Attempting to read the market, for a hi-fi manufacturer, must be akin to asking a toddler what they’d like for supper.
But instead of fish finger ice cream, you’re being told we want everything to be new and old at the same time.
We want it to have an app and we want it everywhere in the house, but we also want it Instagram-ably retro, to finger through our record collection and put an album on using our hands. Got it?
Well, despite it all, Flexson actually appears to have. The VinylPlay was actually unveiled at Berlin’s IFA trade show in 2014, but has lost none of its appeal in the intervening 18 months.
Principally a turntable, its built-in phono stage and analogue-to-digital converter also allows you to connect directly to powered speakers, or, as this comes from the British specialist in accessories for Sonos, a Sonos Connect to create a remarkably flexible multi-room record player.
Combine that with a USB output for digitising all of your old LPs, and Flexson appears to have justifiably created a deck for “the music streaming generation”.
Further to the VinylPlay’s credit is its convenience: when Flexson says quick start, it means it. Everything down to the correct tracking weight for the attached cartridge – simply push the balance weight as far toward the stop point as it’ll go – is pre-set so you can be plugging in and playing your records within minutes, if not seconds.
Despite it being only so fleeting an operation, however, those few seconds are long enough to be a little disappointed by the general feel of things. It isn’t that the VinylPlay is poorly machined or manufactured, but it feels lightweight and plasticky.
That isn’t a particularly infallible barometer of sound quality, of course, nor even of a product’s lifespan, but even for only £250 we’d like something a little more tactile, something with which we could really enjoy getting up and changing the side of a record.
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Nonetheless, that is largely forgotten by the time we hear the opening phrases of Boards Of Canada’s Tomorrow's Harvest. Playing through our reference amplifier and speakers, we get an immediate sense of the rich timbres the VinylPlay is able to deliver.
Despite being so geared toward facilitating a digital experience, it is full of analogue body and warmth without sacrificing clarity or detail.
The whirring synthesizers that open Reach For The Dead, for example, are satisfyingly thick, but dig out loads of the texture giving the sound its ominous intensity.
The kick drum too is firm, but doesn’t lose its rhythmic purpose, and there remains plenty of space for the sweep and crackle to add yet more layers.
We get a nice overview of the balance as the album moves on through tracks White Cyclosa, the low-end drone holding up a delightfully solid midrange and the treble allowing the reverberating harmonics of the bell-like melody room to rise without any coarseness.
We change over to Biffy Clyro’s jagged post-hardcore masterpiece The Vertigo Of Bliss, and the longer we listen to this turntable the more certain things become apparent. First is that the VinylPlay’s talents are indiscriminate.
Songs such as With Aplomb, with its luscious strings and vocal harmonies, are bound to benefit from the solidity and warmth on offer here, but likewise there is power and impetus to offer some of Simon Neil’s screeched vocals and fuzz-drenched guitars.
But what it’s somewhat lacking, what rivals such as Rega’s RP1 or the Audio Technica AT-LP5 get better, is that ferocity and math rock awkwardness – the record’s essence, in effect.
It really appears to be a combination of rhythm and subtle dynamics, which leaves spikier tracks such as Bodies In Flight and Toys Toys Toys Choke, Toys Toys Toys lacking some of that thorniness by not quite emphasising the vital beats.
It isn’t a deficiency restricted to the achingly alternative, of course, but nor does it wholly detract from our enjoyment of the music; it is just that aspect restricting us from becoming fully immersed in the sound.
As a package, though, it is only a shade short of its fifth star.
Rega’s Award-winning RP1 quite clearly trumps the VinylPlay sonically, but once you’ve added a similarly talented phono stage you’re stretching your budget not insignificantly, and that’s without considering the latter’s USB output or the tidiness of a one-box solution.
You get all that with Audio Technica’s AT-LP5, as well as a cleaner, more rhythmic sound, but you sacrifice some of the Flexson’s warmth and body, as well as an extra £80 from your purse. So four stars seems fair.
There are compromises to be made in one area or another, but if the VinylPlay’s talents fit your needs, it comes with our hearty recommendation.
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