Described as a DJ turntable, the new AT-LP140XP deck arrives with the new AT-XP3 cartridge. Paul Rigby reviews both
Audio-Technica’s ATLP120USB (£289) is a popular target for those looking to purchase a budget direct drive turntable. It offers Technics-type stylings and operation at a low price. Now it has been joined by a more expensive brother, the AT-LP140XP.
Both the ATLP120USB and AT-LP140XP are aimed at the DJ community. Despite that fact, the 120 has always been a part of audiophile demo lists. I expect the 140 to occupy the same lists, hence the reason for this review.
The 140, like the 120, provides the usual DJ tools. On the 140, you’ll find a platter strobe/light, forward/reverse operation, variable pitch control and retractable light.
The AT-LP120USB offers a built-in phono amplifier and USB port for vinyl ripping. Ideal, if you’re short of cash. The inclusion of these accessories also adds a measure of veiling noise to the sound of the 120. The AT-LP140XP gives you none of that. This enhances the AT-LP140XP’s inherent audiophile aspirations although those DJ accessories will negate that aim to some extent because those features will also inject a measure of noise into the signal. What the hi-fi gods give with one hand, they take away with another.
In place of the USB port and the Phono amp switch on the rear of the 120, the 140 offers a meaty IEC power socket. This means that the kettle lead supplied with the 140 can be upgraded to something sonically superior. I would heartily recommend that you do so. External phono cables are supplied with the 140 to slot into the rear-mounted sockets, sitting next to the Ground knob. Again, I would recommend upgrading these cables too.
Like the 120, the 140 gives you a choice of three speeds, including 78rpm. The 78rpm option is not immediately obvious but can be selected by pressing both the 33 and 45 buttons simultaneously. The 140 includes ‘Tempo range’ buttons. Here, you can select +/-8 or 16% ‘tempo’ range. +/-24% is selected by pressing both the +/-8% and 16% buttons simultaneously. You may be surprised to learn that, apart from use as a gimmicky DJ tool, this option is useful for dedicated 78 users who know that 78rpm discs rarely run exactly at 78rpm. Different record labels cut their discs at different speeds. For example, British-made Columbias tended to be recorded at a speed between 78 and 81rpm, those made in America often played correctly at 76 or 77rpm. And that’s not the half of it. Hence, this option will be of great use to ’78’ fans.
The S-shaped arm on both the 120 and 140 looks the same and includes an attendant anti-skate wheel, arm lift, secure arm rest clip plus the useful wheel at the base of the arm to change the arm’s height.
I had a quick chat with Audio-Technica about this turntable who confirmed that the LP140XP features a different motor to the AT-LP120X. One with higher torque.
The new AT-XP3 cartridge is a DJ-specific design with a conical stylus tip that features a V-Mount dual magnet construction, carbon fibre-reinforced ABS cantilever and nylon wire suspension. It is built for excellent tracking, manual cueing and back-cueing. It’s attached to the tonearm via a standard, SME-type screw-on connector and arrives attached to an Audio-Technica AT-HS6BK headshell.
The other difference between the 140 and 120 is the plinth. The 140’s plinth is deeper in size and feels more robust and heavier. In fact, the 140’s plinth is a full 2kg heavier.
The reason? According to Audio-Technica, “The construction of the LP140 is more damped, which reduces feedback and colouration from low frequency sounds.”
The 140 arrives with a cover but, if sound quality is a priority, I would recommend removing it before play to eradicate the inherent vibrations you get from it and the hinges. Loosely place the cover over the turntable when you’re not using it. Finally thumbs up to the platter on the 140 which includes a damping material underneath to reduce ringing.
The 140 is a mature 120. Grown up, rather serious and better built but it retains its DJ aspirations.
OK, busy sound test for this turntable, so let’s crack on.
First up, I wanted to compare the 140 with a similar (yet cheaper) turntable so chose the Lenco L3808. Why not Audio-Technica’s 120? Because the Lenco is one of the very best sub-budget (i.e. below £200) turntables on the market and received an award-winning review from myself. It’s proven and dominates its own market sector. The Lenco also offers a similar chassis layout to the 140 but lower quality build and cheaper components. The 140 looks like a Rolls Royce version of the Lenco L-3808, in other words. Like the 140, the Lenco is also direct drive and features a stylus with a conical tip. So there’s many aspects of the Lenco that reflects the 140 in general terms.
As I say, the Lenco is offered at a much lower price point so the 140 should be sonically superior.
Once slight Lenco wrinkle. The cartridge on the Lenco is supposed to be set with a 3g tracking force but I changed that to 2g a long time ago because I found the sound improved when I initiated that particular change. There’s parallels with the 140 on that front. We’ll get to that further below.
First off, a straight A-B comparison using King Crimson’s LP and the title track to Three of a Perfect Pair (EG).
Are there differences? There are indeed. The first element of the 140 sound I noticed was the extra air and space in and around the soundstage. The midrange was not as closed in or as claustrophobic which enabled extra detail to infuse the music. Hence, the vocal featured much more nuance and hence a greater degree of emotion – and this vocal is certainly full of that. More than that, the vocal was double tracked, so the intricacy of the harmonies were also easier to tease apart.
The Fripp guitar, a complex beast at the best of times, was also easier to follow and track with is own elaborate and intricate multi-string interplay. The extra space enabled the ear to better hear the starting and stopping of notes. That is, there was less lumpen mush and more precision. The same could be said of the Bruford drumming which not only offered the first signs of organic response but also – for the first time – provided a noticeable reverb tail on cymbal splashes.
Bass was also strong, meaty, weighty and full of heft. Both from the drum kit and the bass guitar. If anything, the bass could be a bit thuggish on the 140. A bit of a brute, you might say. Effective and great for the DJ but for longterm audiophile listening, I wondered if the cartridge was over-egging things a bit. Also, if I was super critical on the midrange, I’d say that the 140 was a touch – just a touch – edgy. A bit too pronounced and emphasised. The extra air and space I mentioned above helped matters but I wondered if I could enhance the effect.
Hence, I reached for the cartridge and backed off a bit on the tracking. Tracking is essential for audiophiles but too much can push the bass too far and add stress to mids. DJs love extra tracking because it makes their jobs easier and their turntable DJ tool that much more effective. Audiophiles need tracking but not to excess. So, I pulled back on the tracking force for this cartridge and lowered it from 3g to 2g and listened.
The result was a bit of a relief, to be honest. Bass was pulled from the brink and was no longer as bloated. It remained punchy with good transient performance because of the basic direct drive motor but not headache-inducing while the midrange relaxed, leaving the detail to emerge in a naturalistic manner. Highlights now were the incisive Bruford ride cymbal, the Fripp string plucks on his rhythm guitar offered a richer and deeper tone while the Belew vocal flowed in a sincere fashion, whereas earlier the vocal could be a little forced. The final tracking force figure remains down to you. I pulled mine back to 2g but, with more time and tweaking, I might have settled on a different figure. Say, 2.2g or whatever. If you do change the tracking figure, by all means experiment to find your own sweet spot.
So what happens if you remove the cartridge altogether and replace it with an audiophile design? One aimed at sound quality instead of DJ work? In an attempt to transform the 140 into a hi-fi turntable, I installed an Ortofon 2M Red and compared that with the original configuration.
As expected, the 2M Red proved superior in sound terms with a much larger soundstage that was infused with extra space to allow further detail into the music. That music sounded almost elegant in comparison to the original Audio-Technica DJ cartridge with a new found sense of tonal realism, especially in the Fripp rhythm guitar and the Bruford drum strikes. You felt that you were nearer to the sonic truth now. The Belew vocal offered a fragile quality to it so that, when he put power behind it, you were not too sure if it would break sightly during the crescendo. Hence, there were now humanistic elements in the sound were little could be sensed beforehand. Treble offered a purer, focused response while bass naturalism was also on the rise.
In this configuration, with a 2M Red attached, I was reminded just how close the 140 was in approach and price to the Fluance RT83: another lifestyle-oriented design with audiophile pretensions.
So I used the same cartridge and headshell on both turntables and performed an A-B comparison with the two. I was fascinated to see how the 140’s direct drive mechanism would perform against the RT83’s belt-drive system. Both featured a heavy plinth and both were sonically compromised: the 140 with its DJ accessories while the RT83 has a built-in semi-automatic system.
The result was a score draw. The RT83 provided a complex midrange, layered with detail and a sense of refinement that the 140 couldn’t match. That said, the 140 was better in transient terms. The notion of notes starting and stopping on the dot. That element of precision and focus was notable with the 140. On this point, the 140 left the RT83 in its dust. Vocally, the RT83 provided a superior emotional complexity. An impassioned delivery that gave the RT83 a fragility and sensitivity. The 140 offered more life and vitality in the vocals. It provided greater energy and oomph to the vocal performance. Bass had character and an organic sense from the RT83 but greater punch and slam via the 140.
There are pros and cons for both although, with a 2M Red attached to both, the 140 is almost £100 more expensive. That value for money aspect might be the killer bottom line for many.
Having tweaked the AT-LP140XP towards a more audiophile sound I wonder how the turntable might fare against a true audiophile design, albeit one that is priced lower, at £249. The Rega RP1 is made for superior sound quality, though, without the 140’s DJ bells and whistles. It’s stripped to focus on sound and sound alone. So how did the AT-LP140XP measure up against this audiophile specialist?
I put the original DJ cartridge back onto the 140 for this test because the Rega arrives with a conical stylus tip on its cartridge.
I also changed the music to vocal jazz and Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Autumn Leaves from a Capitol Best of…
The Rega offered a lower noise presentation which enabled delicate details to come forth, it also added a relaxed and calming tone to the King delivery. The backing orchestra provided a complex and multi-layered suite of information rich in detail and maturity in its performance. There was a rich and tonally superior aspect to the Rega’s presentation. In comparison, the AT-LP140XP sounded uptight, restrictive and unsettled.
The AT-LP140XPis an admirable lifestyle design, but its not a true audiophile product. This is not a bad thing in broad terms but, if you’re interested in purchasing a AT-LP140XP, you need to understand exactly what you’re buying and why.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP140XP is not an audiophile turntable but it is an admirable lifestyle design that will please many analogue fans. It has a tough fight to establish dominance against the worthy and cheaper Fluance RT83 but there is still much to like about the AT-LP140XP. Those positive elements emanate largely from the sturdy and heavy chassis plus its direct drive mechanism. With a responsive and vital bass plus an energetic midrange performance, the AT-LP140XP is a likeable and intriguing turntable and worthy of its inclusion on your demo list.
AUDIO-TECHNICA AT-LP140XP TURNTABLE Price: £379. If the AT-XP3 is bought separately, £49.
AT-XP3 cartridge mounted on AT-HS6BK headshell, £79.
ATN-XP3 replacement stylus for AT-XP3, £25
GOOD: bass, midrange precision, easy to install, upgrade possibilities
BAD: DJ furniture, cartridge
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Lenco L-3808 turntable
Ortofon 2M Red
Trichord Dino phono amplifier
Audiolab 6000A amplifier
Spendor S3/5R speakers
Tellurium Q cabling
Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components
All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner