Tag Archives: vinyl

U-Turn Audio Orbit Basic Turntable Review

Fun fact: 2014 is the first year since 1996 that over a million vinyl albums were sold.

We aren’t going to argue the merits for vinyl over digital or vice-versa (future blog post, perhaps), but we know a lot of people who purchase Klipsch speakers have a great affinity for listening to music “the old way.”

With this mini-revolution in sales, companies across the world have been quick to pedal products to support this revitalized medium. Of course, that means a lot of these products (we won’t name names) are not quite up to snuff and we wouldn’t recommend them with our speakers.

Peter Maltzan, Bob Hertig and Ben Carter founded U-Turn Audio as a Kickstarter project in 2014 “to make great vinyl listening simple and more affordable.”

Starting with a modest goal of $60,000, the three “vinyl lovers” saw a remarkable demand, almost quadrupling their target by finishing their Kickstarter with $233,940.

So, does U-Turn Audio live up to its mission AND deliver on quality? Read on…

U-Turn Orbit White Turntable

FEATURES

U-Turn has two options in its turntable lineup. At $179, there is the Orbit Basic and for $299, there is the Orbit Plus.

Both turntables are belt-driven and employ moving magnet (MM) cartridges with the Orbit Plus utilizing a higher-end cartridge from Grado Labs. More expensive turntables may use moving coil cartridges and may require a more expensive phono pre-amp, but MM cartridges are standard for recreational use.

One of the other key differences between the two models is that the Orbit Plus has an acrylic platter while the Orbit Basic uses a MDF one. The former will have better speed consistency and tighter bass according to U-Turn.

There are a couple features missing that you may find in more expensive turntables such as automation and programming but the company isn’t pretending to take on that market quite yet.

For the rest of this review we will be focusing on the Orbit Basic model, as it is the one we have put through the paces at Klipsch HQ.

Full lists of specifications and features for both versions are below.

Orbit Basic

Features Specs In the box
Unipivot tonearm Dimensions: 5 x 17 x 13″ Orbit turntable
MM cartridge (Audio-Technica CN5625AL) Weight: 11 lbs Dust cover
Fully manual belt-drive W&F: 0.175% (WTD) Drive belt
Two speed pulley (33/45) S/N ratio:  -79 dBA Felt mat
24V Synchronous motor Rumble: -63 dBA AC adapter
Machined MDF plinth Power supply 115V/60Hz Shielded RCA cables
Vibration damping feet 24V synchronous motor Setup guide

Orbit Plus

Features Specs In the box
Unipivot tonearm Dimensions: 5 x 17 x 13″ Orbit turntable
MM cartridge (Grado Black1) Weight: 12.5 lbs Dust cover
Fully manual belt-drive W&F: 0.125% (WTD) Drive belt
Two speed pulley (33/45) S/N ratio:  -79 dBA Felt mat
Machined MDF plinth Rumble: -63 dBA AC adapter
Precision acrylic platter Power supply 115V/60Hz Shielded RCA cables
Vibration damping feet 24V synchronous motor Setup guide

SETUP

Setting up a turntable (like speakers) can sometimes feel daunting but U-Turn Audio has really made it a cinch with the Orbit Basic.
Place the platter over the spindle, plug in the power cord, slide the plastic shield on, and then attach the belt by wrapping it around the pulley and then the platter. After that, plug the included cable into your receiver or phono pre-amp (which we attached to our Klipsch Reference II Bookshelf Speakers – currently on sale) and you’re good to go!

Simple enough, right? This is about as easy as it comes.

The tracking force does not need to be calibrated as the Orbit Basic (and the Orbit Plus) comes optimized for its included cartridge. You do have the option to upgrade your cartridge

If this sound confusing to you, U-Turn includes helpful instructions with videos on its website.

U-Turn Orbit Basic Turntable Black


DESIGN

The Orbit Basic is quite beautiful in a minimalistic sense. There are no unnecessary materials or “gee whiz” design flourishes that detract from its design. It really is something we would place anywhere in the home or office and it wouldn’t look out of place. Perhaps the greatest compliment we can give it is that it looks way more expensive than it really is.

Both the Orbit Basic and Orbit Plus come in black, white, green or blue. We went with the black version because we are Klipsch after all. (How cool would it be to have a black and copper version?!)

One of our favorite parts of U-Turn’s offerings is that the speakers are assembled by hand in the United States, much like our own Heritage Speakers. Assembly occurs in their Woburn, Massachusetts workshop, just a few miles away from Boston. The majority of parts also come from within the country as the acrylic platters are turned in Ohio and plinths find their way from Minnesota.

Combined with U-Turn’s one year warranty, we really feel like these turntables are something you will use (and love) for quite some time.

SOUND QUALITY

So far, we’ve concluded that the Orbit Basic is affordable, easy to setup and boasts a quality build, but how does it sound?

Pretty darn good.

We tested out the turntable with a variety of albums from Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around to a more recent album like Sam Smith’s You’re Not the Only One.

The Orbit Basic really helped deliver a sound experience that we enjoyed and complimented our entire product range. It boasts a beautiful, warm analog sound with crisp highs and good definition.

We played the albums through a variety of speakers including the Klipsch Reference R-15M bookshelf speakers, Reference RB-61 II bookshelf speakers, Reference RF-7 II floorstanding speakers as well as the Klipsch La Scala II speakers from the Heritage Series.

Now, we hear a lot of people asking, “Which one of your speakers is best for vinyl playback?” There really is no right answer. All of our speakers are going to sound great through the Orbit Basic turntable. Klipsch Heritage speakers are a classic pairing with a vinyl setup as they were designed for the format. That being said, you will still get quite a lot of joy with the R-15M speakers, which we used, at the Music City Food + Wine Festival in Nashville.


U-Turn Orbit Basic with Klipsch Speakers

RECOMMENDATION

We won’t mince words here – U-Turn Audio definitely has our recommendation. In fact, we like them so much that we’re bringing a bunch of their turntables to Las Vegas to use in our booth at CES 2015.

Between its design, made in America roots and extraordinary value, the U-Turn turntable is definitely a great pick up for someone looking to get back into their vinyl collection or someone just testing the water with this once-forgotten medium.

The “old way” never sounded so good…especially for $179.

Anatomy of a Record Player

Before there were MP3s, CDs, and cassette tapes — heck, even before eight-track tapes — there was the record player. Although today, unless we have an affinity for vinyl, we think of record players as “old-school”, often forgetting they revolutionized music and the music industry as much as MP3s have today. Record players allowed for listening to music at home for the first time; before the record player, it was live or nothing. It made such an impression, we still call music releases “records” and “albums,” and the spinning album phrase “getting rotation” still means a song is heard on the radio.

Once record players came onto the scene in 1877, they didn’t leave until almost a century later — although they never fully left. Nostalgia as well as preference for the sound quality has kept vinyl alive, and DJs and hip hop artists still use turntables as part of their music-making. We celebrate the beauty of albums with our recent collaboration with Classic Album Sundays – monthly active listening sessions of entire albums in a studio setting with the best equipment available. It’s a truly unique experience.

So how does a record player work? What are the different components, and how do they work together to produce sound? Let’s take a closer look at this amazing game-changing contraption.

The Turntable

Although “turntable” and “record player” today are used almost synonymously, a turntable is technically the part of the record player where the record sits. Sometimes the turntable is also called the “revolving platter.”

The center of the turntable includes a metal rod, holding the record in the center as it turns. The plate of the turntable itself is generally metal, typically covered with plastic or rubber so the record isn’t inadvertently scratched.

The least expensive record players use steel for the turntable. The steel plates used in record players are light and cheap to produce, however, the consequence is that these plates have a low inertia, meaning any instability with the motor speed are quite pronounced.

A more expensive turntable plate is aluminum. Aluminum plates have better balance, reduce vibration, and don’t accentuate motor speed instabilities.

The turntable’s rotation is controlled by the turntable drive system. The two main types of drive systems are the belt-drive system and the direct-drive system. The belt-drive system goes a long way in reducing noise heard from the motor, because the elastometric belt helps to absorb vibrations and other low-frequency sounds. A direct-drive system, by contrast, doesn’t use intermediary gears, wheels, and belts. The advantage of a direct-drive system is later models had stronger motors and pitch control sliders. For this reason, direct-drive turntables were favored by disc jockeys for decades.

The Stylus

turntableThe stylus is the needle that rests against the record. Ideally, a stylus is a cone-shaped component made from diamond, which is the hardest natural material on Earth. Besides diamonds, sapphires are also commonly used for record needles. The stylus is connected to the tone arm by a flexible strip of metal. The flexibility in the middle allows for the stylus to ride up and down within the record grooves.

The stylus can be either spherical or elliptical. Elliptical styli have the advantage of increasing the fidelity of the music by allowing for more contact with the record groove. A spherical stylus provides less fidelity but is more sensitive.

Even a diamond-tipped stylus will need to be replaced after a while. Experts recommend changing the stylus after every 1,000 to 2,500 hours of listening pleasure.

The Tone Arm and the Cartridge

The tone arm is the arm of the record player that holds the stylus and, together with the cartridge, it is responsible for actually producing the sounds. Tone arms can be straight or curved. Which one is better? It depends who you ask. Some people insist curved tone arms produce better sound, but DJs and hip hop artists usually prefer straight arms because they’re easier to scratch with.

As the stylus follows the grooves of the record, vibrations travel through the metal wires inside the tone arm and arrive at the cartridge at the tone arm’s end. The cartridge contains coils within a magnetic field, and when the vibrations hit these coils, they are transformed into electrical signals. These electrical signals can be amplified and broadcasted through the speakers.

Amplifiers and Preamplifiers

Today, most audio receivers are designed for the signals that come out of a CD, DVD, or MP3 player. That means that they are not well-equipped to play the audio signal coming out of a traditional record player. Older audio receivers included what was called a phono preamplifier (also known as a preamp or phono stage) to boost record player signals to appropriate levels, but modern receivers lack phono preamps. Some record players include built-in preamps to solve this problem; talk to a true audiophile, however, and they will insist that you get a dedicated preamplifier for the best sound quality.

The right preamp depends upon the cartridge. Modern cartridges will play well with preamps at the 100pf to 150pf level; older cartridges, such as those from the 1980s, work better with preamps of the 200pf level. It should be noted, though, that if your cartridge hasn’t been changed since the 1980s, you should go ahead and replace it anyway!

Summary

In short, the vinyl record is placed upon the revolving platter. As the record revolves, the stylus bumps up and down within the groove, sending its vibrations along metal wires within the tone arm and into the cartridge. The cartridge converts these vibrations into an electrical current using a magnetic field. This current is sent into the preamp, which boosts the signal on its way to the speaker. When the amplified current hits the speaker — presto! — we hear music or whatever is recorded onto the vinyl.


We hope you enjoyed this short tour of the anatomy of a record player. Did we leave out anything crucially important? Do you still listen to vinyl? Let us know in the comments section below.