There are a lot of people out there who love to listen to records. Streaming music is awesome—being able to hear any song you wish, whenever you want—is something I can’t image living without at this point. But when I really want to sit back and enjoy listening to my favourite artist or album, I switch off the Bluetooth speaker and cue up a record on my turntable. I’m far from the only one who treasures this ancient technology for the warmth and detail it brings to music. For the first time in three decades, vinyl records outsold CDs in 2020. So, how do you choose the perfect gift for the record lover on your list?
I have some ideas.
Record player or turntable?
Is your record lover in need of new equipment to play their collection on? Or maybe you’re shopping for someone who’s excited about records, but hasn’t yet started their collection. Either way, you have the perfect opportunity to give a gift they’ll always remember.
It’s important to figure out upfront whether you’re shopping for a record player, or a turntable. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they really refer to two different things.
A turntable is a specialized audio component that’s meant for one thing: playing records. It’s composed of a platform (or plinth) with a motorized spinning platter, a tone arm, and a cartridge with a stylus. A turntable may have an integrated pre-amp, in which case it can be plugged into the AUX input on virtually any audio system—including a wireless speaker. Otherwise, the turntable plugs into the PHONO input on a sound system’s amplifier or receiver.
A record player is a mini audio system built around a turntable. Record players range from portable suitcase models to all-in-one systems. What they share in common is that they are self-contained. You can spin a record on a record player and listen to it right there, with no amplifiers or speakers required.
Generally speaking, record players are best suited to beginners and casual listeners. Turntables require investment in additional audio gear, but the end result is usually much better sound. You can also often upgrade a turntable to sound even better, with a higher quality cartridge or a heavier platter—options that aren’t available for most record players.
If you want the advantages of a turntable in a system that is still compact and less complicated, try pairing one with active speakers. This eliminates the need for an amplifier or receiver, while still offering high quality, stereo audio. I paired Kanto YU powered speakers (pictured above) with a turntable as part of a review, and it was an impressive combination.
To learn more about how to shop for a record player or turntable, be sure to check out my detailed buyer’s guide.
Wireless, USB and other extras
Both turntables and record players increasingly offer modern extras that are lacking in vintage models.
USB output lets you connect one to a PC to record tracks off records. That may seem like an odd thing to do when streaming services offer millions of tracks, but the reality is they don’t have everything. Older songs, 12-inch singles and other offerings on vinyl are often missing on streaming services. The ability to record on a PC means you can capture these unique tracks for digital playback. I reviewed a Denon turntable last year that had a USB port and one-touch recording right in the turntable itself, so no PC was even needed.
Another feature that’s becoming popular is Bluetooth streaming. Why would you want to stream your vinyl? It’s all about space and convenience. If you don’t have a lot of space or don’t want to be bothered with wires, being able play a record and have that streamed wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker or headphones is a handy option. The Stir It Up turntable from House of Marley is a great example of a modern turntable that offers both USB output and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
For the best sound and longer record life, it’s always important to keep both records and the stylus clean. For someone who buys a lot of used records, a record washing system that lets them thoroughly clean albums albums is a big time-saver. And all record lovers always need an anti-static carbon fibre brush—these are also inexpensive and make great stocking stuffers. Or, pick up a record cleaning kit that has everything they might need including anti-static brush, stylus brush, and cleaning fluid.
Replacement components and accessories
There are plenty of turntable accessories available for the turntable owner who could use an upgrade. For example, a new cartridge can make a huge difference in the performance of a turntable. A replacement for a worn stylus (or record player needle) also makes a big difference, and a stylus is easy to install—they literally pop on and off. A new platter mat can make a nuanced difference to the sound produced by a turntable. Some people prefer silicone, some like felt, others go for leather, or even cork. If the speed of a turntable or record player is inconsistent, chances are it may need a new belt.
Before choosing a turntable accessory—especially a cartridge or stylus—check the turntable first for compatibility.
Storage and furniture
Record collections, turntables and record players take up a lot more space than a smartphone and a Bluetooth speaker … And they have very specific requirements. A turntable needs to be on a solid, flat, level surface. Records must be stored by standing them upright, never stacked in a pile.
Don’t forget the lighting!
One final bit of modern technology that can make any record-lover’s setup even better is smart lighting. Mine includes Nanoleaf Canvas light panels that can pulse in time to the music, and simple, easy to install LED strip lights around the turntable for mood lighting.
Best Buy even has the vinyl …
Even if your record lover has a turntable and all the equipment they need, there’s another gift idea they’ll never have enough of: records! You may not think of Best Buy as a record store, but you’ll find an awesome selection of records, from the latest to releases to classic vinyl.