Q: I read your review of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable upgraded with LP Gear's the Vessel A3SE cartridge for $349. I plan on purchasing it, but do you recommend I get an external phono preamp also? I see that the turntable has a phono preamp built-in, but some say you should get a higher quality one for better sound. Will it be a big difference?
A: I would try the turntable with the built-in phono preamp and see how satisfied you are before spending money on an upgrade. Besides, it is always nice to have an upgrade in your future to look forward to. How big of a difference you experience will depend on the quality of your amplifier and speakers.
When you do decide to upgrade, I have found that the $129 Project Phono Box DC is a perfect match for this cartridge. I have several phono preamps priced up to $800 that I use for reviewing cartridges. I have not had any great urgency to try them with this cartridge because I am completely satisfied with the sound from the Phono Box DC. Besides, a $99 cartridge and an $800 phono preamp is an odd pairing. If you want to transfer your records to a computer with the better phono preamp, there is a USB version of the Phono Box for $159.
By the way, this cartridge and turntable package has been proving to be one of my most popular recommendations this year. One reader said of the Vessel A3SE, "It sounds better in the Technics SL1200MK2 than our Denon 103r does." This is high praise, given that the Vessel A3Se costs $99 and the 103r costs $299. Another reader wrote, "At first, I was not that impressed with the Vessel, but as I listened more closely, I heard music on several albums that I had not heard before." He went on to rave about the sound of the album "April in Paris" by Count Basie, which he has been playing on various systems — with disappointing results — since he bought it new in the mid-'60s. "It sounds wonderful with the Vessel," he said. "Thanks for the recommendation."
A friend for Alexa
This week's featured speaker is Amazon Tap (right). Like the Oppo Sonica speaker featured two weeks ago, the $129 Amazon Tap (amazon.com/tap) also offers Wi-Fi connectivity. But while it's a competent music speaker in its own right, what really makes it stand out is the easy integration with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant.
When the speaker was introduced, you had to touch a button on it to activate the Alexa voice assistant, hence the name, Tap. Since then, the aspect has been updated so you can address the speaker with the command word "Alexa" to wake up the speaker and issue a command.
Setup is easy. Just download the Alexa app to your smartphone to add the Tap to your network. Once it is added, you can visit the Alexa Skills Store on Amazon to add abilities to your speaker.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.