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While the Japanese electronics company Audio-Technica is known manufacturing a wide array of entry-level turntables and headphones, they’re beloved in the professional audio community for their studio-quality microphones and headphones. They’re also one of the most successful providers of cartridges to other turntable manufacturers.
Audio-Technica has just announced its AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable, a wireless model that uses Bluetooth 5.2 to stream music to the speakers of your choice. The unit has a built-in phono preamp and RCA output jacks, so you can use it as a wired unit in a component system. It’s not outfitted with a USB port, so you won’t be able to rip your favorite vinyl to digital files on your personal computer.
We got an early look at the AT-LPW50BT-RW, which is an outstanding performer that delivers an excellent Bluetooth listening experience and an outstanding wired one.
How well is the AT-LPW50BT-RW built?
The AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable’s plinth is manufactured from 30mm-thick, anti-resonance MDF (medium density fiberboard) finished with a nice rosewood veneer. There’s also a clear hinged dust cover, an AC power adapter, a die-cast aluminum platter, a 45-rpm adapter, a counterweight, and a rubber slip mat.
The turntable has a straight carbon-fiber tonearm with adjustable tracking force and a matching matte-silver AT-HS4 universal 1⁄2-inch-mount headshell with a black AT-VM95E Dual Moving Magnet phono cartridge with a 0.3 x 0.7 mil elliptical stylus.
While we didn’t get exact specs from Audio-Technica, the non-Bluetooth AT-LPW50PB turntable weighs 12.6 lbs. without the dustcover, and that seems close to what the AT-LPW50BT-RW weighs. The new turntable measures 16.54 x 14.02 x 4.49 inches (WxDxH) without its dustcover; the dustcover attached bumps its height to 4.96 inches.
How difficult is the AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable to set up ?
Audio-Technica provides an excellent Quick Start Guide that demonstrates assembly with images instead of words. Even though this isn’t an entry-level turntable, someone who’s never set one up before should be able to follow along with some patience.
This is a belt-drive turntable, and the belt is looped around the underside of the platter with a ribbon help to you position the belt over the motor’s pulley. The cartridge is preinstalled on the headshell, which slides onto the tonearm and is held in place once the collar is screwed around it. When you eventually need to replace the stylus or decide to upgrade the cartridge, the removable headshell will make the process far easier than trying to swap out a cartridge on a tonearm.
Slide the counterweight onto the back of the tonearm and find the point where the tonearm balances. Set the counterweight to zero and then turn counterclockwise to the 2g setting required for the AT-VM95E cartridge. Anti-skating is built in and doesn’t rely on a hanging weight. Set the knob to 2 and you’re ready to go.
The AT-LPW50BT-RW comes with a built-in phono preamp. If you’re using a wired connection, you’ll want to set the switch to “Phono” if you’re using a receiver with a phono stage or a phono preamp component. If you’re plugging into an Aux connection or using Bluetooth, set the switch to “Line.”
Does the AT-LPW50BT-RW have automatic features?
The AT-LPW50BT-RW is a 100 percent manual turntable. You’ll need to turn the knob on the front left corner to 33 or 45 rpm for the motor to start and your record to begin spinning. Once the last track on your vinyl ends, the tonearm will drift to the center and continuously bounce off the groove that prevents the stylus from sliding across the record. You’ll need to get up and manually return the tonearm to its cradle and switch off the unit.
Listeners new to higher-end turntables might be confused by what seems to be a downgrade to their gear, but serious audiophiles believe that the extra gears and motors necessary for those auto-start and auto-stop features are just variables that can add vibration and screw up the playback. One plus for fully manual operation is that it emphasizes the ritual of listening to music on vinyl. Rather than just hit shuffle on Spotify, you’re actively paying attention to the overall experience.
What is the AT-LPW50BT-RW listening experience?
I tested the AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable two ways. I made a wireless Bluetooth connection to my Naim Mu-so wireless speaker, and a wired connection to a NAD Phono Preamp PP-1 through a NAD Stereo Preamplifier S100, a NAD Monitor Series Amplifier 2400, and a pair of vintage Bowers & Wilkins P5 floor-standing speakers.
My test vinyl was a miracle $1 find at Goodwill: a 1978 second pressing of the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, in excellent condition.
The key factor here is, of course, the AT-VM95E. This Audio-Technica cartridge is one of the world’s best-selling cartridges and represents a fantastic entry point into the world of higher-end audio reproduction. Audio-Technica has made this E-series stylus black instead of the standard and familiar green. The bonus with this model is that you can upgrade to a better stylus without buying a new cartridge.
There’s a Bluetooth pairing button on the tonearm base. Press it for a couple seconds while pressing the pairing button on your speaker and you’re ready for playback. If the Naim unit was turned off, I had to go through the pairing process from scratch.
Some Girls, engineered and mixed by Chris Kimsey, represents one of the very best recordings the band made after they left Decca Records in 1971. After a run of albums made under sometimes chaotic circumstances in far-flung locations, the band congregated at EMI Studios in Paris, and the result was a record where the rhythm section got a proper recording and the band sounds as tight as they ever did.
Bluetooth is a technology with considerable limitations, but the album sounded great streamed to the Naim Mu-so. Most of that is, of course, due to the superior construction of the turntable and the excellent cartridge, but Audio-Technica has managed to add wireless streaming to the mix without screwing up the sound.
The AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable made the album sound even better when it had a wired connection to a component system. I tested it with both the built-in phono preamp and through my own NAD phono stage. The dedicated NAD unit sounded better with slightly more detail, but not by as much of a margin as I expected.
Should you buy the Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable?
The AT-LPW50BT-RW turntable looks great, comes with an excellent cartridge and stylus, and features a carbon-fiber tonearm. It’s a great step into the higher-end audio world for users who want a turntable that will reduce wear and tear on their vinyl in addition to upgrading their audio listening experience.
The Bluetooth feature is a nice addition to the Audio-Technica lineup but, if you’re not interested in wireless listening, you can get the AT-LPW50PB model that’s essentially the same but loses the Bluetooth for $50 less.
If you’re paying $30 each for new vinyl pressings, you should protect your investment with a well-balanced turntable that can help extend the life of your music investment. The Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT-RW should last for decades and is versatile enough to handle the moment when you decide to shift from wireless to a traditional wired component system.
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