Why Bluetooth Turntables Miss the Point, but Are Great Anyway

It’s about the ritual, not the sound

  • Bluetooth turntables might be the ideal entry into vinyl.
  • Bluetooth doesn’t sound as good as wired audio, but it doesn’t matter. 
  • Records are as much about the object and the experience as the audio quality.
A person listening to a record on a Bluetooth turntable while wearing headphones.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Bluetooth turns vinyl records into just another streaming source, and that might just be the point.

For older folks, one big selling point of vinyl is the nostalgic process and how it slows you down. It's a break from all the 'content' that exists only in your phone. Slowing down with a record is a way to switch off, like an after-work martini, only without the hangover. But a ton of newcomers are into records for different reasons. It's a collectible, like a poster or t-shirt. In fact, 41% of vinyl buyers don't play their records. Are Bluetooth turntables gateway drugs, then, or just another fad?

"While Bluetooth turntables allow you to stream your vinyl records to other devices, they do not turn vinyl into just another indistinguishable media source. The appeal of vinyl lies in its tactile nature and the slow, artisanal listening experience it provides," touring musician Arnold aka theRave, told Lifewire via email. 

The Sound From a Bluetooth Turntable

Streaming can be a little soulless, especially if you worry about the tiny cut of streaming revenue your favorite artists actually get. Records, on the other hand, give you much more contact with the artist. You can hold it in your hand, read the liner notes, and display the big, beautiful artwork on those 12-inch sleeves. This alone might be enough for some people and would explain the BBC-published survey that says 7% of vinyl buyers don't even own a turntable.

The answer might be Bluetooth turntables, which seem to be getting more popular, judging by the big names getting in on the market. The latest is renowned speaker maker JBL, with its new SPINNER BT turntable. These devices don't need preamps, or pesky wires, or amplifiers, or anything except a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, which makes them the perfect way to start spinning vinyl. 

The JBL Spinner BT turntable.


The problem with Bluetooth, though, is that it compresses the stream, losing quality. And given that one of vinyl's attractions is its warm sound, that might put some people off. 

"A Bluetooth turntable doesn't turn vinyl into a media source that is indistinguishable from streaming, much like the Walkman didn't make audio cassettes any less useful. A big part of the 'vinyl experience' is purchasing records and choosing what record to play. The turntable itself doesn't affect this," Tomislav Zlatic, music producer, musician, and chief editor at Bedroom Producers Blog, told Lifewire via email. "The sound quality may be slightly lower than a traditional vinyl setup, but listeners can upgrade later if desired."

Bluetooth Turntables Aren't About the Sound

And that's the point right there. Of the folks who are into vinyl for the sound quality, only a subset are willing to spend the kind of money that buys the high-end gear needed to make a difference. But the physical aspect exists for everyone. 

In his 2019 book The Disappearance of Rituals, South Korean-born, Swiss-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han talks about the importance of rituals to humans and how they have been obliterated by smartphones and their information overload. These rituals go beyond nostalgia and instead provide structure and meaning. 

This may explain the appeal of vinyl to people who hold no nostalgia for the format. They are coming to it cold and still enjoy it for the same reasons as the whisky-sipping boomer in his den. 

A gray turntable sitting on a shelf, with a record playing on it and a small speaker nearby.

Travis Yewell / Unsplash

"When you listen to vinyl, you have to physically handle the record, place it on the turntable, and drop the needle. This process slows you down and forces you to pay attention to the music and be careful with how you handle it. There's a certain tactile satisfaction in the process of flipping over the record, listening to the sound of the needle as it drops, and feeling the vibrations of the music through the turntable. This is part of what makes vinyl such a special and unique format," says theRave.

Complaining about the quality of Bluetooth, then, is beside the point. And if you think back to the teenage bedrooms of people who grew up with vinyl, you can bet that their cheap plastic record players were way, way worse than the Bluetooth players of today, and it didn't matter back then, either. 

The good news is, vinyl continues to grow, and listeners can continue to enjoy it, whether on a Bluetooth turntable or a high-end device. However good (or bad) it sounds.

Was this page helpful?