With iTunes, Napster, and Musicmatch offering more digital downloads than bad
music from a zillion teen-pop stars, you might wonder why anyone would still
bother with technology as old-fashioned as the analog turntable.
While some believe
the marketing mantra Perfect Sound Forever - hot air and hokum delivered
by the record industry in the late 80s when it first introduced the compact
disc - many others are discovering that analog is still a more perfect way if
audio excellence is your goal.
If anything, todays turntables do a much better job of extracting information
than your dads old A&R, Dual, or BSR turntables ever did. Put it down
to computer design, imaging, and correction that enable much closer tolerances
in construction of both turntables and cartridges. You could say that the turntable
has finally caught up with vinyl.
And you dont have to buy the most expensive turntables to experience all
vinyl has to offer. You could go mad with the $10,000 TNT HR-X from VPI Industries
or the $7,000 Model 10 from legendary British manufacturer SME, but thanks to
trickle down technology, exceptional tables are being manufactured by companies
from Yugoslavia to the US. No local dealer? Best Buy still trying to push off
that Bose garbage on you? Then journey online to such value-for-buck middleman
as MusicDirect.com, Needledoctor.com, Elusivedisc.com and AcousticSounds.com,
upstanding retailers who are also purveyors of new and reissued vinyl sounds.
Like the return of the superstar DJ, todays turntables are superior to
the primitive vinyl LP spinners your folks used to play their Eric Clapton and
Linda Ronstadt LPs. Vastly improved sonics, hi-tech materials, and stores full
of cheap used records can turn you into the next Fatboy Slim or Moby or at least
a well-outfitted armchair traveler not in need of a remote to have a good time.
MUSIC HALL MMF 2.1
(includes Music Hall Magic cartridge ($70 retail))
It looks scrawny and low-cost, but the MMF 2.1 is a featherweight champ, producing
a robust, detailed, and giselle- like sound. Big-hearted bassnboogie
factor is matched by sparkling but decently smooth treble, making the 2.1 a
natural for hip hop and dance music if not quite the dynamo required for Korn,
Metallica, or high octane fusion. Of course that leaves real music, i, e., Buena
Vista Social Club and Lisa Loeb, which will both sound just fine on the 2.1.
Solid sound and a price even you can afford make for analog bliss on a tiny
(includes Oyster Cartridge, $55 retail)
This table has a surprisingly potent low end and creamy, cognac-on-ice high
frequency extension resulting in an easy choice if the lower $300s are your
considered turf. The Pro-Ject 1.2 reproduces drums that leap out and grab you
(and reach out and stab you Frank Zappa would have said) and frames
vocals and even DJ scratching with spooky accuracy. The Austrian made Pro-Ject
features a heavy alloy platter (better bass, larger sound-field, smoother highs,
possibly recessed midrange) and gold-plated RCAs (improved connectivity). A
bargain in affordable turntables that only gives up features (like detachable
interconnects and power cables) and functions to its more expensive siblings.
MUSIC HALL MMF-5
(includes Goldring G1012 cartridge ($175 retail))
Some tables lure
you with their wooly sound, but not the squeaky clean MMF-5. Like a quick punch
in the abs, the MMF-5 delivers brilliant treble and quick-witted bass through
its clever two-piece construction consisting of two layers of MDF topped off
with a glass platter and hefty, that-LP-is-not-gonna-slide record clamp. Crisp,
but never ear-splitting, the MMF-5s built-in level assures perfect tonearm
tracking, even if its thunderous sound knocks you out cold. This table would
be the first choice for classical lovers who demand accuracy and fast dynamics,
but perhaps not the last word in warmth.
(cart not included, available with Sumiko Pearl
cartridge ($95) for $549)
Using the same tonearm as the $1500 RM-9, Pro-Jects RM-4 hold its own
against turntables costing twice as much. You want clarity? The RM-4 offers
it in spades. 3D imaging and arena rock soundstaging? Time to cough up the cash.
With enough titanic bass to raise the dead and treble and midrange that are
smooth yet sufficiently detailed, the RM-4 makes music flow. Shaped like the
Indy 500 racetrack, the cool looking RM-4 comes standard with a lightweight
record clamp and two gold RCA jacks, allowing your choice of interconnects.
Not as ultimately detailed and fast as the Music Hall MMF-5, the Pro-Ject RM-4
is ultimately more satisfying.
REGA PLANAR 2
(Rega Bias cart included ($125 retail))
Second only to
the Pro-Ject RM-4, the Rega Planar 2 and Planar 3 have for years represented
the pinnacle among sub-1K turntables. Presenting remarkable impact and cushiony-comfy
bass response, the sleek-looking Planar 2 portrays music of all kinds with decent
depth and a gutsy, up-front realism. Though treble can be shrill when the music
turns especially dynamic, the 2s clear midrange and articulate, rounded
bass make it a great all-rounder. And, it can be greatly improved by upgrading
the shabby Bias cartridge.
(cartridge not included)
Like a technological relic from the Soviet Union, this bland, industrial gray
unit seems designed for playing only John Phillip Sousa marches, disinformation
broadcasts, or the Soviet National Anthem. Three adjustable feet allow for precise
leveling and the sound is rich and accurate, but wheres the boogie for
almost 600 bucks? That kind of cash should at least include a record clamp and
a cartridge. Clean, cold, and efficient, the SOTA Moonbeam will have you saying
Please, comrade! Pass the wodka and that Acoustic Sounds catalog!