Turntable Basics // Automatic vs Manual Operation

Turntable Basics // Automatic vs Manual Operation

Learn about the differences between Automatic and Manual Operation on turntables.

Okay, so by now you should be familiar with the parts of a turntable and understand the differences between belt drive and direct drive turntables.

Today, we’ll teach you about another basic difference in turntable: Automatic vs Manual Operation.

Automatic vs Manual Operation Infographic (Click to download hi-res)


Automatic and Manual Operation refers to how the tonearm gets to and from its starting position, to play a record on the turntable. Some turntables do this automatically at the press of a button, and some turntables require the user to do it manually. It’s a rather simple concept, but we’ll go into a little bit more detail below.

Automatic Turntables

Automatic Turntables essentially do all of the work “automatically”. You push a button that gets the motor spinning the platter and the turntable will lift the tonearm, move it over the lead-in grooves of the record, and lower the stylus to begin playing the album. At the end of the album, the turntable will raise the stylus from the record and move the tonearm back to its starting position.

Automatic Turntables are convenient and easy-to-use because they do all of the work for you. The turntable will take care of itself, so all you really have to do is “push a button”, sit down and enjoy your music.

Another common type of automatic turntable operation is semi-automatic. Semi-Automatic Turntables will typically only have the auto-return function that returns the tonearm back to its starting position.

Check out the video below of a Technics SL-D3 fully automatic turntable in action. 

Manual Turntables

Manual Turntables require more interaction as it’s necessary for the user to do all of the work “manually”. With manual turntables, the user pushes a button to start the motor, and physically places the tonearm over the record. At the end of the record, the user has to physically return the tonearm to its starting position.

Many manual turntables feature a cueing lever that assists with this process. The cueing lever allows the user to raise or lower the stylus to and from the record surface. The cueing lever makes it easier to gently lower the stylus anywhere on the record.

Check out the video below of a manual turntable in action. 


So, what type of turntable is better? Again, this is usually a matter of opinion, but typically manual turntables will have better sound performance. Why? Well, in order to function properly, automatic turntables add gears and parts to a turntable that can affect performance and sound quality. Many audiophiles prefer manual turntables due to their simple design, added precision, and exceptional sonic performance.

Most casual listeners will probably not notice the difference in sound between automatic and manual turntables. It all comes down to preference. From my own personal experience, I’d have to say that it’s nice not having to immediately stop what I’m doing to interact with my automatic turntable at the end of a record. However, if I’m going to invest in a high quality sound system, I would opt for a manual turntable.


About The Author

My vinyl obsession began with a few records that were given to me as a gift. Little did I know that this was the spark that would merge my impulsive habit of collecting things and love for music into my new passion. My claim to fame? Owning all of The Mars Volta's studio releases, including the infamous 'Frances the Mute' album pressed on glow-in-the-dark vinyl. I'm always on the lookout for the new stuff and lovingly embrace the classic stuff. I'm here to help you be on the forefront of this vinyl resurgence. Give me a shout on twitter!

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