Whether you’re new to vinyl or looking to upgrade your current setup, you should know that there are two main types of turntables: belt drive and direct drive. what’s the difference? Is this better than that? We have everything you need to know.
What is a belt drive turntable?
In the case of belt-driven and direct-drive turntables, these terms describe how the motor drives the platter on which the record sits. In the case of a belt-driven turntable, the name explains how it works. The belt is connected to the motor and the platters, making the motor spin the platters.
The earliest turntables were belt-driven, which is part of the reason this design is so common, but there is another reason. Belts are usually made of plastic or rubber and don’t transmit most of the engine noise to the platters. This means less motor noise coming through the stylus into the speaker.
Of course, various factors will alter the motor noise you get from a belt-driven turntable. For example, while platter weight is important in belt-driven turntables for a number of reasons, one of them is that heavier platters transmit less noise from the belt.
Belt Drives: Advantages and Disadvantages
As we have already seen above, avoiding motor noise is one of the main reasons why belt-driven turntables are still so popular today. This improves the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), which improves the overall sound quality.
Because they are common and popular with consumers, belt-drive turntables are often more affordable than direct-drive turntables. It’s not an absolute fact that you can pay thousands of dollars for a belt-drive or direct-drive turntable. Still, if you want to start listening to vinyl (and you really should), you can usually get better audio performance with a belt-driven model like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO.
Belt-driven turntables aren’t perfect. For example, they may be prone to pitch changes because the belt’s grip on the platters may not be perfect. This is another situation where a heavier platter is helpful, as it retains momentum and keeps the pitch the same.
The belt in the turntable is a consumable part, so you should expect the belt to be repaired or replaced. This takes a long time, so you don’t need to expect a conveyor belt in a turntable more than every five years, and it usually takes longer. Of course, it depends on how often you use the dial.
The torque of a belt-driven turntable is much less than that of a direct-drive turntable. That means they take longer to reach full speed, but that’s rarely something you really need to worry about. If you need more torque, you might prefer a direct drive turntable.
What is a direct drive turntable?
Direct drive as a name also nicely describes how this type of turntable works. Here, the motor drives the platters directly, so there is no belt or anything between the motor and the platters.
While this design may seem simple, it wasn’t developed until the late 1960s, when it was pioneered by a Panasonic technology company called Shuichi Obata. It wasn’t long before a very specific client got hooked on this type of turntable design: DJs.
While belt-driven turntables have trouble with torque, it doesn’t matter if you’re listening at home, as they’re still fast enough. Instant acceleration is a key feature for DJs to quickly stop and start recording. To this day, all DJ-centric turntables are direct-drive.
Direct Drive: Pros and Cons
One of the main advantages of the direct drive design is the torque we mentioned above. While this is usually only useful for DJs, there are other home-friendly benefits to direct-drive designs.
For starters, direct drive turntables are easier to maintain. There’s no need to replace the belt, and you don’t have to worry about the belt slipping off the platters when moving the turntable (trust me, it does happen).
Another benefit, although more for the DJ, is that the weight of the needle or hand on the plate is not an issue. On a belt-driven turntable, this will slow down the platter and lower the pitch. With a belt drive, the motor has enough force to counteract these small changes in weight.
While the design is simple, motor noise is a bigger problem in direct drive turntables. For DJs in loud clubs, this slight motor noise isn’t much of a problem, although high-quality DJ turntables are still designed to eliminate motor noise. For audiophiles, the slight hum amplified by the phono preamp is a huge annoyance.
Manufacturers have found ways to reduce motor noise and bring direct-drive turntables into your home, but it usually doesn’t come cheap. This means that while affordable direct-drive turntables like the Crosley C200A-BK do exist, they’re not as common as belt-drive models.
Which type of turntable is right for you?
For simplicity, belt-driven turntables are the best choice for most people at home. If you’re new to vinyl, you’ll probably want a more affordable turntable, and you’ll find belt-drive options that are more affordable than direct-drive options.
That said, excellent direct-drive turntables do exist for the domestic market, and while they can be expensive, there are also affordable models. If you’re tired of using free DJ apps and want to use a real turntable, you’ll definitely want a direct drive model.
At the end of the day, you should pay attention to many other factors in the turntable, from how it sounds. Let the features that matter most to you choose the reels for you, or cheat by checking out our favorites.