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One of my favorite ways to play music is using a record player, and I know that turntables have experienced a massive surge in popularity over the last few years.
I decided to investigate whether I’d be able to connect my record player to my home theater to take advantage of my high quality speakers.
So, can you connect a turntable to a home theater system?
To connect your turntable to a home theater setup, you need a phono preamp. This device correctly equalizes the turntable’s audio signal. It’ll either be built into the turntable or the receiver, or you’ll need to buy a separate device.
Connecting your record player to a home theater system is actually really easy, but does require you to know what you’re looking for.
This article gives you more information about phono preamps, and some general tips about connecting your turntable to a home theater system.
Also Read: Do I Need A Preamp For Home Theater?
Where Do I Find A Phono Preamp?
Check out the best selling phono preamps on Amazon.
A phono preamp is a piece of equipment needed to specifically connect a turntable to a speaker system. It isn’t unique to home theater setups, so if you already have a record player in use, then the chances are you’ve got a phono preamp built in there somewhere.
A phono preamp is needed because of the way turntables play music. The turntable’s arm creates a small voltage by running the needle along a record.
The grooves in a record represent the sounds, and then the voltage is essentially unscrambled music. The job of the phono preamp is to equalize and amplify this signal to turn it into listenable music.
The preamp boosts this signal so that it can be played through speakers. This is essentially the same job any preamp does, but you need a specific one for record players, because their signal is different from other audio media (for example, almost everything else is digital).
As I mentioned, it’s worth checking to see if any of your current devices have a phono preamp already fitted.
It’s not a guarantee that your turntable has a preamp fitted, but if it’s got its own speakers then it will definitely have one, as it needs a way to convert the signal. Similarly, if it’s got a headphone jack then it should have a preamp installed.
However, it’s also worth checking whether your AV receiver has a dedicated phono preamp. Not every receiver is guaranteed to have one, and it’ll definitely be more likely on a higher end model, as these generally try to cover as many bases as possible. It’ll be labeled as PHONO, and have two input plugs for left and right.
If you can’t see a phono preamp on either your turntable or AV receiver, then it probably means you’ll have to go out and buy one.
They’re not too expensive, but as with pretty much any other piece of audio technology, much of the price tag will be reflected in the sound quality it gives you.
How Do I Connect My Turntable To A Home Theater System?
So, we’ve confirmed that in at least one of your devices there’s a phono preamp fitted. Realistically, that’s the hardest part over.
Everything else is pretty simple, particularly if you’ve connected up all of your other devices. Here are some helpful tips on the different connecting methods you can follow.
1. The phono preamp is in the turntable
This is by far the easiest option, and hopefully the most common. Many modern record players have their own preamps, as many have speakers fitted. If the preamp is in the turntable, simply do the following:
- Plug the turntable into the receiver. Do this with a double-ended cable, and make sure that your left and right match (if applicable).
- You can basically use any of the receiver’s analog inputs. These are usually labeled as AUX, Analog in, Line in, or CD or cassette.
- That’s it! Enjoy listening to records with your superior sound system.
2. The phono preamp is in the receiver
This option really isn’t that much harder, and basically follows the same steps, which are:
- Use your turntable’s audio cables, and connect them to the receiver input under ‘PHONO’. Again, make sure your left and right cables match.
- If your turntable has a ground wire, this can be connected to the pin labeled ‘GND’, which is usually located under the PHONO input. This pin helps to reduce background static on the turntable.
- That’s it!
3. You need a separate phono preamp
This is hopefully the least common option because the chances of there being a phono preamp installed in either device is quite high. Once you’ve bought the extra piece of kit, all you need to do is:
- Connect the turntable’s audio cables to the preamp, and any ground wires that your turntable might have.
- Then, connect the preamp’s audio cables to the receiver’s analog inputs.
- Finally, connect the preamp to its power supply and turn on.
- That’s it!
As you can see, each option is relatively easy. The best piece of advice I can give before starting is to check each device properly to make sure it’s got the required components.
If your turntable does have its own phono preamp, it’s easiest to connect it directly to the AUX input, rather than through the receiver’s PHONO input. This saves two preamps trying to boost the same signal, which wouldn’t be pleasant.
If both devices have a preamp, and you’re able to control both, it might be worth experiment to see which is better. For example, you might have bought a high-end receiver, and so the chances are that its preamp will be better quality. Try both to see which one gives you better sound.
Watch this short video below.
Can I Connect A Turntable To Surround Sound?
Once you’ve got your phono preamp located and all devices connected, there’s nothing else stopping you from enjoying your records with excellent sound quality.
However, you might have already gone all out on your home theater, and currently have a great surround sound system. So can you play records on surround sound?
The short answer to this question is no. As a general rule, but particularly for analog equipment such as turntables, audio tracks are recorded in stereo, and so can only be played on stereo or 2.1 speaker systems.
Trying to play stereo sound through a surround sound system will just be a complete mess, if you get any results at all.
Most surround sound systems should have a stereo speaker mode, which is simply a switch or button that converts the system from surround to stereo output.
This usually results in the two “main” speakers becoming the only ones that output sound, and the rest are essentially turned off. This means that you can still enjoy the quality of the speakers, while listening to the music as it should be.
Another option that your speaker system might have is direct mode. This basically bypasses any built in audio processing that your speakers or receiver have, and will make the music play as it was recorded.
For records, this is automatically stereo sound, and so it’ll come out as stereo regardless of whether the other speakers are connected or powered.
Do I Need Any Other Special Equipment For A Turntable?
I found that connecting my turntable up to my home theater system was quite easy, almost to the point where it was too easy.
I kept questioning whether I needed any other specialist equipment to boost the sound, improve its quality, or any other specific connecting devices.
However, once you’ve got a phono preamp connected, everything else works the same as any other input device. Your receiver, amplifier, and speakers can all function as normal, and there’s no reason why any of these wouldn’t work with a turntable once there’s a phono preamp fitted.
This is a massive help for anyone who has an existing home theater setup and wants to connect their record player, as it means you can continue with your existing equipment.
Do You Need A Receiver For A Turntable?
Realistically, most home theaters will have an AV receiver in there somewhere. They function as the control hub of the entire setup, and make switching between input and output devices incredibly easy.
I imagine most people who are reading about home theaters will have one, but there will be some people out there who don’t.
Although I have an AV receiver (check out my top recommended ones) in my home theater, you don’t need one for listening to records on your speaker setup. You will however need active speakers, which are the kind with their own power source. This is because a turntable doesn’t have the right kind of signals to power speakers, but this isn’t a massive problem.
Providing you’ve got a phono preamp, you can run a turntable on an incredibly basic setup. The technology is over 100 years old after all.
How To Get The Best Sound Out Of Your Turntable
Getting the most out of your devices is a must for any audiophile, and is really something that anyone should look to do.
After all, what’s the point in investing loads of time and money into a home theater setup if you’re only getting average sound quality? Here are some top tips to help you get the most out of your new turntable home theater setup.
1. Make Sure Your Record Player Is In The Best Position
Record players are very sensitive pieces of equipment, and most have spring-loaded record beds to improve sound quality. So it’s important with turntables to take some time finding the best placement for them. This is so much more important than with digital devices, and more important than with other analog technology, such as CD players.
As a general rule, the flatter the surface the better. Many turntables will have adjustable feet, so take full advantage of this fact. It’s also probably worth getting out a spirit level if you have one, as this will ensure your turntable is as flat as possible.
Also, make sure the record player isn’t too close to the speakers. Doing this will create feedback, which no one needs, but turntables are quite sensitive to. The best advice is to play around with your placement before settling on the most appropriate place. But, once you’ve found that place, do everything in your power to not move it again.
2. Manual Turntables Usually Result In Better Sound
Automatic turntables basically have many other components fitted to automate the movement of the tone arm. This might seem like a helpful feature, but all these extra pieces can have a big impact on the sound quality of your turntable.
Manual turntables really don’t require that much extra work. After all, all you’re doing is automating the placement of the tone arm, and this really isn’t difficult to do yourself. Automatic turntables will often be more expensive, and you really don’t get that much more out of it.
3. Keep Your Needle In Good Shape
The tone arm’s needle is what runs along the grooves of the record to make sound, and it should be kept as sharp as possible. It’ll wear down over time, so keep an eye on it and replace when necessary.
You’ll be able to hear when the needle is blunt because the sound will be nowhere near as crisp as usual, but as it’ll run down over time you might not notice it. Check it every few weeks, and if it looks blunt then replace it. Needles are inexpensive and really easy to buy online.
4. Don’t Be Worried About Buying Old Records
There’s absolutely nothing to stop you playing old records on new turntables. In fact, I do it all the time, and I really like the idea of buying records from the time they were made.
The technology for producing records hasn’t changed, so go ahead and buy whichever records you want.
That said, always check the quality of a used record before you buy it. Avoid scratches, and make sure the grooves all look okay. The last thing you want is to buy a damaged record that will mess up your sensitive system.
5. Don’t Buy Dirty Records
This follows on from the previous point: don’t play dirty records. Dust easily settles in the record’s grooves, and this can have a massive impact on the sound quality, and the lifespan of your record player.
It’s really easy to clean records, and you can buy plenty of specialist kit specifically designed to get into the grooves and give records a really good clean.
However, you can give them a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth, but this won’t do as good a job. I recommend cleaning all new (old) records before first playing them, and then clean them regularly to avoid damage.
6. Clean The Stylus
Just as it’s incredibly important to keep the stylus (needle) sharp, you also need to keep it clean. A stylus picks up any dirt or dust present in the record’s grooves, which is why it’s important to keep them clean too.
A dirty stylus will massively impact the sound quality of every record you play, and might even cause damage.
Cleaning the stylus is really easy, and can simply be wiped with a cloth. However, you can buy special equipment if you want to do things properly. Either way, make sure you clean it at least once a week.
7. Better Equipment Leads To Better Sound
This is pretty much the case with most audio equipment, but the better your equipment, the better sound you’ll get from it.
There’s little point in connecting a budget record player to an amazing quality speaker system. Turntables aren’t massively cheap anyway, but you really shouldn’t look for a bottom end one.
A good record player should be a few hundred dollars, but you don’t need to pay through the nose for one of superior quality. I picked mine up for about $300 and it’s a great piece of kit. Not only that, but it has its own phono preamp!
8. Adjust The Cartridge
The cartridge is the part that turns record movement into audio signals, using magnets. Turntables should come with a setup guide to adjust it properly, but you can always replace the standard with a superior one.
A heavier cartridge will make the stylus sit lower, which will allow it to get deeper into the record’s grooves.
Connecting your turntable to a home theater system is actually very easy, and means you can take full advantage of your good speakers. Just remember though, it won’t produce surround sound, so ensure your speakers have a stereo output option.
I really enjoy listening to my records on my home theater system, and it’s nice to use modern technology to improve old records. The most important thing is to make sure you’ve got a preamp, as without one, you won’t be listening to music!