Forget, for a moment, the palpable satisfaction of holding a physical record in your hand. And never mind the nostalgia that comes with the warm crackle and hiss of a needle settling into a groove. Concentrate instead on the main reason why you need to switch to vinyl and upgrade to a quality turntable: high fidelity.
Sound, after all, is analog by definition, and something is always lost in the digital conversion process. If the music files you’ve downloaded to your computer sound flat, or lack sonic detail and richness, consider a return to pure analog. But don’t cheap out and expect the precise fidelity that vinyl promises.
New to high-end audio? Shinola, the Detroit watch company, offers a basic introduction with the simple design esthetic of its Runwell Turntable ($2,500). While Shinola doesn’t manufacture turntables, the company collaborated with VPI Industries (royalty in the audio realm) for a beautifully minimalist, belt-driven record player featuring a built-in phono preamp, a variety of stylish finishes and a lifetime guarantee. Setup is practically plug-and-play, so you don’t have to obsess over cartridges and preamps.
One well-established darling of the turntable world is the McIntosh MT5 ($6,500). It’s similar to its predecessor the MT10 (only less expensive and far easier to set up), and is lauded for its ability to precisely translate studio recordings to your living room without coloration to the sound. The glowing, silicone-acrylic platter helps to dampen vibrations while its belt-drive motor is not only stable, but quiet. A recent demo of Dave Brubeck’s album Time Further Out rendered Paul Desmond’s saxophone so convincingly, it seemed he was playing in the room.
Looking to take it to an even higher level? Mark Levinson certainly was. Although highly respected in the esoteric world of audiophilia, until recently Mark Levinson lacked a turntable in its portfolio. The omission was filled when it teamed up with VPI (who else?) and produced the somewhat intimidating Mark Levinson No. 515 ($10,000). Its chassis is fabricated of aluminum and composite material for exceptional dampening properties; the 20-lb aluminum platter rotates on an inverted bearing for rotational accuracy; and the triple-belt drive system provides smooth, quiet operation. Keep in mind, this unit is built like a tank, so its industrial appearance will dominate almost any decor.
Of course, a good turntable needs equally good speakers and components. You could mix and match brands or keep your system uniform, depending on the type of output you’re looking for. In the end, it’s only your ears that matter.