There are few names as well-respected in the sound world as Audio Technica. The company has been around since 1962 and has won multiple awards for its phono cartridge technology over the years.
So this turntable is not the product of some johnny-come-lately, but of one of the first great phono-technologists; it should be no surprise that this is probably the best turntable you can buy at this price.
As Long as it’s Black
This product comes in two colors and neither of them are the garish pastels or ugly woodgrain of these new pseudo-retro monsters that roam the music stores. You can pick between black or silver; both proper home stereo colors. This also has lovely clean lines and looks like an expensive, professional piece of equipment. I respect Audio Technica for not bowing down to the faddish color choices of the moment. This is something that will look good in your home for years to come.
Diamonds aren’t Forever
Audio Technica play to their strengths here, with their integral dual-magnet cartridge. While the cartridge is integral, you can replace the diamond stylus when it does eventually wear out. As expected, the performance is excellent based on the ear-on experience of people who have bought the product.
The listed signal-to-noise ratio is 50 dB, which is excellent for a low-tier product like this. Remember that the higher this number, the better. High-end audio equipment has SNRs of 60 dB and up, with some going over 70. Over the 60 dB mark, noise (or hiss, in audio) is basically undetectable. If you have fine ears and are looking for it, you’ll hear a tiny bit of hiss with an SNR of 50dB, but this is still pretty good. For comparison, tapes have an SNR of about 40dB and CDs have an excellent SNR of over 90, in theory at least. For this price the SNR of the Audio Technica is pretty good.
Vibrations are bad news when you are trying to keep that stylus in contact with the record itself. So they’ve given the unit a balanced tonearm and anti-resonance platter made of lightweight aluminum. This may not mean that you can go without a nice dampened stand, but every little bit helps.
One thing you won’t be playing on this turntable are 78rpm 10-inch records. For most people that’s a non issue, but you should know just the same. You can choose between the two common speeds of 33.3 and 45 revolutions per minute.
This is a fully automatic unit, so you don’t have to worry about placing the needle on the record. Generally semi-auto is better, but for a complete newcomer full-auto is a good place to be.
One thing missing from this package is any sort of digital conversion. Higher-end models have USB ports and onboard analog to digital converters, so that you can turn your vinyls into digital audio. In the Audio Technica range, that function pushes this model over the $100 mark, but if you really want it you can get this same model for a bit more. As I explained in my buyer’s guide, this really only matters if you have an older collection that needs preserving. New albums will usually include a digital voucher in the package.
We do need some sort of output though, since listening to the almost-inaudible squeaks of the stylus is not exactly a form of listening pleasure. So there are two RCA outputs for stereo sound, 3.5mm and 1/8” jacks. These options are achieved through various adapters.
There is a built in phono preamp that brings the output to line level, so you can directly connect this to speakers, headphones, a computer, or other stereo equipment.
You can also switch to unamplified phono output to use your own preamp. Which means you can get this now and get a nicer preamp later. Very versatile and convenient.
Metal Gear Solid
This belt-driven, budget model from Audio Technica is solid in almost every way I can evaluate. There is nothing flashy or fancy about it, but if you care about your ears and can’t stretch out the budget, you’ll have a hard time finding something that has better allocated its development to the really important stuff. That’s why this record player gets my top choice in this price segment.