Turntable Basics // Belt Drive vs Direct Drive

Turntable Basics // Belt Drive vs Direct Drive

Learn about the basic design differences between a Belt Drive and a Direct Drive turntable.

Ah…one of the age old questions, “What’s the difference between a Belt Drive and a Direct Drive Turntable?”. This week, we’ll outline the differences between these two types of turntables, and highlight pros and cons of each.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our first guide, Anatomy of a Turntable, before jumping into this guide.

Turntable design

So you’ve learned the many parts of a turntable. Now what? Well, let’s start with how a turntable works.

A turntable uses a motor to spin the platter at a constant speed. A vinyl record sits on top of the spinning platter as the stylus rides its many grooves and converts the vibrations into sound. Most turntables accomplish this in one of two ways: Belt Drive or Direct Drive.

**There’s also a third turntable design, the Idler Drive. This is not a very common turntable drive nowadays, so we won’t go into detail, but it’s just some good knowledge. **

Turntable-Guide-(2)-P.2-1800x1391

Belt Drive

A belt drive turntable spins the platter using an elastic belt that’s attached to the motor. The platter sits on a bearing (a bearing is a device that is used to enable rotational or linear movement) and is isolated from the motor.

Pros

  • The elastic belt absorbs shock and prevents vibrations that are generated by the motor from reaching the platter.
  • Isolating the motor from the platter also results in less noise transmission to the tonearm.
  • It is generally believed that belt drive turntables produce better sound quality due to less noise interference from the motor.

Cons

  • Belt Drive turntables have much lower torque and can have less accurate playback speed.
  • The belt can eventually (a few years) wear down and need to be replaced.

Examples of Belt Drive Turntables:

pioneer pl 1

Vintage Pioneer PL-117D

debut carbon

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

u turn audio

U-Turn Audio – Orbit Plus Turntable

 

Direct Drive

In a direct drive turntable, the platter is attached to and spins directly via the motor. Direct drive turntables offer more constant and accurate speeds, and generally feature faster start up times and stronger torque.

Pros

  • Direct Drive turntables have higher torque and offer highly consistent speeds. Higher torque means the platter is less vulnerable to outside forces, such as the stylus or your hand.
  • A higher torque also means that the platter accelerates to a constant speed faster, which results in less sound distortion.
  • Allows you to spin the platter backwards to create special sound effects, which are preferred by DJ’s.

Cons

  • The rotation of the motor generates unwanted vibrations that can affect sound quality. This issue can be addressed with the use of shock absorbers between the platter and the motor.

Examples of Direct Drive turntables:

marantz 6150

Vintage Marantz Model 6150

audio technica

Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB

technics 1200mk2

Technics SL-1200 MK2

 

Conclusion

So we hope we’ve shared enough information to help you guys understand the basic differences between Belt Drive and Direct Drive turntables.

Now, I know what you guys are thinking…”Which one is better?” Well, the truth is, it really depends on who you’re asking. Audiophiles have debated this question for decades, and from what we’ve read, there isn’t a clear cut answer. Most high-end turntables are belt driven due to the better sound quality and less noise distortion from the motor. However, Direct Drive turntables offer much more consistent speeds and are generally believed to have sturdier builds.

Like we highlighted above, both formats have their pros and cons. Another thing to keep in mind is that sound can be very subjective. What sounds good to one person may sound completely different to somebody else. Our recommendation? Test out a few and decide for yourself! It’s really all about personal preference!

This guide is by no means a comprehensive guide. Think of it as a “jumping off point” to start you off with your research and learn about turntable basics. We encourage you to do some research on your own and we’ve listed a few resources below with some great information.

Crutchfield’s Turntable Buying Guide

Turntable Lab’s Beginner’s Guide to Turntables

Dummies – How to Buy a Turntable for a Home Theater

We’ll be continuing our ‘Turntable Basics’ series, so stay tuned for our next guide!

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!

  • Raphael Avital

    Sorry, I know it’s been almost a year since you posted this. I have one remark to make about Direct Drive:
    I admit I haven’t seen a lot of Direct Drive turntables, so I could be completely wrong. You say the platter is mounted on the motor, which would mean the motor is in one enclosure, and the platter’s center is mounted on the motor’s axis. Again, that could be how many Direct Drive turntables work. Mine is different: Every electric motor has fixed magnets and electro-magnets. The polarity of the fixed magnets doesn’t change. The polarity of the electro-magnets changes as the motor spins, and the polarity of one end of the electro-magnet facing the fixed-magnet repels the electro-magnet, and attracts the opposite end of the electromagnet. Once that half-revolution is completed, the polarity of the electro-magnet switches again, and the process repeats. This is what induces the spinning motion of the electro-magnet that is the basic mechanical function of the motor.
    On my turntable, the fixed magnet is literally mounted on the underside of the platter. while the electro-magnets — about 12 of them — are fixed on the body of the turntable. The fixed magnet is circular, it’s a large ring measuring about 6 or 7 inches. Alternating Current going through the electro-magnets induces the fixed magnet, and the platter it is mounted on, to spin. So in fact, there is no motor separate from the platter, the platter IS part of the motor itself.
    This is extremely stable, even on my really cheap JC-Penney brand turntable from 1980. With a spindle milled accurately enough and regular lubrication, it produces zero vibrations. A Ground connection going from the turntable to the amplifier takes care of any electrical artifacts that may result from this electronic activity.
    Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m only describing the turntable that I’ve used for the last 35 years.
    Cheers!

    • Tom Steele

      I think it does mean he is wrong and you are right. I grew up in the 70’s and everything back then said that direct drive was better than belt driven. I saved up a lot of money for my direct drive turntable then, and am surprised when I see supposedly great new turntables at very high prices, and they are belt-driven.

      Maybe if they could assure me the technology has changed I might be swayed, but it LOOKS like they just changed the sales pitch.

      I need to dig out my turntable and see how it works.

      I can be sure of this, if it were belt driven, it would need a new belt now! Lol. Mine is/was a JC Penneys MCS (Modular Components System) direct drive turntable that was essentially Technics brand. I purchased as Shure cartridge and needle that improved it greatly over stock.

      Still, I just cannot imagine going back to vinyl. Even with my very nice red velvety material (cannot recall the brand) cleaner and solution, it was inevitable that dust would build up and quiet passages would have pops in them and scratches would develop. CD’s just sound the same forever.

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