Pro-ject Elemental belt-drive turntable

Belt-Drive Or Direct-Drive Turntables: Which Is Better?

The age old question that’s stumped philosophers, thinkers, and audiophiles for many a generation. Belt-drive or direct-drive turntables – which is better? Friends, I don’t have all the answers, but what I do have is the facts to empower you to make up your own mind.

Belt-drive or direct-drive refers to the motor that powers the platter of your turntable, spinning your records to pull the stylus through the grooves of your records.

As with most things, the choice between whether a belt-drive or a direct-drive turntable is right for you will depend on a few factors. These include whether you intend to use it primarily for listening to records at home or DJing,  where you’re playing, what your budget is, your personal preferences and the performance of a turntable. Because of this, there’s no definitive way to say one is better than the other, and if you’re a casual listener it doesn’t really need to be that important a consideration when buying a new turntable. You’re better off spending more time thinking about the quality of the tonearm, cartridge, design and construction of the turntable.

What’s The Difference Between Belt-Drive and Direct Drive Turntables?

Belt-drive Turntables

  • The motor is positioned separate to the platter, usually suspended somewhere off the side. A belt, usually rubber, acts as like a pulley beneath the platter, harnessing the power of the motor and turning the platter
  • Less noise interference from the motor as it’s not directly under the platter. The belt further dampens noise interference by absorbing shocks and preventing vibrations from the motor 
  • Belt-drive turntables have lower torque than direct-drive turntables and can take a few seconds to get up to full speed. For most listeners this doesn’t really matter as it’s still faster than the cueing mechanism to play a record
  • While the platter takes longer to get up to speed, the belt drive turntables’ heavier platter arguably keeps playback speed more consistent
  • You can’t really control the speed of a belt-drive turntable, apart from switching between 33 and 45 RPM
  • The belt lasts a pretty long time – usually a few years – but will eventually wear out and need replacing. As the belt wears over time, the stretch and potential slipping of the belt can compromise speed accuracy and consistency. Inaccuracies can be exaggerated if the belt wears unevenly or the spindle or platter aren’t perfectly cylindrical. Replacing your turntable belt is usually pretty easy and inexpensive.

Direct-drive Turntables

  • The name’s a bit of a giveaway; the motor sits directly beneath the platter
  • Direct drive is generally preferred by DJs as the platter can get up to speed almost instantly and spins freely with no resistance
  • The higher torque means the platter is less sensitive to outside forces like the stylus or your hand and you can easily spin the record in either direction without the risk of damaging the motor
  • While they get up to speed quickly, speed consistency can be an issue with direct-drive turntables. Direct-drive turntables usually have a lot of circuitry that’s constantly making adjustments to perfect the speed, however this can affect the pitch
  • You have more freedom with speed control, allowing for easy transitions and tempo changes so you can blend into another song with two turntables
  • You don’t have to consider belt degradation or upkeep

Unless you’re using your turntable for DJing, things like tempo control and mixing probably aren’t pressing concerns. Some audiophiles also argue that having a high torque motor directly under the platter can compromise the integrity of playback by causing vibrations that interfere with your stylus reaching the nuances in the grooves, and the noise of the motor beneath the platter being picked up by your stylus. For this reason, belt-drive turntables are generally a preferred choice for at-home listening, but again, it comes down to personal preference and what you’re using your turntable for. 

There are pros and cons to belt-drive and direct-drive turntables, the only way to tell which type is right for you is by hearing it.

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  • Mar 30,2019 at 20:31

    Could be a worn belt, or possibly the existing belt needs cleaning. Wipe with isopropyl alcohol and also carfully clean the pulley and the belt path on the turntable.

  • Oct 31,2018 at 10:47

    ryangilmore: Thanks for your perception.

  • Oct 30,2018 at 22:44

    In my experience with direct drive tables, which is with most of the Technics SL-1200 line from the MK2 up to the G and GR models, the speed accuracy and consistency is much better than that of belt drive tables. The quartz crystal on the earlier models and the digital control on the new models both maintain speed and accuracy especially well. Well-designed high end belt drive tables won’t have any problem with speed consistency, but I’ve noticed problems with speed accuracy even on well regarded belt drive tables that can cost more than twice the price of the SL-1200G. I’ve seen some belt drive tables be off-speed by as much as +/- 3%, and while this is usually correctable by turning some screws, testing the speed, and repeating, I much prefer the no-worry, no-hassle accuracy of the SL-1200 line.

  • Oct 30,2018 at 09:51

    One question: I have belt-drive Technics SL-B303 and recently have problem with unstable speed. When record starts to play, the speed seems to be stable but during playing the stroboskop shows changes in the speed. So I must correct it via pitch adjusting. But it doesn’t last long so I must correct it again. Could it be caused by worn out belt?

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