A couple of years ago I tested a GPO Stylo which was at the time one of the cheapest turntables available on the market. This was an effort to prove or disprove the claim that cheap, mass-market turntables such as the likes of Crosley, GPO, Ion and many others will cause irreparable damage to your records. I tested the GPO to destruction, playing a record side a total of 57 times before the ceramic cartridge failed. You can read the full article here.
While I did try to make the test as comprehensive as possible, I didn’t obtain results from a control variable; I.E a turntable of higher quality (though nothing esoteric), to see what effect it would have on the record. This was an omission on my part and one that I have wanted to correct for some time. It was suggested that I repeat the test with an Audio-Technica AT-Lp60, arguably one of the best-selling budget turntables, but my efforts to get hold of one for the article were fruitless. I have however finally obtained a faulty AT-LP60USB via eBay. I thought I’d take this opportunity to not only show what the LP60 and similar turntables offer for the money but also to repeat the experiment and compare the results with those in the original article. Part two has been a long time coming, so let’s begin.
Here it is in all its glory. On paper at least you do get a decent amount for your money. Fully automatic operation as standard, with a belt driven aluminium platter, inbuilt phono preamp and even a USB output, on this model at least.
The tonearm holds an Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge, which is similar to the AT91 but with a lower compliance stylus intended for a tracking force of 3.5 grams.
Both tracking force and anti-skate are accomplished by a spring at the rear of the arm and are factory set to precisely 3.5 grams.
This same chassis, manufactured by the Chinese turntable OEM outfit Hanpin, has been used in many a turntable over the years. They mostly come from brands such as Sony, Aiwa, Kenwood and Pioneer to name a few, who wanted to re-introduce a low-cost turntable during the decline of the vinyl format but didn’t want to go to the effort and cost of designing a new model themselves. Most of them have full automatic operation and a good number share the phono preamp, with variations in platter material, USB and Bluetooth functionality, pitch control etc. They are all basically identical however, and it’s probably fair to assume that their sales figures over time are heading towards millions of units if they haven’t long surpassed that already. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of them out there, and probably a good few still spinning records.
And it’s easy to see why. THey’re cheap at £100 give or take, reasonably compact (though you will need some amplification or active speakers), and they require virtually no setup to get started. Setting the disc size selector and pressing the start button is all that is required to get one of these playing a record, which compared to some fully manual offerings is certainly attractive to the beginner or casual listener. But what exactly makes this table turn? Well…
Beneath the platter we can see part of the workings of the automatic mechanism.
The large plastic gear engages with the central spindle during start/stop operations and is cycled by the rotation of the platter. There isn’t much going on here besides the spindle itself and the single-speed motor pulley.
Removing the base exposes the rest of the internals.
There’s a small linear power supply and the electronic speed control circuitry. The phono preamp looks very much like that of the AT-LP120. Though I don’t have one to compare I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re identical. This isn’t a bad thing, as though it’s certainly not the finest phono stage available it sounds perfectly respectable with better cartridges than the humble AT3600.
We also see a few more parts of the automatic mechanism as well as the arm’s lateral pivot bearing which is primitive but does the job. Given the number of small parts at play here, and the relative complexity in its assembly, it does beg the question as to whether a higher quality manual turntable could be manufactured for a similar price.
The little motor is essentially identical to the motor found in the Crosley suitcase type turntables and variants of the same. Two fragile trimmers on its underside allow you to adjust the speed, providing you have a plastic or ceramic adjustment tool. The motor is at least mounted with rubber vibration dampening grommets, so while it is audible in operation it isn’t audible in playback.
The motor had failed in my example in quite an unusual way. The base of the motor, which is pressed into the motor casing, had separated with the internals of the motor found rattling around in the base of the turntable. Reassembly was a matter of carefully putting the parts back in place, lining up the base plate and knocking it back into place, after which the motor operates as it should. Though these motors do fail quite often I’ve never seen one fail in this way. If anything getting the bottom off us usually a challenge resulting in motor destruction, so it’s rare to see one break apart voluntarily.
With the motor reassembled I fixed the sticking stop button, calibrated the speed for both 33 and 45. The deck held stable speed (as stable as an LP60 gets at least) and was otherwise good to go. I can’t explain why the motor failed in this way as the deck hasn’t suffered any internal or external damage, so this failure remains a mystery.
Nevertheless, with the deck reassembled we can get on with our test. Continue on to Part Two to see whether or not 50 plays on an AT-LP60 is sufficient to cause significant damage to a record.