If you’re going to use a physical format for storing and listening to music, there are plenty of reasons to choose vinyl – the two most commonly trotted out are its ‘warm analogue sound’ (by audiophiles) and its ‘big artwork’ (by most of the rest of us).
Vinyl comes at a price, though, and I don’t just mean the cost of a new 180gm pressing of J Cole’s KOD (the thick end of £20, as you’re asking).
There’s the size of the format, and the subsequent storage problems it can present. And even more importantly, there’s how fiddly and needy most turntables are.
But it’s possible to complement vinyl’s olde-worlde charms with a bit of convenience and modernity. How? By investing in a Bluetooth turntable, that’s how.
By choosing a turntable fitted out with the necessary Bluetooth bits’n’bobs plus some extremely complicated analogue-to-digital processing, it’s possible to wirelessly stream vinyl as if it wasn’t a 70-year-old technology.
Here are the four best-value Bluetooth turntables you can buy. Even audiophiles are catered for.
Audio Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB (£289)
The world’s not short of wannabe Technics 1210s, but despite first impressions the new Audio Technica AT-LP120XBT-USB is no lazy knock-off. It’s an extremely well-specified direct-drive turntable with a stack of functionality – and, crucially, very agreeable sound no matter how you decide to use it.
The epically long model number refers to the fact that this turntable features aptX Bluetooth 5.0 (for wireless streaming of your vinyl to Bluetooth speakers or headphones) and a USB output (for recording vinyl to a computer). The Audio Technica also has a switchable phono stage, meaning it can slot easily into systems of all types – but there probably wasn’t room to shoehorn a reference to that into the model number too.
On top of this, the A-T can play at 33.3, 45 or 78rpm, has a pitch control, stroboscope and target light to satisfy those Superstar DJ daydreams, and comes supplied with a very decent own-brand cartridge to fit onto the S-shaped tonearm.
And no matter how you listen to it – hard-wired into a system, wirelessly to some headphones, or to the copies ripped via its USB output, the 120XBT-USB sounds the money’s-worth. It hits reasonably hard, extracts plenty of detail, and flows along naturalistically in the revered vinyl manner. It’s got a little bit of everything.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
Does everything you want a record player to do – and a stack more besides
Audio Technica LP60-XBT (£179)
Never content to leave well enough alone, Audio Technica has taken a critical look at its popular LP60-BT wireless turntable and given it the once-over. The result is this LP60-XBT – and it’s an upgrade worth waiting for.
Audio Technica has fiddled a little with the styling, upped the Bluetooth standard to aptX 5.0 and improved both tracking and resonance-rejection. The result is a turntable that feels a little lightweight and plasticky – it’s obviously built to hit a price-point – yet manages to include a phono stage, an aluminium platter, and auto stop/start and speed change. So there’s about as much convenience here as any record player ever delivered.
And if you’re new to this vinyl business, or want a deck to get you back into it, the LP60-XBT is a great place to start.
Its wireless performance is very impressive for the money – it pairs solidly and streams a balanced, even-handed sound. It’s not the punchiest turntable you ever heard, but its overall performance is better than a record player of this type, at this sort of money, has any right to be.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
Looks and feels quite like a bog-standard record player, but is a fair bit more than that
Pro-Ject Essential III BT (£319)
Pro-Ject is on a mission to ensure there’s an Essential III for every eventuality – there’s a USB version for digitally archiving vinyl, there’s a phono-stage version for use with vinyl-intolerant amplifiers, there’s a speed-change version for those who simply cannot bear to change from 33.3 to 45rpm manually.
And there’s this, the version for streaming wirelessly to a Bluetooth amp or speaker. Like every Pro-Ject turntable, the Essential III BT has it where it counts: low-resonance MDF platter and chassis, aluminium tonearm with Ortofon cartridge, DC motor for pitch stability.
Pro-Ject even chucks in some quality interconnects if (for some unaccountable reason) you want to hard-wire your turntable to your amp.
It’s simple to set up , straightforward to operate and – most important of all – sounds lushly and lavishly vinyl.
Great timing, beautifully even frequency range, enough warmth to the sound to keep thing toasty without overheating the low frequencies… It’s enough to make you forget it’s utilising Bluetooth 3.0, which must be about as old as the vinyl format itself.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
The best of both the analogue and digital worlds from a no-frills charmer
Pro-Ject Juke Box E (£369)
Every childhood home had a music centre in it – usually one the child in question wasn’t allowed to touch.
In some ways Pro-Ject’s Juke Box E is an exercise in revisiting the nostalgia of the music centre and luring in the vinyl revivalists at the same time, but – Pro-Ject being Pro-Ject – there’s a little bit more to it than that. Juke Box E is mostly a record player. But it also has 25 watts of amplification built in, as well as Bluetooth connectivity (it’s a receiver, unlike the other three transmitters in this group) and an analogue input for hard-wiring an additional source.
Just strap on some speakers and you’re good to go – all you need now are some records, and/or a music streaming app installed on your phone.
Safe to say Juke Box E sounds best when playing some vinyl – Pro-Ject has plenty of experience where these things are concerned, and Juke Box E has detail, dynamism and warmth to spare.
But it’s almost as adept with Bluetooth streaming too, and has enough in the way of insight and drive to make even tiny 128kbps Spotify files sound big and bold.
So finally we can welcome the music centre to the 21st century.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
True plug’n’play music-centre convenience without sacrificing any of the stuff that makes vinyl so enjoyable in the first place.
Cambridge Alva TT (£1500)
The words ‘audiophile’ and ‘wireless’ are seldom seen in the same sentence together, unless the words ‘cannot be’ are included too.
Audiophilia has always included a hair-shirt element, a strong suggestion of ‘no pain, no gain’. Well, Cambridge is here to demonstrate what can be achieved when you attempt to rewrite that particular rule.
The Alva TT is a sturdy, beautifully made audiophile-grade direct-drive turntable with enough going on in terms of tone-arm, moving-magnet cartridge and integrated phono stage alone to justify its price.
To make a diverting product pretty much compelling, Cambridge has added Bluetooth connectivity up to a hi-res aptX HD 24bit/48kHz quality. Which means you can wirelessly stream vinyl to your system, at a truly high-end standard, from a turntable that’s positioned somewhere you’d like it to be rather than where it insists on being.
And it’s almost a formality to report that it sounds great, with all of that lovely vinyl expertise where warmth, timing and rhythm are concerned. It looks and feels good while it’s doing it, too. Mind you, no amount of clever wireless thinking is going to stop you having to get up every 15 minutes or so to turn the record over.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
Wireless audiophile performance from a brilliant record player – it’s like witchcraft, but in a good way
Sony PS-LX310BT (£199)
Short of deciding on the records you listen to, the Sony PS-LX310BT does as much as it can to make your turntable experience as simple and effortless as possible.
The matte-black plinth has controls for stop/start, arm up/down, 7in/12in selection, 33.3/45rpm and Bluetooth pairing. Around the back, just to one side of the hard-wired stereo RCA cables and mains lead, there’s a switch to turn the integrated phono stage on or off. The tonearm has a cartridge and stylus attached, the tracking weight is set. The beginning and the end of manual, hands-on set-up consists of putting the drive belt on the aluminium platter around the motor pulley.
The Sony’s phono stage is pretty good but, let’s face it, you didn’t buy a 310BT to use a load of wires. Much easier to connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to an amp or powered speaker, and all the better to hear the Sony’s balanced, quite detailed and impressively dynamic sound. It’s not the last word in fine detail, but it’s an energetic and likeable listen.
Stuff says: ✭✭✭✭✭
Not the most glamorous product in Sony’s catalogue, but among the most effective