Most cheap turntables sound cheap -- they're rumbly, thin and distorted -- but the U-Turn Orbit Basic suffers no such faults. Before the $179 Orbit's debut, audiophile turntable prices started at around $400. And while used turntables might be a way to get into vinyl for less, turntables are rather delicate devices, so used buys can be risky. If you're ready to take the plunge and explore new vinyl frontiers, you need a decent turntable to hear what the fuss is all about. The Orbit Basic will take you there.
I first heard about the Orbit when it was a Kickstarter project late last year, and now it's a reality. As promised, the Orbit is made near Boston with mostly US-made parts (only the motor, phono cartridge, and a few small plastic molded parts are sourced overseas). The tonearm is a completely proprietary design, a feat few audiophile turntable manufacturers, even ones that make more expensive designs, pull off. The turntable and tonearm were designed by U-Turn's Bob Hertig. In addition, each turntable undergoes a 15-point quality control regimen, and each one is listened to by a U-Turn technician. U-Turn might be a newborn audio company, but that old school approach to getting things right is impressive.
Build quality is excellent for an entry-level 'table, all the parts fit nicely, and a clear plastic dust cover is standard. Some turntables are a hassle to setup, but the Orbit is a snap. Just place the platter on the turntable spindle, put the belt around the motor pulley and platter, hook up the included cable to your receiver or phono preamp (I used a NAD PP 2i, full review to come), and you're good to go. The whole operation took just a few minutes.
The Orbit's budgetary constraints show up in the lack of a tonearm cueing lift lever, you have to pick up the tonearm by grabbing the finger lift on the tonearm's head shell (U-Turn is developing an add-on cueing device that will be sold separately for around $40). Second, there's no calibration for applying stylus pressure when you change phono cartridges, but the stylus force is preset at the factory for the included Audio-Technica CN5625AL cartridge. So if you want to change or upgrade cartridges you'll need to buy an inexpensive gauge to properly set the stylus pressure.
I reviewed the all-black $179 Orbit Basic, the $279 Orbit Plus is much the same but features an acrylic platter instead of the Basic's medium-density fiberboard platter, and an upgraded Audio-Technica AT95E phono cartridge. The Plus version is available with black, blue, or green bases, other colors are in the works. UPS shipping in the US runs around $20, and U-Turn is also selling turntables to Canadian customers.
My old LPs sounded sweet and very "analog-like," which is to say rich, warm and inviting. Play a great audiophile LP, like Patricia Barber's newly remastered "Companion," and you'll hear a sound that goes beyond the high-resolution downloads. I'm defining "best" as more lifelike, and because of that the music draws you in more completely than digital formats ever do. That's vinyl's big advantage -- it's harder to ignore the music and multitask with a turntable. Yes, you have to go over and change the LP every twenty minutes, and figure out what you're going to play next. That's a plus, you're involved with music on a different level when you actively participate in what you're listening to.
With the Orbit Basic turntable, U-Turn Audio has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams; their very first attempt is a knockout! Sure, $450 turntables from Rega and Pro-Ject sound better, clearer and more transparent, but for $179 the Orbit Basic is a terrific way to discover why some audiophiles still prefer analog over digital sound. One other nice thing about the Orbit and other turntables is,you can always improve the sound by upgrading to a better phono cartridge, and that can make a huge difference.
I will review the Rega RP1 turntable here in a few weeks.