Suitcase turntables are ruining your records





And your ears.

There are any number of stats you can hold up to illustrate the boom the vinyl has enjoyed in recent years. In the UK, record sales have hit their highest point in 30 years as fans and collectors of virtually all ages stack their wax. Record racks have seeped out of their usual environs, cropping up everywhere from coffee shops to supermarkets. A deluxe vinyl bundle has become part and parcel of any pop star’s chart campaign.

This increase of popularity has invited a concurrent rise in feature-packed audiophile speakers and turntables, with old designs being revived and new units being produced across all price brackets. But the thing about rising tides is that they don’t discriminate. The boom in popularity of record collecting has brought with it the ubiquity of a less impressive bit of kit: the so-called ‘suitcase’ turntable, with its cheap components crammed into kitsch colourful casing. These all-in-one setups are the bane of an audiophile’s existence.

Read more: A guide to record storage and alternatives to IKEA

Affordability, convenience, overall aesthetics, and compactness all make suitcase turntables very attractive to the untrained eye. Units turned out by companies like Crosley and Victrola (among any number of others) take their look from chunkier at-home all-in-ones popularised by Dansette in the 1950s and ’60s, and offer affordability, convenience, and a stylish compact aesthetic.

With their built-in speakers, suitcase players offer great ease-of-use and are as close to a plug-and-play experience as you’re likely to get with a record player. The ideal, however unlikely, of sitting out playing records while you picnic in the park suddenly seems possible. And when you consider that even entry-level turntables will often require you to purchase speakers (as well as, in some cases, an amp) to get started with listening, the sub-£100 price point of these suitcases only becomes more attractive. So it’s far from surprising that they’ve proven so popular.

But behind all the appeal, there are many downsides that greatly outweigh the convenience, ease of use, compactness, and even the affordability that makes these decks so enticing.

Read more: A guide to turntable cartridges and the best budget models

One of the most prevalent issues with these suitcase systems is the needle, or stylus, that comes preinstalled. Needles are important. They serve as the first and most direct point of contact that transfers sound to and from the record into the turntable and out to your speakers. The needles that are usually packaged on these all-in-one suitcases are cheap and will have a tendency to scratch and damage your records beyond repair. These scratches will not only show up visibly on your discs, they’ll appear sonically as pops and cracks that crowd out the music. While wear and tear is a normal occurrence that happens on any record, especially one that’s played often, what you’ll find when listening to records with a cheap suitcase needle is that wear and tear, and degradation in sound quality, occurring after far fewer listening experiences.

A cheap needle will also deliver a poorer sound profile, lacking the dynamics and clarity in the highs, mids, and lows that you’d otherwise get from a better built bit of kit. Worst of all, because suitcase turntables have their styli built in, you’re locked into that poor sound profile for good – and, when the stylus inevitably wears down, along with your records, you’ll more often than not be forced to replace the entire suitcase setup as opposed to just swapping out for a replacement needle. In comparison to other turntable ecosystems that allow you to install and upgrade other needles from different brands and price brackets, this is a huge downside. For many, the appeal of buying and listening to records is the amazing sound quality you get. With suitcase turntables, you’re not getting even close to that experience. And you’re ruining your records in the process.

We love speakers, just not the ones directly built into our turntables. Most suitcase turntables will have one or two speakers built in. But having speakers so close to your turntable’s needle – sensitive as it is – can cause unwanted interference, as the music coming out of the cones is picked up by the needle and played again at a delay. This creates feedback and a terrible, distorted experience that will make you think you bought a defective record.

Speakers, by their nature, also cause a lot of vibrations. These vibrations can give you a muddy sound and can cause your record to skip – which not only sounds bad, but also makes your records more prone to scratches. While vibrations and things like your needle picking up unwanted frequencies can occur with even the best loudspeakers, having speakers that are separate from the turntable unit gives you the option to move them further away. This lets you minimise any potential issues, and enjoy a crisp, clean listening experience – something you, obviously, can’t do with a suitcase turntable.

Read more: How to create your own listening room

Despite all this, affordability remains a plus for many, and plays a huge role in the popularity of these decks. Typically available for under £100, these units are, within the context of audio gear, super affordable. But that cheaper price point is reflected in the overall build quality. The needles that come built-in tend to break often and ruin your records. The speakers included don’t offer great sound, and get blown out or distorted fairly easily. Buttons and dials often become faulty or just flat out stop working. These suitcases are not built to last, and soon enough you’ll soon find yourself shopping for a new turntable (and, quite possibly, replacement records for the ones the needle has worn through).

We get it, it’s not easy looking for your first turntable. There’s lots of advice out there, and even more unfamiliar terminology to go with it. Suitcase turntables offer what seems like a simple solution. But we cannot stress enough how bad these units are for your records.

There are a ton of affordable decks out on the market – such as Audio Technica’s LP-AT60 or Denon’s 300F – that offer an easy setup without compromising on your experience. While these turntables aren’t all-in-one systems, they offer automatic functions and are super easy to use; the only extra thing you’ll need is speakers. Yes, this does drive up the price a little, but your records – and your ears – will thank you.

Check out this guide to our favourite budget-friendly decks (that won’t ruin your records).