Top critical review
My Dream Turntable Turned Nightmare
June 9, 2017
I have a vintage Philips 877 turntable that has served me well for almost 40 years now. It’s a belt drive unit, and I’ve always wanted to get a direct drive table. Also, after 40 years it didn’t seem too extravagant to spring for a new turntable. Unfortunately, almost all the direct drive models out there are DJ tables. I’m an audiophile (a practical one), and I wanted an audiophile turntable. So when I saw the AT-LP5, I was instantly interested. It appears to have the same 8 pole direct drive system as the popular AT-LP120USB DJ table, but without all the DJ features like pitch, strobe, reverse and cue light. At almost twice the price and with fewer features, higher build quality and better fidelity are implied.
My turntable shipped in its original carton and was not double boxed. The carton and the turntable itself showed no damage, but one of the styrofoam blocks inside was cracked, suggesting the table took a blow during shipping.
First the good. The direct drive is buttery smooth, quiet and accurate. A strobe I had handy verifies the table runs true to speed in both 33.33 and 45. There’s more torque than is available in a belt drive which is nice for those of us that like to use record brushes on a spinning record. Yes, the wow and flutter and S/N specs are worse than vintage turntables, but it just isn’t evident when the table’s in use.
Another reviewer said the tone arm bearings were too loose and had play on the example he had. The bearings on my tone arm were perfect with no play and plenty of sensitivity. In fact, I’d say the gimbal mount on the tone arm is the highlight of this turntable.
Set up is easy, but I disagree with the instructions. I think you should balance the tone arm before you put the platter on. Since you have to balance the arm with the stylus guard off, having the platter off makes it impossible the stylus will get damaged hitting the platter. The cue system keeps the stylus off the plinth top, so if you can manage to keep the cartridge from bashing into the center spindle, you’re good.
I took out my vintage turntable and placed this table in its place. Things started out fine, but as soon as the music came up in volume, a very loud 60 Hz hum took over. 60 Hz hum means open ground, right? But no, it was only while the needle was dropped. Turns out bass was causing my cabinet top to vibrate like mad causing a low frequency feedback. That’s clearly the fault of my set-up and not the turntable. But my point is, I never knew I had this problem with my vintage table. It could filter out these vibrations. Still it could be that the cabinet resonated at just the right frequency to match the resonate frequency of the LP5’s plinth—a perfect storm. I found another place for the LP5 to sit and that solved the feedback problem.
I put my vintage TT back on the vibrating cabinet. I just happen to have a very old, but little used Audio-Technica AT71E cartridge mounted in a head shell for my vintage table. Some consider the AT71E a predecessor to the AT95E, the cartridge the AT95Ex is based on. Sort of the AT95Ex’s great grandfather. (The AT-95Ex is the cartridge this turntable comes with.) I put the AT71E in my Philips and had a good-old A/B comparison. I know it’s not a perfect test, but it’s the best I can do without reinstalling and realigning cartridges.
Cut to the results; the LP5 sounds bad.
OK, that may be a bit harsh. In isolation, the LP5 with the 95Ex cartridge deliver a well-balanced sound with extended highs and thumping bass. But when compared to my 40 year-old turntable, the highs sound dirty and slurred. The LP5/95Ex has more bass, but it’s muddy. It’s the difference between hearing a bass guitar note and hearing the bassist plunk the string. It’s not subtle.
It could be that the AT-95Ex is a terrible cartridge, but I doubt it. Audio-Technica has a solid reputation for making budget phono cartridges that perform well beyond their price points. The AT-95E that the AT95Ex is based on is one of the best reviewed cartridges on NeedleDoctor.com, a high-end turntable web store.
I blame runaway resonances. If you’re playing a record on the LP5 and tap your finger nail on the record’s label you get the thunk you’d expect. If you make the same tap anywhere on the LP5’s cabinet, you get a much louder thunk—like ’override your music’ loud. It’s like the stylus and the cabinet are deliberately sonically coupled. Whether you tap on the top, sides, front, back or on the dust cover hinge sockets, every slight disturbance is transmitted straight through the speakers. Why does that matter? It means the entire cabinet and dust cover are essentially a giant microphone diaphragm feeding sound back through the cartridge.
The LP5 is sensitive to vibrations from the platform it’s sitting on, too. If you tap your fingernail on the tabletop beside this turntable you get a thunk almost as loud as when you tap the plinth itself. I guess those great big feet that look like isolators are just for show. When my dog’s wagging tail brushed the leg of the table the LP5 was sitting on, the stylus danced several grooves forward. I had forgotten this could happen.
I had to go back and listen again several times, thinking I just had to be mistaken. Recheck the tracking force, I must have done something wrong. But listening to a record on my vintage table after playing it on the LP5, it was like hearing it in focus again. Keep in mind my vintage table was still sitting on the vibrating cabinet. I tried different records, I tried the phono out as well as the built-in preamp. I did not try the USB out or the Audacity software.
Using headphones with the speakers off helped, but didn’t entirely cure the problem.
The “anti-resonance, die cast platter” is a lightweight platter that has an inner rim for a belt drive and appears to be the same platter used for the $99 AT-LP60. As for being “anti-resonance,” I double dog dare you to find ANYTHING in your house that rings louder or longer when pinged. The platter is also either a tiny bit warped or the spindle hole isn’t quite square so the rim bobs up and down a tiny bit. Likewise, the rubber mat is slightly off-center. If you’re watching the edge of the platter while your record plays you see up-down, in-out, up-down, in-out. It’s not enough to affect play, but damn! This is a $450 turntable!
This turntable broke my heart. What happened, Audio-Technica? No company knows audio like you do. No company makes better cartridges. Yet this table “constructed of anti-vibration damping materials” shakes like a chihuahua on speed. You claim the “heavy mass metal chassis inserts” make the LP5 “a class leader in limiting low-frequency acoustical feedback.” Yet this table damn near blew out my woofers with, well, low frequency feedback. Did you just send a picture of a 70’s DD turntable to your Chinese manufacturing partner and say “Make one of these?” Shame on you for this deck! But I still love your cartridges.
If pristine sound is your thing, avoid this deck.