Audio Technica LP120 Turntable Review
By Chris Heinonen on
There has never been a better time to jump into the world of turntables than there is now. With a resurgence the past few years you can now find virtually every new release on vinyl as well as a whole library of used titles you can pick up for cheap. The cost of picking up a decent turntable to get started has also fallen steadily. For a small investment you can get a table that will serve you well and make playing back your music a joy.
The Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable is a direct-drive turntable modeled after the sadly discontinued Technics SL-1200. With a quartz speed control, push-button 33 and 45 RPM playback, and an integrated strobe light it is easy to get the LP120 setup correctly. An integrated phono stage makes it compatible with all modern analog inputs and a USB connection lets you digitize your vinyl collection. For those just getting started in analog, it is the entry point I suggest starting with.
A Familiar Look
|Review Date:||May 8, 2014|
|Price:||[amazon_link asins=’B002S1CJ2Q’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’refehomethea-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5e6afc13-da7f-11e6-bc15-1b33e92eea6d’]|
Setting up the LP120 will require a bit of extra hardware. Unlike some pre-assembled turntables you will need to setup the tonearm and cartridge. A scale, like this one from Shure, will be essential to getting the tracking force on the cartridge correct. The included AT95E cartridge is pre-mounted to a removable headshell so you should not need to adjust the angle or anything else.
The platter as integrated speed markings to make sure you are right at 33 or 45 RPM. Being a direct drive table it should be spot on, but if it isn’t you can adjust it by +/- 10%. The LP120 includes a built-in phono amp that most people buying it will probably utilize. A switch on the rear of the unit lets you switch between line level and phono level output but I utilized line level for all my listening. I just connected it directly to my Anthem MRX 510 receiver and was set to listen.
Spinning Some Records
The original recording of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails is wonderful, but Johnny Cash’s cover of it is positively devastating. Recorded late in life as health problems were taking a toll, the sorrow and anguish in his voice gets to you. The vinyl release from Acoustic Sounds delivers the song better than I’ve ever heard it. The backgrounds are dead silent on the LP120 while the pain and anguish in his voice comes across perfectly. With a well made record like this, you don’t hear any vinyl issues, you only hear and connect with the music.
The Boy with the Arab Strap introduced me to Belle & Sebastian years ago, and I’ve never stopped listening since. Played through the LP120 everything on the record comes to life. There is good channel separation and a detailed soundstage. What the LP120 does is bring the record to life, while really high-end tables bring the music to life. The top-end isn’t as detailed as those more expensive tables and cartridges, but the emotion of the record comes through. The bass line on “Chickfactor” comes across as a bit loose, as my CD copy is tighter than the LP120 is.
An instant change from 33 RPM to 45 RPM is a good feature. Playing Rumors from Fleetwood Mac, 45 RPM playback is as stable as 33 RPM. Some percussive instruments in “Second Hand News” are a bit thin, as the cartridge lacks the airy treble of moving coil cartridges. The bass notes in “Dreams” hit well, but not to the degree that my Pro-ject Debut Carbon does. My Carbon costs 3x the price fully decked out so this is expected but the LP120 sounds damn good to my ears. I wound up listening to everything multiple times as I’d just get lost in listening to music and forget to take notes. Losing yourself in the music is what all good equipment should let you do.
The USB interface also works perfectly with my MacBook Pro laptop. Using the suggested Audacity software, recording an LP and converting it to FLAC, WAV, or MP3 is fast and easy. With a PC it is slightly more complex due to needing a driver, but still very straight forward. Being able to digitize my LPs, when it doesn’t include a digital copy, makes it easy to have my music anywhere I want. The audio quality isn’t as good as listening to the turntable directly, but what it gives you is the freedom to listen to your music anywhere.
The LP120 has flaws during playback, but they’re the flaws I want in a turntable. The treble can be clearer and more detailed, bass could be tighter than it is, and there could be a bit more air around the instruments. The speed and pitch are close to perfect which brings across the heart of the music. If the pitch is off on a turntable it takes me out of the music but the LP120 keeps me involved. A better cartridge, or an external phono amp, will improve these areas if you desire to upgrade. For most people the LP120 will be a great introduction, or reintroduction, to the world of vinyl.
Measurements are done using the Platter Speed app on an iPhone 5 and the Ultimate Analogue Test LP for a 3150Hz test track. Additional measurements are done using an APx test instrument provided on loan by Audio Precision.
Looking at the Platter Speed data, what is most impressive is the overall speed stability. Belt driven turntables often show more fluctuation in the readings. The mean frequency of 3149.4 Hz is almost perfectly spot-on. The deviation could be lower but the overall filtered numbers are very good. It is much better than other turntables I’ve measured in the same price range.
The WOW number is 0.10% which is a nice result for a turntable of this price.
A Great Starter Turntable
For those getting started with vinyl, or that are coming back to it, the Audio Technica LP120 turntable is a very good solution. It isn’t as plug-and-play as some other models are, but it offers better performance than those models. It gives you a good idea of what vinyl can sound like but spending more will result in even better playback. For the price, I haven’t heard another table that can best the performance and flexibility of the LP120. For someone after their first turntable that doesn’t want to break the bank, it is what I would listen to first.
|Product:||Audio Technica LP120 Turntable|
|Pros:||Included phono stage and USB digital output, flexible setup, very speed accurate|
|Cons:||Falls short with treble and bass detail, needs a scale for setup|
|Summary:||A very flexible turntable for a low price, the LP120 makes it easy to get into vinyl. You only need to provide a scale and you will be all set for listening with the flexibility to upgrade down the road.|