If there was one development in audio that surprised many people, it was the sudden resurgence of vinyl.
No one doubted that a good system playing vinyl produced a better, more accurate sound. But the marketing people convinced a lot of people that consumerized digital products were the way to go. It was quick, painless, durable, and not expensive. What more could you ask for? Mmm, how about the best sound? Vinyl returned.
One product that reappeared, if that is the right word, is the portable record player. Or to give its up-to-date name, the Suitcase Record Player. But, some unflattering comments were often made about their performance. But are all suitcase record players bad?
Plenty of Positives
If you take away the sound issues, which we shall discuss later, they have a lot going for them. They are portable and have a stylish look with a nice aesthetic. Being so portable, they are easy to take with you from room to room. Even outside around the patio or in the garden if you wish.
And they have stolen a market in the digital world by including options to stream music from your mobile device using Bluetooth.
What Is A Suitcase Turntable?
Many years ago, quite a few, for my tenth birthday I got a very special present. A Dansette Junior Record Player. By today’s standards, rather ordinary if I’m going to flatter it, but at the time to me, it was the business.
Today’s modern suitcase record players are not a million miles away in their design or their purpose. But the quality of their performance, it must be said, has improved quite a bit.
Why Are They Becoming Popular?
They are indeed becoming a popular item in certain circumstances. It would be a bit silly to say they are becoming popular with people who want high-end turntables. But, for those who are not looking for a high-end sound, there are some advantages of suitcase record players.
They have some nice designs, are convenient, and take up very little space. Also, they can be packed away easily after use if you choose to store them. And finally, they are usually built very well using decent quality materials. That gives them a certain durability.
A Share Of Criticism
They tend to be criticized. And one of the principal suitcase record player criticisms is that they are prone to damaging your precious vinyl. Claims are made that this is because of the use of bad design and cheap components. I shall look more closely at that later on.
Good, Bad, or Indifferent?
So, let’s go back to our initial question. Are all suitcase record players bad? Let’s follow that up with another question. Are all standard turntables, direct or belt drive, good?
The answer to both questions, of course, is no. Just as not every turntable you will see in the shop performs well. Not every suitcase record player does either.
One of the problems with the sudden rise of a product like this is that the market can very quickly become saturated. This is caused by the sudden input of a product. A good percentage of which is substandard.
This will happen on many products, so the important thing is to be selective. And you will find that there are some high quality suitcase record players indeed. We shall take a look at a small sample a bit later.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
That’s how the less than impressive record players are marketed. Trying to draw you in by how they look. Don’t be fooled.
It might be very tempting to go for one of the ‘pretty’ products because it has got its party clothes on. But, the substandard design can do more damage than just emptying your wallet.
Do Suitcase Record Players Damage Your Vinyl?
As I said earlier, there is good and bad in most things. There is this belief that seems to have taken hold that the suitcase record player has two problems. First, it is not reliable. Second, it can damage your vinyl.
Before we look at both of those criticisms, let me just make some observations. The vast majority of suitcase turntables have a much lower price point than higher-end turntables. Is that a clue?
Designed to Be Cost-Effective
The lower price usually means that cheaper materials and less expensive components have been used in manufacturing. This will inevitably affect the performance. They have been designed to be that way.
I can’t understand those that make comparisons to higher-end turntables. Is it so hard to understand that the performance won’t be as good as something with a higher price point?
Buy And Improve?
You could buy a suitcase record player and then add some extras to improve performance. This could mean improving the needle/stylus, pairing the record player up to a better quality amplifier, or improving the speakers.
But, by the time you’ve done that and spent the money, you may as well have just bought a higher-end product. The fact is, you can’t expect a stand-alone suitcase record player to reach the performance levels of a high-end turntable.
However, they are certainly not all, what you might call, bad. There are some very good products around. Again, we will look at some later.
Are They Reliable?
So, going back to one of the two main criticisms of suitcase record players. Are they reliable? As far as I can see, they are no less reliable than you might expect.
I have already commented that with lesser quality components, there will be a slightly downgraded performance level. That can also apply to reliability. But isn’t that expected to a certain degree?
However, if you are thinking it’s going to break down every few days, then you would be wrong. Even a budget-level suitcase record player will likely give you plenty of hours of use. A higher-quality much more. The reliability criticism, from where I stand, is not a realistic argument.
Will A Suitcase Record Player Do Damage To Your Vinyl?
I am not going to use the term ‘will.’ I use it once here because others seem to want to use it, and I am answering their concerns.
So, could a suitcase record player damage your vinyl? Yes, it could. Could a conventional higher-end turntable damage your vinyl? Yes, it could.
In both cases, it depends on the quality of the turntable or record player you have. There is a reason that suitcase record players seem to have established a reputation for damaging the vinyl.
Back to Costs Again
The suitcase record player may be more likely to damage vinyl than a conventional higher-end turntable. But, that goes back to the quality of the components installed, which reflects itself in the lower price point you pay.
As an example, it is unlikely that the manufacturer will have installed a high-end stylus. For the price point, it will have a lower quality. This, in turn, has several potential ramifications. The smoothness and durability of the stylus in the playing of the vinyl are certainly some.
The Stylus or Needle
The word is used interchangeably, but it amounts to the same thing. It is the part and should be the only part that comes into contact with the record. Diamond is the standard, but you will often get other quality substances like sapphire on higher quality products.
As I have already said, it isn’t very likely that the manufacturer is going to install a high-end stylus in a competitively-priced product. It is more than likely you will still get a diamond stylus, but as I say, a slightly lower quality.
Wear Sets In
A low-quality stylus does have an important negative in terms of protecting your vinyl. After what can sometimes be a fairly short time, it will start to wear out. This is something that eventually happens to all styluses. It is simply caused by the friction involved in sitting on a revolving disc.
How Long Will It Last?
A very difficult question to answer as they will all possibly be quite different, depending on the quality. To be on the safe side, you shouldn’t expect about fifty hours of playing time at the maximum.
On the minimum side, it could be as low as thirty-five hours. It is when they wear that potential damage can occur.
Doesn’t That Apply to Higher-End Turntables As Well?
Well, yes, it does. But the only difference is the better quality the stylus is, the more hours you will get before it degrades. And higher-end turntables will usually have a better quality of stylus.
Is The Criticism Unfair?
In my opinion, it is. You will hear that a suitcase record player can damage your vinyl. But it isn’t the record player; it is the stylus. So that criticism can be overcome by checking the stylus and replacing it before it can do any damage.
It is easy to replace, and if you get good quality, it will give you many hours of safe and reliable service. But, it will also improve the performance of the record player.
Let’s return to the sound quality of suitcase record players. As with the majority of things to do with audio, the higher the price, the better the sound. I can’t say that the sound is going to challenge a high-end product. It won’t. Small speakers, usually located on the front, send the message.
But, I will say it again, suitcase record players aren’t built for high-end performance. It is a different kind of product. It is built for portability and simplicity. And when you remember that, you accept that the sound is adequate.
You will sometimes find some useful additions that add extra value and provide more listening options. I have already mentioned that some will carry Bluetooth connections, and some will have built-in FM radio. You will also find RCA outputs and connections for headphones.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the best suitcase record players that are around.
- Retrolife Suitcase Record Player 3-Speed with Bluetooth
- Voksun Suitcase Record Player, Bluetooth Turntable with Built-in Speakers, 3-Speed
- Victrola Vintage 3-Speed Bluetooth Portable Suitcase Record Player
- Wockoder Suitcase Record Player Turntable for Vinyl Record Player With FM Radio
Like Most Things
Suitcase record players aren’t much different from guitars and amplifiers. There are good and bad ones at all prices. Some that aren’t worth having and some that are of exceptional value.
So, are all suitcase record players bad? No, but just like most things, and especially audio products, it pays to have a good look around.
Portability And Protection
Perhaps one last thing to consider when you are buying a suitcase record player is its stability and build quality. It’s built to be portable, which is one of its big selling points. But, make sure that it is safe and secure when it is on the move.
Make sure the case has good fittings and will close securely. Also that the insides, especially the tonearm, can be securely tethered. Not good to have that moving around while you carry it. Stylus damage could occur if it is not secure, which is not a good idea.
Looking for a Great Record Player?
We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Turntables Under $100, the Best Turntables Under $200, the Best Turntables Under $300, the Best Turntables Under $400, the Best Turntables Under $500, and the Best All In One Stereo System With Turntable you can buy in 2023.
And don’t miss our detailed Denon DP-300F Review, our Numark TTUSB Turntable Review, our Sony PSLX300 USB Stereo Turntable Review, our Audio-Technica AT-LP60XUSB-BK Review, and our Stanton ST.150 MKII Turntable Review for more great items currently on the market.
Are All Suitcase Record Players Bad?
So let’s return to the first question. The answer, of course, is no, they aren’t all bad. But, it will depend to a certain extent on how you define bad. If you want to say that they should be as good as a conventional turntable costing many times more, you will be disappointed.
If you take into consideration all the factors we have looked at, then there are some very good examples. Record players that are cost-effective and worth the money you will have to pay.
If you go on the internet, you will find plenty. Some will be good, others not. I have identified four I think are good value. For what it is, the suitcase record player is a great idea, and no, they are not all bad. Some of them are surprisingly good.
Until next time, happy listening.