U-Turn Audio slashes the cost of bona-fide audiophile turntables
The U-Turn's brilliant Audio Orbit Plus turntable wows the Audiophiliac.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
It's funny -- I keep seeing articles in mainstream media about vinyl, proclaiming "it's back!," as if that's breaking news. Truth is, vinyl never went away, record pressing plants never stopped making LPs, and manufacturers never halted turntable production. The CD and other digital formats have peacefully co-existed with LPs for decades. Analog-orientated audiophiles never gave up on turntables and LPs, we just have a lot of new converts coming on board, thanks to turntables like the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus.
It sells for $309, and that price includes a premounted Grado Black 1 cartridge. The turntable is available in your choice of black, white, red, green or blue, and it comes with a clear plastic dustcover. My review sample had the optional cueing device ($40) that raises and lowers the tone arm; it's recommended for buyers with unsteady hands or poor vision. The Orbit Plus measures 5 by 17 by 13 inches.
The turntables are assembled by hand in U-Turn's Woburn, Massachusetts workshop. Each turntable goes through comprehensive listening, wow & flutter, and rumble tests, as well as a 15-point performance evaluation. The company, which has been making turntables for two years, just last year moved to a larger facility and is adding new staff to keep up with demand. The majority of the parts are sourced within the US; the acrylic platters are done in Ohio, the base and plinths come from Minnesota, and dust covers from Maine. The Orbit Plus' sound and build quality are comparable to somewhat more expensive audiophile turntables from Rega, Pro-Ject, and Music Hall.
The distance between the music and listener feels smaller with LPs than it does with any digital format. That's the way it sounds to me, and to many others who play vinyl. We analog faithful may be small in number, but we share a common trait, we seem to get more out of music than the rest of the population. That is, we are much more likely to give music our undivided attention; digital listeners are more likely to just have music "on," in the background while they do other things -- talk, work, exercise, drive, read, clean the house -- anything but focusing solely on the music.
Comparisons with the $299 Pioneer PL-30-K proved rewarding. The PL-30-K is an automatic turntable, so after you press the start button the platter starts turning, the tone arm automatically moves into position just over the LP's lead-in groove, then gently lowers the stylus onto the record to get the music going. Then, at the end of the LP side, the tone arm automatically lifts from the groove and returns to the arm rest. The Orbit Plus is a 100 percent manual affair, so you have to put the needle in the groove at the beginning of the record, and pick it up at the end.
The Orbit Plus sounded better than the PL-30-K, it was more transparent, and soundstage focus was superior. There was more immediacy to the presentation; though the bass was less full, but definition was better on the Orbit Plus. The music's energy, pace and rhythm were better on the Orbit Plus, it's a much better sounding turntable.
Bob Dylan's 2015 LP "Shadows in the Night" is a sparsely populated production, with just a few instruments accompanying Dylan on a collection of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. The recording was performed "live" in the studio, so the sense of people playing together is part of the appeal, and the Orbit Plus nailed it. It did a great job recreating that live feel.
Turntables can't be plugged into analog input jacks on amplifiers or receivers; they require special inputs known as "phono preamplifiers." That's why U-Turn Audio also sent their tiny 5.8-by-1.6-by-3.6-inch Pluto phono preamp ($89), and it sounded awfully nice. For comparison, I swapped out the Pluto for the Schiit Mani ($129) preamp, and the latter had firmer control over the bass, better dynamics, and a sweeter sound. The Pluto amp was a little brighter, but still very decent, and it's about one-third less expensive than the Mani. It's worth noting the Mani works with moving-magnet and moving-coil phono cartridges; the Pluto is just for moving-magnet cartridges. Again, the Pluto was designed and built in-house by U-Turn Audio.
With either phono preamp you'll be able to play the Orbit Plus over any stereo or home-theater system, desktop speakers, or even Bluetooth speakers equipped with analog inputs. Of course, if your receiver has its own built-in phono preamp, you won't need to buy one.
This review covered the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus, but the similar Orbit Basic turntable runs $179. If you're ready to take the plunge and check out the glories of analog sound either Orbit would be a great place to start.