Aimed at budget users, the AT-LP5x, fully manual lifestyle turntable offers a host of built-in features
Having recently reviewed the company’s direct-drive AT-LP140XP turntable, pitched at almost the same price, I was intrigued to get my hands on the fully manual but also direct-drive LP5x. In many ways, this review of the LP5x is a sort of Part 2 to that earlier piece. The AT-LP5x is almost a companion, although its aimed at a different type of customer. There’s still a familiar DNA oozing from the seams here from both turntables. though.
Ever been burgled? Thoroughly burgled? Where your room has been all but emptied out by the rotters? Where the furniture has been carted off, all your ornaments and accessories nabbed and even the carpets rolled up and shouldered to a waiting Transit?
That’s what the AT-LP5x feels like in comparison to a AT-LP140XP.
Gone is the 140’s DJ furniture, missing is the 140’s strobe around the edge of the platter, while the relatively complex trio of power switch, speed switch and RPM selector on the 140 has been reduced to a single control on the AT-LP5x.
Effectively, the surface of the AT-LP5x plinth provides a single, rotating knob which infuses the deck with power and selects the speed (there’s three of those, including 78rpm). The J-shaped arm is the same, though. It features an anti-skate wheel, a SME-type headshell connector, arm lift and arm clip to keep the arm tube secure in case of accidental knocks.
The LP5x plinth is basically the same size as the 140’s in terms of length and width but the LP5x provides a deeper structure by around 1.5cm. Nevertheless, the LP5x’s plinth is lighter. The 140’s weighs in at 10kg, the LP5x’s at 7.3kg.
Part of the reason is that the 140 includes a large power supply, built into the chassis whereas the LP5x expels its power supply as a wall wart. This also means that the meaty IEC mains cable of the 140 is replaced by a weedy LP5x wall wart-type wire. This is not necessarily an issue – just ask Italy’s Gold Note which relies on a similar system. Then again, Gold Note spends serious cash on adapting the wall wart system for audiophile benefit. There’s no build budget for that sort of shenanigans here.
The LP5x features a basic aluminium platter which doesn’t look a patch on the 140’s rather swish design, while the latter is fitted with damping materials. The LP5x also has a horribly cheap rubber mat a-top instead of the better fabric mat of the 140.
But, hang on. If the LP5x does without in all of these things, why is it still priced at £350? Where has the money been spent, then?
The answer to that can be seen around the back. The LP5x is a lifestyle design and no mistake because the rear shows sockets for its built-in MM/MC phono amp (there’s none of that on the 140). The LP5x also offers a USB port (supporting up to 16bit/48kHz) for potential vinyl ripping (again, that’s missing on the 140).
Each Audio-Technica turntable is the sum of its build budget. Each was has been limited by the same and you can see where the priorities of both reside. The 140 prioritises its DJ tool use while the LP5x is a purely lifestyle affair.
Hanging off the end of the LP5x’s arm is a AT-HS6 headshell and a black AT-VM95E Dual Moving Magnet cartridge.
The included AT-VM95E replaces and improves upon the older, classic AT-95E which has been around the hi-fi firmament for decades. If you get the choice, I’d go for the former. Sound is improved and music sounds a little more sophisticated through the VM. More than that, you can upgrade the cartridge by swapping a better quality stylus into the host cartridge body. This means that, if you want to play 78s on the LP5x, you don’t have to change the entire cartridge. You only have to buy a new 78rpm stylus and insert that instead. Which saves you cash and set-up time on a wholly new cartridge.
Oh and before I forget, The turntable includes a dust cover, if required.
And before I move on. How does the LP5X compare to the LP5? The LP5X arrives with several changes over the vanilla LP5 including the integration of 78rpm for all of those shellac heroes out there plus the inclusion of the latest AT-VM95E cartridge, which replaces the venerable AT-95E. There’s a change of headshell too. The built-in power supply of the original has been kicked outside the plinth to a wall wart while the power switch is now integrated within the speed selector and the built-in phono amp adds a moving coil option (although, for a turntable of this class and price point, I wouldn’t bother with it – the LP5X is not up to MC standards). I do like the fact that Audio-Technica has put some distance between the USB and Phono Amp outputs which will help a it to reduce high frequency noise
To kick off the sound tests, I thought that a direct comparison with Audio-Technica’s own AT-LP140XP would be more than apt.
The internal LP5x phono amplifier is ok if your budget doesn’t stretch to an external model (the LP5x can handle both with a flick of a switch on the rear) and will do for now but upgrade to an external model as soon as you can to enhance sonics.
To compare the LP5x with the 140, though, I used the same external phono amplifier and played records by Ella Fitzgerald (Ella Sings Broadway) and Jethro Tull (Under Wraps).
During the review, I used the same AT-VM95E cartridge on both turntables. The 140’s bundled AT-XP3 cartridge is an ideal DJ tool but I’d recommend it be swapped over for a AT-VM95E to enhance sound quality. Hence, this little modification to the 140 is a route I’d highly recommend. Although, by adding the new cartridge, you’re now looking at a 140 turntable at just over £420, which needs to be born in mind, in the final analysis.
Playing Tull, I noted that the 140 offered tighter and deeper bass. Percussion and bass guitar provided more heft and mass. This has got a lot to do with the large power supply, the density of the 140’s plinth and the platter damping. Bass was also focused and precise.
That’s not to say that bass was absent from the LP5x. By no means. This is still a direct drive turntable, don’t forget. There was plenty of bass information flying around here and bass, from the LP5x, was certainly described well. Percussion and bass guitar were lifted or embossed from the rear of the soundstage, proving plenty of detail. The latter, actually, is where the LP5x scored over the 140. There was much more space around the midrange and treble which allowed detail to infuse the upper frequencies. Cymbal hits were tonally more complex, reverb tails extended further than the 140. A shy acoustic guitar on the Fitzgerald track was easy to track on the LP5x while the piano, which played a sort of rhythm guitar role on this song, was both richer in terms of information and more transparent via the LP5x.
Despite the inclusion of noisy (in high frequency terms) built-in phono amp and USB port, the fact that the LP5x does not have 57 varieties of DJ furniture on its plinth reduces even more high frequency noise and vibration. The result for the LP5x is a turntable offering greater clarity and character. OK, it doesn’t root itself into a wholly bass-lead foundation but, instead, it’s lighter on its feet and more reactive. The LP5x provides a better balanced suite of sonics than the 140.
In effect, as I write these words, the LP5x sounds a bit like Fluance’s RT83. So I decided to compare the two to see how much they compared. The Fluance is basically the same price as the LP5x but the Fluance does feature the superior Ortofon 2M Red but is the Red enough to blow the LP5x away?
If you flick back to my review of the 140, you’ll also find a comparison between the 140 and the RT83. The differences between the LP5x and the RT83, though, are no where near as great. With the LP5x in the seat, the picture is more complex because the LP5x brings far more information to the party than the 140.
Comparing the LP5x to the RT83, the RT83 does win out in some areas. The upper mids exhibit a great focus and precision. The transients are superior too. That is, the effect of a note starting and stopping. That portion of the sonic spectrum is more accurate from the RT83. The LP5x was able to land plenty of blows of its own, though. First, the LP5x was slightly more informative in the midband. While the LP5x lacked a little focus, its midrange was a touch more incisive, delivering slightly more information. The acoustic guitar on the Fitzgerald track was more characterful from the LP5x while the piano provided enhanced clarity.
On the Tull LP, the LP5x provided more control in the bass region and added refinement and complexity in the lower frequencies. In short, although the RT83 gave a tighter and more accurate account of the midrange, the LP5x was better balanced in terms of overall tonality providing great finesse and information.
Let’s put the LP5x in perspective. It’s a lifestyle turntable. It’s not a pure audiophile product. It can’t compete on pure sonic terms when faced with similarly priced competition from Rega and Pro-Ject but then the latter doesn’t offer a built-in phono amp or a USB ripping port and they’re both useless if your a direct drive fan. The LP5x provides all three. That’s the point of the LP5x. It caters for a particular vinyl fan. Someone looking for a combination of sound quality and convenience.
Don’t forget, if you wish, you can tweak the turntable too. Look to add damping underneath the platter, isolation feet under the plinth, a stabiliser over the spindle, a better platter mat, also think about Origin Live’s Cartridge Enabler and more over time, when you have the cash and you’ll experience improved sound each time.
If you are on a tight budget and you can’t immediately afford an external phono amplifier or – for space reasons – you’d rather use the internal model anyway, then the LP5x is ideal. If you want to rip your vinyl to digital files, the LP5x is ideal, if you like the idea of the hot-swapping headshell, the LP5x is ideal. If you like the stylus-upgrade notion from the cartridge, the LP5x is ideal. If you want a top class, low cost, quality direct drive turntable that provides an admirable tonal balance with confident bass to boot, the the LP5x is ideal. Get my drift?
AUDIO-TECHNICA LP5x TURNTABLE
GOOD: lifestyle facilities, balanced sound output, admirable midband detail, controlled bass
BAD: in lifestyle terms, nothing
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