A Decent Budget Turntable
By James Grahame
The vinyl resurgence that kicked into high gear about five years ago shows no sign of slowing. Many companies such as Sony, Audio-Technica and Numark offer entry-level turntables for under $100. However, the sweet spot for budget home enthusiasts seems to be around the $200 mark.
The $250 Audio-Technica AT-LP120 USB is a direct drive turntable with a built-in USB port, just in case you get the urge to dupe your virgin vinyl to digital. It offers a nice compromise between affordability and respectable performance at a price point that isn't unreasonable in the iPod era.The turntable even includes a built-in phono preamp just in case your modern amplifier doesn't have one.
The table runs at 33-1/3 45, or 78 rpm and includes quartz speed control and a stroboscopic platter speed indicator. There's also a variable pitch control to bring out your inner experimental chipmunk.The s-shaped tone arm assembly provides an adjustable counterweight, antiskate adjustment, tone-arm height adjustment and a lock to prevent storage damage. An ATP-2 cartridge is included, along with a fairly typical cast-aluminum record platter and slip mat.
While many audiophiles will decry the inclusion of a USB port as a gimmick, I think it's an important feature these days -- like it or not, many of us listen to most of our music using portable music players and digital libraries on our PCs.
And I'll let you in on a secret: A digital copy of a vinyl record preserves most of the character of the original.
You see, the "magical sound of vinyl" can -- to a certain extent -- be captured using digital equipment. Records have a distinctive sound because of their limited dynamic range and the way that music has to be compressed and equalized to prevent the needle from jumping out of the groove. The result is a distinctive, organic sound. Capturing that sound in a digital format results in a recording that is often surprisingly different than the same track that has been "digitally remastered for CD."
Of course, some of you are going to be apoplectic at the thought of listening to digital copies of your favorite LPs. In that case, just use the analog outputs of the AT-LP120 and enjoy completely analog sound. For once, everybody wins.