By Don Lindich
Week 26, 2019
Q. I read your review of the $1,699 Cambridge Audio Alva TT turntable with interest as I have been looking for a high performance plug-and-play turntable package. As much as I would like to buy an Alva TT, $1,000 is my max. Is there anything else you can recommend for me?
-D.K., Washington, D.C.
A. A great turntable under $1,000 is something that has been on my mind as well. I tried a lot of turntables last year and had trouble finding anything under $1,000 that merited spending more than $499 for LP Gear’s Music Hall MMF-1.5 “The Vessel Special.” So, it was either $499 for The Vessel Special, or plan on spending over $1,000.
I finally found a turntable between $500 and $1,000 that deserves an enthusiastic endorsement. The $799 Audio-Technica AT-LP7 is something of a dark horse that came out of nowhere and won the race. Audio-Technica’s inexpensive turntables are extremely well-known, but the AT-LP7 is an audiophile model with a higher price to match. I knew it would be good, but was surprised by how very good it is in every respect.
The belt-drive AT-LP7 is much more attractive in person than in pictures. It feels solid, and the black surface of the plinth has a lovely satin sheen. The J-shaped tonearm not only looks good and performs well, it pays homage to a classic Audio-Technica tonearm that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The tinted plastic dust cover fits over the base, which I find much more convenient than a hinged dust cover. There is a 33/45 speed control and the composite platter is heavy and feels like it belongs on a much more expensive turntable. The built-in phono preamp seems perfectly adequate, if not exceptional, and has a setting for a low output moving coil. The lightweight headshell that holds the pre-mounted Audio-Technica VM530EB cartridge seems a bit insubstantial compared to the rest of the package, but other than that, the AT-LP7 is impressive and classy.
I tried the AT-LP7 with three different Audio-Technica cartridges: the included $119 VM530EB, the $329 VM740ML, and the $469 AT33EV moving coil. I much prefer the VM530EB to the Ortofon 2M Red that is often found pre-mounted on turntables in this price range. The VM530EB has a lively, warm sound with excellent tonal qualities, and I think a lot of people would be satisfied with it and not feel compelled to upgrade. My results with the AT33EV were somewhat mixed. The sound was beautiful, to be sure, but on the AT-LP7 at times it did not track as well as the other cartridges.
Undoubtedly the finest overall performer was the VM740ML. I have never heard this cartridge sound better than it did on the AT-LP7. It sounds a bit bright in my reference system, and I suspect the phono preamp of the AT-LP7 tames it a bit. Smooth, rich, musical, and transparent were all words that came to mind. If you want to upgrade the turntable I suggest the VM740ML first, and an external phono preamp later.
I have a friend who has also been wrestling with the same “how much do I spend?” dilemma for months. It has not helped that he sees a fantastic variety of turntables come and go through my home as I review them. When I told him about the AT-LP7 he came over immediately. Once he saw and heard it, he simply said, “This is the one.”