Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB Turntable - Positive Feedback (2024)

The only thing "entry level" about Audio-Technica's new AT-LP1240-USB is the price. MSRPis $530, and the street priceis closer to $450. It's easily competitive with any source Ican think of for that money—analog or digital—and it runs rings around some of them.Sorry if that's vague, but I wanted to let you know upfront that this is one of the bestvalues going.

Audio-Technica won't confirm this, but production of the AT-LP1240-USB is farmed out to amassive specialist turntable manufacturer in Asia. That's no bad thing since they churn‘em out by the gazillions for big-name brands—some of which might surprise you. Yep,the same basic goodness here has sold for a lot more money under other, more "high end"nameplates.

See that tonearm? Looks suspiciously like the one on Denon's $2500 DP-A100anniversary model from a few years back. And it's respectable too, free of obviousfriction and with tons of adjustability built in. In fact, this is a sturdy product all aroundfor the money. The controls respond with precision, or at least a convincing degree offaux precision. It has every convenience a DJ could possibly expect, along with somenice touches like a detachable IEC power cord and RCA outputs instead of captive audiocables. (Feel free to upgrade, but the cable Audio-Technica supplies is a cut above theusual freebie and will certainly suffice.) The feet even offer some isolation and areadjustable—a nice touch.

Like the classic and much missed Technics 1200 it's patterned after, this is fun andconvenient to use. It gets up to speed nearly instantly. There isn't a dry record cleaningbrush on earth that will slow the platter down thanks to the high-torque motor, somethingthat can't be said for belt drives in this price range. Did I mention it's direct drive? It is,so it's basically zero maintenance. However, because it's meant for DJs, it comes onlywith a thin slipmat. You'll want to replace that immediately. The Herbie's Way mat(reviewed HERE) I liked on the Technics performed admirably here too, but there's noshortage of other options from cork to leather to sorbothane.

Audio-Technica must have confidence in their quality control because the review samplewas factory sealed, shrink-wrapped and clearly identical to what you'd get if you boughtone yourself. The packaging, by the way, was superb. I'm disappointed the otherwisegood manual lacks instructions for cartridge alignment, nor is a template or overhanggauge provided. However, the actual process of mounting a cartridge is easy thanks to thedetachable headshell.

I tried this in a few different configurations ranging from entry-level (a vintage PhilipsPA-50 integrated amp with onboard MM/MC phono and Polk Audio Monitor 50floorstanding speakers) to mid-range (Rega and PrimaLuna integrated amps and SpendorS5e loudspeakers). I even briefly tried it with my $2799 Avid Pulsus phono stage(reviewed HERE) just for fun. Cartridges (sold separately) included Audio-Technica's AT-120E/T and AT440MLa moving magnets, both good matches, and the AT-F7, anexcellent, budget low-output moving coil.

The overall impression is best described as analog warmth overlaid with a sheen ofdigital crispness. There's excellent separation of instruments. There's also a sense ofconfidence, drive and clarity uncommon at this price point. It's an exciting listen,particularly with the MC cartridge installed—possibly fatiguing in the wrong system, buteasily solvable by swapping in a cartridge with a warmer, more relaxed presentation likethe Shure M97xe or Grado Gold.

What's important to understand, relative to its competition, is that the AT-LP1240-USB lackstheir most significant limitations. Where the MDF belt-drives are generally midrange-focused,this is not; it has frequency extension approaching products at the next level.Where the belt-drives run out of steam, this offers real dynamics, scale and impact.You're still limited in terms of how much resolution there is for every note, and finetextures are glossed over, but because there's a bit more air and separation, it feels like you're getting more than you really are.

You'd expect a DJ table to do electronic music well, and the AT-LP1240 was suitablypropulsive and engaging playing John Carpenter's Lost Themes (Sacred Bones; SBR-123). It can also do delicacy, as demonstrated on the fiddles, ukuleles, washboards andsuch on Mark Knopfler's Tracker (Verve/Virgin EMI4716982). Generally speaking,there was more perceived instrumental detail than actual atmosphere on live jazzrecordings, but classical music soared. I'm listening to a bit of the old Ludwig van rightnow, Triple Concerto op 56 (Deutsche Grammophon; 2531 262), and it's thrilling.The only significant downside is that it treats surface noise as part of the music. Anythingbut the quietest, cleanest, most pristinely pressed record will exhibit more prominent popsand ticks than you'll get with the Regas, Pro-Jects and Music Halls. That's something toconsider if you're used to quiet digital backgrounds, or if your record collection is on therough side. (This is generally endemic to most affordable direct drive designs; I'veexperienced it to varying degrees with various Technics, Sony and Denon modelsthrough the years.)

Compared to my Avid Diva II—which costs about ten times more—the AT-LP1240-USBsimply gets less marrow out of the bone. What sounds lifelike and natural on the Avid iscandy-coated or sometimes hard by comparison. There's more atmosphere, amuch more convincing soundstage, greater frequency extension and every otherimprovement you'd expect for the money. That's not surprising. What is, however, ishow little I missed what the Avid clearly did better.

There's an okay built-in phono preamp, but if you're reading this you won't be satisfiedand should aim for better. A quick look inside suggests that it cannot be completelybypassed and stays in the signal path to some degree even when defeated. If you're handyor know a good tech, my strong suggestion is to physically remove it. Also, some hum ispresent with the unit powered on. It wasn't noticeable until I upped the phono stage gainfor the 0.35mV AT-F7 cartridge and really cranked up the volume. Wiring the tonearmoutput directly to the RCA jacks would likely eliminate this. Or, stick with high-outputcartridges and it's not an issue.

I wish the dustcover had hinges for convenience sake, but we all know it's better toremove it completely before playing records anyway. The cueing light—a nice but totallyunnecessary feature—isn't the slick pop-up type Technics users would expect, but rather,a chintzy plug-in affair. Also, the platter had a tiny cosmetic wobble that did not affectperformance. I didn't try the USB output or included software because that sortof thingjust ain't my bag, baby.

If you're willing to invest a few extra bucks, this benefits from tweaks. In addition to themat upgrade (essential) and the tonearm output rewire (purely optional but helpful),aftermarket headshells from the Sumiko, Orsonic and Audio-Technica seemed to offer avery slight improvement in treble smoothness. The Audio-Technica AT-618 recordweight, in conjunction with the Herbie's Way mat, tightened up the overall presentationand quieted backgrounds a little.

If the AT-LP1240-USB merely sounded good, it would be a solid value and totallyrecommendable. But it's actually much better than that. I gave it an absurdly thoroughshakedown for an entry-level product. It's testament to how good this inexpensive littlething is that it kept me searching for minor criticisms. If $500 were my limit for aturntable, this is what I'd buy…but I'd also give it a careful listen before spending twiceas much. Enthusiastically recommended—hifi at a fun-size price.


MSRP: $530


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Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB Turntable - Positive Feedback (2024)
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