Audio-Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB ($399)
*The AT-120LP120XBT-USB was purchased at a discounted price for use in my office setup, and to explore BT TT’s for our daughter and review purposes. This does not hinder my review at all, and note issues when they arise. I thank John & Apos Audio for the support and did find the TT quite good for its purpose.
As part of my “Return To Vinyl” 2-part article, I decided that adding a nice Bluetooth turntable would suffice for the upstairs office, pairing it with the Fluance ai61, a well-respected BT speaker I had already purchased. In perusing what was available with Bluetooth, and USB (for recording your albums to a file on your computer), I came across a few. Some were more than I wanted to spend, especially since I had picked up the excellent Pro-Ject Debut Pro to pair with my existing Linn Axis for the downstairs. Will reviewed an excellent Monoprice Monolith BT TT, but I came across the AT-LP120 while looking. I wanted a direct drive TT to balance the two belt drives downstairs, and while a used Denon would have been fabulous, the lack of BT halted that. I picked this one up from Apos Audio, and I thank John & crew for the prompt service. After arrival, I previewed two more BT Audio-Technica (AT) turntables; one above pricewise and one below.
As part of this, in conversation with our daughter when I was visiting for her college soccer games, I mentioned a record store in town. She said, “ya, it’s pretty cool and I picked up a couple of albums.” My response was, “You don’t even have a turntable!” I then told her, “I’ve got this.” I ended up purchasing the AT below the 120 for her (AT-LP60XBT, non-USB) along with a pair of Klipsch R41 PMs for a little more than I spent on my duo. That’s OK, spend more on speakers, and she can always upgrade to a better TT. The eCoustics vintage editor Eric said, “Get her into jazz and she will never do drugs!” Will politely pointed out that jazz could cost as much. I will defer to my daughter’s tastes in music (which are good) but see myself purchasing her some classics.
While the final resting place of the duo is yet to be determined (it is now in the office), placing them in the living room with a full view of Lake Superior (and her current gale force winds) makes for a thoroughly intoxicating atmosphere as Kenny Burrell plays Bluesey Burrell.
The Underlying Need…
Bluetooth turntables are not new but watching them move decidedly upscale is a nice measure of the market and how many people are choosing to get back into vinyl (or give them another option). The pandemic may have had a good portion to do with this since we were all (or most of us) quarantined and dug out our old albums. I know I did while grading “papers” from the online assignments we gave. Album sales skyrocketed, and so did affordable turntables. The major players quickly took note and used their R&D to develop their affordable TTs, complete with BT. This allowed the user to hook up powered speakers, or their headphones for use in small/quiet spaces. The AT-LP120XBT-USB is the result of this search for me, coming in at an affordable $399, complete with a well-regarded (and versatile) AT-VM95E dual moving magnet cartridge. The nicety of that cartridge also means you can switch styli within the VM95 family easily. The AT-HS6 universal ½” mount head shell allows for a multitude of cartridges as well.
The AT is not a small TT like any of the current Pro-Ject, UTurn, or Rega models, but that is to be expected since this is a direct drive, with the motor taking up more space. It is about the size of a typical older turntable, so it is still a decent size, and not too cumbersome.
As a fully manual turntable, it has not gone completely new age but does include a start/stop button, which will stop the aluminum platter while keeping the BT connection. With the ability to play 33 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm albums, you can even pull out your old (or new) records for play. The unboxing and setup were easy as well. Taking the dust cover out first, you then lift the turntable out, removing the tape holding the S-shaped tonearm in place, sans head shell. The counterweight is then placed on the back (while the snap hook keeps the tonearm in place), rotated to 2g (recommended with cartridge), and adjust the anti-skating to 2g.
Then, take the platter from the bottom of the box, and place it onto the motor spindle. Attach the VM95 cartridge, place the felt mat on, plug the unit in and you are good to go. AT even includes a straightforward balancing tool, which ensures that the 2g is balanced correctly. I did have a spot of a problem here, but that was because I could not keep a steady hand, trying to hurry the process along.
Once all of that is done, turn the TT on, and push the BT connectivity button for 2 seconds while it searches for something with which to connect. I did have to reset the Fluance BT to connect, but that was a minor issue. Now, every time the AT goes on, the Fluance automatically connects. Once spinning, the typical red-light strobe of DD TT’s denoting speed shines on the platter, with an adjustment of 10% +/- via a slider under the tonearm. Another nice feature is an RCA-like jack, in which you plug the stylus target light. This can be adjusted to any angle, and I like seeing just the strobe and stylus light at night, as the green stylus mechanism looks pretty cool. Plus, this gives you access when you want to keep the lights low.
Some have spoken about the lightweight plinth, and I would agree. Made mainly of plastic, it could use some more heft. Even high-density wood inside might make a difference. My final setup may be affected like others, but the current placement is not hindered by the lightness of the plinth. For the money, the build and operational qualities are spot on. Functionality was faultless, and the unit never faltered.
So much goes into the sound of a turntable, that it is a lot like comparing headphones. Even two similarly priced closed-back headphones will sound different. I hold the same concerning turntables of this range as well. While the VM95 is a very good economical cartridge with which to start, the difference between this setup and the Linn or Pro-Ject is straightforward, a lack of detail in the AT. But when we talk price, that should of course be the result. Better powered speakers will of course affect the sound quality as well. For the price, the AT is a superb turntable, even in BT mode. When I played Kenny Burrell’s “Bluesey Burrell” from Quality Pressings in Salina, Kansas; the sound astounded me. My first thought was how can this affordable setup sound so good? When one takes into consideration that the pressing was made from the original master tape (a huge plus for Quality Pressings), that helps a fair bit.
I would have to say that the AT will present the music according to the recording. That first album is spot on. The detail was there in spades, while the clarity and vibrant tone coming from the Fluance were very, very good. Projecting larger than it should have; the duo made me immediately think I had made a good decision. Moving on the Count Basie’s “Farmers Market Barbeque,” I played “Blues For The Barbeque” over and over, increasing the volume each time. It was another superb song coming forth from the duo; with enough richness of tone that I did not mind that the clarity was from a $400 TT. It was darn good. Even though it doesn’t have the blackest background, there is just something about that old noise emanating from an album that just sounds right. I would imagine that even with better speakers (the Klipsch The Sixes are on my radar), the sound would be even better.
*The Sixes were purchased and did raise the bar a good bit, showing that the speaker of course plays as much into the sound quality as the TT. This shows that the AT is an excellent starting point, and the upgrade should be in the speaker realm.
The soundstage (which yes is speaker-dependent as well) was wide and deep, with adequate height above my listening position to give a good sense of 3D. I felt like I was a few rows back, but center at a concert; with no problem discerning instruments or their placing. As the volume rose, I was treated to a thoroughly satisfying exposé of music through a quite moderately priced system. The current room is also larger than the final spot will be, so I shall strive to duplicate what I hear in that smaller setting. Currently, the Fluance pair is set about 10.5” off the floor on two 4×4 posts and about 18” from the wall. Yes, experimenting but the sound is very adequate for the space.
*The final location of the speakers (now the Klipsch Sixes) is approximately 29” off the floor and 9” from the side wall. The speakers are approximately 18” off the back wall, with 6’of separation. Not ideal, but a continued work in progress. The setup acts as a “near field TT system,” and I am quite pleased with it so far.
With all of the changes at the cottage, including the weather; the setup is a fluctuating situation, as mentioned. Part of this trip was to just get all of the gear here, set up, and give a thorough initial listen. Locations of speakers and a final resting place for the turntable will continue through the long winter months of the UP (I have time). I can say that I am well down the road, and in the current situation, the Audio-Technica/Fluance (Klipsch) pairing can certainly liven the upstairs office, where it is. The pair also does this without having to use too much volume, another good sign.
This all comes back to the pairing of the Fluance ai61s and the AT-LP120XBT-USB. Plenty of pieces regarding combinations from affordable to astronomical have been done, and I think there is a continued need on the more affordable scale (such as for dorms, or small apartments). As such, I have digested some of what I have read and their choices along with research into even more affordable units. And this, the AT came about as a result. This is a pairing, which would be worthy to send off to college with your children, or an office situation/den/work area. In that regard, the AT would fit perfectly for its flawless playing ability, which provides enough “higher-end” sound to make you not regret being able to listen to your main system. As such, this would make an excellent first turntable for those just beginning, or for their offspring. Paired with a mid-level set of speakers, you could have the whole neighborhood asking you questions about the system. And, you would enjoy answering those questions while Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, or Green Day plays happily.
I thank John and Apos Audio for their patience in this review, the result is well worth it.
The AT-LP120XBT-USB can be purchased at Apos Audio here.