Q: I have an Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable that I have had for years, and am thinking about upgrading to the Music Hall Classic (with Vessel A3SE cartridge) for $699. Considering that a few years ago, I upgraded my present turntable to use the same Vessel A3SE cartridge, would I hear enough of a difference between the turntables to make it worth upgrading?
A: The Music Hall Classic is a fine turntable. If you were starting from scratch, recommending it over the AT-LP120-USB would be an easy call. But as an upgrade, I don’t think you will hear a dramatic difference because you are using the same cartridge.
If you enjoy vinyl enough that you are ready to upgrade, you should swing for the fences. There are few things in audio that bring the kind of “wow factor” a really good turntable upgrade will bring you, and it is around $1,000 where the magic really starts.
In the past, I have praised the Cambridge Audio Alva TT for its enchanting sound, gorgeous finish and fine tactile feel. It is sold as a matched system that includes a high-output moving coil cartridge, an integrated phono preamp that is optimized for the included cartridge and Bluetooth for wireless music sharing. There is nothing else on the market quite like it.
It is remarkable how easy the Alva TT makes it to experience true high-end vinyl sound. Putting together a top-notch vinyl playback system usually requires a good bit of component matching, tuning and tweaking, often with mixed results as you muddle through the process. The Alva TT is plug-and-play. It’s almost as easy as setting up a CD player.
It has received great reviews in the audio press and was highly recommended at the original $1,699 price. Cambridge Audio has set a new price of $1,199. Given that it includes a $499 cartridge, matched high-quality phono preamp and built-in Bluetooth, the value of this deal cannot be overstated. The Bluetooth in particular pays extra dividends because not only can it be used with portable devices, it allows you to play music in different rooms. When I reviewed the Alva TT, I used the wired connection with my reference audio system and connected the Bluetooth to a high-quality wireless speaker in a different room, 20 feet away and around a corner. It was like getting two turntables for the price of one.
Because the Alva TT is shipped in a matched form, if you want to experiment and tweak your turntable constantly, you might be better served with a different platform. But if you want to just enjoy the music and never feel the need to upgrade again, it is the turntable for you. (cambridgeaudio.com)
If a $1,199 upgrade is not in your budget right now, I would continue to enjoy your Audio-Technica and save until you can make the leap. It will be worth the wait.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.