Manual vs Automatic Turntables: What’s The Difference?

Manual vs Automatic Turntables: What’s The Difference?

Craig Walker |

If you're searching for a new turntable or record player then you're going to be seeing the words automatic and manual popping up.

These terms indicate the way in which the needle is placed onto your vinyl record to start playback.

As you can probably start to imagine, a manual one requires you to pick up the tonearm and place it on the record yourself whereas a fully automatic turntable is going to do the "heavy lifting" for you at the touch of a button.

Read on to discover more about how the three types of turntable operate along with the pros and cons of each type.

Manual Turntables

A manual turntable is a type of record player or turntable that requires manual operation by the user.

The manual turntable relies on the user to perform these actions.

Key features of a manual turntable include:

  1. Manual Start: The user needs to manually lift the tonearm, move it to the start of the vinyl record and place it on the record using the cueing lever to start playback.

  2. Manual Stop: To stop playback, or at the end of a record, you'll need to lift the tonearm using the cueing lever and return it to its resting position then turn off the turntable.

  3. Manual Cueing: The user manually lowers and raises the tonearm onto and off the record surface. You should always use the cueing lever to do this. This process is called cueing and is crucial for preventing damage to both the stylus and the record.

Manual Turntable

Manual turntables are probably the most common, especially in the higher end range.

You'll find many more options at varying price points and you'll normally find that manual turntables have more upgrade options such as replaceable cartridges etc.

Some of the most popular manual turntables we sell include the Pro-Ject E1 Phono and the TEAC TN-400BT.

Fully Automatic Turntables

A fully automatic turntable is a type of record player that includes automated features to simplify the process of playing vinyl records.

They will feature start and stop buttons and a record size lever to choose between 7" and 12" vinyl records.

Here are key features of a fully automatic turntable:

  1. Automatic Start: With a fully automatic turntable, you simply need to press a button to start the turntable. The platter will start spinning and the tonearm will automatically move over to the record and gently lower itself onto the spinning vinyl.

  2. Automatic Stop: Once the record has finished playing, or if you manually press a stop button, the tonearm will automatically lift off the record and return to its resting position then the platter will stop spinning.

  3. Automatic Return: After the tonearm reaches the end of the record, a fully automatic turntable has a mechanism that lifts the tonearm off the record, returns it to the tonearm rest, and turns off the turntable.

Fully Automatic Turntable

This type of record player is the ultimate in ease and convenience, the best-selling Audio-Technica LP60X is a very capable automatic turntable. For better quality and more upgradability look at the Audio-Technica LP3XBT instead - my personal favourite automatic turntables.

It's highly recommended for beginners and casual listeners alike.

Semi-Automatic Turntables

A semi-automatic turntable falls between manual and fully automatic turntables in terms of functionality.

It combines some automated features with manual control, offering a balance between user involvement and convenience.

Here are the key features of a semi-automatic turntable:

  1. Manual Start: Semi-automatic turntables require the user to manually lift the tonearm, cue up the record then press the cueing lever to drop the needle onto the record and start playback.

  2. Manual Stop: If you want to stop a record mid-way you'll need to raise the cueing arm, move the tone arm back to it's rest and stop the turntable.

  3. Automatic Return: Semi-automatic turntables include an automatic return feature, which means the tonearm will automatically lift off the record and return to its resting position at the end of playback.

Semi-Automatic Turntables

This type of turntable offers the benefits and enjoyment of manual playback but prevents your record spinning endlessly at the end of an LP.

Below is a handy comparison chart showing how each type of turntable compares in operation.

Fully Automatic vs Semi-Automatic vs Manual Turntable Record Player Comparison Table


Hopefully you now understand the difference between the main types of turntable and can start building an idea of what would be best for you.

  • If you favour convenience and ease of use then choose a full automatic turntable.
  • If you favour the best sound quality and upgradability then you'll find a lot more options with manual turntables.
  • If you're on the fence then a semi-automatic turntable is a good shout as it's mostly manual but prevents you leaving a record spinning endlessly at the end of a record.

Whichever way you go, happy spinning!