In France there is a literary prize named La Prix de la Page 112, in which books are judged exclusively on the value of their 112th page.
The theory is that, though we are all made very much aware you mustn’t judge a book by its cover, by the 112th page of a story it is only the best writers who’ve yet to lose interest or give up on their reader, retiring to bored prose in an effort merely to drag both parties over the finishing line.
And so it ought to follow, those who are able to write a remarkable page 112 will likely have written an altogether remarkable book. The prize has substance.
You’re well within your rights to wonder why we feel compelled to tell you this, of course, but you may also have gleaned there is a parallel to be made here.
If you’re reading this review, as it appears you must be, then we are likely in agreement a turntable, like a book, cannot be judged solely nor even principally by appearance; but that is not to say it hasn’t also its own page 112.
Build and features
It isn’t necessarily build quality, either, at least not purely in the sense of it being well manufactured or robust; it is about how it feels to use, the touch of the dial to switch between rotation speeds, the weight of the tone arm and how it glides from its rest to vinyl.
That attention to detail is what fills us with confidence before we even get round to listening to Audio Technica’s AT-LP5 turntable. Before laying that first record on its rubber-compound-crowned die-cast aluminium platter, we are expectant.
Now our point of reference here is Rega’s Award-winning RP1 turntable, but in reality these are two quite significantly different pieces of equipment.
While admittedly £100 dearer than the former, with the AT-LP5 you’re treated also to a built-in phono stage and USB output for digitising your record collection.
It’s a tidy one-box alternative to a combination of boxes that would likely leave you with less cash in your pocket if you were to add them separately to the RP1.
It isn’t so much that the playing field is sloped in one player’s favour or the other, but that they are playing for different audiences - that’s what we ought to keep in mind.
What they certainly do have in common is an emphasis on sonic ability, however, regardless of any extra technologies they’re throwing in.
To that end, you’ll notice the AT-LP5’s J-shaped tone arm, harking back to those used by Audio-Technica in the 1960s and 70s. More than a retro design quirk, the company says it is engineered to minimise tracking error.
Then there’s the AT95EX cartridge, exclusively designed for this turntable and fitted to an AT-HS10 head shell for what Audio-Technica claims is a perfect balance for its tone arm.
It’s like spying the present shaped exactly like a pirate ship on Christmas morning, promising us the rival to Rega for which we’re so eager (and that apparently inspires us to poetry), so it is with some haste we shake Nils Frahm’s live album Spaces from its sleeve.
Unlike many record players with built-in phono stage, using the AT-LP5’s is not compulsory, which hands you the advantage of being able to upgrade your system without having to upgrade your whole deck.
To begin, though, we play through the one it has already aboard.
Frahm names the first track on this record An Aborted Beginning, but it is one-and-a-half minutes in which we can already rest assured we aren’t to be disappointed. There is firstly a great sense of the setting of the recording, a combination of spacious soundstage and detail as the natural reverb is exposed.
Further hints as to that amount of detail are present in the ringing synthesized notes and, though there are more rumbling lows than this system is able to produce, there is a really nicely poised, natural balance to the sound that doesn’t want for bass.
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Says, the first proper track after the record’s false start if you like, then begins to demonstrate the AT-LP5’s brilliant understanding of rhythm.
Not only does that hypnotically bubbling synthesizer pattern time wonderfully, its rhythmic and dynamic emphasis allows the piece’s six-minute build grow rather than stagnate. It is an arrangement utterly dependent on anticipation of its climax, a task for which the Audio-Technica here is easily adept.
A similar thing could also be said of the following track, Said and Done, which for the opening minute Frahm plays on triplets of the same piano key; the AT-LP5 is dynamically versatile enough to express the intensity of each note, allowing the most simple of patterns movement rather than mere relentlessness.
Switching to an external phono stage, each aspect is evidently improved, the sound opening up even more and allowing for even more detail to be dug out of those grooves.
Yet it is the AT-LP5’s overall character we enjoy so much, something that is unchanging whether using its built-in phono stage or running through a more expensive one, so while the upgrade is an improvement, it is far from a necessity to enjoy such a talented player.
Similarly, when compared to the Rega RP1, we hear a step up in most respects, as well as a more general warmth to the sound, but it cannot detract from the AT-LP5’s musicality. Sonically, the RP1 has the edge you’d expect from a sole-purpose turntable, but when we switch back we are more than pleased to listen for the rest of the day without missing the extra detail or dynamics.
It’s because, as well as equipping you with the extra technology that for many people will prove extremely useful, Audio-Technica has what matters spot on - this is a turntable that is both a pleasure to use and to listen to.
The only way to our minds you could improve on so comprehensive a package as this is to up your budget fairly significantly.
Now you can get back to reading page 112 of all of your favourite books.
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