An independent guide to your first vinyl hi-fi set-up

With the vinyl revival of the 2010s showing no signs of going away, more and more people are becoming drawn to the once-outdated music format. Whether you are enticed by the sound quality, listening experience, collectability, or simply think that vinyl looks cool, it can be an incredibly rewarding hobby to get into. For many, however, the thought of starting a vinyl set-up is daunting.

It is easy to see why some people might be put off record collecting at the first hurdle: buying a turntable. Both the internet and local record stores are awash with hipsters, audiophiles and vinyl purists demanding you spend thousands on a perfect set-up for vinyl to be worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, cheap and mass-produced turntables are turning up in places like Argos or Urban Outfitters, which generally have poor build quality and sound terrible, putting more listeners off the format.

If done correctly, you needn’t spend a small fortune to get a decent starting set-up to introduce you to the wonders of record collecting. It is an incredibly rewarding hobby, which makes every album feel like an event as well as opening many further avenues of musical discovery that simply do not exist with digital music formats.

So, with all that in mind, we have put together an entirely independent guide to starting your first vinyl set-up to set you on the path to vinyl euphoria.


The logical place to start with a record set-up is with a turntable. There are two main types of turntables: belt-driven and direct drive. Both have their advantages and caveats, depending on your aims. Direct drive turntables have the motor attached directly to the record platter (the bit where you put the record), allowing your turntable to get up to the required speeds much quicker and more accurately. However, due to the motor being attached to the platter, direct drives are more prone to vibrations and distortion. 

On the other hand, belt-driven turntables turn the platter using a pulley system, with a motor turning the platter via a belt (usually made from rubber). While the speeds on belt-driven turntables are not as reliable, they tend to be preferred by audiophiles for the lack of distortion caused by the motor.

It is also worth looking for turntables with built-in phono preamps, such as the Audio Technica AT-LP120, as these will prevent you from having to spend more on an external preamp.

One easy way to cut down on your spend is to buy vintage equipment. High-quality turntables can be bought second-hand for a fraction of the cost of a new machine and, although they might require some maintenance, can achieve high-quality audio. If you want to buy new, then make sure you are looking for a turntable with a counterweight, as this will prevent the tracking force of your stylus from damaging your precious records. 

The main thing to remember, overall, is that you should absolutely avoid any record player with built-in speakers or anything made entirely of plastic. If you see that standard black and red set-up employed by most ‘suitcase’ record players, run a mile.

Turntable - Vinyl - Record - Arm - Needle
(Credits: Jace & Afsoon)


The next essential aspect of your set-up is the speakers. Again, a lot of money can be saved by using vintage speakers, which can often achieve better sound quality than modern offerings. You have to think about your aims when it comes to speakers; if you are looking for some modest, casual listening at home, you might look towards something like Mackie CR5’s or some Kanto bookshelf speakers. 

While these won’t achieve the greatest sound quality, they will sound much better than in-built speakers, giving you an enjoyable casual listening experience. If you are after something with a bit more oomph, you could turn more towards bigger, floor-standing speakers – within this realm, vintage tends to be the way to go. 

Another question you have to ask when it comes to speakers is whether you would prefer an active or passive speaker. Active speakers are self-amplifying and powered, usually making them a more cost-effective option, whereas passive speakers require an amplifier.

When it comes to speakers, it is almost always preferable to have dual speakers as opposed to one single speaker. In order to achieve an encompassing stereo sound, wired dual speakers are the way to go. 

Speakers - Stereo - Hi-Fi - Audio
(Credits: Trude Jonsson Stangel)

Accessories and upgrades

In essence, once you have a turntable and speakers (provided they have preamps and such), you are ready to go. You can improve your setup with the inclusion of an external amplifier and a receiver, but, for the price-conscious, a turntable with speakers is a fine set-up. 

Another way you can choose to boost your set-up is with small accessories and upgrades. For instance, you can switch out your stylus and headshell to something of a higher quality, eliciting better sound quality for a fraction of the price of a new turntable.

In terms of accessories, you can improve the quality of your set-up by buying a tracking force scale. This small scale can measure how much force your stylus is placing on the grooves of your records. Each stylus has its own guidelines for tracking force, so if yours is too high, then it may damage your albums – tracking force is usually adjusted through the counterweight. 

Stylus - Needle - Arm - Record player
(Credits: Eric Murray)


Arguably, the most essential part of a hi-fi setup is cleaning and maintenance. You could have the most expensive, highest quality set-up in the world, but if you don’t look after it, then it will eventually fail. While cleaning the records themselves is always important, cleaning your turntable is just as important. 

The stylus, often referred to as the needle, is the most important part of your turntable as it is the stylus that transmits the sound of your records. For a very low cost, you can buy a stylus cleaning kit, usually containing a brush and some kind of anti-static solution, to keep your stylus free of dust and dirt that might interrupt playback.

Even if you do keep it clean, your stylus will not last forever. The general guidelines suggest that a stylus should be replaced after around 1,000 hours of playback, so, for a casual listener, you should be replacing your stylus every few years or so to maintain the sound quality of your hi-fi set-up. 

At the end of the day, vinyl records themselves are expensive, with new pressings generally going for upwards of £20 a piece, so getting into the hobby is not a cheap affair. However, if you do not cut corners, you can find a great hi-fi set-up that will not break the bank. So, good luck and happy crate digging.

Originally Published via Far out magazine on 29 January 2024 

Author - Ben Forrest

Original source -