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I hope you all had a good holiday break. A few months ago you may remember that we had a look at the limited edition Technics 1210GAE turntable. And in that review, I raved about that particular turntable, how much I loved its build quality, its sound quality, I just, I just loved it.
What I didn’t love about it was its price tag, and the fact that because it’s a limited edition turntable. It was sold out within about a week of that review going live. So, when I came across today’s little gem, I knew it was going to be our next turntable review because it bears more than a striking resemblance to some of Technics more iconic designs.
So the question for me was how good is it really?
You know it is a budget turntable but more importantly, how good could it get. So, that’s the question we are going to answer today.
Today we are reviewing the Audio Technicas LP140 XP Turntable.
The LP140 XP is a direct drive turntable; direct drive means that you’re not going to fuss with belts in order to spin the platter, instead it uses a motor mechanism that rests below the aluminium platter and spins it directly hence the term direct drive.
Now, platter speed is controlled electronically; you have your choice of 33 and a third, 45, and even 78.
This means that the Audio Technica is capable of playing virtually any type of album, at every speed. It also has pitch control courts lock and reverse play functionality. Now, it has an S shaped tonearm which is something you may be familiar with from say Technics designs, and has a removable headshell.
The removable headshell comes pre fitted with the XP three cartridge from Audio Technica. This is more of a DJ centric cartridge but it does come fitted from the factory. What it doesn’t have however is a built in phono preamp. So you are going to want to make sure that your preamp is connected to your receiver integrated amplifier or your powered loudspeakers have a capable moving magnet phono preamp if you plan on listening to records with this particular Audio Technica turntable.
When I said the LP 140 xp is more than a little reminiscent of Technics 1210GAE, I meant it. Step back a couple of feet and look past the gold trim; the two are Dead Ringers for each other.
In fact, the 140 xp is, well, it looks the same as virtually any SL branded turntable from Technics. When you get up, close and personal you’re not so much going to see a difference as you are going to feel it because the Audio Technica just isn’t made from the same quality materials that Technics uses on their costlier turntables, instead Audio Technica relies pretty heavily on plastics, but that doesn’t mean that it feels cheap because it doesn’t.
Its just that we have to manage our expectations when looking at a budget turntable such as this. The Add shape tonearm found on the 140 xp feels very similar to that of the Technics. It features all of the same functionality and adjustability and it’s removable headshell even can accept the same types of cartridges, as the costlier Technics.
Speaking of cartridges, the included cartridge from Audio Technica is solid. Actually it is very surprising given the budget nature of this turntable. It is a very punchy sounding cartridge that has good low-end weight and some dynamics though I am not going to say that it’s lightning quick or the firmest down low.
The mid range is more full, the high frequencies are smooth, but neither are as delineated or as articulate as what you’re going to find through costlier cartridges.
The cartridge on a whole does have a warmer tone to it at the top to bottom and I like this in terms of detail retrieval. It has more broad strokes if you will, versus really getting down into the grooves and extracting every last ounce of information, but this means that the cartridge pairs very well with a wide, wide range of musical genres including albums that may not be mixed, all that well.
So if you are new to vinyl, this is maybe your first turntable. I would recommend that you actually stick with the included cartridge. Because it is a good, solid all rounder but more importantly, It will allow you to appreciate a better cartridge, should you decide to upgrade down the road.
Well this is not a cartridge review although one of my goals with this particular article was to see how close I could get the XP 140s performance to match that of the 1210GAE. To do this, I use the same three cartridges I used at that time; those were the two M red, two M blue, and two black cartridges from ortofon.
All three of these cartridges were mounted on the same removable headshell, all of which you can check those out for yourself through the links below.
I started with the more affordable to read cartridge. Now, the more I listen to this cartridge, the more I fall out of love with it. While it is not a banned cartridge and also clearly a step up from the included cartridge that comes with the Audio Technica, it just is not enough for me.
While it has detail, it just lacks some character: so I actually found myself preferring the rounder column mushy er tones of the Audio Technica over the hyper detail, sterile and more neutral sound of the 2M red. I will admit when I first heard a 2M read some time ago, I welcomed its added detail. But as time has gone on, I just know there’s just something about I miss: a little bit of character and it just lacks that for me so if you are one that likes a little bit more neutrality and you don’t like any emphasis placed on any one aspect of the frequency range, then by all means the 2 M red may be for you but for me it’s just not my cup of tea.
Stepping things up to the 2M blue This is where you can expect to hear some of that higher end vinyl playback quality that audio files gush over. Everything I dislike about the 2M red has been addressed and fixed with the 2M blue. And it even adds a bit of weight, some better definition and greater separation throughout its soundstage; so if you have it in your budget, then stretch it for the blue.
I say skip the red, go with the blue and call it a day with a total investment of less than $700. This combination is high end sounding enough for the vast majority of people, but when I step things up and put on the two m black, the promise of the 140XP comes into focus. Now let’s not beat around the bush.
Adding the black cartridge raises the price of this combo to $1,150, and I am not about to tell you that that is budget or affordable, but it does turn a budget friendly turntable into a high end competitor. This combination manages to sound every bit as good as the $4,000 1210GAE when fitted with the exact same cartridge, a cartridge which is not even included in the price.
And when connected to the Technics, g 30s internal phono preamp and listening to Michael Jackson’s dangerous, any differences in sound quality were likely down to the speakers we used, and not the turntables themselves. About the only thing that I would say that the technics turntables do better than the Audio Technica is they just seem a little bit more firm, and a little bit more defined down low and have just a slight. Well, slightly better separation in the soundstage, and I think this is down to the materials that they use.
It is just a little bit heavier which makes them do a little bit better job controlling those resonances but I really think that the vast majority of people aren’t going to hear these differences in real world scenarios because I have to really, I mean, I’m talking really listen for them in our day to day listening tests.
Now if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “well, I don’t have a technics g 30 just lying around.”, Understand that you will hear the differences and other components like say a music fidelity M3si or M5Si, and the black cartridge is even good enough to resolve differences in budget gear, like the Sony DN1090. Now, obviously, higher end components are probably going to have higher end built in phono preamps but you are still going to get your money’s worth from an upgrade like the 2M black on entry level gear.
Now when I say it may have come down to the speakers and not the turntables in terms of differences, what I’m talking about is just the simple fact that a pair of Kef LS 50 speakers just sound different than say Klipsch heresy M11. So for those of you who may be sitting there thinking, I have gone crazy trying to elevate a $399 turntable to that of the Technics. Here’s what’s crazier; the fact that we are in fact talking about a $399 turntable made largely from plastic in an $800 cartridge, matching the performance of a 4000 plus dollar turntable. That’s incredible.
And when you consider that the Audio Technica has largely the same functionality and feature set as the costlier Technics. Well it turns a budget turntable into a value giant.
And by saving money on the Audio Technica, it leaves room potentially for you to buy a better cartridge like the 2M black. Not to mention a better phono preamp which are the two things a lot of audio files will tell you make the biggest difference in vinyl playback quality.
Bringing it back to the 140 xp and 2m black, this is just analogue done right. I can’t say enough good things about this combination from its ease of use to its sound quality, there’s just not much more to say. The base is deep and firm, and the textures that the two M black extracts from the low notes allowed for instruments like kick drums to sound very organic and live as opposed to recorded.
And the same is true of mids and mid range vocals. They are very clear, very clean and intelligible but there’s just this hint of warmth to them that it doesn’t change the tone of an artist’s voice but it does lend a bit more presence in the room. High frequencies are airy and extended, very natural sounding and they have body to them and it’s that body that well cuts down on harsh sibilance; the type of sibilance that you may experience with the 2M red, and even the 2M blue with some recordings.
But what I love the most about the 2m black is how it absolutely nails dynamics, not to mention that it has better separation between instruments or performers in the soundstage itself with the right albums.
And so, in a weird way it’s kind of like being able to have the best of both worlds. I’m not saying that it makes an album sound digital, it doesn’t, it just has the type of clarity that you may associate with digital while retaining that little bit of warmth that something analogue playback just offers. Comparing it to another favourite the 140 xp competes very favourably with the Fluance RT-85.
Now the Fluance is more expensive, but it does come with the Ortofon 2m blue as standard. Which is why I recommend it so often. I do consider the Fluance to be the better turntable. And if you upgrade the cartridge to the 2M black, you can expect to experience a lot of the same performance I just got done talking about. That said, I am a little bit more of a direct drive fan, so if given the choice of having to pick one of these two turntables to live with, i am picking the 140 XP and simply upgrading the cartridge because the functionality and ease of use of the Audio Technica is just too good for me to pass up, compared to a fully loaded U-Turn Orbit special .
The U turn orbit special is designed to take a lot of the guesswork out of analogue playback, so if you have a minimal system or looking for a turntable that’s more of a set it and forget it kind of a thing, then the U-Turn is likely going to be ideal for you. But if you are looking for a little bit more flexibility, better, ease of use, meaning you do not have to necessarily fuss with belts to do speed changes, or you simply want to make updates to the cartridge that much easier, the Audio Technica LP 140 XP is the better way to go.
And for those of you wondering how the Audio Technica compares against say the SL-1500C from Technics, straight out of the box or from the factory, the 150 C is the better turntable. But if you upgraded the Audio Technica using the 2M black, not only are these two turntables very evenly priced, I’m going to argue that the Audio Technica is going to give you more functionality.
Not to mention, better performance, because if you remember the SL-1500C ships with the 2M red and as I talked about in this review, that is not my favourite cartridge. So if I can have a turntable with the 2m black for about “1500C” money, then I’m going with that option over having to upgrade the SL-1500C.
And as for my favourite turntable of 2020, the Cambridge Audio Alva, TT, Look, I know the Alva TT is not a purist turntable. It is the analogue equivalent of a music streamer, and that’s what I love about it, I love it so much that I’ve decided to get one and as soon as one is in stock ,it’s coming home.
Out of the box, the TT is obviously better than the 140xp wired and using Bluetooth. Now if you upgrade the 140 xp using the 2M black, the two turntables are very comparable. But the Alva TT is the kind of turntable that I have been waiting for. And that is why I’m picking it over the Audio Technica. So obviously the Audio Technica is not built to the same standards but it shares so much in common with some of the most iconic turntables ever made in the SL series from Technics.
So if you are saving your money by buying the Audio Technica in putting that money towards say a better cartridge, what you end up doing is elevating a budget turntable into a potential giant killer. It’s true. It just is.
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