Crosley turntables are very cheap and look retro chic. Cheap and faux-retro are usually a terrible combination, and Crosley turntables are no exception. Crosley’s target market is people looking to get in to vinyl because it’s cool. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in our mind, since that’s what attracted a lot of us. The beginner who knows nothing of record player technology may be duped in to buying a Crosley turntable, but they are not suitable for anyone’s needs. Read on to find out why.
1950s Technology on Crosley Turntables
Crosley turntables use ceramic cartridges. This is not something that unique to Crosley turntables, but it is a terrible bit of technology. Ceramic cartridges, to use a bit of vinyl-elitist hyperbole, are the devil. The ceramic cartridges on Crosley turntables track at about 3 times the weight of a decent quality magnetic cartridge, which can cost as little as $20. To give some idea as to just how heavy that is, cartridges on DJ turntables track at around 3 grams to allow for scratching and better tracking in an environment with a lot of vibration. This added weight can come at a cost: a DJ’s vinyl becomes damaged more easily due to the heavy weight.
Even though 4.5 grams may not seem like much, and the 3 gram difference between a standard turntable’s and a Crosley turntable’s tracking force may seem like very little, remember the concept of surface area. That is 4.5 grams going through the tip of a needle, which is a lot of tracking force. Crosley turntables, though cheap, will result in you paying more than they’re worth when you have to repurchase your favourite records. Rare, irreplaceable records should never be placed on a Crosley turntable. Some users have reported audible screams coming from their rare records before they are even placed on Crosley turntables!
Crosley turntables have a poorly calibrated, plastic arm that drags on the surface of vinyl. When combined with a ceramic cartridge, they are guaranteed to destroy your collection. Crosley turntables are built on the cheap, and with turntables and turntable equipment you get what you pay for. The best new entry level turntables are $200 or more. Paying this sort of cash will immediately turn some interested parties off of vinyl, but the sound is absolutely worth it. Crosley turntables’ all in one solutions for a hundred dollars are not up to the job. Ceramic cartridges were popular 50 years ago because they were cheap. It is often stated that analogue technology hasn’t had any major technological breakthroughs since the 70s/80s, but music lovers’ disdain for ceramic cartridges has been alive and well since they were introduced.
With Crosley turntables, you do not need a preamp. No doubt an attractive feature for someone looking for a system on the cheap, but part of the reason a preamp is not needed is because the needle tracks so heavily (ceramic cartridges also have a higher output voltage). A preamp is designed primarily to amplify the sound coming from the turntable: as the needle tracks very gently along the surface it needs to be amplified to be heard. Preamps cannot be avoided if you care about preserving your vinyl (note though that some turntables have built in preamps, which is okay).
The portable Crosley turntables are, to be fair, cute. They are often “all-in-one” units that include USB, am/fm radio and a CD player. Crosley have fashioned their own little niche here which will appeal to some. Portable vinyl in itself is a strange concept, being that you could get better quality sound from an iPod with portable speakers, but some will find portable Crosley turntables appealing as a toy.
Alternatives to Crosley Turntables
Audio Technica and Stanton Turntables are slightly more expensive alternatives but much better in terms of sound and record preservation. Our best turntables for beginners article provides some recommendations. We’ve been a little harsh on Crosley turntables here, but there just does not seem to be a situation in which they’re not rip-offs, despite their low cost.