I love my vinyl collection. I love it so much, in fact, I actually own more turntables than CD players (the fact that I own 2,000+ CDs but only 200 Vinyls is a different matter altogether). My problem, however, it is impossible for me to find an affordable turntable that is stylish, fully automatic, good sounding, and affordable at the same, as one of my turntables is located in the living room area simply so I can play my vinyl literally in every room in the house. I tried several models from a $120 Audio Technica (fully automatic, but too cheap-looking for my living room), a Rega RP-3 which awesome looking but a hassle to use as it requires a separate phono pre-amp and the need of removing the playter every time I need to change the speed from 33 1/3 rpm to 45 rpm (or vice versa), to Marantz TT42P which is classy looking but have the propensity of skipping be it from loud bass kicks or when anybody walk near the turntable.
When Pioneer Canada invited me to have a look at their PL-30 turntable, I of course welcome the invitation to check another turntable in the sub $500 category. Not for audiophile use per-se, but for a secondary system of a serious listener or for starters who wants the option to upgrade later. Looking at the PL-30, I was amazed with its similarities with Marantz TT42P. Could they both come from the same manufacturer? Regardless, it’s an analog audio product so any tweak in its production quality, even IF it shares the same design as the Marantz TT42P, will yield a different results.
First and foremost, the Pioneer PL-30 feels sturdier and heavier than my Marantz TT42P. As any turntable aficionado can tell you, the heavier the overall weight, usually it translates to better sound. The feet are also more “squishy” (as in having superior performance in external-vibration reduction). The platter’s mat is made of thick, heavy but flexible rubber, not cloth, wool, or any other light materials that usually don’t do anything. Of course, a built-in phono pre-amp that is also defeatable should one choose to upgrade its sound. You know what? After being so used to the needle skips on certain parts of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” from the German’s 4-side “Hysteria” album pressing and Sarah Barreiles “Brave”, another 4-side version of her “Blessed Unrest” album, both known for the extreme bass energy, I was mightily impressed as neither song skipped at all when played back using the Pioneer PL-30 turntable. I can only conclude that the squishy feet and the thick rubber mat have a lot to do with this reduction from the external sources. This was not only vibration emanated from the speakers sitting very near the turntable but includes the vibration caused by Happy (my dog) when she jumped off the couch to the floor. Something that neither my Audio Technica and Marantz can not do without the addition of Audioquest Q-Feet Sorbothane vibration absorbers. Sound wise, perhaps because of the better built-in phono pre-amp, perhaps because of the built structure (or perhaps a combination of both), I find that I am better satisfied with the Pioneer PL-30 built in pre-amp. So much so that I don’t feel the need to whip out my Cambridge Audio phono pre-amp in my living room. Don’t get me wrong, using the Cambridge Audio phono pre-amp will still yield a better result, but not that dramatically better.
The Pioneer PL-30 also have the edge in high frequency detail and smoothness. The Marantz TT-42P never sounded grainy before, but when listening alongside the Pioneer PL-30 the difference was clear. The decrease in noise floor and increase in low-level detail allowed the PL-30 to take advantage of the cartridge to a degree that the TT-42P could not.
Listening to Def Leppard “Hysteria” album revealed a density that’s always eluded me on other turntables I currently own (with the exception of my main reference turntable of Technics SL-1000 with Ortofon Red cartridge, Rek-O-Kut Phono Pre-amp MK III). Much like any track recorded on this legendary album, various layers of overdubbed information are present on the record, and while this characteristic won’t reveal tonality, it does reveal resolution. The Pioneer PL-30 kept the pace intact on “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a particularly tough track that features spastic vibes, numerous vocal layers, and highly energetic drumming. Where the my other turntables become somewhat vague at the peak of such activity, the Pioneer PL-30 presents the layers sorted. Again, by Pioneer adding the improved mass and feet paid considerable dividends in the final sonic outcome. Almost as telling as its performance with music, the Pioneer PL-30 handled the occasional pop and tick much more efficiently. Whereas such sporadic bits of noise had a certain amount of duration and overhang (decay) on both my Marantz and Audio Technica, this new turntable quickly disposed of the annoying components by better producing only the transients without adding any tail-end to them.
The resultantly improved transient attack gave drums a refreshing vitality, whether it was the highly processed electronic drums performed by Def Leppard or the acoustic drums recorded at the beginning of “Brave” track from Sara Bareilles, are immense without any boominess being apparent. Something that I never expected to be achievable from a turntable and its built-in phono pre-amp at this price level. Obviously, reproducing attacks and being able to track the record without skipping means nothing if the turntable cannot reproduce vocals properly. For this test, I always go back to the self-titled Michael Buble album; which is not only my favourite album in his discography but also the album that is best represented his voice based on my experience listening to Michael’s voice singing live sans processing while sitting during one of his studio recording sessions. (I thank my mentor, David Foster, for giving me that opportunity). Each and every track was reproduces so faithfully they brought back those recording sessions memories and made forget that I was doing a review. It is that good. Is it perfect? No and I won’t delude any of you into thinking that this turntable can do that.
However, every time I came back to the realization that this turntable’s asking price is merely $400 and comes built in with more-than-decent phono pre-amp, it made me rethink about the amount of money needed to spent to make this turntable sound that much better than it already is. I tried putting the Audioquest Q-Feet back, run it through my Cambridge Audio phono pre-amp, the improvement was minimal at best, and that’s literally adding $300 to the expense and they did not make the setup to be $300 better.
This way, I can use my Audioquest Q-Feet somewhere else, and the same goes with the Cambridge Audio phono pre-amp.
The one and only qualm I have with the Pioneer PL-30 is the not-so-attractive-looking soldered-in RCA audio cable. This way I can not upgrade the cable should I want to. On the other hand, by having the cable affixed permanently from the factory, at least I will never have to deal with the grounding wire of the turntable and I will never have the case of “upgrade-itis” which usually resulting me spending at least another $100 for a pair of RCA cables. All in all, my set up is now cleaner in aesthetics and have less clutter with the use of less gadgetry, I convenient without sacrificing sound quality…and for the money, it is extremely highly recommended.
Equipment used in this review: Audio Technica AT-LP60 turntable
Audio Technica AT-LP120USB turntable
Audioquest Q-Feet Sorbothane Vibration Absorber
Anthem MRX-700 Receiver in Stereo Direct mode
Cambridge Audio MM551p Phono Pre-Amp
Marantz TT-42P Turntable Pioneer PL-30 Turntable
System Audio Aura 30 Tower Speakers Vermouth Audio Red Velvet Speaker Wires
Albums used in this review: Def Leppard – Hysteria 180-gram 4-side German pressing
Sara Bareilles – Blessed Unrest 180-gram 4-side Limited Edition
Michael Buble – Michael Buble