Here we are then with part two of our AT-LP60 test. In this instalment we’ll play one side of a record a total of 50 times as in the original test and assess the damage, if any, the LP60 will cause.
A Word On Styli
First up, I installed a fresh stylus and in doing so learned that not all AT3600 styli are equal. Aftermarket styli may well be cheaper, but they’re not all equivalent in quality to the AT original. One example produced a horrible grainy scratching sound in one channel that was thoroughly unpleasant to listen to, and probably wasn’t doing much for the record either. Interestingly a genuine stylus had a longer exposed cantilever than the aftermarket stylus, and the suspension on the aftermarket stylus was also more compliant. I installed a genuine AT stylus which was a huge improvement.
In fact, with a proper stylus and positioned on a level surface, the AT-LP60 actually sounds quite respectable indeed. I was quite surprised at the performance this little turntable was able to offer. Given the quality of the arm, flimsy bearing and sub-par motor I really hadn’t expected much. But the deck is quiet, stereo imaging is solid and relatively broad, and the sound is lively with a good amount of detail to boot. The speed is stable for having such a light platter and the isolation afforded by those basic rubber feet is also excellent.
. As the original record was ruined on both sides, I unfortunately couldn’t use the same sample. There’s a reasonable argument for using another of the same pressing, though no two records are 100% identical. This is obviously not a test that can be performed twice on the same record, as doing so inevitably causes wear to the record that will impact on the results. And besides, the GPO’s eventual cartridge failure left a sizeable scratch in the centre of Abbey Road, so I couldn’t use it if I wanted to. I instead chose to use side 2 of Simply Red’s ‘Picture Book’ as I had a copy with a damaged first side. This LP is just as quiet if not more-so as the remaster of Abbey Road that we used in our first test, so it serves as a good indicator of what the turntable is doing to the grooves. It also has some crisp high-frequency content which is especially good for assessing groove wear.
As before, I repeated the side 50 times and took a sample after every 10 plays using my Technics, just to keep the numbers consistent with the first test. The AT-LP60 was connected to a MacBook Pro using its built-in USB interface and thus also its built-in phono stage. Recordings were taken with Logic Pro x with levels set to avoid clipping but to not be so low as to induce unnecessary noise into the signal when boosted. I did note that the noise of the AT-LP60’s built-in phono stage and analogue to digital converter was equivalent, if not slightly louder, than the surface noise coming from the record itself.
Unfortunately, as before, I can’t share any music clips for copyright reasons. If somebody knows of or wants to supply a batch of copyright-free records for our turntable features I would be very happy to put them to good use. As it is I can only show samples of surface noise, which itself is a good indication of groove wear, and describe the rest as best I can.
First up, we’ll start with surface noise recordings. This noise was cut from the gaps between the tracks and no processing has been applied besides raising the volume slightly to make it easier to hear. Here is the noise from the first play:
Note that it is surprisingly quiet. The recording is taken from the LP60 and as previously mentioned the noise from the phono and A2D electronics is more noticeable than the surface noise coming from the record. Here is the noise after 10 plays:
And after 20:
And after 30;
And after 50:
I struggled to tell the difference between the five recordings. Personally, if pushed, I would say that 30 and 50 are ever-so-slightly noisier, but the difference is so marginal as to be insignificant and I would question whether or not that was down to the recording, or the wear that can be expected if playing a record multiple times in quick succession, rather than the deck itself.
For comparison, here is the surface noise from the recording taken from Abbey Road, before playback on the GPO:
And here is the surface noise after 50 plays on the GPO:
In terms of music playback, the AT-LP60 did not cause any noticeable groove wear that I could discern from listening to the first and last plays, as well as from listening to the record on a Technics with both low and high-end cartridges with basic and exotic styli. The vocals remained crisp and clear, and high frequencies didn’t lose any of their detail or become splashy or distorted in any way. Both channels remained equally undamaged, suggesting that the AT-LP60’s method of anti-skate is effective and that the arm is stable enough so as to not cause undue damage through tracking error.
The LP60 is never going to be able to accurately reproduce the highest frequency content on a record, owing in part to its construction but also to the basic conical stylus. It does exhibit some sibilance, particularly towards the end of the record side and most evident on much louder modern pressings, especially badly mastered mainstream pop records. However, playing back the test record on my Technics SL-1200G fitted with an Audio-Technica AT33PTG/II with a Microline stylus, I could discern no loss of detail and no damage, even when compared against a mint copy of the same pressing that has seen a couple of plays at most in its lifetime.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the AT-LP60. I’m often asked to recommend the cheapest model of turntable that won’t cause undue record damage, and have been curious to complete this test for some time. Based on the results of the test I can conclude that the AT-LP60 will not cause record damage, at least not any more damage than would be expected of a similar turntable. It is certainly a huge cut above the likes of Crosley, GPO, Ion and the many other suitcase-style and portable turntables on the market, most of which will do more harm than good.
Is the LP60 the last word in sonic quality? No, absolutely not. It does sound good for what it is, but spending even an extra £50 or so will get you far better build quality and a significant sonic improvement providing you’re willing to sacrifice the automatic functionality. And ultimately though there are upgrades available, the performance of the AT_LP60 will always be limited by the quality of its key components – the motor, arm and bearing. And given that I purchased mine with motor failure I would also question the reliability, especially as compared to a used, vintage turntable for equivalent or less money.
Would I recommend buying one? Probably not, simply for the fact that you can do better for little more cash, or less cash if you’re prepared to buy used. But if you’re in the market for a new turntable that won’t break the bank and you’d rather compromise on sound quality to gain automatic functions, there is no harm in using an AT-LP60 to play your records. And if you already own one, despite what many will tell you, you aren’t causing significant harm to your records by using it.