Turntables: belt drive vs. direct drive

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Turntables: belt drive vs. direct drive
Basic Differences Between Belt and Direct-Drive Turntables (close up of professional DJ's turntable image by TEA from Fotolia.com)

Although not based on (nor and indicator of) price, differences between belt and direct-drive turntables can affect installation and performance.

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Direct-Drive Models

Direct-drive turntables operate using a motor, coupled directly to the platter. Although more susceptible to external vibration, common methods among better manufacturers involve use of a vibration-damping material between the platter and motor. In addition, use of absorptive material in the feet, and dense cabinet material make a positive impact. Benefits of direct-drive are higher torque, and more consistent rotational speed. Direct-drive models use a stroboscope to actively monitor rotational accuracy. Additionally, without a belt to slip off, DJs prefer direct-drive models.

Belt-Driven Turntables

Belt-driven turntables utilise a small band, similar in appearance to a permanently-stretched rubber band. These are typically model-specific. Belt-driven turntables can have more affordable models that offer varying platter speeds, because of the high cost of manufacturing motors that operate in speed in a synchronous manner. Disadvantages include belt deterioration, resulting in belt slippage or breakage.

Platter Construction and Build on Belt-Drive Models

Major differences between belt and direct-drive turntables focus on the platter assembly. Belt-driven models usually have a spring-suspended platter, protecting the tonearm from external vibration. This allows the unit to track more accurately than without. Alternatively, bearings or (on more esoteric models) air pressure is used to isolate the chassis.

Direct-Drive Turntable Assemblage

Direct-drive turntables differ from belt-driven models in the realm of core construction by virtue of the platter itself. In addition to getting up to speed faster by use of motor, the platter itself (on some models) are an element in the motor itself. By generating a magnetic field from the stator, these units need not have an actual motor. This field causes the platter to spin, allowing further isolation between platter and motor.

Summary and Considerations

Although cost seems to not be dictated by topology, differences in belt-driven and motor-driven turntables is left to the whim of the manufacturer. Additionally, studies have not proven either design to possess superior sound quality. Many models allow replacing the platter, tonearm and of course cartridges to accommodate upgrades. Regarding the cartridge, it is important for users of direct-drive models to not select moving coil cartridges, as noise from the motor can be inducted. Otherwise, find a favourite record, and happy listening!

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