Automatic vs Manual Turntables

Marc HenshallNew to Vinyl, Vinyl 1018 Comments

When choosing a new turntable, there are many factors to consider. In most cases, your final decision will come down to a balance between price, features, quality, and personal preference.

One aspect that is often misunderstood is the choice between automatic and manual turntable designs. After all, if you can remove effort and work by purchasing an automatic deck, why would anyone buy a manual design? Naturally, there are pros and cons to both designs.

What’s the Difference Between an Automatic and a Manual Turntable?

A fully automatic turntable features a mechanical system linking the platter and the tonearm. With the simple push of a button, the arm will rise up and lower precisely at the start of your record. Equally, the arm will lift automatically at the end of each side and return to where it started. All this makes playing a record easier.

In the case of a fully manual turntable, you’re in the driving seat. You’ll need to cue up the record at the run-in groove and lower the arm with a lever. At the end of each side, the record will continue to ride inside a locked groove until you raise the arm. You’ll also have to return the tonearm to its rest and stop the platter from spinning.

So Why Aren’t All Turntables Automatic?

Automatic turntables offer much in the way of convenience, but there are compromises in terms of mechanical noise and interference. With a fully manual turntable, the only mechanical link between the tonearm and the platter is the point where the stylus hits the record. The arm can even be placed in a completely separate chassis if you desired. In the case of automatic decks, the platter and the tonearm are linked—usually via mechanical means—and all this extra machinery (cogs, gears, springs, etc.) contributes to the overall noise and resonance of the turntable.

Another consequence of extra components is one of design limitations. For example, to house the mechanisms, the plinth of an automatic turntable cannot be as solid or rigid as a manual turntable. This, again, impacts turntable resonance. Also, by design, the very best performing tonearm bearings cannot be used in an automatic design. 

The components and compromises mean automatic turntables usually occupy the more affordable end of the market. There are always exceptions, of course, but it’s safe to say there are more affordable automatic models than expensive ones. 

With an automatic turntable, you are sacrificing quality and control for convenience. The manufacturer usually pre-sets the tracking force and anti-skate on an automatic deck, and therefore your ability to adjust or dial in the performance is greatly restricted. You have less control, but if the idea of setting your own tracking force or anti-skate setting fills you with trepidation, this might affect your final purchase decision. 

So Which One Should I Buy?

If you are a casual vinyl listener looking for convenience first at an affordable price, then an automatic deck might be just what you need. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the best possible performance and a fully engaged vinyl listening experience, then you should invest in a good quality manual turntable.

Moving to a manual turntable will also make your setup easier to upgrade. For example, should you wish to upgrade your cartridge, then you’re more likely able to do this with a manual deck. Other components are often upgradable too, such as the platter, the tonearm, or even a simple RCA cable upgrade.

Lastly, as most serious record collectors tend to favor manual turntables, you are naturally treated to a wider choice of brands and models on the market. Some mid-to-higher end models even offer a semi-automatic turntable option, whereby the tonearm will lift automatically at the end of each side.

Consider reading our guide listing the “best turntables for beginners” as a place to start shopping for your first deck. Happy listening and welcome to the vinyl hobby.


  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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I’d rather not listen to LPs than deal with a manual. I’d rather never listen to music again than deal with an audiophile whose idea of peak audio geekness is having to manually place a stylus on an album.

There’s nothing good about making the experience of listening to an album as tedious and unpleasant as can be.

phil honeytoast

I can only imagine that your life consists of being fanned with palm fronds on a tropical beach while a beautiful woman lowers grapes into your mouth if you consider the trivial act of moving a tonearm “as tediuous and unpleasant as can be”.


An automatic turntable does not change the sound of vinyl once the mechanism is done operating, meaning once the tonearm and needle are settled on the record, the mechanical aspect of the automatic stuff is no longer disrupting the sound, the only time you hear any sort of noise is when the tonearm is descending or ascending. Some say that the bearings used for the mechanics to work can cause flutter, not unless it’s a very low-end turntable, and I seriously doubt anyone could hear it on a mid-level automatic turntable unless the bearings are worn out. But those bearings last a very long time, I have an automatic from the mid-’70s that I just took in for a belt replacement, the place that worked on it said the bearings were very tight and could not feel any play whatsoever, this with a turntable that is 45 years old! The guy that sold me the turntable about 20 years ago was an audiophile geek, and he told me about all this stuff, said that he couldn’t hear any effect that people say there is with auto turntables with my turntable or others he had. Maybe the newer turntables aren’t made to such exacting precision as the old ones?

What I am surprised by reading this is that you never addressed a more real concern with turntables, and that is a belt-drive vs a direct, or some call a motor drive platter. A belt drive is the better of the two options due to the belt taking up the ratcheting that all motors have, the belt isolates the motor from the platter, but only better if you are into listening to music vs a DJ who will want to be able to turn the platter forwards and backward for effects, or vary the speed is going to want a direct drive instead.


I like that some manufacturers are taking the auto shut-off only approach, the Music Hall Classic and the Fluance RT85 being two examples of this. There are also several arm lifting devices such as the Q-Up and Little Fwend, but these would certainly add to the cost of a budget manual turntable. And installation would be a nightmare for the uninitiated!
What Mr. Haynes seems to be implying is that anyone looking for anything of quality in terms of a fully automatic turntable should be prepared to pay for something vintage, and that simply might not be an option for first-timers. Cheers. I thought it was a great article.

Larry Haynes

This article is full of errors re: full auto tables. ONLY if one considers NEW tables are these compromises valid. I have 8 full auto vintage tables; 5 of them have NO mechanical linkage of platter to tonearm. They have LED position sensors that activate arm to beginning of play and arm return. The other 5 have mechanical links, but ONLY at beginning and of play. I know this because I have several carts tracking perfectly at 0.7 grams VTF.

Rod Klukas

A Project A1 is a seemingly great turntable that is automatic.
It seems we have a lot of snobs…