I would love to have a turntable system at home, but there are two things stopping me

Pro-Ject Primary E1 turntable with a hand putting the needle on a vinyl
(Image credit: Pro-Ject)

"I just don't get it," my long-suffering colleague and What Hi-Fi?'s technical editor Ketan Bharadia says every time we broach the topic of vinyl and turntables, and the continuing popularity of this elder, analogue format.

Why the fascination with this decades-old physical format that relies on a needle reading little bumps carved into plastic, he asks, especially for the younger generation or those new to turntables who can access music in so many other, more efficient ways?

But I absolutely get it. Even with the advent and convenience of online streaming, there is nothing quite like holding, using and owning physical formats when it comes to enjoying music. Yes, you can take your music with you wherever you go, access it all with the tap of a button and use smaller (and more affordable) products when using streaming services, or stream it more easily in the home over wi-fi or Bluetooth.

Vinyl, however, with the tactility of the format, the ritual of placing the record on a turntable and lowering the needle (after you've spent a fair bit of time setting up the deck perfectly), the artwork on the sleeves, the mechanical engineering gone into the turntable itself and its moving parts... There is plenty to admire and be fascinated by a turntable and how a vinyl record spins round and round. And for a generation who grew up glued to screens, such a tactile, physical format that forces you to engage with the product is so appealing, and I genuinely believe makes for a stronger connection with the music you're listening to.

As you can tell, I am rather enamoured with vinyl and turntables. I grew up with cassettes and CDs, so my fondness for physical formats isn't out of the blue, but while I do use music streaming services and headphones (and the humble radio) for daily listening, it's vinyl that I keep getting enticed by. Working at What Hi-Fi? for over 12 years with ready access to turntables is of course partly to blame for this – but I find myself paying more attention and actually listening to the album in full (and not just have it on in the background) whenever I put a record on a turntable in our test rooms, compared with streaming alternatives.

I would love to have a full turntable system in my home rather than just listening to records at work, but why haven't I made the plunge yet? For two big reasons...

The New Yorker cartoon about vinyl and turntables

(Image credit: The New Yorker, Alex Gregory)

Many of you will be familiar with The New Yorker cartoon (above) that pokes fun at vinyl audiophiles, but truth be told, those aren't the two main issues for me. I'm happy to put up with the 'inconvenience' of getting up and turning over the record every 20 minutes or so, and with all the extra bits and bobs you need to buy and accommodate when using a turntable. I don't even mind the 'expense' – well, not exactly. Vinyl records themselves are exorbitantly priced at high street stores, but second-hand or indie record store buys are far more cost-effective, not to mention more inviting places to peruse collections and make a purchase. And the price of a decent turntable is worth investing in if it's a system I will have and enjoy for many years to come, just like my current separates set-up.

For me, it's the much more mundane but real-world issues of time and space.

I don't mind the inconvenience, but I need dedicated space

Cambridge Audio Alva ST turntable in lifestyle setting with a woman putting needle on vinyl

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

Yes, having any hi-fi separates system at home takes up a good amount of space, but having a turntable-based system takes up even more. Not only do you have to account for an amplifier with a phono stage (or even a separate phono preamp) and more trailing cables, but the physical dimensions and sensitive mechanical nature of a record player means you do have to set aside a clean chunk of space on a shelf or a flat, level surface with very little to disturb its playback or other elements encroaching upon it.

I have spent far too many idle hours looking around my small mid-terrace house, wondering where I can rearrange furniture to dedicate ample, vibration-free space to my fabled first turntable. Where my current hi-fi is set-up is no good; that's connected to the TV and all the furniture, naturally, points towards the TV. Any clear wall space where I could potentially position the turntable on a dedicated rack away from pesky vibrations made from footsteps on a wooden floor (as many UK homes have) is hampered by windows, too much footfall or large radiators. The rooms are small enough that a turntable would be taking the place of a more necessary piece of furniture, rather than working alongside it.

Placing a turntable on a stable cabinet in a small corner could work, but then accounting for the space needed for the stereo speakers (with stands), the amplifier and the extra power sockets to plug all the elements in is another headache, and there is little room to accommodate them all in a manner that works best for sound quality. 

Obviously, many people have made it work with small spaces – and I have enviably looked at pictures that our Forum members have posted showing their own home set-ups, searching for nuggets of advice and inspiration – but the fact remains that dedicating a space to a turntable system in my current home doesn't feel possible without some serious rearranging of crucial, large pieces of furniture. And that's before I even put my hi-fi hat on and take into account the all-important room acoustics and the impact it will have on the system's sound...

Could a more compact turntable system – without the need for separates – be more suited to my current situation? Likely, yes, but modern turntables with phono stage, Bluetooth and speakers built-in are a compromise too far for me when it comes to sound quality, no matter how adorable something like the Audio-Technica Sound Burger portable record player is. Regardless of price, purist designs like the Pro-Ject Primary E, Rega Planar 3 (pictured below) and Vertere DG-1 S require care with positioning and placement to get the very best sound out of them when playing records. If I'm going to have a turntable system, I'm going to do it properly.

I don't mind the expense (much), but I want more time

Rega Planar 3 turntable on wooden rack

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Even if I could dedicate a whole space to set up a turntable, amps, speakers and record storage in a way that works beautifully for sound (and even aesthetics), here's my other very first-world problem: I want enough time to enjoy listening to vinyl music.

It's something I imagine many people will identify with: we are incredibly time poor these days. Whether it's the demands of your daily work, commute, spending time with your family, friends and pets, housework, grocery shopping and the like... even the most mundane daily tasks leave very little time to properly listen to a whole album, as vinyl demands you do. I would happily invest in a turntable and start collecting records, but then would feel guilty about not spending enough time actually appreciating my lovely new vinyl system. Would I actually be able to spend time with it, enjoy the ritual of putting on records and listening to whole albums in peace?

I am extremely lucky to have an ideal listening environment at work where I can do just that on our exceptional reference system, but I long for the time I can enjoy my own music collection in my own home, whenever I want to – away from screens, away from chores, away from work – and enjoy the songs and artists I love (or discover new ones).

If you do find time to regularly set aside an hour or two to just listen to music, then I salute you. It's something that I feel I need to get better at before taking the plunge and buying a turntable or investing in a vinyl collection (almost) from scratch. A turntable deserves more than being an aesthetic showpiece collecting dust; it's meant to be played and used and listened to regularly. Let's hope in a few months (or years), I'll have figured it out and will be able to show off my vinyl system in full, provided I'm still fascinated with the format as much as I am now...


Read all our Vinyl Week 2024 features, reviews and advice

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Kashfia Kabir
Hi-Fi and Audio Editor

Kashfia is the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and first joined the brand over 10 years ago. During her time in the consumer tech industry, she has reviewed hundreds of products (including speakers, amplifiers and headphones), been to countless trade shows across the world and fallen in love with hi-fi kit much bigger than her. In her spare time, Kash can be found tending to an ever-growing houseplant collection and hanging out with her cat Jolene.