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The Evolution of the Portable Turntable

Portable turntables have come a long way in the last century.

Image courtesy of Victrola

In this modern age of smart devices that fit neatly in our pockets, we sometimes take technology for granted. Portable turntables were once the only way to make your music mobile. For the last several years, they’ve been a go-to option for budding vinyl enthusiasts. Despite their reputation for causing wear and tear on records, many people getting into the vinyl habit find the price point and ease of use are just too appealing to resist. 

Were portable record players always viewed this way? Are there options out there that provide a high-quality listening experience? Discogs looked into the history of portable turntables to figure out how these portable wonders began and how far they’ve come in 2022.

The Wind-Up

As early as the 1920s, companies like EMI (His Master’s Voice) and Columbia were manufacturing portable wind-up gramophones that could play 78s at your family picnic. Columbia’s Viva Tonal Grafonola 112a was a real game-changer as it didn’t depend on electricity and the sound box design meant that a bulky exterior horn was not necessary to amplify the sound. Since they were made from real wood, leather, brass, and other quality materials, you can still find a few in great shape today.

A New Spark

The mid-1950s saw the introduction of the world’s first all-transistor portable phonographs. Philco’s TPA-1 and TPA-2 models only played 45s and ran on four 1.5-volt “D” batteries. They also incorporated a built-in amplifier and speakers for the ultimate on-the-go experience. Philco decided that transistors were too expensive compared to vacuum tubes, so their all-transistor models didn’t last long. However, brands like Philips continued to release all-transistor portable turntables in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Califone 1435C record player on display at the the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto California
Califone 1435C | Courtesy of Gazebo

The Latest Craze

By the 1960s, vinyl was reaching new levels of popularity. Naturally, companies decided to use evolving technology and more cost-effective manufacturing processes to bring affordable record players to the masses. Portable turntables of the ‘60s and ‘70s featured design elements that are still emulated today. Small plastic turntables became one of the most popular toys for children and this popularity would last well into the ‘80s. Churches and schools used more reliable options such as Califone turntables due to their heavy-duty cases and various speaker options. The only downside there is that you need an outlet to plug your Califone into.

A Sign of the Times

By the early 1980s, cassette tapes and boomboxes were taking portable music listening to a new level. Boomboxes like the Sharp VZ-2000 and VZ-2500 featured built-in turntables in addition to a tape deck. The dual-stylus linear tracking turntable system is impressive, especially because it eliminates the need to flip your records. However, it also means that these turntable boomboxes are quite large and heavy. The VZ-2000 weighs over 35 pounds, plus the weight of 10 D batteries! Regardless of their size and weight, both models continue to attract the attention of boombox collectors.

Hand on a red Victrola ReSpin portable record player
Courtesy of Victrola

Hear and Now

You know the story. Vinyl fell out of favor during the ‘90s as compact discs became the dominant format, only to return triumphantly in the 21st century. With so many new people discovering or rediscovering their passion for vinyl, new suitcase style record players and vintage portable turntables of varying quality have found their way into countless homes. 

Victrola has used their 115+ years of experience to create a truly modern take on the classic portable suitcase record player. The Victrola Re-Spin is made with 25% recycled materials and housed in 100% recyclable packaging, making it a great choice for the eco-conscious music fan. It also includes Bluetooth capabilities, increased bass response, and vinyl safe technology that helps prevent skipping and scratching. With four timeless color options, you get a portable turntable that has a classic vintage look and modern features. 

Published in partnership with Victrola.

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