For many of those new to the vinyl hobby, looking for a cheap and accessible record player is always one of the first few steps. The resurgence in the vinyl format has garnered a lot of demand for this type of product, which is why some companies have put out suitcase record players––a type of player which balances aesthetics, accessibility, and convenience.
However, these types of players are often looked down upon by members of the vinyl community. Some have labeled these players as the "destroyer of records" while others would constantly mock those who use these products. Here, we'll look at the rationale behind these beliefs to see if such players are really as bad as some people make it out to be.
#1: Lack of Counterweight
Every turntable needs a proper counterweight to balance out the tonearm from leaning all of it's weight from itself and the cartridge onto the record. However, suitcase turntables do away with the presence of counterweights.
Suitcase players exert 2 to 3 times more of the proper tracking weight upon hitting the record's surface, which rubs roughly against the grooves too hard––deteriorating the records at a much faster rate. Although it will not sound obvious upon repeated plays on a suitcase player, testing out records used from a suitcase player will be more prone to pops, crackles, and skips on the records.
#2: Poor Cartridge & Stylus
Because most manufacturers are looking to capitalize on the vinyl resurgence, not enough care is being put on the production of their record players. One evident aspect of this is where companies try to skimp out on sourcing quality materials for these players, especially with the poor quality on the cartridge and stylus for suitcase players.
The ones used for suitcase players are often unbranded and cheaply made, with the size being too big for modern 33 & 45 RPM records, yet still too small for the 78 RPM records of the past. The odd size of the stylus causes for more evident skips on the record as it tries to fit into the tiny grooves, which only damages the records even further. Additionally, the cartridge cannot be customized or changed as they are built-in with the suitcase player set-up.
#3: Lack of an Anti-Skate Feature
The Anti-skate feature works on turntables through stopping the arm from swinging in towards the center of the record or out towards the outside of the record. When the arms try to move towards the center or the outside while the record plays, having no anti-skate feature will grind away one side of the groove while it plays.
It's important to have this feature on your turntable because the Anti-skate helps in keeping the stylus riding towards the center of the groove, maximizing sound quality and minimizing damage to your vinyl. Suitcase turntables don’t have an anti-skate feature at all, so the poor needle quality will rub against your records even harder to make them more worn and torn.
#4: Undersized Platters
To fit inside the suitcase turntable, the platter of these types of record players are often smaller than the record––being the perfect size for 10" records. The undersized platters leave your 12" records to hang off the turntable, which has the the tonearm tracking too heavily lean on one side of the platter, causing the record to flex and bend while it spins.
This factor could cause in groove damage to your vinyl records, or some cases of warping your records in the long run. It also results in the needle skipping over the record constantly, due to the lack of a proper flat surface where it lays.
#5: Cheap Plastic Build All Around
To make suitcase record players light and convenient to bring around, they are made up of a lightweight plastic build for it's body and components. However, most of the plastic used for these players are made up of cheap materials that are prone to discoloration, warping, or some cases of cracking over time.
Having an all-plastic build turntable isn't great in the long run, as majority of companies who supposedly produce these import them for much less from China. Suitcase turntables are comprised mostly of cheap plastic, which can break easily if not handled properly. This is why it's important to factor durability and longevity as factors for your turntables, not only for the players to last, but so that they may treat your records properly as well.
#6: "Accessible" Price Point
With the much cheaper build-quality of these suitcase record players, one would expect that their price point would be much cheaper than the other types of turntables being sold in the market. However, their prices are not as "accessible" as they might seem, considering their price point (at around $79-$99 in stores like Urban Outfitters) is almost the same as other models that are of better quality like the Audio Technica LP60 (which used to fall in the range of $99-$120 in Amazon).
Their lower price points make for a more cost-efficient entry into the world of vinyl, but what you're paying for is not worth the quality of what you're getting. It may be have an appealing price point on the surface, but the wear & tear will require you to spend more with the potential damage to your records.
Unbranded Suitcase Players from China
- Although they're likely to be coming from the same suppliers as the larger commercial brands, buying these from online retailers like Lazada, Shopee, Aliexpress, and Etsy is not recommended because it's almost impossible to determine their specific build and components. This may be even worse than the issues of the branded suitcase record players, as sometimes some of these unbranded ones are models that failed the proper Quality Control tests and examinations.
Satchmi Motorino Mk. III
- As the best suitcase player we've laid our hands on, the Motorino Mk. III does away with most of the issues which we've stated. It features a functional counterweight + an Audio Technica stylus, so your records aren't as susceptible to the severe wear & tear that comes with most suitcase turntables. The build quality is much more durable as well, but that doesn't mean it's exempt from some of the issues stated above.
Rega Planar One or Audio Technica LP60
- We highly recommend getting into vinyl with the starter-player of the Audio Technica LP60 or the Rega Planar One. Both are easy to use for newbies to the hobby, and they can stand to last for quite a long period of time. The latter is enough to be your end-turntable if you're looking for a high-quality, no-fuss set-up, which is why it's one of the players we highly recommend to all our customers!
So are suitcase record players really that bad?
Yes, AND no. IF you're an avid collector who's already more or less well versed with the vinyl hobby, then maybe it's time to change up your record player if you'd like to pursue greener pastures for you and your records. BUT IF you're new and still acquainting yourself to the world of vinyl, then there's no big issue with having a suitcase record player. It's still an introduction to how fun record collecting is, and if you enjoy it––then go ahead!
Overall, just make sure take care of your records and have fun with vinyl! There may be better alternative players out there, but there's no rush in taking your time to find the means to upgrade and better your systems. Everyone's journey in record collecting is quite different, so no one should tell you how to enjoy your collection!