Yamaha Vinyl 500

It’s come to our attention how turntables are no longer a marginal option in a home entertainment set-up. More and more people from all ages and walks of life recognise the joy of having a turntable in a much more casual manner. Where say only a year ago, we would have people pop into our store only every so often asking about a turntable. Now, it happens constantly and it’s no longer a thing solely reserved for the discerning active listening audiophile. 

It’s not a digital vs. vinyl choice either. People choose to have both. Yep, both. Because beyond the whole ‘warmer sound’ debate, vinyl is an experience.  It’s  the difference between typing some keywords into your phone and selecting a song vs. being treated to a huge piece of album art, revealing the record which leaves no doubt that you are handling a complicated piece of engineering that took a lot of craftsmanship to create. Setting the record down on the platter, starting the motor, and gently dropping the needle on the record. Once you're listening, the difficulty of switching between tracks encourages you to listen to an entire album, rather than jumping around between a bunch of different singles. As we said… it’s an experience and it’s starting to feel like an attractive one to the average Joe Bloggs.

Ah, the romance….

 

Choosing The Right Turntable

Fact is that if you are a casual turntable fan, you’re probably not willing to fork out thousands and thousands of dollars on a high-end turntable. You’re probably looking more for something in the entry level to mid-price range. But at the same time, you also want decent value for your money. 

But apart from the budget, there are plenty more decisions to be made. We thought it would be a good idea to talk you through some of the most popular turntable options for casual vinyl listeners at Rapallo and which features in a turntable might be useful to you. 

Read any blog or article about turntables and you will realise that there is a potential of some very elaborate set-up and fine-tuning if you choose to go down that road. (I’m talking hours. And that is just the set-up, not the research that would precede)  While this might be a big part of the fun for an audiophile active listener; for our casual listener, I think we can all agree on the requirement of easy to set-upease of useas well as excellent sound quality

Even if you are not an active listener, sound quality still matters . Maybe not to the level of the ‘nitty-gritty’, but your experience still needs to be a good one, right!?It won’t come as a surprise that more precise construction and higher-quality parts make a better turntable. Say sound quality and you talk vibration reduction and absorption. It is a big thing for turntables. There is a wide range of effective ways to achieve this, but they will obviously come at a cost. The more money you spend, the more likely you will encounter talk about vibration-absorbing plinth designs and adjustable feet that supress unwanted resonance. Ultimately you are talking about motors that are physically separated from the plinth to further cut down on vibration, and the inclusion of a top-notch cartridge to eliminate the need to buy one separately.

Which brings us to the topic of the cartridge. A good cartridge/stylus is a non-negotiable for a good sounding turntable.  All of the ‘casual listener’ turntables come with a ready set cartridge. A higher-end cartridge and stylus can pull more music from your records’ grooves while treating your vinyl collection more gently, so do some investigation in the cartridge that is part of your turntable. We’ve talked about the difference between MM and MC in a previous blog, so we won’t go into it again. The thing to know is that as a casual listener, your turntable will almost certainly come with a MM cartridge because they are more cost effective and less fussy with amplifiers. An MM cartridge is by no means a bad cartridge though.

Another desirable feature of the record player we are hunting for is upgradability. What is a very casual experience at the moment, might blossom into something far deeper and more profound. Being able to bypass the built-in phono-amp is a tick in the positive column. Considering the fact that the signal produced by a record player is quite weak, the need for amplification is a non-negotiable. As a casual listener on the hunt for a simple and user friendly machine, a built-in preamp is the way to go. For the use we have in mind, an integrated preamp will provide high enough sound quality and offer the convenience we require. The turntable love may however reach a stage where the flexibility offered by an external preamp could become appealing. In other words, having that option for the future is something to consider. 

But some choices are not as clear cut and may require some deciding on your end. 

One of these decisions is the choice between an automatic or a manual turntable. 

On the extreme end of the ease of use spectrum, automatic models will move the tonearm and rest the needle onto the record at the push of a button. Job done. 

However, you may feel that gently lowering the tone arm yourself is all part of the vinyl experience. Fair to say, that it’s an easy enough skill to master, and if you can't shake the fear of scratching your records , there is always the cueing lever. These levers gently rest the needle down when pulled, reducing the risk of scratching and partially automating the stressful part of cueing, all you need to do is move the tonearm into place. 

In your hunt for the perfect casual listener turntable, you will bump into the mention of a belt-driven or a direct drive turntable. Most of the turntables we are suggesting are belt-driven turntables. However, there’s no real right or wrong here. Generally speaking, belt drives are better for isolating vibration but neither option should be an issue in the vast majority of listening environments.


So with that knowledge under our belt, which are the turntables we recommend for the casual listener that is visiting the Rapallo store? 

 

Audio-Technica AT-LP3 and AT-LP5

Audio-Technica does budget turntables like nobody else. 

The AT-LP3 ‘suitcase’ option is a full automatic belt-driven record player that does a very decent job for the money. No needle-lifting required here. Being automatic, the AT-LP3 has a range of switches: to play and to stop, to change rotation speeds and size of the record. Characteristically, there’s no mistaking: the AT-LP3 is the little brother of the very popular AT-LP5. What makes it an such an excellent budget option is the fact that the AT-LP3 is so easily upgradable with separate phono stages and different cartridges. Considering this modestly priced almost all-in-one turntable actually treats your records as music; we say it should be the pick of the bunch if you’re watching your pennies. 

The AT-LP5 is a  very tidy direct-drive one-box option, but equally lets you plug  your turntable straight into your amp and play, with the added bonus of USB output. The AT-LP5 sounds fantastic, making this is a turntable that is both a pleasure to use and to listen to.  With the AT-LP5, Audio-Technica has what matters spot on. 

Yamaha Vinyl 500

 This manual belt-drive turntable is the new kid on the block. Plug-and play like most of the others in our favourites list, it includes built-in phono preamp and pre-mounted cartridge. What makes this one a bit special is the fact that it is part of the Yamaha MusicCast environment. Pair it with the Yamaha MusicCast 50 for wireless set-up that is rather impressive. 

Clearaudio Concept

Stepping it up in price, the Clearaudio Concept is another customer favourite  that has the trophies cabinet to go with it.The Clearaudio Concept is a plug and play option that by no means compromises on quality. This deck delivers as clean, rhythmic, detailed and spacious a sound as you’ll find for the money, not to mention engaging and entertaining. Not the cheapest, but well worth the money.

ELAC Miracord 50,  Miracord 70 and  Miracord 90

ELAC, the brand, dates back to the golden age of turntables. As a matter of fact, it was turntables that made their reputation, so it’s fair to assume that they know a thing or two about the topic. It’s the quality of build that’s a real stand out in all their 3 record players on the market. I mean, they are stunners!

At just under 5,000NZD, the Miracord 90 is a real beauty at the higher end of the price scale that kind of sits in the cross-over between our new generation of leisurely vinyl lovers and the full-blown audiophile that rather skips a boat in favour of a high-end turntable. The Miracord 90 is built with the highest quality materials and is a joy to look at. It still comes with a standard cartridge (and a very, very nice one, we may add), but at the same time it boasts a precision platter with minimal friction, an isolated motor and sophisticated suspension for the highest standards of sound quality. 

But as far as ELAC is concerned, you don’t have to go for their flagship turntable to have a decent record player. The design of the 70 is based on that of the 90 with a few tweaks (different tone-arm, different stylus and different platter) At about half the cost of the 90 and at about the same price point as the Clearaudio Concept, the 70 is a well-engineered and beautifully made turntable that offers a very fine performance. The inclusion of a good-quality cartridge is a big plus and yet the Miracord 70 is more than capable of revealing the benefits of transducer upgrades, if desired. As plug-and-play combinations go, this is one of the best we’ve encountered.

The ELAC baby, the Miracord 50 is a plug-and -play delight (factory-mounted MM phono cartridge and built-in phone preamplifier for your convenience)that is regarded for its style, smoothness, and accuracy. True to ELAC’s reputation, the Miracord 50's construction is stand-out. Its superb isolation comes by way of an anti-resonant chassis that minimizes vibration and feedback. A low-noise DC servo motor drives the platter and belt with remarkable stability. 

All three of the ELAC Miracord turntables; the 50, the 70 and the 90 are belt driven turntables.  

 

And on a final note: don’t forget to add a nice pair of speakers to go with your new turntable. :-)