Turntable Speed – A Guide To Measuring And Maintaining

Turntable Speed – A Guide To Measuring And Maintaining

Turntable Speed Records

Confused about your turntable speed? You want to know why your records are playing too fast or slow? This article will answer your questions regarding record player speed as well as ways to correct any current problems with your turntable.

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Turntable Speed: A Background And The Basics

Let’s start with the very basics and a bit of background. Revolutions per Minute (RPM) is the measurement of how fast a turntable spins. This refers to the time it takes for a record to spin the entire record player.

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The History

The majority of record players these days feature only 2 speeds: 33 ⅓ RPM and 45 RPM. Record companies determined the speed and size of a record back in the days. They used information to determine how many records could fit while still maintaining a decent sound quality. Back in the early phonograph days, 78 RPM was pretty much a standard for a while, but by around the 1950s, this speed fell out of favour as record companies realised they could print the same audio quality onto the faster speed of 33 ⅓ RPM. The record companies were able to print around 22 minutes worth of music per side.

Due to the listening time of around 22 minutes, 33 ⅓ RPM (12 inch) records are primarily used for LPs (Long Play Records) which house full albums split over 2 sides. 45 RPM (7-inch) records are smaller and more affordable to make and can hold around 5 minutes each side. 7-inch records can hold a few tracks per side and are ideal for singles.

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Switching Between 33 ⅓ And 45 RPM

Got the basics? That’s great! You’re right! Well, your record player is probably quite clever, and can easily switch from one turntable speed to the other to accommodate playing either a 45 RPM record or a 33 ⅓ speed record. You may be aware that if you play a 12 inch LP at 45 RPM, the record player will spin too fast, and all music will sound like The Chipmunks. It is horrible and high pitched. If you play a 7 inch single at 33 ⅓ RPM, you will be transported to something in the realms of a horror movie as vocals linger and drawn out sounds feel muffled and distorted due to the slower speed. (If you do want a bit of fun, however, some 45s can sound better slower… check out this article).

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Depending on which record player you have, you will either have a switch that you can flick to play at a speed of either 33 ⅓ or 45 RPM, or you may have to manually move the belt underneath the platter if you have a belt-drive system rather than a direct-drive system. Speaking of belt-drives…

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Belt Drives Versus Direct Drives

The type of drive your record player has is how the motor, which powers the movement of your record player, is connected to the system. This determines the speed of your turntable. Direct-drive record players have the motor located directly underneath the platter. This rotates the platter from the bottom. A The motor of a belt-drive record player is offset. It connects to a spindle via belt, which then turns the main platter. This works in a similar way to a pulley system.

“But why are there two different versions, and what does this mean for the speed?” I hear you ask. Well, wonder no more:

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Direct Drives

Direct-drives are mainly used by DJ’s as they get up to speed pretty quickly and the platter is free from any resistance without a band – These are pretty much necessities for DJing and mixing. However, the motor’s vibrations, which are directly underneath the platter, can cause vibrations to travel through the platter and affect the sound.

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Belt Drives

Belt-drives, on the other hand, take longer to build up to their correct playing speed so you may have to wait a bit longer before dropping the needle on your favourite record. A belt-drive reduces motor noise and produces a natural sound. The problem with belt-drives, however, is that they can slip or stretch over time. This means that your platter’s speed is more likely to fluctuate.

Belt Drive Record Player

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How To Test The Speed Of Your Record Player

So, now you know all the background and basics about record player speed and how it all works. But how can you make sure that speed is accurate? Keep reading!

Listening to a record might cause you to feel the speed is off. You’ve recently bought your favourite record on vinyl and you just can’t get it out of your head that the speed doesn’t feel right. So how can you determine the speed of your turntable’s spin? Here are the main methods.

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Strobe Discs

You can download strobe discs for free from many sites on the internet, such as from here on the Vinyl Engine Forum. Print the disc and place it on your platter. Your strobe disc’s settings will vary depending on where you live. They can be set at either 60hz in North America or 50hz in Europe. This method requires a strobe lamp. Turn the platter and once it is spinning, point the strobe light at a revolving disc. If the turntable hits the correct speed (either 33 ⅓ or 45 RPM depending on what you are testing) the strobe lines/markings will appear stationary instead of moving. This optical illusion helps to determine the speed.

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Mobile Apps

Although strobe discs have been used for years, mobile apps have become a much easier, quicker and cheaper method – although some argue might not be as accurate. There are lots of apps out there, but at present, I recommend one called ‘RPM Speed & Wow’. Open the app, place it on the platter and make sure that the counter is at zero. Then start spinning! When it’s up to full speed, check the phone display which will show the RPM of your record player (hopefully 33.3 or 45 RPM respectively).

Side note: Some turntables have a strobe lamp attached to them, especially those that are used for DJs. This light is directed at the tiny dots that surround the platter. The speed of the platter can be determined by how stationary or moving the dots. This is similar to the strobe discs discussed previously.

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My Turntable Speed Is Off. What can I do?

Oh no! You’ve been listening to records slightly out of time! What should you do? You have two options…

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Try To Fix It Yourself

If you’re a beginner you might want to take it to a professional to sort, but if you’re brave enough to try yourself, here’s a few things to look out for (be warned though, we will not be held responsible for any damages!).

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  • One possibility of slowing down for belt-drive record players is that the belt may be stretched or cracked. Belts usually last at least a few years without any issues, but it’s best to take the platter off now and again to check the belt.

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  • If the belt seems to be slightly stretched, but not worn, you may try shrinking it. Measure the length of the belt by folding it in half. Then, heat some water in a saucepan and place the belt in the pan. Let the belt soak for 5 minutes, then take it out and dry. After the belt has swollen slightly, you can put it back on your record-player and check the speed.
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  • You may find speed adjustment screws on some turntables. Check your owner’s manual to see where. These screws can be turned clockwise to speed up the platter, and anticlockwise to slow it down. Once you’ve amended the screws, test again with a strobe disc or phone app until you get the speed you desire. You must ensure that your turntable’s level and stability are maintained when you adjust screws. If it’s not, the speed may be off when you return it to its original place.

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  • If any of the above didn’t work, make sure, if it’s a belt-drive, that the belt isn’t rubbing on anything or check the motor and platter for any other blockages or ‘gunk’ that could be affecting the speed. If the problem persists, remove the belt and add a few drops of oil (fully synthetic oil and non-detergent oil) at the motor’s exit. Move it around so that it seeps into the bushing. Then, clean off all oil and attach the belt.

There are plenty more in-depth methods around the internet so if any of the above doesn’t work have a search yourself, or…

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Go To A Professional

If the above all seems a bit too complicated or you’re worried about damaging your record player, the best bet is to take it to a professional to sort out. Prices can vary depending on where they are located so it is worth looking around and asking your vinyl friends where they can find a decent repair shop. You could expect to pay around £30 – £40 pounds for a cleanup and belt replacement for example, or go for a full service which could help stop future issues but will be a little more expensive.

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Maintaining Speed And Maintenance

As with anything, you need to look after your record player. Keep the dust cover on your record player when it is not being used to prevent dust and particles building up over time. If you’re confident in oiling and cleaning your system yourself, do this on a regular basis, if not, make sure to take it in for a service at least once every couple of years unless any issues arise, at which case do this earlier. Also, if you’re buying a second-hand record player, remember to check the turntable speed before you buy, and also check the quality of the belt if it’s a belt-drive.

That’s it! We hope that you enjoyed the guide and found it helpful. Drop us a note below if you have questions or comments.

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