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The mantra with sound systems today seems to be that they should be heard, not seen. If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, downsizing a turntable setup isn’t so simple. Minimalist turntable setups are typically comprised of a pair of bookshelf speakers and an integrated amplifier. And, let’s not forget the vibrational havoc speakers can pose to your precious and sensitive setup.
If you’re looking for a truly compact and near vibration-free experience for your record player, then look no further than Andover Audio’s Spinbase. It’s an ingenious, all-in-one, plug-n-play speaker system designed specifically for turntables. It’s a near perfect solution for apartment dwellers or rooms that can’t accommodate larger systems. While certainly not without its quirks, The Spinbase’s simplicity, performance, and sheer bang for the buck left me awe-struck. Read on to see why I liked the Spinbase so much.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best Bluetooth speakers, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.
What is the Spinbase?
At first glance, you might confuse the Spinbase for something else. Its 18 x 3.25 x 13.5-inch dimensions (WxHxD) make it a perfect fit for just about any turntable. The casual passerby might think that the Spinbase is a turntable platform or run-of-the-mill audio component.
Take a closer look and you’ll quickly see that the Spinbase is four products in one: A powered speaker system, phono preamp, headphone amp, and Bluetooth streamer in one compact enclosure.
The Spinbase has a single volume knob on its minimalist front panel. Turn the volume knob clockwise to turn on the unit. The knob sits on top of a metal speaker grille that flanks the unit’s front and sides. Apart from having a Class D amplifier, the Spinbase is otherwise an analog throwback—there’s no remote control. Adjusting the volume is manual endeavor.
That amplifier powers two woofers and two tweeters. Andover Audio says the Spinbase’s driver arrangement produces an expansive 270-degree stereo image. I’m typically skeptical of marketing claims, but short of pulling out my protractor, I was simply awe-struck by the breadth of the Spinbase’s soundstage. Unlike a typical two-channel speaker setup that gives you a single sweet spot, I could walk from one side of the Spinbase and around to the other with virtually no audible off-axis penalty. The speaker’s sound was smooth and consistent from one side to the other.
The Spinbase’s output will easily fill small, medium, and even larger rooms—challenging or outperforming speakers at twice Andover’s $300 asking price.
Designed for both ceramic and moving magnet cartridges, the Spinbase is out-of-the-box compatible with most turntables, and its rear panel is clearly labeled as where to connect ceramic or magnetic cartridges.
If you have a second source device, such as a CD player or a network audio streamer, you can theoretically connect that to the Spinbase via the RCA line-level inputs on the unit’s rear panel (assuming you don’t have a turntable with a ceramic cartridge that would rely on those jacks). The speaker has no input selector, so if you’re connecting a turntable with a magnetic cartridge—or any turntable that has a built-in pre-amp—you’ll need to set the Spinbase’s ceramic-cartridge switch to the “off” position. Andover’s printed quick-start sheet, by the way, needs a redo.
Trouble in headphone land
You’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the back of the speaker, but headphone output was a real low point for me. First off, I wish Andover Audio had put the headphone jack on the front of the unit, like just about every other audio component on the planet. I’m sure there was some engineering reason for it, but the placement on the back of the unit is just impractical. Secondly, the jack should be a standard 1/4-inch headphone jack, versus the 3.5mm jack that’s there.
But to make matters worse, you’d better not have your headphones plugged in when you turn the Spinbase on or off. I did, unfortunately, and got a double whammy as the system delivered a loud and nasty “pop!” when I turned it on and then off. It was enough to leave my ears ringing.
[Editor's note: Andover Audio contacted us after this review was published to let us know they've started warning consumers who have purchased a Spinbase of this issue. The company also told us that they have implemented a design change that will prevent this issue from occuring with new Spinbase units. Existing Spinbase owners will be given the option of receiving a replacement unit, if they so desire. The easiest fix for all concerned, however, is to just not wear headphones when you turn the speaker on. To be clear, that is our observation, not necessarily Andover Audio's.]
The Spinbase had no problem driving my Focal Clear headphones. In fact, the volume got really, really loud without even reaching the nine o’clock mark on the dial. I didn’t dare try using easier-to-drive in-ear-monitors or earbuds. Plugging in your headphones and kicking back to vinyl is a very nice idea in theory, but I wish Andover Audio did a better job with its implementation—including protecting the hearing of the buyers.
Bluetooth support, too
You can stream your favorite tunes to the Spinbase wirelessly, too, thanks to its support for Bluetooth 5.0. Andover Audio needs to do a better job for non-technical and novice users, however; the Bluetooth section in the Spinbase’s quick-setup guide is literally two sentences long, and there’s nothing in the instructions to tell you how to clear previous pairings if you want to switch Bluetooth sources.
Bluetooth performance was OK in my environment, but I found the Bluetooth implementation completely maddening. First of all, at high volumes, Bluetooth streaming had a very high noise floor. Secondly, if you do not plug in the included shorting plugs into the magnetic phono RCA inputs, you get terrible digital noise through the speaker at even moderate volumes. Andover Audio makes a brief mention of this on the back of its quick-start guide, but not in the Bluetooth section. In my setup, I needed to unplug my turntable and plug in the RCA shorting caps just to stream Bluetooth without noise artifacts. When I was finished, I had to unplug the caps and re-connect my turntable. If I were to purchase a Spinbase, I’d probably use it for my vinyl only and forego its other features.
While the vinyl-specific parts of the Spinbase get high marks, the headphone and Bluetooth elements have some pretty maddening drawbacks
An otherwise great performance
Unboxing and setting up the Spinbase was a piece of cake. The only setup needed was to plug the Spinbase into my turntable. Andover Audio includes a short pair of analog interconnects with an integrated grounding cable—a nice touch.
The Spinbase’s vibration-free performance lived up to its billing. I didn’t notice any vibrations during my testing. Having the Spinbase directly under my turntable didn’t interfere with my vinyl playback in the least. In fact, even putting my hand directly on the spinbase revealed only the slightest resonance coming through the cabinet—certainly no more than you’d experience with a typical bookshelf setup.
I’ve already discussed the Spinbase’s stereo performance, but allow me to say again: The super-wide sound stage is absolutely wonderful.
A great system—but not without its quirks
Andover Audio’s Spinbase serves as an all-in-one, minimalist solution that will appeal to many. The Spinbase’s wide soundstage, solid sound, and near vibration-free performance will seduce many. It certainly did me.
The Spinbase’s headphone and Bluetooth streaming features, on the other hand, are underwhelming at best, and they cost the Spinbase’s rating a full star. But if you’re an analog junkie looking for a streamlined, all-in-one speaker solution for your turntable, you absolutely should give the Spinbase a serious listen.
Andover Audio Spinbase
The Spinbase is a great-sounding, compact, vibration-free solution for your turntable, but its Bluetooth streaming and headphone features have annoying quirks.
- Great sound from a compact package
- Ultra-wide soundstage delivers wide, room-filling sweetspot
- Virtually vibration-free performance that won't interfere with your vinyl playback
- Annoyingly loud popping sound when turning the unit on/off with headphones (a fix is in the works)
- Bluetooth streaming requires using shorting caps on the inputs on the unit's rear
- No remote control