Whether your are a novice, a collector or simply nostalgic, the question is almost inevitable when one begins to take an interest in turntables: what is the difference between direct drive and belt drive and which one is better? The answer is simpler than it seems, because as often in the field of hi-fi it depends on personnal preferences but also on the use which one makes of the turntable. How to choose between these two designs and which one best suits your needs?
Direct or belt drive: what’s the difference?
Turntables first appeared in the 1920s and succeeded the gramophone. The first models came in the form of a suitcase comprising the record player, an amplifier and one or more loudspeakers. During the “golden age of hi-fi”, in the 1950s and 1960s, the turntable broke away from the rest of the system to become a device in its own right.
The first models of turntables were belt-driven, meaning that the motor was associated to a pulley, which itself was connected to a sub-platter or directly to the platter.
The first direct-drive turntable appeared in the late 1960s. Designed by the Japanese engineer Shuichi Obata for the Matsushita company (now Panasonic), this design consists of dispensing with the belt by resting the plate directly on the engine. This technology gave birth to the first direct-drive model in 1969, the Technics SP-10. The latter constitutes the starting point of the famous series of Technics turntables in which we find the SL-1100 and the legendary Technics SL-1200 turntable, which thanks to its powerful motor, its durability and its precision will be adopted by the first hip-hop artists and will become an integral part of the history of this musical movement.
Direct or belt drive: what are the advantages?
Depending on the type of use and user preferences, the choice of a direct drive or belt drive model will be self-evident. The purpose of a belt-driven turntable is first and foremost to eliminate as many sources of vibration as possible to keep noise as low as possible and thus retain all the micro-details of the signal. This type of design is preferred for very high-end turntables, such as the McIntosh MT10 or the turntable Rega Planar 10 . The catalog of the famous brands of hi-fi turntables Rega and Pro-Ject is only comprised of belt-driven turntables for precisely this reason. Note that Rega pushes its reasoning even further. The philosophy of the English brand being to eliminate as much as possible the sources of vibrations and the risk of signal loss, the RCA cable of its turntables is directly integrated into the arm and can only be changed by removing it. . By minimizing the number of connectors in the signal path, the brand ensures that it retains all of its integrity.
Belt-driven turntables are not without drawbacks, however. More fragile and sensitive to their environment than direct drive models, it is necessary to change the belt when the latter is slack and it is recommended to avoid very hot and dry climates as much as possible. Indeed, the belts are sensitive to weather conditions and will tend to break easily in such a climate.
As previously mentioned, direct-drive turntables, although originally designed for home listening, quickly won over artists from an emerging culture in the 1970s: the hip-hop movement and especially “turntablism”. The Technics SL-1200 direct drive turntable is inseparable from hip-hop history and has established itself as the instrument of choice for DJs thanks to its ruggedness, precision and ingenious strobe speed control system. To read about the history of this emblematic model, see our article on the iconic Technics SL-1200 turntable .
While the precision of on / off control and the great ruggedness of direct drive stages make them ideal for club use, they are no less comfortable in a living room system. This is the solution adopted by the famous turntable brandThorens with the TD 402 DD , a direct drive model designed to be used in a living room hi-fi installation.
Direct or belt drive: who is it for?
If you intend to move your turntable regularly or prefer a model that will guarantee an immediate playback start and stop, a direct drive model is the best solution. For DJs, the choice of a direct drive turntable is of course essential and the functions of the latter such as the speed control of the turntable by strobe or even the pitch adjustment are essential for this type of use.
For daily use in a living room hi-fi system, the choice is entirely based on your preferences, your needs and the functions offered by each turntable. If you are looking for a classic design direct drive model with a simple start / stop button, which will not require a belt change, can be connected directly to a hi-fi amp without going through a built-in pre-amp and you allowing you to digitize your records via USB, a turntable such as the Roberts RT200 is perfect for you.
For a high-end audiophile system, a belt-driven model is usually prefered. The key principle of this type of system being to minimize the presence of noise caused by vibrations and interference, they are traditionally equipped with belt-driven stages. If the vast majority of the supply of very high-end turntables consists of models adopting this type of design, it is because the combination of a belt-driven turntable and a separated phono preamp allows you to enjoy all the micro details, warmth and dynamics that bring music to life on vinyl.