For the vinyl curious: A complete $380 hi-fi system for LPs & audio files

The Audiophiliac matches the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable with a pair of Audioengine A2+ speakers -- the combination really clicked!

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The Audioengine A2 speakers and Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable Audioengine/Audio Technica/Steve Guttenberg/CNET

You've probably read plenty about vinyl's sales surge that's been going on for years. Then, just a few weeks ago, Jack White's new "Lazaretto" LP sold 40,000 copies in one week, the most any LP has sold that quickly since 1991! New vinyl is easy to score online, but some yard sales and thrift shops have loads of $1 records. New-to-vinyl converts should ask older friends and relatives if they're ready to unload their record collections -- you might get lucky! Those old, pre-1980s LPs are 100 percent, all-analog pressings, so if you can find ones in decent shape, they'll probably sound better than digitally remastered LPs.

If you're ready to take the plunge but don't have a lot of cash, check out this little turntable based hi-fi. The system can also play digital audio from your computer.

It starts with the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable ($120), which comes with a premounted phono cartridge so you don't have to mess around with setting up the tonearm. Just place the platter on the spindle, then thread the rubber belt over the motor pulley, and you're good to go. Since the AT LP60 also has a built-in phono preamplifier, you'll hook it up directly to the Audioengine A2+ speakers. All of the wires and cables are included, there's nothing extra to buy, except records.

Most cheap turntables sound awful, so the AT LP60 is the least expensive turntable I can recommend. Sure, a used Rega, ProJect, or Music Hall turntable will definitely sound better, but unless you know the owner or buy from a hi-fi shop that knows its way around turntables, I don't recommend buying used turntables. They're too fragile, and too many things can go wrong that you won't notice until it's too late. Vinyl newbies should stick with new turntables.

The Audioengine 2+ speakers are tiny, just 6 inches high by 4 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep. They each sport a 2.75-inch Kevlar woofer and a 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter. The left speaker houses a 15-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier and a digital converter with a USB input, so you can play music and movies with your computer over the A2+s. Little speakers like this don't make a lot of bass, so place them close to a wall (3 to 12 inches), and the bass will be pleasantly full. I used the original A2 as one of my reference desktop speakers for a couple of years.

Frankly, I was surprised by this system's sound quality. Its sweet and juicy balance isn't short on detail, and the stereo imaging is spacious. Well-recorded vocals sound natural, but dynamic oomph isn't great. Hey, tiny speakers with 2.75-inch woofers aren't powerhouses, but in terms of musical pleasure, the AT LP60/A2+ clobbers any Bluetooth speaker I've heard to date. The advantages of using two A2+ speakers -- placed five or six feet apart -- over the 25.2-inch wide Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($600) speaker are easy to hear. The A2+s produce legitimate, room-filling stereo far better than the Zeppelin Air. Granted the Zeppelin Air is wireless, prettier, and puts out more bass, but I'd much rather listen to the AT LP60/A2+. Those two sell for $230 less than the 'Zep Air.

Willie Nelson and Leon Russell's "One for the Road" LP of duets brought a smile to my face. The two men were clearly enjoying singing together, and the all-analog, two-LP set from 1979 perfectly demonstrated the virtues of vinyl. I bought the album a few years ago for $1.99! The White Stripes' self-titled first LP showed that the wee Audioengine A2+ speakers were ready, willing, and able to rock out.

Downsides? There's no remote for the speakers, and the A2+s volume control is on the back of the left speaker. I don't consider that a major drawback; you'll quickly get into the habit of setting the volume when you change records. When playing audio files, you can adjust the volume with the computer.

Substituting the larger Audioengine A5+ speakers ($399 per pair) for the A2+s will add bass, and they'll play louder and fill larger rooms better. Upgrading the A2+ or A5+ sound with the addition of a Dayton Sub-800 subwoofer ($89) is worth considering, too -- either initially or down the road.

 

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