Turntable Upgrades: The Path to Improving Your Setup

Okay, so you’ve finally got a solid turntable to play your vinyl records on – great! You’re able to enjoy the higher sound quality and detail of analog music. However, a turntable alone is just one piece of the puzzle. Turntable setups are constantly evolving and there are a series of upgrades you might want to look at next.

Of course, you can enjoy your music as is if you’re content with how it sounds, but if you’re chasing better sound quality like many vinyl enthusiasts are, here’s our list of suggested turntable upgrades to ensure your hi-fi setup is performing as its best.

Speakers

Set of bookshelf speakers for a turntable

Now that you have a moderate to high-end turntable (if not, we suggest checking out our guide here), it’s time to look at the most logical path of best turntable upgrades. The single most important upgrade you can make after your turntable is replacing the speakers. Speakers will give you the most amount of noticeable improvement compared to some of the other upgrades mentioned later in the article.

A quality set of speakers can range from $50 – $500 or more. Firstly, figure out what style of speakers fit with your setup.

If you have a smaller, more condensed setup, you might want a set of bookshelf speakers. These are typically under 12 inches tall and 6 inches wide and fit conveniently in most small spaces as the name “bookshelf” implies. Of course, keep in mind that these speakers won’t have the best bass response, but should be capable of adequately producing sound in the range of 55Hz-20KHz.

If you have more room, we recommend something a little larger that has multiple sizes of cones for various sound frequencies. The sky is the limit with speakers, and typically you get what you pay for. That being said, there are definitely affordable price options that sound great too. For more information on this, check out our turntable speakers buying guide!

Subwoofer

After upgrading to a nice set of speakers, you may want to further improve your bass sound quality. Subwoofers are an obvious next step to improving your sound system and adding more power to the low-end. Decent subwoofers can be purchased for under $100, but like speakers, you do tend to receive a higher quality product the more you pay.

Turntable upgrades

Hi-fi turntable

After initially purchasing your new turntable and upgrading your speakers, it’s time to focus on the components of your turntable. With hi-fi setups, it’s best to upgrade components at the source (where the audio signal is first made) rather than at later steps. Of course, if you don’t have decent speakers to project the audio, we obviously recommend upgrading those first.

Turntable cartridge

Depending on the turntable you have, you may already have a decent cartridge. However, many turntables come with cheaper cartridges that don’t track as well. We suggest firstly looking up your current cartridge online to establish a baseline. Additionally, give your cartridge and needle an inspection to make sure it’s still in proper working order.

Turntable cartridges can range from $20 to hundreds of dollars. It’s best to do some research online and figure out which cartridge works best with your turntable. Audio-Technica and Ortofon are two reputable manufactures with a series of cartridges to choose from.

Turntable needle

Perhaps you have a decent cartridge already but want to replace your needle? Replacing an old needle or stylus can breathe life back into your turntable, especially if you’ve purchased a used vintage turntable.

It’s worth noting that if you purchase a new cartridge it should already come with a stylus so you don’t need to purchase it separately.

Turntable tonearm

One of the more complicated ways to upgrade your turntable is by replacing the tonearm with one of higher quality. An s-shaped tonearm or one made of carbon fiber can improve tracking force and lead to less distortion and longer stylus and record life.

This upgrade does require some deeper knowledge of the turntable, so it’s only recommended for more experienced listeners or audio shops.

Phono preamp

Phono preamp for turntables

Now that your turntable and speakers are set, it’s time to make sure the signal being sent from your turntable is properly amplified and equalized (we cover that in detail here). The first component to upgrade would be your phono preamp.

You currently might be using the built-in preamp of your turntable or stereo. We suggest upgrading to a stand-alone phono preamp for improvements in sound quality as well as dynamics. Preamp upgrades can reduce static, improve volume, and add “colorization” to your music depending on which style you choose: solid-state or tube.

Good phono preamps will start at $100 and can go into the thousands for high-end hi-fi upgrade options.

Not sure what phono preamp is best for you? We’ve got you covered!

We’ve compiled a list of the best phono preamps for any budget. Whether you’re new to the world of vinyl or a seasoned audiophile, there’s something for everyone.

Stereo system amplifier

Stereo system amplifier

Another upgrade to consider would be purchasing a high-quality amplifier. Think of the amplifier as a control center for all the vitals of your music. Volume, EQ, panning, and more can all be adjusted directly in the amplifier. Furthermore, this is the device that sends power to your passive speakers.

It’s important to have a quality amplifier to maximize the output of your speakers as well as to pass through a high fidelity signal to them.

There are cheaper options for amplifiers, but we suggest considering higher quality options at this stage in the upgrade path.

Cables

Audio cables

One often-overlooked way to upgrade your turntable for cheap is to swap out the various cables of your system. There are a few primary areas where cable upgrades can be impactful.

Gold plated channel leads & RCA cables

Gold-plated cables are better at conducting electrical signals. This means fewer sound quality issues with distortion and fuzz. Additionally, if you’re using a vintage amplifier with pre output / main input connections, having gold-plated cable will be a huge advantage in preserving sound quality.

Gold-plated spade conductors can be added to the speaker cable to improve conductivity to speakers and amplifiers as well.

Speaker wire

Speaker wire can be bought for cheap and replaced in minutes. It’s recommended you check your speaker wire to ensure it’s fully covered and not filled with dust or other debris. Sometimes changing out old speaker wire with new copper can make a huge improvement.

Accessories

There are a variety of effective turntable upgrades in the form of accessories you can buy. These fit into a variety of different areas of your setup and are worth considering once the main components above are taken care of.

Upgraded platter mat

Platter mats can make a big difference in sound quality and ease of use. Acrylic platter mats have anti-static properties which cut down on the “pops” you might hear while playing a record. Additionally, both cork and acrylic platter mats help reduce vibrations on top of the turntable platter and help protect your stylus and cartridge.

Speaker stands

Almost as important as the speakers themselves is the placement in which they’re set up. Speakers should be at ear level for proper listening. Too close to the floor and the bass and mids will muddy your mix, too high and the ceiling can cause similar issues.

A proper set of speaker stands is one of those turntable upgrades that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Headphones

If you live with a roommate, significant other, or family, they may not appreciate you blasting your music all through the night. Here’s where a nice pair of over-ear headphones might come in handy.

These headphones can plug directly into your amplifier so you still retain all the hi-fi quality of your other turntable upgrades. Headphones also allow you to focus on small details in a song’s recording, allowing you to pick up on dynamics you might not have heard before.

Isolation base

Another turntable upgrade we recommend is an isolation base. While you may not notice better sound quality after installing one, it helps isolate your turntable platter from vibrations that can cause skips and even damage to your records or stylus.

Isolation bases are especially helpful if you have hardwood floors, which tend to transmit heavy vibrations that lead to skips and stops in the music.

Soundproofing

We understand every room can’t be fully soundproofed, but adding just a couple of acoustic panels can make a large difference in cutting down unwanted reverberations and “focusing” the sound to your ears.

Free methods to upgrade your turntable setup

We understand money doesn’t grow on trees and it might not be in the budget to upgrade your turntable right now. That’s why we’ve put together a few free turntable upgrades that anyone can do for no cost!

Cable management

While proper cable management won’t improve the performance of your sound system, it’s a great quality of life upgrade that makes your whole setup look better and easier to manage. Cables can be tied together using string, zip ties, or any other creative solution.

Cleaning records and equipment

It’s a good idea to consistently clean your records and equipment. Records should be brushed before use, however, if a deeper clean is necessary vinyl records can be cleaned with dish soap and a microfiber towel for free.

Another low-cost method to ensure your system and operating at its highest performance is routine cleaning. We suggest cleaning the cartridge, stylus, and platter of your turntable as often as you dust your home – or at least once a month.

Changing the room setup

A way of doing free soundproofing can be done by adjusting the setup of your listening room. Try to incorporate more furniture and items that absorb sound. In addition, you can test speaker placement around the room. You’d be surprised at how much the placement of a speaker can affect the sound.

Conclusion

Upgrading your turntable setup is a slow and methodical process. We suggest doing your research and taking time to consider your options before making a purchase. There are however some cheap and low-cost turntable upgrades you can do while you wait though!

We hope you found this guide helpful!