Manual vs. Automatic Turntables

If you are shopping around for a new turntable and have done a little research, you may be wondering about the differences between manual turntables and automatic turntables. Before you make a purchase, it’s important to understand how each of these systems work and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

While many manufacturers assume that people know this already, the fact is that a whole new generation of people are falling in love with vinyl. Many are looking to purchase their first turntable. As experts with nearly four decades of experience with vinyl playback, the team here at Audio Advice has taken it upon ourselves to help educate and mentor this next generation of music lovers.

The first thing to know is that there are actually many different ways to classify turntables. When you talk about automatic vs. manual turntables, what we’re really looking at is the way you get the “needle” (which is really called the stylus) on and off of the record.

With that said, please allow us to be your guide. Let's break down each of these three types of turntables and the pros and cons of each.

Automatic Turntables

A fully automatic turntable will lift the tonearm out of the resting position and gently lower it onto the record at the right spot. After it is finished playing, it will lift it back up and shut the turntable off.

Pros

If you are new to vinyl and are just beginning to build up your collection, you probably want to do everything in your power to avoid damaging your records. Accidently dropping the tonearm onto the record can damage the vinyl, or damage your stylus.

If you don’t want to take that chance, a fully automatic table will remove the worry. You just push a button or move a lever to get things started and the turntable will do the rest. You never have to worry about missing the edge of the record when you lower the tonearm or falling asleep and having your stylus stuck in the outer groove for several hours.

Cons

Fully automatic turntables are typically more expensive due to all of the extra components required to make those mechanisms move automatically.

Another downside is that all of those moving parts under the turntable can reduce the sound quality. Having all those extra attachments can prevent a tonearm from tracking perfectly.

So while these tables usually cost more, you’re paying for convenience, not improved sound quality.

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Semi-Automatic Turntables

Semi-automatic turntables won’t lower the tonearm onto the record, but when the record is over, a lift will automatically pick up the tonearm and shut off the table.

Pros

If you worry about falling asleep while listening and having your stylus sit in the outer groove, a semi-automatic takes that worry away. At the end of the record, a mechanism will lift up the tonearm and shut the turntable off.

Cons

Honestly, there just aren’t that many semi-automatic turntables on the market today. They also have the same cons as a fully manual.

Manual Turntables

As you might expect, with a manual turntable, you do all of the work. You lower the tonearm onto the record to start play and when the record is over, you lift it off, put it back in the resting position, and turn the table off.

Pros

In most cases, this will provide you with the best sound due to the fact that the tonearm does not have any extra attachments underneath that reduce how well it tracks the record.

Also, going with a manual turntable will give you the widest range of options -- there are simply more of them than anything else.

Another benefit is that without any of those internal mechanisms to lift and lower the tonearm, there are fewer things that can break or require maintenance.

If you want a very good turntable, all of the high-performance turntables on the market are of the fully-manual type.

Cons

You will need to be comfortable lowering the cueing lever and lining up your stylus to land at the beginning of the record groove. You will also want to stick around and stay awake, to life the lever back up at the end.

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Our Recommendation

If you are super clumsy and very concerned about accidentally breaking your stylus, you may want to consider an automatic table. However, a manual table is really not that hard to use. Visually lining up the tonearm takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, it is very easy.

Also, while it may seem wrong, having the stylus sit in the lead out record groove for a few hours really does not do any harm to the stylus.

And to get the best of both worlds, consider adding The Q Up to your manual table. This fits most tables on the market and will lift up the tonearm at the end. You just have to arm it each time you use it, but we have found it to work very well and take away that end-of-record worry.

Remember, the quality of your entire vinyl playback system starts at the turntable. The better your turntable, the more sound you will get out of your record grooves and thus the more enjoyment you’ll get from your turntable. Going for a manual model is by far the best value and opens up a huge range of choices from entry-level to the top-of-the-line.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to chat us, or read our Turntable Buyers Guide for more helpful information to get you started.

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