I guess it should be no surprise that Audio Technica is hitting it out of the park at various budget points when it comes to modern turntables. After all, the company was a world leader in turntable technology in the heyday of vinyl records. If you scratch just below the surface of many of the other worthwhile turntables, you’ll often find that they are using components from Audio Technica anyway.
This LP120BK unit costs nearly three times as much as its LP60BK little brother that got my pick as the best budget record player, so what have they done to justify the additional cost?
She’s Got the Look
Obviously these modern turntables from the company have been around regardless of the renewed interest in vinyl records. Audio Technica has just kept making good prosumer turntables even when the market was smaller. So this is not styled to look like something from the 50s. It’s styled to look like an expensive and well-made Hi-Fi component, which it is.
I really appreciate that, and this makes it much easier to fit one of these turntables into a modern lounge where it will set next to flat screen TVs and BluRay players.
On that score Audio Technica has hit this one out of the park. Lovely matte black with shiny chrome components, greys and brushed metal surfaces. It’s all so very premium and looks fantastic. The only thing that detract from the looks a little is the hinged dust cover, which is a little too utilitarian to my taste, but that’s a minor niggle.
Unlike it’s cheaper little brother, the LP120 supports all three LP speeds, so you can play seven, ten, and twelve-inch records. That’s not all, though – this model comes with a pitch control slider, which means if you are thinking about dabbling in DJ beat-mixing, you could. For most of us, however, that’s not such a pertinent feature.
The turntable also makes use of a high-accuracy pitch lock using a quartz-based controller. This ensures that the speed stays constant so that the pitch does not vary. This is great, because it doesn’t matter if you are getting great clean audio from a record if the pitch fluctuates all over the place.
So what does this all mean? Well, the “wow and flutter” of the LP60 is 0.25%. The LP120 cuts that down to 0.2% at 33.3 RPM. To get any better than this you have to pay another $150 for the DJ turntable that tops this series. I think that’s a pretty good balance between price and performance.
The Sum of its Parts
A lot of the improvements this model has over cheaper turntables is subtle. It’s in the build-quality of the cartridge, tonearm, and shell. The tonearm assembly is also hydraulically dampened. There are lots of little marginal improvements that add up to something more substantial.
The tone arm is weighted and adjustable with anti-skate adjustment, height adjustment, and lock – just about everything you can hope for in a tonearm.
The magnetic cartridge is, of course, stellar. But what would you expect from the world leader in phono cartridges? This is a proper magnetic unit and not a cheaper ceramic job. There’s nothing to worry about at all when it comes to the cartridge.
The preamp is also a nice unit that gives a nice clear output, but of course you can switch if off and use your own phono preamp either out of the box or in the future when you upgrade.
The platter is cast aluminum as most good modern turntables are. It also has a slip mat, which is once again something that mostly DJs will care about. Likewise the forward and reverse play is not something that most people will care about, however if you want to go looking for secret messages in classic rock albums this is your record player.
It has a popup stylus light for making sure you are cueing properly in low light, and a stroboscopic light that lets you make sure the motor is running at the right speed.
The included accessories are actually pretty good and most people will not need to buy anything else in order to use it out of the box. You get three cables – one USB, one female 3.5mm to RCA, and one male 3.5mm to RCA cables. That should let you hook the turntable up in almost all situations.
A 45 RPM adapter is included in case you have old seven-inch records that have spindle holes that are too big.
Of course, as with one of the LP-60 models, this turntable comes with a USB analog-to-digital converter. It lets you take your old records and preserve them as high-quality digital files. You can use the popular Audacity sound editor software (or whatever you fancy) to clean up those recordings. Of course, the software can’t put quality in that isn’t there to begin with, so what’s important here is that the rest of the turntable give the ADC a good clean signal to work with.
Overall, the consensus is that even at $300 this turntable from Audio Technica is excellent value for money. The main complaints stem from the RCA cables being a tad short to the included magnetic cartridge not being “audiophile grade”. That’s not to say that the one it ships with is bad, but just that it isn’t as good as the one you get on a $700 unit, to which my reaction is: “Duh.”
The good news is that if you want to you can just buy a higher-end cartridge and fit it to this turntable. This is a great base from which to do some minor upgrades if you outgrow the machine as it ships from the factory.
This is also a great price for a direct-drive motor record player; users have reported it stands up to heavy-duty use without complaint.
When it comes to the quality of the mechanicals like the tonearm the responses have been very positive. While the tonearm apparently needs a small amount of counterbalance adjustment out of the box, once you make that adjustment it is pretty much perfect.
Do I Stay or Do I Go?
For me, there is no question that this is the turntable to buy if you have $300 burning in your pocket. In fact, I find it hard to easily justify why you would buy something more expensive unless you really have the ears to appreciate the higher-end gear.
Although many of the features are more DJ-specific and some of the finishing is a little rough in the details, it doesn’t detract from the incredibly solid core offering here.