As Record Store Day celebrates its 15th year in 2023, it’s gratifying to see vinyl still in healthy shape, with record-breaking vinyl sales (thanks, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles) and new record players regularly hitting the shelves.
Audio Technica’s AT-LPW50BTRW is one such new turntable, offering an appealing combination of features – a belt drive turntable with built-in phono stage and Bluetooth streaming – to appeal to a wide audience, regardless of their experience with vinyl.
There’s plenty of competition at this price from the likes of Rega, Pro-Ject, Dual and Sony, but Audio Technica has a knack for manufacturing modern turntables with hi-fi flourishes that look and sound great. Can this AT-LPW50BTRW stand out from the crowd?
Build & design
This is a smart-looking turntable with instant shelf appeal. The rosewood finish looks appealing and the build quality is fantastic. Every element of the deck – from the electronic speed change dial to the carbon fibre tonearm and the hydraulically damped lift control – feels of a high standard. We wish there was a little less play in the tonearm’s bearing, but otherwise this is a well-made, nicely designed deck that’s a joy to use.
This should be no surprise. Having celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, Audio Technica has a proven record in making great turntables (the five-star AT-LP5x is a prime example) and the AT-LPW50BTRW continues the tradition. It certainly feels better finished than the similarly-priced Dual CS418, and is head and shoulders above the more budget (and very budget-feeling) Bluetooth-toting Sony PS-LX310BT.
It’s not quite a plug-and-play turntable if you’re a vinyl newbie; there’s some assembly and set-up required before you can start spinning your records. The die-cast aluminium platter, belt, cartridge headshell and counterweight all need to be fitted. Luckily, Audio Technica provides all the instructions in the box to guide you through the process. We set the tracking force (at the recommended 2g for the pre-fitted AT-VM95e moving magnet cartridge) using a cartridge tracking force gauge, and make sure the deck is placed on a level and stable hi-fi rack.
The adjustable feet help to ensure the turntable is perfectly level on the surface, and all the required cables are handily provided as well. The deck is fuss-free to use once it’s all set up, and we find ourselves playing record after record with ease during testing.
The AT-LPW50BTRW has the added bonus of a phono preamp built-in, making the deck and your system neater with fewer boxes in the mix. However, you can, if you wish, bypass the internal phono stage to use either a separate external phono stage or the one in a stereo amplifier. As with the detachable cartridge headshell, it’s good of Audio Technica to offer users the choice and a potential upgrade path at this price point.
Bluetooth streaming is the other big feature bonus in the AT-LPW50BT and we like the convenience it offers. Not only can you pair it with compatible Bluetooth headphones for night-time listening without disturbing neighbours, but you can also connect it directly to a Bluetooth speaker (or a wireless active pair) – which is handy if you don’t have a traditional stereo speakers system at home.
Type Belt drive
Speeds 33⅓, 45
Speed change Electronic
Cartridge AT-VM95E moving magnet
Phono stage? Yes
Bluetooth? Yes (5.2, SBC)
Dimensions (hwd) 12.6 x 42 x 34cm
Weight 5.5 kg
Finishes x1 (rosewood)
We do run into issues with Bluetooth pairing though, which can be hit-and-miss when we try to connect the turntable with a wide variety of headphones. We found that if you have multiple Bluetooth devices in the same room as the AT-LPW50BT (which is increasingly commonplace for most people), it will try to connect to those devices instead of the one you want it to. After a lot of trialling and turning off every Bluetooth kit in our listening room (including our reference music streamer), the AT-LPW50BT did finally connect to the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones (but not the Apple AirPods Max) and the Sonos Era 100 speaker.
You’ll have to re-pair every time the connection is broken (for instance, when you pair the headphones with your smartphone again), but it is stable when it works. We can see many opting for this combination of the Audio Technica turntable and, say, the Sonos Era 100 (a single or stereo pair) as their main sound system. It’s convenient, attractive and takes up much less space (and costs less) than a full stereo hi-fi system.
As long as the headphones or speaker you’re pairing it to are of decent performance quality, the streamed vinyl playback will also sound good. The Bluetooth used in this deck is the standard version (no aptX HD like on the more expensive Cambridge Audio Alva decks) and it sounds solid, evenly balanced and nicely detailed compared to other Bluetooth turntables we’ve heard.
The same can be said for this Audio Technica deck overall: it has a smooth tone with no obvious hard or flabby edges, there are ample detail levels, and there’s a sprightly energy no matter the genre of music played.
Spin Alice in Chains’ MTV Unplugged record and the AT-LPW50BT does a great job of bringing out the crunchy, sludgy textures of the guitar and fuzzy bass. The deck delivers enough clarity and subtlety to relay the tonal differences between Layne Staley’s nasal-edged, emotionally-charged vocals and Jerry Cantrell’s softer, more melodious singing. There’s a good sense of rhythm that drives the songs along and, while it could be more precise and punctual, it’s a hugely likeable presentation that’s comfortable to listen to.
Switch to Tom Waits’ Foggy Night live set and the atmosphere changes to a more intimate one, his wry vocals soaked in whiskey and smoke coming through clearly as he chats in between songs.
Move to a classical piece such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and the deck opens up, offering a great impression of the orchestra’s larger scale and impact. it also shows the Audio Technica deck will shine with better-quality recordings and vinyl pressings.
Yes, it could be more expressive. The AT-LPW50BT is by no means the last word in subtle detail, and dynamic shifts could be handled with more gusto and authority. Timing and drive are perfectly enjoyable when spinning Four Tet’s There Is Love In You album, with the Audio Technica deck prioritising an easy-going approach over a fully faithful, transparent rendering of a song. We’ve heard greater accuracy, precision and punch from the terrific Rega Planar 1 Plus, which combines the multiple award-winning Planar 1 turntable with a five-star phono stage built-in (but no Bluetooth).
The internal phono stage of the AT-LPW50BT is a decent one for this level, but for fun, we plug the deck into our reference Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2, and the sound is significantly more solid and composed. Firstly, this showed us just how proficient the base AT-LPW50BT deck is to begin with. Secondly, it showed the impact an external phono stage can make over the built-in one. If you’re able to, consider adding a budget-friendly standalone option such as Rega’s Fono MM A2D or the Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM to boost the Audio Technica deck’s sound-quality chops further.
If you can forego the Bluetooth streaming element, the Rega Planar 1 Plus package is decidedly the better turntable and also cheaper if buying in the UK – it costs £385 ($725 in the US) compared to the AT-LPW50BT’s £420 ($499).
But there’s something to be said for the combination of convenient features, appealing design and easy-going sound that this Audio Technica deck offers. Only the knowledge of the Rega’s more capable sound and the Bluetooth pairing issues stops this deck from getting the full five stars.
- Sound 4
- Build 5
- Features 5
Read our review of the Rega Planar 1 Plus
Also consider the Dual CS 418
Read our Sony PS-LX310BT