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Turntables come in many flavors. One of the main decisions to make when buying one is choosing between a direct drive and a belt driven mechanism.

What are the differences between them? Which are the pros and cons?

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Belt Drive

Pros

  • The belt acts as a shock-absorber, preventing vibration transmitted from the motor reaching the platter

  • Isolating the motor from the platter results in less noise transmission to the tone-arm

  • It is generally considered that belt drive turntables produce better sound quality dues to less interference from the motor

Cons

  • Belt drives have lower torque & can have less accurate playback speed unless well-maintained

  • The belt will eventually wear & need to be replaced.

Belt drive turntables tend to be primarily used by audiophiles.
Significantly, very expensive systems all tend to be belt drive

Example: Linn Sondek LP 12 [base configuration] or just to show how silly the prices can get, the top configuration as advertised by one randomly Googled vendor - Linn Klimax LP 12


Direct Drive

Pros

  • Higher torque & highly consistent speeds. Higher torque means the platter is less vulnerable to outside forces such as the stylus or your hand

  • Higher torque also means the platter will reach playback speed more quickly

  • Because there is no physical connection between platter & motor, it is possible to stop or even reverse the platter by hand.

Cons

  • The motor itself generates unwanted vibration which can affect the sound. This can partly be addressed by shock-absorber systems between platter & motor.

Direct drive systems are exclusively preferred by DJs, for the fast start-up at cue, vari-speed controls for beat-matching & the ability to manipulate the platter by hand without causing damage; for scratching, etc.

Example: the almost ubiquitous Technics SL 1200, now unfortunately discontinued


Simplified description of 'standard' vs direct drive motor.

In a standard electric motor configuration, permanent magnets are held in a fixed position surrounding a wire coil on a central spindle which is free to rotate. The rotating spindle extends outside the enclosing magnets & is then available to do the 'work' of turning an attached device - in a turntable, this would be a rubber pulley belt connected to the platter.
Stopping this with your hand would lead to the belt slipping, detaching or breaking.

enter image description here

In a direct drive motor, this relationship is reversed.
The coil is held stationary, fixed to the body of the player. The magnets are attached to the underside of the platter itself. The spindle of the platter is the spindle of the motor.
As the two are not physically connected, stopping the platter with your hand causes no issues.
There is the possibility it could overheat if held long enough, but presumably direct drive turntables, especially those intended for DJ use are designed with sufficient cooling as to make this improbable.

enter image description here

  • 2
    Can you explain the 'no physical connection' part in regards to direct drive? – DA. May 14 '15 at 1:10
  • 1
    @DA. done - oversimplified, but sufficient for the purpose, I think, without going into electronics. – Tetsujin May 14 '15 at 12:26
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The turntable quality factor primarily affected by the drive method is speed accuracy and stability.

Between direct drive and belt driven types, direct drive is more accurate.

In the direct drive system, the motor is a multiple pole motor, and the magnets are part of the turntable itself. This allows accurate speed control (by a PWM drive system). The turntable platter is the only moving part, and because it acts as part of the drive motor is generally heavier and more stable that that used on other turntables.

In the belt driven system, the motor is usually a simple DC motor. The belt is between the motor and the turntable.
Speed accuracy and control can only be as good as the motor used. This can vary a lot. The belt is subject to many problems, such as stretching, slipping, and moving out of position. So speed variation and vibration can be transferred to the turntable.

So from a quality standpoint, the direct drive system is better. But due to the additional electronic components and design costs, these are more expensive.

Conversely, the advantage of the belt drive system is its lower cost. The disadvantage is that the turntable stability and therefore the audio quality are worse compared to the direct drive system.

Of course, there can be varying quality and cost within each type, both related to these components and others on the turntable.

Any turntable purporting to be high-quality system should have a strobe along the outer rim of the platter. This is the best tool to critique the accuracy of the turntable speed.

  • I really think you have most of this the wrong way round. – Tetsujin May 13 '15 at 8:09
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There is so much misinformation when it comes to direct drive vs. belt drive turntables. Yes, much of what you hear about the two is pretty much correct, except..... Direct drive turntables have been around for a while now, and the technology has improved so much that you cannot compare the way a belt drive works and how a direct drive works and say that one is definitely better than the other. First, there are different designs of direct drive like the one described above, which is very much like the Technics design.

The motor circuitry and sound delivery circuitry is COMPLETELY separate from each other. DD motors are designed SPECIFICALLY to rotate smoothly, simply BECAUSE of the wow and flutter issue, which is what is actually being discussed as to VIBRATION and speed up and slow down. THAT is what wow and flutter is. When there is virtually no wow and flutter being produced(extremely low on a good DD TT), what is there for the cartridge to pick up????? All you have to do is research the wow and flutter specs of similarly priced turntables from the same era, say late 70's and you can READ the difference. The reason, is that DD TT are VERY stable, and GOOD ones have a heavy platter which helps keep wow and flutter at bay. My Pioneer PL-540 platter weighs about 5lbs!! It starts up very quickly, yes, but there is NO spurious sounds coming through! You have to compare APPLES TO APPLES and unfortunately, many people don't and keep repeating what all the so called experts say. Yes the belt helps absorb the flutter part of the equation, but NOT so much the wow part. Wow is the variations in speed that occur that only a DD TT is VERY successful in curtailing. Here is the link to my turntable specs, which at the time was about $500 and it has amazing specs: https://www.vinylengine.com/library/pioneer/pl-540.shtml Here is a similarly priced Dual belt drive from the same time period... https://www.vinylengine.com/library/dual/cs-1257.shtml You see the specs are much better on the Pioneer. It is all about design and technology. The late 70's, early 80's saw a huge increase in the refinement of DD TTs, and they are every bit as good or better than similarly priced belt drives. Today, belt drives are used almost exclusively for one major reason....COST! Yes DDs need a very techy motor with much supporting electronics AND that is why they are pricey, and the companies that make belt drive turntables want you to buy their product. I have 2 DD, and one is a Dual 606 which is as stable and maybe a bit quieter than my Pioneer, but the torque sucks! lol!!

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