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 much difference between the turntables, a difference worthy of upgrading?
M.N., Coon Rapids, Minn.
A The Music Hall Classic is a fine turntable, and if you were starting from scratch then recommending it over the AT-LP120-USB is an easy call. As an upgrade, I don’t think you will hear a dramatic difference given 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 past columns I have praised the Cambridge Audio Alva TT for its enchanting sound, gorgeous finish and fine tactile feel. More than just a turntable, the Alva TT is sold as a perfectly matched system that includes a $499 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 and Cambridge Audio is to be commended for taking such a unique approach with their first turntable.
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. With the Alva TT it is plug-and-play, almost as easy as setting up a CD player.
The Alva TT has received great reviews in the audio press and was highly recommended at the original $1,699 price. Looking to increase their presence in the growing vinyl market, Cambridge Audio has set a new price of $1,199 for the Alva TT. Given that it includes a $499 cartridge, matched high-quality phono preamp and built-in Bluetooth, the value of the Alva TT at $1,199 cannot be overstated. The turntable and arm combo are probably worth that much without the included cartridge, phono preamp and Bluetooth. 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.
Given that the Alva TT is shipped in perfectly matched, “just right” form, if you want to experiment and tweak your turntable constantly you may be better served with a different platform. If you want to just enjoy the music and never feel the need to upgrade again, the Alva TT is the turntable for you. cambridgeaudio.com
If a $1,199 upgrade is not in the budget right now, I would continue to enjoy your Audio-Technica and save up until you can make the leap. It will be worth the wait.