated amp. Active speakers are easily recognised since they come fitted with a volume control or other controls and the same goes for Bluetooth speakers. While you can plug a record player directly to either without the need for an amplifier, you might end up needing a phono preamp. Read on below to learn more.
1. Do I Need a Phono Preamp?
To get vinyl records sounding as they should, record players require special phono pre-amplification. As with amplifiers, some turntables have this built-in and some don’t. If your record player doesn’t come with a phono preamp, you’re going to have to buy an external one. Luckily, you won’t have to the break the bank to get your hands on one. More on this in a bit!
Record Players With a Built-In Phono Preamp
Any record player ith integrated pre-amplification will have the word ‘line’ printed somewhere on the back or in the manual and is the easiest to get to work when you want to connect it to a modern amplifier or pair of active speakers. But what does pre-amping even mean? It means that your record player is equipped with a phono preamp that takes the phono signal and converts it to the line signal needed for a connection to an amp or active speaker. All you need with one of these turntables, is one of those well-known, red-and-white RCA (Cinch) cables and voila, sound!
- This type of record player usually comes with a little button to switch between the phono and line signal. Select ‘phono’ if your amplifier only has a special phono input.
The top image shows a record player with line and phono connectors. Below, you can see a record player with nothing but a phono output.
Record Players Without a Built-In Phono Preamp
Near the connectors round the back, these type of record players will either indicate ‘phono’ or nothing at all and, since they offer no pre-amplification, will require the assistance of a preamp. This is often the case with older models and you’re going to need a separate phono preamp to again, convert the phono signal into a line signal to get your player to work. External phono preamps come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and without a frightening price tag. You can browse our collection of phono preamps here.
- Does your amplifier boast a special phono input? Sweet! You won’t be needing a separate preamp. Do take note, however, that this phono input is not suitable for line signals.
Record Players with a Built-In Power Amp
The odd one out here is the record player with a built-in power amp section, which is something entirely different from a preamp section. It’s generally the older model record players that come with one of these ‘genuine’ amplifiers, mainly so that they can be directly hooked up to (the usually included) set of small passive speakers. While a set-up like this offers a lot of value for money and leaves you without the need to buy any additional gear, it’s rather limited in terms of power and volume. Also, expansion is tricky, as these systems usually lack RCA outputs. Instead, most make use of wire terminals for the speaker connections, and hooking up a more potent set is pointless because the built-in amplifier simply lacks the horsepower. It also doesn’t come recommended to try a set of active speakers, the reason being that you’ll only end up with a seriously distorted sound. Technically speaking, the power amp section can be bypassed, but this is not an easy task and you’re most likely better off buying a different record player if you need a little more oomph.
- Some modern record players feature small built-in speakers. These models will almost always have a standard RCA output.
2. What Kind of Cable(s) Do I Need?
If you’re going for a direct connection to an amplifier or set of active speakers, scroll through the cables below and select the one that matches your equipment. The same instructions apply if you require a phono preamp, although you will be needing a second cable.
- Nearly all record players come with RCA outputs and if your amplifier or speaker follows suit, simply connect them using an RCA cable.
- If there’s only a mini-jack input available on your amplifier or speaker, go for a mini-jack to 2x RCA cable. If your record player has a fixed RCA cable, get a mini-jack to 2x RCA female.
- An amplifier or speaker with two jack inputs requires a 2x jack to 2x RCA cable. Should your record player come with a fixed cable, then you’ll want to buy a 2x jack to 2x RCA female cable.
- In case your record player comes with a single jack input, it’s most likely a mono connection while the record player sends out a stereo signal. To get a well-balanced sound, you’ll need a (little) mixer. Alternatively, you can use two speakers and the 2x jack cable solution outlined above. By the way, most double-plug cables can be carefully pulled apart to increase the length of the cable.
- If the amplifier or speaker features two XLR inputs (3-hole inserts), plug in a 2x XLR male to 2x RCA male cable. In case of a record player with a fixed cable, you’ll want to choose a 2x XLR male to 2x RCA female cable.
- Is there only a single XLR input available? Please refer to the third option in the Jack cable list above.
Hopefully by now you’re all up to speed when it comes to connecting a record player to an amplifier or pair of active speakers. In essence, it comes down to the type of turntable you own or are looking to purchase and what you’re wanting to do with it. Just remember, if you ever need to brush up on your audio-technical skills, we’re right here to help you out.
Also, if you feel like I’ve left out any important bits, please let me know in the comment section below!
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