U-Turn Orbit Basic turntable review: An upgrade-ready turntable with audiophile aspirations

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Proper setup is essential to get the best sound out of your turntable, but luckily U-Turn makes it easy on you by shipping every turntable with the cartridge already installed and the tracking force already perfectly dialed in.

The Basic model automatically comes with the Audio-Technica AT91B cartridge, but you can use the online Builder to upgrade to the Ortofon OM 5E, Grado Black1, or the Grado Blue1 cartridge. Each of those will extract a unique sound signature from your records, and potentially draw more detail out of your music, but at a price to play. Also, you'll need to balance the tone arm and recalibrate the tracking force each time you install a new cartridge.

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Aside from a better cartridge and the cue lever, you can also choose to upgrade the black platter from the stock medium density fiberboard (MDF) material to a clear acrylic platter. In theory, the heavier acrylic version is supposed to perform with less speed fluctuations than the basic MDF one, but I listened to a lot of records using the Basic model I was sent and never noticed any fluctuations with the stock parts.

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Two hinges on the back of the plinth hold the removable plastic cover in place, which prevents dust and dirt from touching your records. The all-plastic design is prone to scratches, and it's not super-sturdy so I wouldn't recommend placing anything else on top of the cover when you're not playing records.

The overall build quality of the Orbit Basic feels sturdy enough, but I would press the company to rethink the design of the tone arm holder. I know it's a nitpick, but there's a lot of wobbly give to the small rubber latch that holds the arm in place- it cheapens the feel of the turntable in use and I'd prefer to have a sturdier latch that clicks when the arm is set back in position.

Connectivity

The standard Orbit ships without a preamp built into it, so you have a few options for how to get your turntable ready to play music. The fastest way to do it is to use a receiver with a phono input -- that way you don't have to buy a separate preamp and you can play your music directly to a pair of passive speakers.

If you don't have a receiver, or if you're using a receiver without a phono input, you'll need to purchase a separate phono preamp to listen to music using powered speakers (those are speakers that have their own power cable.)

Finally, if your speakers are passive, you'll need to get an additional amplifier to boost the signal to line level. Confused? U-Turn has all the answers you need on this page of "recommended set ups."

Performance

The sound quality of a turntable depends on many factors, one of which is its ability to dampen vibrations caused by the motor, the platter and the surface area underneath the surface. However microscopic, any needle movement within the groove can mar the listening experience with noise imperfections, so the best turntables take every opportunity to minimize this noise.

Making the switch to an analog music source like a turntable can be difficult for anyone accustomed to the noise-free "perfection" of digital music, but the experience of playing records on the U-Turn Orbit makes the transition a little smoother.

The Orbit's tone arm was designed in-house and uses precision ball bearings adjusted specifically to maximize the tracking accuracy of the needle, so you get a satisfying, quiet turntable -- especially through headphones, which is always the litmus test for how quiet a turntable can get.

According to CNET's "Audiophiliac" Steve Guttenberg's review, the Orbit Basic played his LPs with a rich, warm, and inviting sound:

"Play a great audiophile LP, like Patricia Barber's newly remastered "Companion," and you'll hear a sound that goes beyond the high-resolution downloads. I'm defining "best" as more lifelike, and because of that the music draws you in more completely than digital formats ever do.

That's vinyl's big advantage -- it's harder to ignore the music and multitask with a turntable. Yes, you have to go over and change the LP every twenty minutes, and figure out what you're going to play next. That's a plus, you're involved with music on a different level when you actively participate in what you're listening to."

Conclusion

You can spend upwards of $500 and more on a top-quality audiophile turntable from Rega or Pro-Ject that will add a liveliness to your listening experience, but the cost of ownership can jump quickly. That said, despite a few small gripes about the build, the $179 Orbit Basic is a great choice if you're just getting into vinyl or you want to upgrade your current set-up with a budget-friendly solution that doesn't sacrifice style.

The minimalist design is a fresh take on legacy technology and the preinstalled cartridge takes the tediousness out of balancing the tone arm and setting the vertical tracking force. And if you want to upgrade your rig later, you have the option to swap out the stock cartridge or replace the phono stage. That flexibility is hard to find in a budget turntable, and the U-Turn Orbit should definitely be on your short list to consider.