While true that traditional turntable setups have a lot of moving parts, that’s the nature of the beast — if not vinyl’s main allure. There’s also an easy workaround. These days, a bunch of turntables and speaker systems come with integrated components (like a phono preamplifier or amplifier) and they make listening to vinyl as hassle-free. Before we get into the setups, we’re going to answer a few basic questions below.
What is an all-in-one turntable?
The name “all-in-one turntable” is a little misleading, at least in most cases, because it generally still requires you to add speakers to complete the system and play music. An all-in-one turntable has a built-in phono preamp (also known as phono stage) and a built-in powered amplifier (also referred to as an amp). The preamp is needed to amplify the signal coming out of the turntable’s cartridge, while the powered amplifier boosts and preps the signal so that it can be sent to the speakers.
There are a few key advantages to buying an all-in-one turntable. They’re generally cheaper. They take up less space because you don’t have to factor in where to place the external phono stage and amplifier. Finally, all-in-one turntables are just easier to set up because there are less components to fiddle with.
What are the downsides of an all-in-one turntable?
In order for a hi-fi system to work to its full potential, all its components have to work in perfect harmony and not disrupt each other. These individual components — turntable, preamp, amplifier, etc. — naturally create vibrations and when they’re in close proximity of one another they can have a negative effect on the rest of the system. This is one reason why all-in-one turntables are not popular with high-end enthusiasts. Of course, there are high-end all-in-one turntables that do a great job of isolating the individual components and minimizing noise, but that is a whole other can of worms.
The other big downside around all-in-one turntables is that their built-in preamp isn’t upgradeable. Many enthusiasts like to upgrade their systems over time and customize their sound, and an external preamp is a great way of doing just that. That said, more and more all-in-one turntables have switches that allow you to turn its built-in preamp on or off, giving listeners the option to add their own preamp if they like.
Passive, Powered or Active bookshelf speakers: Does it matter?
The short answer is: absolutely.
Passive bookshelf speakers are the most flexible type of bookshelf speaker (and generally the cheapest) because they have no built-in amplification. This means that the turntable needs to either have a built-in phono preamp and a powered amplifier, or it needs to be connected to external components, in order to play. The reason why passive bookshelf speakers are the most flexible option is that they allow the listener the most room to experiment; you can easily swap in or out different components, such as amplifiers, preamps and DACs, without you having to get a new pair of speakers. Passive bookshelf speakers are what we’d recommend to pair with most all-in-one turntables.
Powered bookshelf speakers are exactly as you’d think: they are “powered,” meaning they have their own built-in amplification and need to be connected to power to work. Generally, only one of the speakers is amplified (it’s called the “master”) and needs to be connected via cable to the passive speaker (the “slave”). If the turntable has a built-in preamp, you can connect it directly to a pair of powered speakers and it’ll work.
Active bookshelf speakers are essentially the same as powered bookshelf speakers, but more advanced. The speakers are individually amplified and have a multitude of built-in connectivity options, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and optical. Active bookshelf speakers can connect directly to a turntable with a built-in preamp. If the turntable doesn’t have a preamp or powered amplifier built into it, you can usually connect it directly to the active speaker.