Best Buy Turntables
It's time to get into analogue
Ten years ago, vinyl was almost a dead duck.Whenever you look at the subsequent decade objectively, it seems faintly incredible that vinyl has staged a fightback from near extinction to become a significant part of two channel sales. With more media available than there has been for years, the choice of turntables has expanded dramatically and AVForums has been dipping a toe in these choppy waters to bring you some of the strong candidates for analogue bliss. We kicked off with a quartet of decks at ascending price points and will continue to look at interesting new designs as and when they are released.
Conventional wisdom dictates that an 'audiophile' turntable in 2015 is a minimalist affair that makes use of belt drive. Audio Technica didn't get that particular memo and the LP is a hefty piece of kit that features electronic speed control, switchable phono stage and even a USB connection for digitising vinyl. Most importantly, the LP5 is a direct drive model in a world of belt driven designs. Audio Technica has gone to great lengths to ensure that the standard bugbears of the process do not apply.
This means you get a lot of turntable for your £330 and the LP5 is built to a very high standard as well. More importantly, it sounds excellent. There is a cohesion and sheer joy to the way it makes music that are close to the rather pricier Rega RP3. I have frequently gone at length about the curious construct of timing and the LP5 is bit of a star in this regard. The naturalness and sense of space that vinyl specialises in is present in spades but the LP5 seems determined to avoid the softness and fuzziness that can sometimes bedevil the format when used cost effectively. The result is a slightly sober looking deck that is realistically the new class of the field below £500. It is satisfying to use, built like a truck and delivers a sonic performance that does a fine job of delivering the promise of vinyl without reverting to stereotypes.
Rega Research has been the go to brand for affordable turntables for forty years and the RP3 is the direct descendent of a design that has been in production for most of them. The principle is simple- a stiff and lightweight plinth with an extra brace between the bearing and the arm mated to a glass platter that is simple but extremely elegant. The RP3 is made in the UK and not only does it come across as fine value but it also ranks as one of the most handsome and well proportioned turntables you can buy at any price.
It also delivers a truly wonderful sound. The Rega never fails to sound lively, immediate and exciting. This immediacy is a defining feature of the RP3 but it is never at the expense of the basics of great vinyl replay. The Rega is liquid smooth and manages the neat trick of being impressively refined despite the upbeat presentation. The treble and upper mid is detailed and spacious and does without the slightly syrupy quality that can affect vinyl but even with poorer pressings it remains impressively listenable. The midrange is firmly in the vinyl happy place with a richness and refinement that £500 digital is going to struggle to compete with. The Rega remains a great British music maker.
During our series of turntable reviews, the price jumps from review to review were irregular. The Avid costs nearly three times as much as the Rega and looks to offer the same basic functionality. In the flesh, the Ingenium is an exactingly assembled and impressively well thought out piece of industrial design that represents the most cost effective way that Avid can build a turntable to their specific design principles. The skeletal design also means that the Ingenium can be built to accomodate twelve inch arms and even two tonearms if you want to look like the coolest kid in the record shop.
The reason why the Avid costs three times as much as the Rega is that this is one of the most affordable decks that truly and consistently delivers on the performance that analogue offers This means that if the media is equal to the digital (and thanks to modern mastering techniques, it is frequently better), the Avid isn't simply the more fun choice, the more emotional choice or the less compressed choice, it is the outright better choice. You will be treated to a performance that delivers immense accuracy with refinement and real scale when appropriate. Combine this with the tank like build quality and the Ingenium's ability to respond to further updates, you have a bit of a star.
The Germans are a pragmatic bunch and while they enthusiastically adopted digital, they too care not to abandon analogue either. This means that there are some grear German analogue brands and in the case of Clearaudio, companies that make the whole vinyl replay path in house. The Concept DC is built around Clearaudio's Direct Current motor and their extremely clever magnetic bearings set in their distinctive laminate chassis. Everything feels exquisitely well made and set up is a breeze.
The Performance is a demonstration that convenience does not need to come at the expense of sparkling sonics. Music just happens in a way that is maddeningly hard to describe but incredibly enjoyable. The Clearaudio makes everything seem very easy but in reality the technology in the turntable is there to make this happen. The lack of mechanical contact points on the deck serve to reduce the points where a sonic signature can creep in. This means that by and large, the character comes from the record itself and the cartridge. The pitch stabilty, minimal coloration and impressive resistance to surface noise makes this a great turntable for anyone returning to the format after years of digital because it competes with it on an almost even footing in competence while trouncing it for joy. It's big bucks but this could be all the turntable you ever need.
The original run of turntable reviews was supposed to end with the Clearaudio but we allowed the VPI Prime to show up because VPI made the rather bold claim that the Prime was in fact a superdeck- a no holds barred, high end monster at a comparatively reasonable price for something of this nature. Certainly the omens are good. The Prime is built like a battleship with its monster platter being rotated by an equally burly motor assembly. The arm uses VPI's trademark unipivot system and balances on the head of a pin. It is 3D printed from a single section and is 10.5 inches long to reduce tracking errors. The Prime is a big deck but it looks and feels absolutely fantastic.
It sounds absolutely fantastic too. The Prime makes music that is quite unlike anything else I've experience at the price. There is a flow to the performance that is consistently present and exceptionally engaging. This is a deeply special design even judged at the not inconsiderable price tag. The VPI elevates vinyl playback to something truly spectacular. The price is considerable but consider this- when your 4K OLED is five years old, it will be worth pennies and it will be time for a trade-in. A Prime will be run in and ready for the next five years.
There is no doubt that vinyl is on trend at the moment and some people's purchasing decisions are fashion led. If you pay a little attention to your purchasing decisions though, it can deliver truly excellent sound quality and an unrivalled user experience.
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