Q: After a hiatus of many years, I am ready to start listening to my vinyl record collection again. I’d also like to digitize many of the albums to my computer. I have a very old Panasonic turntable that isn’t working properly and am looking to replace it with something I can hook up to my computer as well as to my sound system. What would you recommend if I do not want to spend more than $500?
A: I have a great recommendation, along with a background story to go with it.
One of my regrets is that most readers don’t get a chance to experience how good vinyl really can be. Most turntables I recommend in the column sell for under $500 because that is where most of the public is shopping. While these turntables certainly can sound very good and bring a lot of enjoyment, they are limited in their ability to bring out the musical magic hidden in the grooves of a vinyl record. To access that sound, you typically need a fairly expensive cartridge, which usually means a fairly expensive turntable to go with it.
That has changed with LP Gear’s The Vessel A3SE cartridge, which I mentioned in a recent column. It is only $99, and though it lacks some detail and fullness compared with more expensive cartridges, I prefer it in many cases. I’ve described it as having “sound that is silky-smooth, rich, clean, precise and detailed, with beautiful tonality.”
Flowery words aside, it just plain sounds good. Over the months I used it, I came to consider it many orders of magnitude better than any $99 cartridge I’ve tried before. I even brought in some other experienced vinyl listeners to express their opinions. Everyone agreed that it sounds surprisingly great for $99.
I’ve tried the cartridge with some very expensive as well as affordable turntables and while it clearly sounds better on the higher-end turntables, you don’t need a fancy rig for the cartridge to sing. It mates beautifully with affordable Japanese direct-drive turntables, delivering a musically engaging performance that belies the total price.
LP Gear has caught on to this and now offers the cartridge in an affordable turntable package. For $349, you get the popular Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable, an upgraded platter mat and The Vessel A3SE cartridge pre-installed and aligned for optimal performance. I think for a lot of people it could be their first and last turntable, and it will be easy and inexpensive to keep running, too. There is no belt to replace, and when the stylus wears out, the replacement is only $79 and it plugs right in without any mounting or alignment hassles.
And going back to the question about connections, the turntable has a built-in phono preamp for use with any sound system and a USB connection for transferring records to a computer. See the package at tinyurl.com/120vessel (direct product link) or lpgear.com.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.