How to Connect a Turntable to your Receiver
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge (back) into vinyl. You’ve heard of the benefits. You have dug up all your old records. You’ve even invested in a nice mid-line turntable (or maybe picked up one used). Time to hook everything up. Wait? How do you connect this turntable to your newfangled receiver?
Check Component Compatability
You need to know two things – what sort of connections are available on your turntable, and what connections are available on the device you are looking to connect it to. We know you have a turntable. Let’s start with that.
If you have a newer turntable, you likely have a lot of connection options. USB, Bluetooth, RCA. For most purists, the only way to go is RCA. This connection is slightly different than the RCA connection you are used to seeing. There is a grounding screw. What’s that about? We’ll get to that.
When connecting your receiver to your turntable, you need to know if the turntable has a preamp built-in. If it does, your connection is quite easy, if it doesn’t, you’ll need to either buy one or get a receiver with one built-in.
If you’ve bought anything but the entry-level receiver in the last few years, you probably don’t need to upgrade to connect your turntable. Look for a Phono input with a grounding screw on the back of your receiver. If you can’t find one, you’ll need to purchase one. The Pyle Preamp is a good and inexpensive option. There are many options that can cost into the multiple thousands.
What Type of Turntable do you Have?
There are two types of turntable cartridges – Moving Magnet and Moving Coil. Most turntables these days sport Moving Magnet cartridges. They are less expensive than their Moving Coil counterparts. They also have a strong enough output that they can get connected directly to something like a receiver.
The Moving Coil variety doesn’t put out much voltage. If you plug them directly into something like a receiver, you won’t hear much. Instead, you’ll need to either get a step-up transformer to up the voltage or a dedicated preamp that can handle the moving coil output. After that, the connections become the same.
Connecting the Turntable to Your Receiver or Preamp
If you have a receiver with a built-in preamp, or a dedicated preamp, the connection is the same. You’ll need a set of RCA cables. Like you’ve done tons of times before, you connect the red to red, white to white. While some out there will tell you to spend a lot of money on your RCA cables, they are objectively wrong. An inexpensive, well-made cable will work just as well if not better than their expensive brethren.
We recommend Monoprice all the time and we are not going to stop here. The basic Monoprice RCA cables will cost you less than a ten-spot at the time of this writing for 6 feet and will be just fine. They will work just fine to connect your turntable to your preamp or receiver.
But wait! What about that grounding screw! Surely we need a special cable for that!.
Yeah, no. You don’t. Any insulated cable will work. Do you have some extra speaker wire laying around? Pull off one side and use that. You don’t need a spade connection, just wrap the end of the wire around the screw and make sure the connection is clean. You don’t want a stray wire to create a problem.
Author’s Note: If you start searching for “Phono cables” or similar, you are going to see some absolutely ridiculously overpriced cables. Don’t buy into the hype. A well-made cable is all you need. Those don’t have to be expensive and often aren’t. Knowing what you need and what you don’t can save you a ton of money.
Connecting the Preamp
The preamp is the electronics that take the very tiny signal from the turntable and amplifies and equalizes it. That’s it. There are three possible places for a preamp to live in this signal chain. There could be a preamp built into your turntable, there could be one in your receiver, or you could have purchased a freestanding unit. Heck, you could have all three. So which one is the best to use? If you only have one, that’s the one. But what if you have more than one?
How should we know? The fact is that one very well might sound better than the others. Give them a try. Just make sure to bypass the preamp in all the other devices.
For example, in the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB turntable, there are USB, Bluetooth, and RCA connections. Near the RCA connection, there is a switch that selects Line or Phono. That switch engages or disengages the internal preamp. If you select Line, the preamp is engaged and you should connect the turntable to any RCA connection on your receiver (not the Phono input). We would suggest you connect the ground wire. If you select Phono, you need to connect the turntable to the Phono input on your receiver and connect the grounding wire.
Author’s Note: The grounding wire is designed to reduce noise and humming. Unfortunately, even though turntables have been out for decades, this isn’t a perfect solution. We would always recommend connecting the grounding wire when connecting a turntable. If you hear noise (you’ll hear it, it isn’t subtle), with the wire connected, disconnect it. That many times fixes the problem. If you still hear it, take the grounding screw out of the back of the turntable. Sometimes that helps. If not…sacrifice a goat to the audio gods?
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Feel free to ask any questions about your specific setups in the comments. Please include links and pics if your gear is obscure. If you want a REALLY detailed discussion, visit the AV Rant Podcast and ask Tom and Rob. They answer AV and home theater questions every week!