Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB
With Technics prices at an all-time high, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 USBs offers a secondary, cheaper option with features the SL-1200 does not have.
With its modern look and integrated system, it’s one of the best-selling entry-level turntables on the market, and a great start for beginner audiophiles.
Review of the Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB turntable
First, you will notice that the AT-LP120s looks very similar to Technics SL-1200 turntable. Featuring a sleek metallic finish, Audio-Technica has basically “borrowed” the 1200’s popular layout and design. The major difference is that the AT-PL120’s body is mostly constructed of plastic (vs. the metal of the 1200); however the key parts remain metal (platter and tonearm), making this table a very sturdy one indeed.
The design comprises a high torque direct-drive motor (hits 100% speed in about 1/3 of a revolution), stroboscope, target light, pitch lock and slider, forward and reverse play capabilities (so you can hear those hidden messages inside Pink Floyd’s The Wall), for a complete listening experience.
It comes mounted with an aluminium platter, an Audio-Technica AT-P2 cartridge and adjustable counter-weight tone-arm, and plays 33, 45 and 78 rpm.
Where the AT-LP120 becomes more accessible to common folks than pricier models is that it has a built-in preamp. This means it can be connected directly to an amplifier’s line-level input. Now, if you want to enjoy more of the audiophile sound, you can still connect it through a dedicated ‘phono’ input, but it’s by no means necessary.
The USB output allows you to connect this Audio Technica turntable to a computer, and convert records to CD/MP3 through an analogue-to-digital convertor (Mac- and PC-compatible Audacity software comes bundled with the turntable). The box includes Audacity software for recording with your computer, as well as a USB cable. If you are a Mac user, forget about Audacity and download Griffin Technology Final Vinyl. It’s free and a lot more user friendly than Audacity. Don’t forget to download the Final Vinyl User Manual as well.
This ease-of-use, plug-and-play, and digital conversion ability all contribute to make the AT-LP120 a great record player for the money. It does everything you would expect on a professional quality turntable, and you would literally have to spend twice as much to get something better. The like-priced competition doesn’t even compare.
The AT-LP120-USB sounds solid and smooth with good, if not great retrieval of detail and respectable bass definition. That being said, it creates a proper analog experience that is instantly distinguishable from digital. The music has a warmth, rhythmic organisation and presence that reels you in the magical vinyl sound right off the bat.
The tone is even-handed, with solid low-frequencies, detailed mid-ranges, and top-end crispness.
The shortcomings of the AT-LP120-USB are sins of omission: Compared to better turntables like the Pro-Ject Debut III and up, it lacks some detail, warmth, richness, air, and three-dimensionality, and you may find that other turntables offer more dynamic shifts and fiercer attacks. Also, the digital copies made from the USB output have a bit of surface noise to them, but all in all the Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB offers everything you could expect (and more) for a very affordable price.
It is packaged very well and comes almost completely ready to go out of the box, with just a few steps to get it put together and ready to play. There is a however short learning curve for beginners when it comes to balancing the tone-arm, but nothing too difficult…
Mounting cartridges can be painstaking and most readers would probably get better results by simply changing the ATP-2 stylus to a better one, as no cartridge alignment is involved (If the new cartridge is not set up properly the older, inferior cartridge will likely sound better).
The way for most people to go is to simply replace the included stylus with the ATP-N3. The ATP-N3 sells for $65 and will both sound better and keep your records in good condition longer. Installing it is very easy. Just pull off the old stylus and plug in the new one, and your upgrade is finished. There is no fussing with screws and tiny wires and no need to re-align everything. If you choose not to upgrade soon after getting the turntable, this is definitely the stylus to get when your original stylus is worn out.
Still want to get a whole new cartridge? Spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a phono cartridge would certainly not make sense on a turntable selling for $200. The following are more modest choices that will serve you well: we advise the Shure M97xE for under $60 and the Audio-Technica AT95e for the same price. The $99 Audio-Technica AT440MLA is a good match and probably about the highest end cartridge to be put on this turntable.
The Audio-Technica ATP-2 cartridge supplied with the turntable has a recommended tracking force of 3.0-5.0 grams. This is very high compared to the 1.5-2.0 grams usually recommended for most typical hifi cartridges. The higher tracking force will cause more wear on your records.
However, the 3.0-5.0 grams is to accommodate DJs who may use the turntable for scratching, and therefore will not prove appropriate for home listeners. As a matter of fact, home owners of the AT-LP120-USB are using 2.0 grams with fine results. So, if you get the turntable, after you balance the tonearm, set the tracking force and anti-skate controls to 2.0 grams, and you will make those cherished LPs live longer.
The AT-LP120-USB lowers the cost of entry for quality vinyl record playback to a new low. Though it lists for $299.99 and is well worth the price, you can find the AT-LP120-USB online for $200 or less. You would literally have to shell out $369 for a Pro-ject Debut III, the next best turntable. Though the Debut III does have better sound quality, the Audio-Technica record player costs a whopping $169 less and provides a USB port and a built-in phono preamp, to boot. The Pro-ject Debut III USB has a USB port and phono preamplifier, albeit at a price of $499. Again, the Debut III has a more detailed, richer sound, but at two-and-a half-times the price.
If you do not have a turntable and want to see what vinyl records are all about, if you want good sound but are on a tight budget, if you want to pull out your old records and give them a spin, if you are building a vinyl-based system and you want to save money towards better speakers, or if you need a turntable for a second system or for dedicated computer use… Then the AT-LP120-USB is absolutely for you. The installed cartridge and built-in phono preamp means it is the only thing you need to buy, and it will match well with home theater receivers, which usually do not have a phono preamplifier.
- USB output connects directly to your computer for plug-and-play use
- Mac and PC compatible Audacity software digitizes your LPs
- Direct drive high-torque motor
- Selectable 33/45/78 RPM speeds
- Professional cast aluminum platter with slip mat
- Integral Dual Magnet phono cartridge with replaceable stylus
- Balanced tone arm with soft damping control
- Switchable built-in pre-amplifier with line-level RCA output cables
- Included cables connect to your stereo or powered speakers
- Stroboscopic platter speed indicator
- Forward and reverse play
- Includes removable dust cover
- Type: 3-speed, fully manual operation
- Motor: DC motor
- Drive Method Direct Drive: Direct drive
- Speeds: 33-1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, 78 RPM
- Pitch Variation: +/-10% or +/-20%
- Turntable Platter: Die-cast aluminum
- Starting Torque: >1.6 kgf-cm
- Braking System: Electronic brake
- Wow and Flutter: <0.2% WRMS (33 RPM)
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >50 dB
- Output Level:
- Pre-amp PHONO: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
- Pre-amp LINE: 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
- Phono Pre-Amp Gain: 36 dB nominal, RIAA equalized
- USB Function:A/D, D/A
- 16 bit 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz USB selectable Computer interface
- USB 1.1 Compliant Windows XP, Vista or MAC OSX
- Power Supply Requirements: 115/230V AC, 60/50 Hz
- Power Consumption: 11 Watts
- Included Accessories:
- Headshell/cartridge (ATP-2)
- AC line cord
- Dual RCA (female) to 1/8 inch mini-plug (male) stereo adapter cable
- Dual RCA (female) to 1/8 inch mini-plug (female) stereo adapter cable
- 45 RPM adapter
- USB cable
- Recording software
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 17.72 x 13.86 x 6.1 inches (450 x 352 x 157 mm)
- Weight: 23.5 lbs (10.7 kg)