Can turntables and modern comfort coexist in an ideal world? We do not think so


In a world hungry for convenience, the vinyl revival has proven that there’s still a tolerance for inherently finicky, tactile and methodical technology. Either that, or it’s part of a longing for the “good old days” that just got luckier than personal cassette and CD players and got stuck…and snowballed. We certainly like to think it’s a bit of both.

Turntables are of course temperamental, tactile and methodical by nature. Carefully lifting a tonearm out of its holder and removing a record from its tight-fitting sleeve requires far more care and dedication than stabbing at a phone screen without looking or asking Alexa to play. The dark side of the moon for the ninth time that day. It’s no surprise, then, that established turntable brands and new companies eager to join in the resurgence have found clever ways to dilute the complexity and daunting nature of vinyl playback.

We have seen an increase in the number of simpler to use turntables – those with plug ‘n’ play setups, perhaps also with automatic stop/start operation. Modern technology that didn’t exist in the original heyday of the record player is also part of the package: Bluetooth is increasingly being integrated primarily to allow owners to stream their vinyl to headphones or speakers. wireless speakers (but sometimes to accept Bluetooth streams from a phone, if the turntable unit also has a suitable built-in amplifier), and USB outputs make it easy to digitize vinyl albums on the go. The likes of Victrola, Crosley and Lenco have committed to the all-in-one turntable system by packing everything – including the speakers – into a single box (sometimes suitcase-style, sometimes portable) for vinyl as free stress and hipster. system you could imagine. Even Rega, which has long been championed for its puristic, mostly phono-less turntables, has begun offering an all-you-need vinyl system (albeit made up of separate parts), while veteran Pro-ject s now venture into making an entry-level automatic range to maximize the appeal of an audience that very reasonably desires simplicity.

All of these may sound like compromised deals to get vinyl newbies more easily and comfortably into the hobby – and mostly, they are. Crosley CEO Keith Starr rightly praises how “all-in-one units are ideal for users looking for a simple and easy way to dive straight into listening to vinyl, whether whether it’s someone just starting their vinyl journey or someone looking to revisit old records they’ve recently found”. Victrola also recognizes the practical pitfalls of traditional turntable designs that the new wave of all-in-one overcomes: “[people] can’t necessarily afford a full hi-fi system and may not have the space but want to start their journey into records and all the fun that goes with it. Changing a cartridge is not so easy for them either.

But the modernization and simplification of the turntable user experience has not been exclusive to the low end of the market in recent years. Cambridge Audio’s Alva TT 2 is a £1700 turntable with Bluetooth aptX HD, while the Clearaudio Concept Active MM (below) is a premium plug ‘n’ play turntable with a phono preamp and output headset that moves away from the purist offering that often and traditionally occupies the four-digit realm. Why shouldn’t convenience and great hi-fi sound quality go hand in hand? Unfortunately, by the very nature of the product, the best and most capable turntable designs will be those that are stripped down and devoid of features.

Clearaudio Active Concept

(Image credit: Clearaudio)

Compromised sound quality

Both Crosley and Victrola have hundreds of pounds (/dollar) systems, for those ready to take their vinyl experience to the next level over the rougher models in their catalog. But as Starr notes, while these systems strive to strike a balance between quality, design, and affordability, “there’s certainly not much you can do with a particular unit size and price.” And that rings true in our experience of these designs. Whether these all-in-one products cost around a hundred bucks or three times as much, you shouldn’t reasonably expect so much sound quality (and we use “quality” lightly) from something designed to deliver on multiple fronts. In the past we have found that such designs can also be flawed, for example, by having too heavy tracking forces (which will eventually ruin your recordings). That’s not to say they all are, of course, but that’s not entirely surprising given the nature of the task.

By nature, record players are finicky beasts that require strong supports and are very susceptible to vibration – which, to perform at their best, are not conducive to box-like structures with the cheap components needed to be able to manufacture them. at an affordable price and sell them at an accessible price. In our minds, the caliber of platinum that warrants playing new vinyl albums costs a bit more, we’re afraid. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much if you only buy used old records, but if you care enough about vinyl to spend £30 a pop on new albums, you deserve to hear them in all their glory.

This may be an obvious thing to point out, but every superfluous feature for deck playback costs the manufacturer (and therefore the consumer), and so it’s an expense that isn’t invested in components, materials, and equipment. engineering that directly affect the fundamental performance of vinyl spinning. Will the best turntable with Bluetooth perform as sonically as well as the best similarly priced turntable that doesn’t? No – and it shouldn’t, as part of the RRP reflects the price of the built-in Bluetooth transmitter and perhaps even additional design elements (such as electronic interference prevention) to accommodate it. In a turntable without features, sound quality is paramount. This is not just the case with turntables, but consumer electronics in general.

Dilute the charm

Turntables that can spin vinyl and send it over Bluetooth or accept music on it can be considered the best of both worlds, logic solutions old and new. But by digitizing vinyl this way, you’re sacrificing one of vinyl’s greatest appeals: its analog sound! The analogy will always be somewhat lost through the process of digitization and wireless transmission. Likewise, when it comes to ripping recordings as digital files, it’s not quite the hands-on, hands-off experience of CD ripping. This happens in real time and to get the best possible recording you need to make sure that the deck and the recording are in optimum condition.

While automatic designs are easier to use and mostly eliminate human involvement (and error!), pressing a button and watching a tonearm come to life isn’t exactly up to the fun, tactile, and practice which undoubtedly helped. with the charm of vinyl. Modern features and aesthetically interesting, space-saving designs may make vinyl playing accessible to an audience that can’t adapt to purist alternatives, but they often compromise the true turntable experience that, for many, makes them appealing. in the first place.

We’re sorry, but turntables are inherently painful – and to be the best they can be, they should always be.


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