Every record player contains a group of standard components, including a turntable, the platform that spins a vinyl album. "Turntable" can be a confusing term because it's often used to describe the entire record player. This is a form of synecdoche, since the rotating turntable can easily represent the most important functionality of the record player. If the record isn't spinning, there's no music!
Turntables turn, turn, turn via two different mechanisms: direct drives and belt drives. Direct drive turntables are a relatively new technology in the world of record players: They were introduced in 1969 by the Technics division of Matsushita Electronics, now known as Panasonic [source: Henry]. The direct drive derives its name from a motor located directly below the turntable platter. That motor powers the platter above it.
Belt drive turntables also have motors, but they're offset from the platter and connected with a belt loop. When the motor is turned on, the belt loop spins and rotates the platter. Does that sound less effective than a direct drive system? In some cases, it is. The advantage of the belt drive is that the motor is isolated from the platter, minimizing the noise and vibration that affects the turntable. But the belts in belt drive turntables are prone to wear, and a loose or stretched belt can lead to uneven rotation speed.
The biggest advantage of the direct drive turntable is torque. Direct motor power means an instant application of thrust to the platter, and no power or time is wasted through fiction with extra moving parts, like the belt in a belt drive system. Higher torque allows direct drive turntables to reliably play at a constant speed and makes them less susceptible to outside sources of friction. That's a key feature for DJs, who need to be able to manipulate records without compromising playback speed.
Direct drive turntables are typically more expensive, and some audiophiles remark that belts absorb some of the vibrations that would otherwise be picked up by the record player needle. Spend enough money on a high quality direct drive, and you'll likely notice the difference. On the next page, we'll get into some other features you likely will notice: USB support and built-in amplification.