As you might have realized by now that I’m always excited to review anything that any company offers me. This usually means the item being review does not suck as most companies have realized by now that I have no filter and can’t sugar coat anything. So when Audio
Technica USA requested me to write about their AT-LP120-USB turntable (apparently they read my turntable article on Wifi-Hifi), I was giddy.
This turntable is the higher quality machine in Audio Technica turntable line up that is full of the features that most will be looking for. It has a lot of flexibility since one can archive one’s vinyl collection by digitizing LPs through its USB output, play them through a receiver or integrated amplifier, or if one wants to go high-end, simply turn off the on-board the internal phono pre-amp and use an external one instead. It also has DJ capabilities to create a lot of special effects, whether you are a DJ or not; or even do some kind of “satanic ritual” by playing your records backwards (if you get this joke, then you must have been born no later than the late sixties)
The fundamental features of the AT-LP120-USB are: it’s a manual, direct drive, USB equipped unit (read: comes with its internal Analog to Digital Converter), has a user switchable built-in preamp, a separate headshell if you want to play 78 rpm recordings, and it comes with a very good quality cartridge for an extremely good sound for its asking price. The unit itself, as many claims, looks very much like the legendary but now discontinued Technics SL-P1200 mkII. Feature wise, however, it was closer to the short lived (also discontinued) Technics SL-P1400 which is essentially an SL-P1200 mkII with digital output.
Setup – Some Assembly Required
The Audio-Technica surprised me a little bit because the turntable needed a bit of assembly. This is by no means a bad thing as any calibratio and setup done from the factory will vhange quite drastically by the time you have the unit at home anyway. So why waste any labour cost in assembling, setting up and calibrating the unit when in the end all the things need to be re-done anyway. Of course you can buy the AT-LP60 if you don’t want to do any of the ritual of setting up a turntable. The sound quality, although very good, is nowhere going to be as good as any self-assembled turntabe, however.
Regardless, the AT-LP120-USB assembly was not at all complicated, just a few steps like placing the platter and mat on the motor shaft, balancing the tone arm, and a couple of other simple steps which every turntable lover knows anyway, and you’re ready to go.
The head with the cartridge and stylus is attached to the tone arm by plugging it in and turning a small sleeve on the tone arm to hold it tightly in place. The tone arm is then balanced by screwing in a counterweight until the arm floats horizontally. A simple adjustment of the counterweight dial allows you to put exactly 2 grammes of weight on the tone arm, which is the ideal amount of pressure of the stylus needle on to the LP. Then simply place the platter and mat on the centre spindle and the assembly ritual is done.
It then is a matter of connecting the turntable to your device of choice – either an external phono pre-amp, receiver/integrated amplifier, your PC via USB or even a pair of active speakers. It comes with a variety of cables giving you lots of flexibility – RCA cables to connect to your receiver or powered speakers, USB cable for your computer or other device, and even a cable with a single pin jack if you are connecting to speakers or other devices with a single pin connection. Of course, the packaged cables are just there for convenience. For decent quality cables, I strongly recommend Audioquest (even the lowly “Forest”) for much better sonic performance.
Once I assembled it, I really liked the look and feel of the turntable. Right away you can’t help but notice how solid this machine feels. It is pretty heavy with a weight of 23.5 lbs, which in analog world means adding a lot of stability and vibration dampening. The platter is made of die-cast aluminum so it is solid and light, which means the motor doesn’t have to work too hard (read: lower rumble sound emanating from the motor through the stylus to the amp and ultimately to the overall sound reproduction). The main body of the turntable is on four large round feet that have rubber dampers to eliminate any vibration that might affect the table. I still recommend the addition of Audioquest Q-Feet to dampen external vibrations, though.
The tone arm assembly is very clean and a complete clone of the ever famous aforementioned Technics DJ turntables. The tone arm itself is chrome plated with a soft curved “S” shape with a very smooth cueing lever so it will slowly descend on to the LP. Classy!
The controls are all attractive, ergonomically placed and easy to use. There is a simple button to toggle between forward and backward rotation. It also has a slide control to adjust the pitch (tempo). It has another pitch button so you can change the pitch range for the pitch slide control; one for DJ purpose (changing the tempo), another for fine tuning the motor rotation speed to perfectly matched the 33, 45, or 78 rpm standards. This accuracy can easily be achieved by the red strobe light that guides your pitch fine tuning using the respective speed strobe dots on the platter.
Another nice feature is a popup light next to the platter, close to where the stylus drops down on the LP. If you are changing LPs in a darker room you can pop up this little light to make sure the needle drops in the right spot.
USB Digital Software
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB comes with a software CD that you need to digitally record your LPs. I tried to get used to the software to digitally record a few albums in my LP collection, and I have to say I am not a huge fan of the software as it wasn’t that intuitive to use (and I’ve been using computer-based recording system since the inception of computer-based re ording system more than 20 years ago). On the positive side, it’s a free and full featured software and you can also export the recording in lots of different formats: AiFF, WAV, MP3, MP2, M4A, AC3, AMR, WMA, FLAC, etc.
My LP collection is not too vast. Only around 200 titles and mostly are old recordings (Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald…you get my drift) but in extremely mint condition. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of sound of its internal phono pre-amp and when I use my outboard phono pre-amp, the sound quality is nothing short of fantastic considering the low asking price. The digital recordings were equally good and had a great time reviving my record collection and recording it for playback in my cars (one has a Dynaudio factory option, the other has a Harman Kardon factory option)
So what are you waiting for? Go get one already! I already bought my review sample!
Audioquest Q-Feet anti vibration feet
Audioquest Forest RCA cables
Rek-O-Kut Phono Pre-Amp (review coming soon)
Pioneer Elite SC-85 Receiver set in Pure Direct mode
System Audio Aura 30 speakers
Vermouth Audio Black Pearl speaker wires.