Above: The kind of turntable you should buy instead. In this case, Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon DC ($399).
Welcome to Counterpoint, a series in which we challenge commonly held ideas about well-known products. This time: all-in-one turntables.
All-in-one turntables are more popular than ever for one main reason: they make listening to vinyl dead simple. They combine a record player and a built-in amplifier so all you have to do for a bonafide hi-fi system is add speakers. More recent all-in-one turntables have a number of other connectivity options (such as USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi), too, so you can stream or play other music to the system when you don’t want to play vinyl records. No extra receiver or other components required.
But ease of use comes with its tradeoffs, and you’ve got a big one to contend with when it comes to all-in-ones. They aren’t really known for their audio quality.
By definition, all-in-one turntables have all their important components in close proximity, which means they run the risk of getting in each others way. The close-quarters operation will almost certainly add noise and distortion to your audio equation. That’s the main reason is one of the reasons why most “true” all-in-one turntables, like the Victrola Navigator ($74) or the Crosley CR704C-PA ($118) which have built-in speakers as well, are highly convenient but just can’t ever live up to audiophile-grade standards. The speakers cause vibrations, which causes the whole turntable to shake, which impacts the stylus, cartridge and the spinning record. You don’t have to be an expert to know this is not going to be super great for sound quality.
And then there is the issue of customization. For audiophiles, choosing an external preamp to go with their turntable is a fun and important part of the process. But even if you don’t consider yourself an expert yet, a turntable that require an external preamp gives you the flexibility of potentially upgrading your system down the road by just swapping in a better preamp. You can start off with something affordable, like a Pro-Ject Phono Box DC ($99), and then upgrade to a more expensive preamp, like a Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 ($399), if you decide to get more involved or want to customize your system’s sound. No need to replace the entire turntable.
Of course, there are good and bad versions of everything, and the same is true with all-in-one turntables. If the components are well made, meaning it has a high-quality stylus and cartridge, a heavy platter and a plinth that isolates vibrations — plus it should be a belt drive turntable, as all great turntables are belt drive — then it should be a good turntable.
If you do buy an all-in-one turntable, we’d recommend that you buy one that has switchable preamp like the Fluance RT81 ($250) or the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB ($249). This means that you can turn the its built-in preamp on or off. So, down the road if you want to upgrade, it’s not a huge endeavor.
But if, instead you’re prepared for an adventure, buck the trend.
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