Five Must-Have Gadgets

Music servers and computer audio,
Source components,


What It Does:
Once upon a time, music was recorded on 12-inch Long Playing (LP) records (discs) made of vinyl. If you remember that time, long ago and far away, you probably saved a bunch of those records. If you don’t remember that time, your parents might have a stack of those LPs sitting in a closet. Either way, you need a turntable to get the sound off the vinyl and into your audio system. A turntable has four major components in reality:

  • A cartridge (sometimes called a needle) that connects with little grooves on the record and turns the squiggly grooves into electrical current
  • A tonearm that holds the cartridge over the record
  • A platter that spins the record
  • A phono preamp that equalizes the electrical signal so that it sounds right when you play it

What’s To Like:
The big thing is that there is some great music on those old records. If you’ve been saving them, you may be surprised
at how good (and bad) some if the music of your youth was. If you can raid your parent’s home for their choice records, you may be surprised at what cool music they listened to. Even better, you may be surprised at how great some of the music of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s was. The other big thing about vinyl is the sound. Digital can be great, but
records have a special sound that to many ears is more lifelike and poetic. Sure, you’ll hear ticks and pops,
but on top of that you’ll hear some impressively dynamic sound (and some really bad stuff, too).

What’s Missing:
A lot of new music either isn’t released on vinyl or is released after the CD or digital files are released. Strangely, some of the most hip music does come out on vinyl. Classic recordings from past decades are also re-mastered and re-issued with regularity.

Records can also be hard to find. Music Direct (, a Playback founding partner, offers a wide range of new and classic titles. Many larger cities also have stores that stock extensive used record selections along with some new titles.

If you want the magic of vinyl, you shouldn’t buy the cheapest thing out there. The basic cost of a good turntable with phono preamp is $329 (e.g., Denon DP-300F with built-in phono preamp). From there it is easy to spend more money, with very nice turntable/cartridge combinations available in the $500–1000 range, and separate phono preamps going for $200 and up. You can also find interesting used turntables (try:, but we recommend installing a new cartridge (e.g., Shure M97xE, $89, reviewed in Playback issue 1) as cartridges deteriorate with age.

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