Audio

Want to see why audiophiles love LPs? Buy this super-cheap turntable

Audio-Technica's AT LP60 turntable typically sells for under $100, but it's a great way to discover the joys of analog sound.

If you ever considered taking the plunge and getting into vinyl, but held back because fussing with a phono cartridge, balancing a tone arm's counterweight, or adding a phono preamplifier, and so on sounded like too much work, I don't blame you. Even after they're all set up and ready to go, most turntables are very hands-on devices; you have to manually put the stylus (needle) in the groove, and lift the stylus at the end of the record side, so compared to playing a file or CD, LP playback can seem like a lot of work! So here's the good news: The $120 Audio-Technica AT LP60 turntable eliminates all of those hassles; it's a plug-and-play affair.

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Audio-Technica AT LP60 Steve Guttenberg/CNET

After you put an LP or 45rpm single on the platter, just press the Start button; the platter starts turning and the AT LP60 automatically lifts the tone arm, positions the stylus over the LP's lead-in groove, and lowers the stylus down to the record. After the last song on the side has played, the AT LP60 automatically lifts the tone arm, moves it back to the armrest, and turns off the platter motor.

I played dozens of records for this review and the mechanism worked flawlessly every time. No matter how fumble-fingered you are, you'll never scratch an LP or damage the stylus if you use the auto-record play feature. Of course, you can manually start and stop playback. This is the cheapest turntable I've ever reviewed, but I really enjoyed using it, and wound up playing a lot more records than I needed to, it's that good.

This gray plastic turntable will never be mistaken for a U-Turn Orbit or a Rega RP1 turntable, but the AT LP60's cast-metal platter looks more upscale than those turntables' MDF and phenolic resin platters. Even so, the $179 U-Turn Orbit or $449 Rega RP1 sound better; they have deeper, better defined bass, and better overall sound quality. The Orbit's and RP1's tone arms can be used with a range of cartridges, the AT LP60 is limited to the Audio-Technica that comes with that turntable, but the stylus is user-replaceable. The Orbit and RP1 turntables are 100 percent manual operators, and they don't have built-in phono preamps, so you also have to factor in the additional cost into any purchasing decision.

The AT LP60's plastic base rests on springy rubber feet, and the metal platter is covered with a thick felt mat (one side of the mat is plain black, the other side spells out "Audio-Technica" in large letters).

Thanks to its built-in phono preamp you can hook up the AT LP60 to any integrated stereo amplifier, receiver, computer, boombox, or pretty much anything that accepts stereo analog audio inputs (the AT LP60's included cables should cover almost any hookup contingency). The well-written, easy-to-understand owner's manual will make the setup process painless. The AT LP60 is a little more compact than most turntables; it's 14.2 by 3.8 by 14 inches and it weighs 6.6 pounds.

Sure, there's a USB version of this turntable -- the AT-LP60USB ($200) -- for those who would rather listen to ripped files of their vinyl collection. Go ahead if you please, but I'd rather listen to LPs in their original, "native" analog state.

I assembled a complete digital and analog stereo system around the AT LP60, and its retail price is just $370! Look for that review on this blog in the very near future.

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