Does higher price mean better sound? Jon puts turntables to the test
Vinyl records are enjoying a healthy revival. Like film photography, it’s one of those analogue niches that’s thriving in a world of digital domination. Sales of records have grown for the last ten years and sales of turntables to play them on are booming too.
Some turntables are very much at the budget, and perhaps gimmicky, end of the market. They’re often disguised as suitcases or keepsake boxes and designed to be paired with your Bluetooth speaker or wireless headphones. Others can be wired via USB to your computer, so your vinyl can be converted into MP3.
But sales of traditional turntables, the kind you hook up to a separate Hi-Fi amplifier and speakers, are burgeoning too. They can cost from under two hundred quid to many thousands of pounds. In this week's show we wanted to discover whether you can tell the difference. In short, do you get what you pay for?
To find out, I assembled a Pro-Ject Elemental costing £160, a Clearaudio Concept MM priced at about £1,000 and Linn Klimax LP12 costing over £17,000. And I was joined by BBC Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts who has been buying records since she was at school and whose collection now comprises thousands of discs.
To make sure the turntables would sound their very best we played them through a Classé CP800 preamp costing £5,450 and a pair of Classé CA-M600 power amps costing nearly £12,000. The system was completed with an amazing pair of Bowers and Wilkins sixteen and a half grand 802 D3 Hi-Fi speakers, complete with diamond tweeters.
Adele put on a blindfold while I played Daft Punk’s Get Lucky on each of the three turntables at random. Even though she couldn’t see which deck was which, while listening to the Linn her trained ears immediately spotted sounds she’d never heard on the track before. Overall she was mightily impressed by its sound. She loved the mid-priced player too, though she was slightly disappointed by the cheapest turntable, sensing some belt-derived wow.
When I put on the blindfold, and Adele arbitrarily played the different turntables to me, I could identify which deck was which, too. I had to agree with her that the £1,000 Clearaudio sounded nearly as good as the £17,000 Linn. So it was probably the sweet spot in terms of value for money if your budget and the rest of your Hi-Fi can live up to it.
Overall it was a refreshing and heartening day’s testing. It’s great that in some areas of gadgetry you really can appreciate the benefits of spending more. But if you can’t afford to spend thousands on a turntable don’t worry. Another standout impression from the day was how great vinyl sounded on all three decks, with a real, edgy presence and detail. I can understand why we’re keeping this charismatic technology alive. And I can thoroughly appreciate why the late Steve Jobs, who did so much to popularise digital music through the iPod, preferred to listen to records at home.