This time let’s write about the turntable drive and its key role in analog music playback. But is it permissible to write only about a turntable, knowing that it is only one of four key factors for the most perfect analog playback chain possible? Tonearm and cartridge as well as phono preamplifier and cartridge must be a good match. And – yes, really! – when it comes to phono, the cabling really does play a role.
So what influence is left for a turntable? Well, manufacturers of turntables often say that with a good turntable the importance of tonearm and pickup decreases. But manufacturers of tonearms just as often say that a very good leading tonearm, which can be perfectly adjusted to the pickup, compensates for any weaknesses of the drive. And a dealer who has concentrated primarily on the sale of cartridges told me a few years ago “quite confidentially” that it really only depends on the pickup, the rest is “purely a matter of design”.
Practical experience with the combination of turntable drive, tonearm and cartridge
Based on our experience, we say that all three of the above assertions contain a part of truth. But at the same time we claim that none of them is right and pursues only own interests. If you add up, the author of this article has owned or intensively listened to more than 15 turntables in the last 10 years, combined with 10 tonearms and 20 cartridges. At least this provides a certain foundation for a credible practical assessment. And this was always very differentiated.
Criteria for a good turntable drive
If you look at the turntable drive alone, there are some criteria that let it play at high-end level or even below. And you wouldn’t believe how well certain candidates come off in test reports, whose factual values leave a lot to be desired.
Noise voltage ratio and friction wheel drive
As with a good phono preamp, a high-end turntable should produce as little running noise as possible. Because if the record already physically produces running noises, the turntable should not interfere louder than necessary, so that both even swing up in the worst case. The record medium itself usually achieves a maximum of 65 dB noise voltage difference. A turntable should be well below that. So if you read values of less than 70 dB “rumble distance” in a report about a “high-end drive”, move on to the next article or test candidate. Because that should always be possible with today’s technologies and know-how.