Vinyl Goes Wireless

Modern technology is helping record players work in today's audio systems

Vinyl records are hotter than they’ve been since the late 1980s, but the systems we use for music listening have changed radically since then. In vinyl’s heyday, we plugged our record players into stereo receivers, connected to a pair of speakers. Now, the most common music system is a compact, all-in-one speaker or a set of headphones, usually connected wirelessly to a smartphone.

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As the vinyl resurgence moves from audio enthusiasts to mainstream music lovers, turntable manufacturers are adapting to the new tech landscape. They’re adding wireless technologies that let you play your records the same way you always did—dropping the needle into the groove—but connecting easily to today’s audio systems.

There are downsides to this, though. Wireless connections can be more complicated than plugging in cables, and they sometimes sacrifice sound quality. Let’s consider your options …

Bluetooth: Easy to Love

For most people, the simplest way to add a turntable to a music system is to buy a model with Bluetooth built in. You can stream sound from these turntables the same way you do with a phone; it takes just a few seconds to mate the turntable’s transmitter with the receiver built into any Bluetooth speakers or headphones.

Bluetooth does present some trade-offs. Most Bluetooth speakers and headphones work only within about 30 feet of the transmitter, through at most one wall. Bluetooth also degrades sound quality slightly, although the difference is usually subtle enough that you won’t notice it when listening through all-in-one sound systems.

The best-known Bluetooth turntable is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60BK-BT. Unlike audiophile turntables, it’s fully automatic: Pushing the Start button moves the tone arm over the record and drops the needle, and when the music’s over, the needle lifts off the record and the tone arm swings back out of the way. The AT-LP60BK-BT is a mostly plastic model with none of the adjustments or flexibility of an audiophile turntable, so it sacrifices some sound quality, but you may consider this an acceptable trade-off for the plug-and-play simplicity and low price. And it’s available in three colors: black, white, or navy.

Serious music aficionados can step up to the Pro-Ject Essential III Bluetooth, a wireless version of the company’s respected, well-built Essential III turntable. The Essential III comes with a high-quality Ortofon OM10 cartridge installed, and the fully adjustable tone arm allows installation of a wide variety of other cartridges—something you’ll want to explore if you someday upgrade to a traditional stereo system. It’s also equipped with AptX Bluetooth technology, which some audio aficionados (although not this one) consider superior to standard Bluetooth.

If you have an old turntable that you’d like to interface with your Bluetooth gear, you can add a Bluetooth transmitter. Many are available on Amazon for less than $30, but this option can be complicated. No Bluetooth transmitter I’ve seen has a built-in phono preamp, which is required to boost and equalize the signal coming from the turntable. Either choose a turntable with a phono preamp built in, or add a phono preamp between your turntable and the Bluetooth adapter.

WiFi: Groovin’ High

WiFi-based wireless systems have few of Bluetooth’s downsides. They don’t degrade sound quality, and they work anywhere within range of your WiFi router—so pretty much everywhere in a house, even the backyard. Also, while Bluetooth systems are limited to two speakers and two rooms, WiFi systems can add as many speakers and rooms as you like. That means you can hear your cherished 40-year-old vinyl copy of Kind of Blue in every room of the house.

The only readily available turntable I’ve seen that works with WiFi systems is the Yamaha MusicCast Vinyl 500. It can transmit audio from vinyl records to any of Yamaha’s MusicCast-equipped speakers and home theater receivers, and it also works with products that incorporate Apple AirPlay or Spotify Connect WiFi. (It even has Bluetooth, which will come in handy if you use Bluetooth headphones.) It’s a first-class turntable, too, with a pre-installed Audio-Technica ATN3600L cartridge and a fully adjustable tone arm.

If you’d like to upgrade your existing turntable to WiFi, you can use a WiFi interface such as the Sonos Connect, which works with all Sonos speakers. The Sonos Play:5 speaker also includes an analog input that lets you interface a turntable with a Sonos WiFi audio system. As with the Bluetooth transmitters, you’ll need to add a phono preamp or use a turntable with a built-in phono preamp.

No matter how you interface a turntable with wireless audio gear, the signal will no longer be pure analog, so vinyl purists will have to stick with traditional stereos. But if a big set of speakers and a rack full of components are non-starters in your household, going wireless can make vinyl a lot more fun.

Brent Butterworth

Brent Butterworth has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has evaluated and measured thousands of audio products. He is currently a writer at Wirecutter and editor of the SoundStage Solo headphone site; served as an editor at such magazines as Sound & Vision and Home Theater; and worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He also plays double bass with several jazz groups in Los Angeles.