There are plenty of options for turntables under $200 -- but not plenty of good ones. If you've done any research yet, you've likely been advised to stay away from trendy brands like Crosley that make "retro-designed" turntables with cheap, non-replaceable parts that can actually damage your records.
Audio-Technica's LP60 is a decent option for first-time buyers, but you can't upgrade the needle and some people like to have that option.
The possibility for future upgrades and an attractively minimal design made the U-Turn Orbit a hit on Kickstarter when the campaign initially launched in 2014: it gave audiophiles and vinyl-curious music fans an opportunity to invest in a audiophile-worthy turntable without the complicated set up.
Two years later, the company is still honoring its commitment to US-made parts in its Boston factory. Only the motor, phono cartridge, and a few small plastic molded parts are sourced overseas. U-Turn is also involved in every step of the manufacturing process: each Orbit is put together by hand, goes through a rigorous 15-point quality control regimen, and is listened to by a U-Turn technician before shipping out.
Since that first Kickstarter campaign, which raised over $230,000, U-Turn has quickly earned the favor of vinyl enthusiasts on the Internet and has now expanded its product line to include a bespoke "builder" option that lets customers choose their base color, platter material, cartridge, and more.
U-Turn sent over an Orbit Basic Turntable for this review with the company's own Pluto preamp already installed (the Builder also gives you this option). The table includes a basic Audio-Technica cartridge preinstalled and comes in a choice of five colors (black, blue, green, red and white) -- prices start at $179 US (£124, AU$255 ) and go up depending on your choice of extras.
Design and setup
If you're looking for a turntable that you can use to DJ, forget about the Orbit and start saving up for the new Technics SL-1200G coming out later this year. The Orbit is a belt-driven turntable, which means it relies on an elastic belt that connects the motor to the record platform, also called a platter, to rotate the record.
Audiophiles prefer belt-driven turntables because they don't transfer motor noise to the needle as much as direct-drive turntables, but the latter are favored by DJs and casual listeners for their strong torque, quick spin-up times, and durability.
U-Turn designed the Orbit to be as easy as possible to put together when you first get it, and it's a no-brainer compared to other turntables. Just install the platter over the base and put the felt slip mat on top, then you can plug in the power cord and slide the clear plastic dust cover over the hinges.
All that's left to do after that is to wrap the large rubber band (also called the belt) around the pulley on the top-left side of the unit. The pulley has two grooves that will spin the platter at 33rpm (top groove) or at 45rpm (bottom groove) depending on the speed of your record.
Let's pause for a second to talk about workflow. It's slightly more complicated to adjust the belt position every time you switch between a 33 and a 45, so if you listen to an equal amount of both you might prefer a turntable like the Audio-Technica LP120 that has dedicated buttons for each speed.
Everyone else that listens to 33rpm full-length albums the majority of the time probably won't be touching the belt very often after the initial setup. It's not very hard to switch to 45rpm every once in awhile, but it does require a little finesse to get the belt to balance evenly across the side of the platter and onto the groove. After awhile, it'll become second nature.
The base of the turntable, also called the plinth, measures 17 inches by 13 inches (43cm by 33cm) and has three rubber feet on the bottom for dampening external vibrations that could otherwise cause audible skips and distortions in playback. The low voltage AC synchronous motor also sits underneath the plinth and has an open port on the back where you plug in the wall adapter.
If you opt to have the Pluto preamp built into turntable, U-Turn will also install a small box on the rear panel with a small switch to bypass it. That might not mean much right now, but it'll come in handy in the future if you want to upgrade to a new phono stage. Thankfully, the back of the Orbit also features open RCA ports so you can swap out cables, should they fail over time.
Since there aren't any speed select buttons, the only physical button is the power switch on the front left side of the turntable. The tone-arm is just as simple to operate, as well, but keep in mind that the way U-Turn keeps costs low is to omit fancy extra features like a tone arm cue lever and auto-return playback.
What you do get is a straight tone arm with a unipivot-style bearing that sits close to the record, so the needle has an easier time accurately tracking inside the record grooves. With no cue lever to help you drop the needle, you need to have a steady hand to grab the finger lift on the tone arm's head shell, but it's worth noting that the company also sells a lever separately for $40 (£27.85, AU$56.98) that installs underneath the tone arm rest.