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Manual vs Automatic Turntables – Which is the best to buy?

So, I am assuming you are just getting into vinyl. And now you want to get that first turntable. Possibly the first one you have ever had, or something you haven’t had for quite a few years.

If you haven’t owned a turntable since The Beatles were strutting their stuff, things have changed a bit, for the better. If it is your first foray into vinyl, then Manual vs Automatic Turntables is a choice you will have to make. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

The Fundamentals

What’s the difference between manual and automatic turntables?

There is a reasonably obvious difference between them. With the manual turntable, you do everything. Place the tonearm on at the beginning and place it back on its rest when the record is finished.

The automatic turntable places the tonearm at the beginning of the record for you. It then returns it when it’s finished. No mysteries there. But some other differences can have an effect. That is what we are going to look at.

But please remember this…

The quality of the sound you are going to get starts with your turntable. That vinyl sound will depend on what you choose. The better the turntable, the better the sound.

You will get more from all those little nuances hidden in those magical grooves. Something the digital world has never been able to reproduce. Choosing what is best is important. So, let’s consider Manual vs Automatic Turntables…

Manual Turntables

Manual Turntables

When compared like-for-like, in most cases, manual turntables will give you a better sound. This is because the designs are simpler, and there are no extras on the tonearm that might interfere with the tracking.

This also means that with less going on mechanically, there are fewer things that can go wrong. As a result, manual turntables are easy to maintain.

A wider range…

Another thing to consider is that you will get a wider range of options to choose from. It is a simple fact there are more manual turntables on the market than automatic.

How good are manual turntables?

Well, if you want a top-of-the-range turntable, all the high-performance models are fully manual. That should tell you about how good manual turntables will perform.

Using it…

As we said earlier, you need to do all the work yourself. If you can call it work. You will have to turn it on, line up the tonearm with the stylus (needle) to set it down at the right place. Then you have to lower the tonearm yourself.

At the end of the record, you have to lift it off and return it to the rest position. Then turn the turntable off. You may read about the damage done to the stylus if you forget to remove it. If it happens a few times, it isn’t going to damage it.

It isn’t the best situation for it to be continuously covering the inner grooves. But in terms of stylus damage, it shouldn’t be a problem if you occasionally forget. That said, let’s briefly recap on the important points…

What are the Pros and Cons of Manual Turntables?

Pros

  • Manual turntables will usually give you the best sound.
  • Fewer mechanical parts mean fewer potential breakdowns and things that can go wrong.
  • A wider choice of turntables at all price levels.

Cons

  • You will have to remove the stylus from the record at the end.
  • There would be a risk of damage if you were to drop the stylus on the record when setting up.

To give you an idea of what is around, take a look at the Rega Planar 1 Plus Turntable, a quality manual turntable we reviewed some months back.

Automatic Turntables

Automatic Turntables

As I mentioned in the introduction, you could be renewing your acquaintance with Vinyl or moving to it for the first time. Whichever it is, you could be worried about the process of playing a record.

You could be, and rightly so, worried about damaging what is either a new or treasured record collection. Dropping the tonearm on your record will damage it. It won’t do the stylus much good either. An automatic turntable prevents that worry.

How do automatic turntables work?

Either push a button or move a lever. That’s all you will need to do. The automatic turntable does the rest for you. And at the end, the automation will raise the tonearm and replace it on the tonearm rest. It will then even turn the turntable off after a while.

No more worrying about not making contact with the edge of the record. No concerns about the stylus going around aimlessly in the inner grooves when you may have fallen asleep. Just push the button, and it all just happens.

A price to pay…

There is, as I have already mentioned, a price to pay. And in more ways than one. The extra mechanical operations of the tonearm can make it vulnerable. And there might have to be some setup required at the beginning.

So, do automatic turntables cost more than manual turntables? Generally, yes. Automatic turntables come in a bit more expensive than their manual counterparts. With all the extras going on, you would expect that.

Lack of choice?

We wouldn’t exactly call it a lack of choice. All the major manufacturers have their versions. But you will find fewer automatic turntables to choose from than manual versions, as I have already mentioned.

I have also already made mention of high-end turntables being manual. That is the case. If that is what you want, then you might have to lose a little in the quality of the sound by going automatic.

What are the Pros and Cons of Automatic Turntables?

Pros

  • It will start and stop automatically and even turn itself off.
  • Reduces the risk of you either damaging the vinyl, the stylus, or both.
  • Relieves the worry of the stylus staying on the record after it has finished.
  • It is convenient and very easy to use once it has been set up.

Cons

  • More mechanical parts mean they could fail or need maintenance.
  • Automatic turntables tend to be more expensive.
  • Less of a choice at every price range.
  • There is a potentially lower quality in sound performance.

I reviewed the Audio-Technica at-LP60X-BK Fully Automatic Belt-Drive Stereo Turntable a little while ago. It sits more in the budget range price-wise. However, it is a very impressive product by a reputable manufacturer who knows what they are doing.

Semi-Automatic Turntables

Semi-Automatic Turntables

There is a third option we should mention, the Semi-Automatic Turntable. You tend not to find too many new semi-automatics around. However, some of the major manufacturers still produce them.

An in-between system…

A Semi-Automatic Turntable sits between automatic and manual. You will need to start the turntable manually. But at the end of the record, it will remove the tonearm and place it on its rest. They will usually then shut the turntable off.

Denon makes great audio equipment and manufactures a semi-automatic turntable, the Denon DP-450USB Semi-Automatic Analog Turntable.

Looking for a great Turntable?

Well, over the years, we have reviewed loads of incredible turntables. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Turntables Under 1000 Dollars, the Best Turntables Under 500 Dollars, the Best Turntables Under 400 Dollars, the Best Turntables Under 200 Dollars, and the Best Turntables Under 100 Dollars you can buy in 2021.

You may also enjoy our comprehensive Pioneer PLX-500-K Review, our Stanton ST150 MKII Turntable Review, our Sony PSLX300 USB Stereo Turntable Review, our Numark TTUSB Turntable Review, and our Audio Technica AT LP120 USB Direct Drive Professional Turntable Review for more awesome turntables currently on the market.

Manual vs Automatic Turntables – Final Thoughts

You will be expecting a direct answer, and we will give one. But of course, it is a personal opinion. The turntables of today are finely tuned exceptional pieces of equipment.

Designed with the latest and most efficient technology to give you a great sound. It not only has to play records, but it also has to handle some other issues.

External problems…

It has to deal with vibrations and unwanted resonances. The tonearm must move smoothly and freely and not be subjected to those influences. Because of this, the major manufacturers all agree that to produce the very best sound, the fewer mechanics, the better. That is why high-quality, top-end turntables are built to be very simplistic. Built to be fully manual.

Any extra parts and the mechanics needed to make a turntable automatic can affect that. It could lessen the turntable’s ability to deal with resonances or vibration. And to make a functioning automatic turntable, the design of the tonearm could be compromised. The design of the tonearm is vital to the sound.

In our view, if the sound is your priority, then the manual is the way to go. But if it’s convenience you’re after, then an automatic will serve you better.

Until next time, keep your vinyl shining.

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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