By Don Lindich
Week 24, 2019
Q. How do I know if turntable technology has progressed to the point where I should invest in something new? I have a 1980s Revox B791 turntable and a 1970s AR turntable, both with Shure V15 cartridges. Both still work great and sound great. Has turntable technology surpassed what I have, and at what price point?
-G.R., San Jose, CA
A. Knowing your very fine vintage equipment and the current marketplace, you would have to spend upwards of $1,500 for a turntable upgrade that will make you stand up and take notice.
Unlike digital components like CD players and streaming media players, there is a tremendous amount of variation with vinyl record playback equipment. Besides the sonic differences, high-end vinyl components have to be carefully matched to each other for them to perform well together. I once wrote a web feature where I said that one of the positive aspects about turntables and vinyl records is you can continually tweak your system and try new things to improve the sound. I then said that one of the negative aspects about turntables and vinyl records is you can continually tweak your system and try new things to improve the sound. It is very easy to get caught up in a continuous upgrade path that never ends.
The easiest way I know to get world-class sound quality from vinyl without fussing over component matching is the $1,699 Cambridge Audio Alva TT. It has a pre-mounted high output moving coil cartridge, a built-in phono preamp, and both wired and Bluetooth connections. Setting it up and connecting it is about as easy as a CD player.
When I first read about the Alva TT and saw it at trade shows, I was a little bit skeptical despite the manufacturer’s fine reputation and the product’s impressive appearance and jewel-like build quality. All-in-one turntable packages with pre-mounted cartridges, a built-in phono preamp and Bluetooth tend to be the domain of entry level gear, and when an audiophile spends $1,699 on a turntable they typically like to choose their own phono preamp and cartridge. Perhaps they had limited the product’s appeal by packaging it all as a single piece.
When I finally tested the Alva TT at home I realized the brilliance of the concept and the impressive execution. The turntable, arm, cartridge and phono preamp are absolutely perfectly matched to each other. This is the first time I have ever experienced pristine, world-class high-end sound from a plug-and-play turntable package. The Alva TT’s sound is beguiling and sweet, with quiet backgrounds and a dynamic quality that makes the music come alive. It is also very forgiving of dusty or damaged records. I would not change a thing.
The beautiful sound, unmatched convenience and premium quality construction make the Cambridge Audio Alva TT a high-end bargain at $1,699, especially since the included cartridge sells for $499 alone. Besides, if you buy the Alva TT it is like buying at least two turntables because it can play in more than one place. When I tested it I connected the wired output to my amplifier and the Bluetooth to an UPstage 360 speaker in my bedroom, so I enjoyed it in two rooms without moving it around. Lots of other reviewers are singing the praises of the Alva TT, and lpgear.com posted a nice summary of other reviews on their Alva TT page if you want to read more. LP Gear also has the best deal, I have seen on the Alva TT as they include a $99 Achromat platter mat as part of the $1,699 price.
I don’t need one, but I’m probably going to buy one.