Week 21, 2017: Should I upgrade my turntable’s phono preamp? Amazon Tap speaker

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 21, 2017

Q. I read your review of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable upgraded with the LP Gear The Vessel A3SE cartridge for $349. I plan on purchasing it, but do you recommend I get an external phono preamp also? I see that the turntable has a phono preamp built-in, but some say you should get a higher quality one for better sound. Will it be a big difference?

-G.K., Cottage Grove, MN

A. There is no need to spend your money just yet. I would try the turntable with the built-in phono preamp and see how satisfied you are before upgrading. Besides, it is always nice to have an upgrade in your future to look forward to! How big of a difference you experience will depend on the quality of your amplifier and speakers.

When you do decide to upgrade, I have found that the $129 Pro-ject Phono Box DC is a perfect match for this cartridge. I have several phono preamps I use for reviewing, priced up to $800. I have not had any great urgency to try them with this cartridge as I am completely satisfied with the sound with the Phono Box DC. Besides, a $99 cartridge and an $800 phono preamp is an odd pairing, kind of like last week where I discussed using a $6,000 amplifier with a $1,100 pair of speakers. If you want to transfer your records to a computer with the better phono preamp, there is a USB version of the Phono Box for $159.

By the way, this cartridge and turntable package have been proving to be one of my most popular recommendations this year. T.W. said of The Vessel A3SE, “You were right… the Vessel A3SE sounds great! It sounds better in the Technics SL1200MK2 than our Denon 103r does.” This is high praise, given The Vessel A3Se costs $99 and the 103r costs $299. Bill of Waukesha, WI said, “At first, I was not that impressed with The Vessel, but as I listened more closely, I heard music on several albums that I had not heard before. And tonight, I played “April in Paris” by Count Basie (Verve MGV-8012.) Since I bought this album new in 1965 or 66, it has sounded like crap with other cartridges and other systems, but it sounds wonderful with The Vessel. Thanks for the recommendation!” K.P. said of the package, “This turntable seems to be top of the heap. The sounds are exactly as you described. Thank you.” Once again, hats off to lpgear.com for providing something truly exceptional that most anyone can afford.

Amazon Tap: Like the Oppo Sonica speaker featured two weeks ago, this week’s featured speaker, the $129 Amazon Tap, also offers Wi-Fi connectivity. While a competent music speaker in its own right, what really makes it stand out is the easy integration with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

When it was introduced, you had to touch a button on the speaker to activate the Alexa Voice Assistant, hence the name, “Tap.” The Tap has since been updated so you can address the speaker with the command word, “Alexa” to wake up the speaker and issue a command.

Setup is easy. Just download the Alexa app to your smartphone to add the Tap to your network. Once it is added you can visit the Alexa Skills Store on Amazon to add abilities to your speaker. Even without additional skills, the Tap and Alexa are handy in day-to-day living and it can be used to set timers and alarms when cooking or napping.