By Don Lindich
Week 12, 2017
Q. After a hiatus of many years I am ready to start listening to my vinyl record collection again, and hopefully digitize many albums to my computer, too. I have a very old Panasonic turntable that isn’t working properly and would replace it with something I can hopefully hook up to my computer as well as my sound system. What would you recommend if I do not want to spend more than $400 to $500?
-J.O., Atlantic City, NJ
A. have a great recommendation for you, along with a background story to go with it.
One of my personal regrets is that most readers don’t get a chance to experience how good vinyl really can be. Most turntables I recommend in the column sell for under $500 because that is where most of the public is shopping. While these turntables can certainly sound very good and bring a lot of enjoyment, they are limited in their ability to bring out the musical magic hidden in the grooves of a vinyl record. To bring that magic to the forefront you typically need a fairly expensive cartridge, which usually means a fairly expensive turntable to go with it.
That has changed with LP Gear’s The Vessel A3SE cartridge, which I mentioned in a recent column. It is only $99 (or $138 pre-mounted in a headshell) and though it lacks some detail and fullness compared to more expensive cartridges, even with these sins of omission I prefer it in many cases. I’ve described it as having, “sound that is silky-smooth, rich, clean, precise and detailed, with beautiful tonality from deepest bass to highest treble.” Flowery words aside, it just plain sounds good and has that magic that keeps you coming back for more. Over the months I reviewed it I came to consider it a ringer that is many orders of magnitude better than any $99 cartridge I tried before. I even brought in some other experienced vinyl listeners to hear the cartridge so they could express their opinions and hopefully confirm my findings. Everyone agreed that it sounds surprisingly great for $99.
I’ve tried the cartridge with some very expensive as well as very affordable turntables and while it clearly sounds better on the higher-end turntables, you don’t need a fancy rig for the cartridge to sing. It mates beautifully with affordable Japanese direct-drive turntables, delivering a musically engaging performance that belies the total price. LP Gear has apparently caught on to this and now offers the cartridge in an affordable, turnkey turntable package.
For $349 you get the popular Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable, an upgraded platter mat and The Vessel A3SE cartridge pre-installed and properly aligned for optimal performance. I think for a lot of people it could be their first and last turntable, and it will be easy and inexpensive to keep running, too. There is no belt to replace, and when the stylus wears out the replacement is only $79 and it plugs right in without any mounting or alignment hassles. The turntable has a built-in phono preamp for use with any sound system and a USB connection for transferring records to your computer. The performance and flexibility of this package can’t be beat for $349 and I am excited to tell readers about it, knowing it will lead to the same kind of musical enjoyment I experience every day, but in their own homes at an affordable price.