What’s better: belt-drive or direct-drive?

There is a long-standing myth that belt-drive is inherently superior in some way, but it really isn’t and I promise I’d tell you if it was.

This notion is perpetuated by technically uninformed mainstream media, the general desire to support small local manufacturers who don’t make direct-drive turntables and a general lack of experience with high-end equipment on the part of many reviewers, equipment owners, retailers etc. In reality, even a cursory dive into this will reveal the truth.

First-off: One critical goal of any good turntable is to spin the platter as smoothly and as close to the perfect speed as possible. The best performers on these metrics are direct-drive turntables. That being said, there are exceptional belt-drive and direct-drive turntables. I’m lucky enough to own one of each and I can confirm that the drive method is actually not the most important factor to consider.

Technically, direct-drive has advantages in terms of torque and drive speed consistency, but it’s much cheaper to make a belt-drive turntable and this is why most affordable decks tend to be belt-driven. This suits small manufacturers who can build a belt-drive turntable using readily available, low-cost motors.

It costs far more to design and manufacture a really good direct-drive machine and this is the overriding reason why you don’t see many of them these days. Smaller manufacturers simply cannot afford to design and build them. The performance advantages of direct-drive systems explain why some of the best and most expensive turntables, tape machines and lathes utilise direct-drive though.

Most of your records were recorded, mastered and cut on direct-drive tape machines and cutting lathes. Ever wondered why that might be? Let this sink in for a moment…

If belt-drive really was superior, don’t you think it would be used where cost is no option? Of course, it would. Superior methods are always used where cost is no option. Direct-drive is more expensive to implement, and yet that’s what you’ll find where performance is critical. This explains why many of the great turntables are direct-drive and why those machines are so highly sought after.

Many lovers of particular belt-drive brands especially get really angry on hearing this. Most have never even heard a really high-end machine like an L-07D or SP-10/SL-1000, but repeat the rhetoric as if their lives depended on it. I’m only interested in what sounds best, so show me an excellent turntable and I’ll use it, belt-drive, direct-drive or idler-drive. My current working reference is a belt-drive Luxman (Micro) PD-350, which hopefully demonstrates my open-mindedness on this point. It’s phenomenal. My best turntable is my direct-drive Kenwood L-07D though.