I never featured the Audio-Technica AT-Lp5, though I’ve corresponded with several readers who own them. Since its 2016 launch, it gained rapid traction and cemented its place as a budget favourite, essentially taking the direct drive motor from a line of popular DJ turntables and giving it a more audiophile-friendly aesthetic and feature set, along with a slightly inflated price, to appease those who feel having a pitch control or the traditional rectangular start button on their turntable may somehow compromise its performance. The LP5 was recently superseded by the AT-LP5X, and with one now sitting atop my rack, it’s time to take a look. Thanks to IPT (Improved Performance Turntables) and The Audio Files for helping to make this review possible.
The LP5X is a ‘super OEM’ turntable built upon a standard platform by the Chinese outfit Hanpin, though Audio-Technica appear to have a great deal more input into their designs than other manufacturers who choose to base their decks upon similar platforms; Pioneer, Sony and Reloop to name just a few.
Perhaps the most obvious nod to AT’s heritage on display here is the j-shaped tonearm, a design harking back to Audio-Technica and SME arms of the 60s. The shape of the arm tube improves tracking performance with a shorter overall pipe length for equivalent overhang, lower mass, higher rigidity and reduced resonance. The arm rides on a gimbal bearing, terminating at the opposite end in an SME-style headshell mount.
The arm bearing is said to have received a few tweaks in this latest model. It’s made of metal where it counts, and I found no perceptible play in my factory-fresh example. It floats smoothly, swinging freely in all directions and appears to be of excellent quality given the modest cost of the turntable as a whole.
Hanpin decks are known for weak anti-skate, some to the point where the anti-skating force is virtually nonexistent. This wasn’t the case with the deck I have. Floating the arm and increasing the anti-skate compensation produced a gradual increase in force pushing toward the armrest as one would expect. With tracking force at 2 grams and the anti-skating force set accordingly, the cartridge tracked perfectly with equal channel balance and the stylus remained parallel with the cartridge body across a 12” disc.
Perhaps this is a fluke, or perhaps given that this was a wide-spread issue on Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120 among others, they have finally found a resolution. AT do offer a replacement spring assembly for the AT-LP120 which is said to correct this problem, so it would seem that the issue has finally been nipped in the bud.
Accompanying the arm are typical cueing and anti-skate controls, though no VTA adjustment as on more DJ-oriented decks. A small degree of azimuth adjustment can be achieved using the headshell mount, which should be plenty for most cartridges.
The effective mass with the included HS-6 headshell is right around 16 grams so the arm should be considered as an arm of moderate mass when calculating resonance frequency and cartridge choice, though most cartridges of moderate-high to low compliance, including moving coil designs should work just fine. Tonearm/cartridge resonance for the AT-LP5X is 9.56Hz, right around the 10Hz ideal figure. This is quoted using an effective mass of 16 grams, and dynamic compliance of 12.25 x 6 cm/dyne at 10Hz. The official specification is given as 7 x 6 cm/dyne but at 100Hz, which is multiplied by 1.75 to give a figure close enough to be used in a 10Hz calculation.
The arm has an effective length of 247 mm (9.72 inches) with a specified 17 mm overhang. It appears to closely follow the Bearwald or Lofgren A alignment standard, though with custom null points of 66.2 and 122.4 mm. Quoted maximum tracking adjustment is 0 to 4 grams with an applicable cartridge weight range, including the headshell, of 15 to 20 grams using the included counterweight.
The LP5 included a printed protractor in the box but that is absent here. It can be downloaded, or you can use a Technics 52 mm overhang gauge available cheaply online
The LP5X ships with a lightweight (9 grams) HS-6 headshell and pre-mounted VM95E cartridge. The VM95 is an upgrade on the aT95XE as supplied with the LP5, which itself was an AT95E with slightly tweaked damping. The Vm95E is an excellent cartridge in its own right, but also provides an easy upgrade path. The VM95 range includes a selection of replaceable styli (Conical, Elliptical, Nude Elliptical, MicroLine and Shibata) which are all interchangeable using the same cartridge body. This means that owners of an LP5X can enjoy a significant sonic upgrade without the need to fuss with cartridge alignment by simply snapping a new stylus assembly into place. It’s also possible to purchase a suitable stylus for playing back 78RPM Shellac discs, advantageous given that the LP5X adds a selection for the 78RPM speed.
Supplied too are a hinged dust cover, a nicely machined aluminium 45 adapter and the lightweight cast aluminium platter with a thick 5 mm rubber mat, which effectively dampens the ring of the thin aluminium. The platter sits atop a tapered spindle, beneath which is the single rotor of the direct-drive motor. The motor is An 8-pole, 3-phase brushless design with quartz speed control and electronic braking, achieved as in most direct-drive turntables by a quick backward spin of the platter for half an RPM or so. Starting torque is 1KGF/CM, down from the 1.6KGF/CM of the previous model, with no running torque figure given.
Quoted motor specifications are -50dB SNR and 0.2% wow and flutter (wRMS, 33RPM, 3kHz). These are nothing remarkable on paper for a direct drive and certainly won’t put a Technics to shame, though do add up to decent performance; the proof is in the pudding as they say. Speed is accurate and there’s enough running torque to account for stylus drag. The motor whips the platter up to speed quickly with a slight growl as it locks onto the correct speed. Once things have stabilised there is no audible motor noise on 33 or 45, though I noticed a faint chugging on 78 which suggests the deck was struggling to hold precise speed. This could be due to a number of factors. The most unlikely of which is that the motor has been simplified (read weakened) over the previous model, and may struggle to maintain such a high RPM. It could also be that the servos are not able to react quickly enough to the outputs from the motor to maintain an accurate lock on speed. Or, as the platter lacks mass around the periphery, it may thus lack the required inertia for the drive system to maintain the higher speed without assistance.
Power And Preamp
Gone is the internal power supply and hefty transformer of the LP5, a bid to reduce mechanical noise and electro-magnetic interference with the side effect of lightening the deck by a surprising degree. The power supply is now a switch-mode ‘wall wart’, provided with UK and EU adapters and connecting to a standard barrel connector at the rear of the turntable via a cable of approximately 1.5 metres in length. Accompanying which are the USB output, RCA outputs and a ground terminal. A 1.9 metre USB cable and 1 metre RCA cable with ground lead are provided in the box.
A pair of switches toggle the internal preamp on and off and switch between moving magnet or moving coil operation. The 16-bit resolution USB output natively supports sampling rates of 44.1 or 48kHz. There’s no high-res DSD support, not that you need it when you’re digitising records.
Output level with the preamp engaged is a nominal 250MV at 1kHz, 5CM/sec. Moving magnet preamp gain is 36dB nominal and 56dB nominal for MC. These are pretty ‘safe’ figures which should accommodate most cartridges just fine, though if you opted for a low output moving coil you might find things a little too quiet, or too noisy once you turn up the volume to an appreciable level.
Setup and Sound
Setup is as simple as levelling the plinth, setting the platter and mat into place, and balancing the tonearm. If you’re new to this, the Audio-Technica manual gives comprehensive instructions which (spelling mistakes aside) should be easy to follow. I noted a slight imbalance between platter and plinth indicating that something isn’t quite running true or more likely due to tolerances in the platter casting, but it’s within acceptable limits and didn’t cause an issue. I simply set the deck up with the platter level and grabbed a pile of records.
The sound is big, bold and full of ‘oomf’. The solid bottom end, a hallmark of a direct drive is accounted for, extending up through the mids into a sweet if somewhat bright top end. Motor noise is not at all obtrusive, and I couldn’t detect any variation in speed during sustained passages. Backgrounds are quiet allowing excellent insight into the subtle details of a recording, and it’s more than adept at demonstrating the advantages of a well-pressed disc.
I was especially impressed by how well the arm paired with the VM95 cartridge. The end of side distortion inevitable with an elliptical stylus profile is suppressed to a degree where the cart easily tracks upper frequencies cleanly at the end of a side on all but the loudest passages. Whether this is down to the chosen geometry, the point of resonance of the arm/cartridge combination or both I am unsure. But it must be said that this is an excellent demonstration of what the VM95 is capable of, even with one of the better styli mounted, where things clean up still further and the sound opens up in a very pleasing way.
And the phono stage also is superb. I remember a time when the integrated phono stages in Super OEM turntables were horrific sounding things. They were dull as dishwater, suppressed any attempt at dynamics and brought a din of their own to the performance. Things have vastly improved with the LP5 and the LP5X. Besides a very slight hum, only noticeable at high volume, the phono stage is quiet with excellent sound staging, great dynamic range and a clean, crisp sound without a hint of overload. Switching the gain to MC does produce more noise, but it’s acceptable and akin to what you might expect from a budget outboard unit up to a hundred pounds or so. To have this included ‘in the box’ as it were is another tick to the LP5X’s pros list.
The one area where the LP5 suffers is in plinth resonance, which manifests in a blurring effect at on the lowest bass notes and heavy backbeats. Tapping on the plinth with the cartridge sitting on a stationary record produces a dull ringing sound, suggesting that vibrations transmitted between the arm mount and plinth are the culprit as opposed to adverse resonance in the arm. Neither are especially rigid, and neither is much thought given to rigidity in the coupling of the arm to the main bearing.
While this is a shortfall of the design, it’s only noticeable if you compare the LP5X against pricier rivals and better damped direct-drive designs, the likes of the Technics SL-1500 or Reloop Turn 5 for example. In isolation and normal listening it’s not a glaring issue and doesn’t detract from the performance given by the LP5X, which is excellent especially given the relatively modest price. Speed stability is spot on. Background noise is low. And the VM95E cartridge and the LP5X arm track wonderfully and are a great pairing, which is more than can be said for a couple of its big-name belt drive rivals.
For those looking to play records to a high standard with minimal fuss and an easy upgrade path, the LP5X is hard to fault. For those keen to fettle, the LP5X offers plenty of scope for cartridge swapping and has a lot of modding potential, something that I will likely explore in future publications.
The AT-LP5X is not the be-all and end-all direct drive deck. But it looks perfectly respectable, sounds great and can be upgraded along the way. As a first step into high-end vinyl playback, a turntable to resurrect a long-forgotten collection, an easy means of digitising your records or an upgrade from your first turntable, the AT-LP5X is great value for money. Highly recommended.