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Jim BrayAudio-Technica makes turntables wireless while Ford ups its audio ante with a Bang

By Jim Bray
September 15, 2016

Remember turntables, those hardworking platter spinners with which many of us grew up? It appears that reports of their demises are, if not completely wrong, at least overstated - and Audio-Technica is taking steps meant to ensure the old fashioned disc player is still relevant in a digital and wireless world.

I finally sold my turntable a few years ago, though I still have a few record albums around that my wife really wants me to get rid of. But I rarely throw anything away; heck, I still have a bunch of laserdiscs, a once high end video format that committed suicide almost the day that DVD's hit the market.

But unlike laserdiscs, which are showing no signs of being reanimated, vinyl records are staging a comeback. Oh, I doubt they'll ever become truly mainstream again, but they seem to be finding an audience, as evidenced by the turntables still (or newly) on the market and the bins of vinyl records being sold in many music stores.

Some people still swear that the analogue sound from a record is better than the best digital file, and there's some merit to that opinion. Since music went digital in the 1980's, the quality of digital files has been all over the map, and music manufacturers are still trying to find the "ultimate" digital files. I address this somewhat in my review of Technics Tracks digital music service - and I admit that they vinyl albums I've burned onto CD's sound better than many CD's, especially older ones. But on the whole I'll take digital files - all things being equal - over vinyl because of their convenience and portability.

Still, there's obviously room for turntables to co-exist with today's digital sources, as a niche market if nothing else.

The problem with turntables today, other than their analogue output and comparatively large footprint (and they need to be on the top shelf of your audio system so you can get at the platters you're playing), is that a lot of today's audio systems don't have inputs for them. You can't just plug 'em into any input jacks, because of the nature of the beast: they need a turntable preamp to raise their output level to one a preamp can "hear."

This is why Audio-Technica's press release caught my eye. Well, that and the fact that I've reviewed stuff from this company before, though not recently, and it has performed well. And if I were looking for a turntable today, other than a really, multi-thousand dollar high end one I could never justify, the AT-LP60BT looks like it could do the job nicely. Oh, it doesn't appear even as high end as the old, 1970's vintage, Sansui direct drive model I sold a couple of years ago, but it sure makes up for it in features and compatibility.

The AT-LP60-BT uses Bluetooth to get your tunes to the rest of your audio system, which seems like a really great idea. I use Bluetooth all the time to send tunes to my Bose SoundDock 10 and Soundlink Mini (and, of course, to innumerable vehicles I review) and while I've heard from some who say it isn't really an "audiophile" interface it serves me well and, all other things being equal, I've been satisfied for the most part.

And since many audio makers now embrace Bluetooth - including the last two Rotel preamps (stereo and home theatre) I reviewed - there's obviously room for equipment other than smart devices to exploit it.

And, in a nice bit of flexibility, if you do want to continue using a wired connection, the fully automatic Audio-Technica will be happy to comply, thanks to its built in phono preamp and duplicate wired outlets.

Another advantage of using the Bluetooth interface is that you can spin your vinyl tunes to wireless speakers systems, such as the abovementioned Boses and their many competitors, and sound bars, BT-enabled headphones and the like. Yep, you could take the turntable with you and play tunes directly to your ear buds, as long as you have a long enough extension cord for the turntable and don't mind holding it level all the time and moving very gently…

Available in black, white, or navy, the turntable handles 33-1/3 and 45 rpm records (alas, my 45's became coasters many years ago and even those have been replaced by flawed recordable CD's since then), the turntable retails for $179.99 USD and Audio-Technica says it can remember up to eight different Bluetooth devices, for easy connection to a variety of musical destinations.

Sounds, no pun intended, like a neat - if limited in appeal - product. I've asked Audio-Technica for a review sample, so if they send one I'll do a follow up with my impressions. Not that I'm Rich Little…

A Ford-able high end audio?

Ford has announced it's upgrading its audio system offerings thanks to a collaboration with B&O Play, in a new audio system that'll start arriving on Ford's global vehicle lineup starting next year.

B&O is the abbreviation of Bang and Olufsen, a Danish audio/video (mostly audio) company that has been around for many years. The company is known as much for its fascinating designs as for its sound and one thing it is not known for is mainstream audio.

This could be a major step up in the audio world for Ford, whose higher end stereo systems recently have tended more toward mainstream Sony than the rarefied heights of esoteric audio. The last experience I had with B&O came in a cellar jazz club back in 2008, where a pair of their Beolab 5 speakers (which sold back in 2008 for about 20 grand a pair!) filled in the rest of the combo behind Snake Davis on sax and B&O's Brendan Rothwell on bass.

The duo played their parts of the music, karaoke-like, with the Beolab 5's playing the rest of the combo, with the bass and sax tracks stripped out. Then they'd play us the same tune with all the tracks coming from the B&O's. It was remarkable. Of course those speakers came with 2500 watts of ICE (Class D) power built into each of them, so that didn't hurt. Put power like that in a car and you might have to drive with the windows and sunroof open just so you don't go deaf!

According to Ford's press release, a recent Ipsos 2016 Automotive Audio Branding study showed that "roughly one-third of new car buyers say that the audio brand in their next vehicle would have a significant impact on their purchase consideration." I can believe that. Ever since GM brought Bose on board back in the 1980's - and possibly before that, since I wasn't involved in car writing back then - auto makers have often offered upgraded oomph in their audio and audio manufacturers as diverse as Bose, Infinity, Harman Kardon, JBL, Nakamichi, Lexicon and many others have jumped on board, with varying degrees of success.

I have no idea how much - or even if - the B&O Play system will add to the price of Ford's vehicles but if it can be kept to a reasonable amount, and the B&O experience is at least somewhat like how I remember it, this could be a big deal for audio-and-auto-philes. I look forward to trying it.

Life's even better than Good…

Last week I reviewed LG's 55UH8500 55 inch 4K UHD TV and I forgot to tell you about one of its audio features. I don't care, generally, about a TV's audio output because I hook 'em into my audio systems and  if I'm watching something where I want good sound I'll fire up the big sound, turning off the TV's sound completely.

The LG, however, shows that the company does take TV sound seriously - so much so (and this is the feature I forgot to mention) that it offers automatic room correction. This is a feature by which the TV sends out an audio signal, listens to it and analyzes it, and optimizes itself to the viewing/listening room. It's a feature found more often on mid to higher end preamp/processors (via built in systems such as Audyssey) and I never expected to find it on a TV, especially a reasonably mainstream one.

But it's there and though I doubt it's nearly as sophisticated as the higher end room correction systems, it did work in my room - not enough to make me want to chuck my audio systems in the back alley, but better than I'd expected.

One more reason to love that TV! I wish I had it back!

Copyright 2016 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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