Eleven years ago, I sold every CD I’d spent my youth on and set out on the adventure of record collecting. I had no stereo and knew little about what I was getting into. I knew I wanted the mother-of-all-turntables, the Technics SL-1210MK5, and at that time you could still buy them new. Quality speakers would be essential, but I wasn’t willing to dive too deep there, as I wanted to save as much cash as possible for my burgeoning record collection. What took me the longest to understand was why I needed a receiver, and what the hell was a pre-amp? I just wanted to get the music from my turntable to the speakers in the simplest way possible.
Now several years later, I’ve learned that I didn’t need to worry about either a receiver or a pre-amp--I can listen to my records with just a few pieces of essential equipment.
The simplest turntable setup is easier to put together than you might think. It’s an improbably basic concept, which has caught on enough that maybe this isn’t even the first time you’ve heard that it's possible: you can put together high quality turntable setups without a receiver. That's right, you can ditch your 30lb Dolby 7.2 stereo receiver and play your vinyl records on an incredibly basic setup that will impress even the most discerning of listeners. Maybe that’s something you’ve already thought about or knew instinctively (congratulations?), but here I’m going to show you some combinations of this minimalist approach to turntable stereos that will be great for people who really want an independent setup, one that isn’t hooked up to their television, Playstation, microwave, and curling iron via their old dusty component receiver.
Turntable with built-in phono preamp (there are several, and they are great)
Powered speakers (aka Active speakers--ones that require a direct power supply)
RCA cable to hook the two up
And that’s it? Yes, you can stop there, but there are further and potentially even better options. The growth of vinyl culture has spread so much that some brands now make high-end powered speakers with built-in preamps--which means you can add any turntable you want and still avoid a receiver. They are generally more costly, depending on what alternatives you were considering, but you get a lot of great functionality, and you’ll be left with an incredibly simple record player setup that will be impressive in both sound and function.
I’ve outlined below what I think are the best ways to set up a record player without a receiver, along with some notes about what makes each option great and additional details about how you can set up any turntable without a receiver.
The AT-LP60 is an excellent choice for anyone in the market for an entry-level turntable which includes a built-in preamp, and the AudioEngine A2+ powered speakers are an incredible match. To be honest, you could take the A2+ speakers, put them with the highest-end turntable you could find, and they would be well-suited to impress. They look sleek, they boast incredible sound, and, with their small footprint, they are truly minimal. I have a pair hooked up to my computer and they scream. If you’re looking for the cheapest option, you could get some powered speakers like these Mackie CR3s and have a decent setup for less than $200.
I point to this as an ideal setup for style, sound, and functionality, because the Uturn Orbit Plus has better components and options for upgrading, while the Marshall Stanmore speaker is dripping with classic flair, packing the ability to connect directly with your turntable and also play music via bluetooth from your phone--style, function, and quality on point.
Easy Upgrade: If you really want to max out this option with power, you could upgrade to the even bigger Marshall Woburn for more volume and punch, but you’ll pay an extra $150 for that upgrade.
The Klipsch R15 PM, and any turntable you want
All right, to be honest, I didn’t know that I was going to learn something here when I set out to write this article, but I did and now I’m geeked out about it like you were at your freshman homecoming dance. Originally, I thought the only way to eliminate the receiver from the turntable equation was to buy a turntable with a built-in preamp, and that’s what I intended to outline exclusively here--it is the truth (preach!) that those setups above are ideal options for your turntable setup at home and are genuinely high quality. What I learned, and got a huge cheeseburger-eating grin on my face about, was that Klipsch created these R15 PM high quality powered monitor speakers (pictured immediately above) which have a preamp built directly into them. That is, the speakers, not the turntable, carry the preamp, giving you the freedom to connect them to any turntable of your choice.
If you’re still connecting the dots here, I get it. Essentially what this affords you is the ability to take these powerful high-end speakers and match them with the turntable of your choice. You want that Rega or Pro-Ject turntable? Have at it. They’ll work with these speakers. You want that [Technics turntable to work directly with a pair of powerful speakers and no receiver? These will get it done. No unnecessary components--all meat, no gristle (or all veg and no leather for my vegan homies in the readership).
I’m not contending that this last option is a cheap one by any means. You will pay handsomely for these speakers, but Klipsch has a reputable name in the arena of quality and I’m ecstatic that these exist. Not to mention, that’s not even close to everything these speakers have going for them: you can stream music to them from your phone via the built-in bluetooth, you can connect them to your TV via the optical connection, and you can very easily add a sub for a little extra kick.
If you want to set up a simple turntable stereo, and you’re only planning on using it for that one function, you don’t need bulky and unnecessary equipment like a receiver. By all means, if you have more ambitious aspirations for your stereo, then get that receiver, but if you’re trying to save money while buying your turntable setup, you can leave that budget receiver on the shelf at Goodwill.
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