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AT-LP120-USB Turntable

by Audio-Technica
Retail Price: $299.00
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Price last verified: Sunday, December 16, 2018
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DJ USB
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It's the digital successor to the legendary AT-PL120. This "professional" USB turntable is equipped for better-than-average performance and is upgradable to even better sound quality.

 

Contents

Turntable Quality Checklist
Review of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB
Details and Specifications
Photos and Pictures
Sample Audio Clips

 

 

Turntable Quality Checklist

Score: 4 out of 6
Moving Magnet Cartridge or Better
Adjustable Anti-Skate Compensation
Metal Platter
Upgradable Cartridge/Stylus
2 Grams or Less Tracking Force
Adjustable Preamp Gain

 

 

Review

Note: Audio-Technica provided Knowzy with the turntable used in this review free.

Review Date: November 1, 2010

Turntable Quick Facts

The Good

  • An excellent value at around $200
  • A real turntable, not a "plastic toy"
  • A solid platform for discovering turntables and applying upgrades

The Bad

  • Records very softly- must raise volume after digitizing
  • Cheaper Audio-Technica turntable sounds identical to this one
  • Better software would round out package

Overview

The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is a lot of turntable for the money.

It's a solid 23.5 pounds. It includes a cartridge that sells separately for $70. It meets both sound quality requirements. Like the Stanton T.92 USB, you truly feel like you behold a real turntable, not a plastic toy.

Despite all of this, I can't distinguish the sound from an earlier Audio-Technica turntable that sold for $100 less.

The extra $100 you spend for an AT-LP120-USB does buy you a number of things: The proper rotating speed- 33.3 RPM, a needle that's easier on your records and a decent platform upon which you can upgrade to better sound quality.

 

 

The AT-LP120-USB Compared to a Cheaper Audio-Technica Model

This is the second Audio-Technica turntable I have reviewed. The first was the AT-LP2D-USB, which sold for $100. I can't hear the difference between the two sets of samples.

Audio-Technica discontinued the LP2D since my review. They replaced it with AT-LP60-USB. While I haven't tested it out yet, it uses the same cartridge and the specs are very close.

So why spend an extra $100 on the LP120 if you can't hear the difference?

  • Better construction and components. Much of what I said about Stanton T.92 USB versus "plastic toy" turntables applies when comparing the AT-LP120-USB versus the AT-LP60-USB. It's worth noting that the LP120's heavy metal frame is encased in plastic, unlike the Stanton T.92's all metal construction.
  • Better cartridge and stylus (needle). Under the rigors of a test LP, the ATP-2's elliptical stylus tip does much better than the AT-3600's conical tip found on the LP60. The ATP-2 cartridge also places less pressure on your records, extended their life. However, at 3.5 grams of tracking force, it is still well above the hi-fi standard of 1 - 2 grams.
  • Upgradable. The cartridge makes a huge difference in sound quality. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a cartridge alone. In order to upgrade the cartridge, a turntable needs three things. The AT-LP120-USB has them all. The AT-LP60-USB has none of them. Here's what you need:
    1. A Standard Half Inch Mount
    2. Adjustable Anti-skate Compensation
    3. A Counterbalance Weight

 

Can You Tell the Difference?
Turntable
Black Eyed Peas
Dum Diddly (Normalized Volume)
Steely Dan
Peg (Normalized Volume)
AT-LP2D-USB ($100)Play LP iconPlay LP icon
AT-LP120-USB ($200)Play LP iconPlay LP icon

 

 

The "Lower-cost, Entry-model Alternative" to the Technics SL-1200

In the vinyl community, talk of the Audio-Technica PL120 (the original, non-USB version of the LP120) always seems to draw comparisons to the legendary Technics SL-1200 series of turntables. I see no reason to break this tradition.

The PL120 isn't a cheap imitation of the SL-1200 according to Audio-Technica. They just saw a market need for a lower-cost turntable with similar characteristics to the SL-1200.

Kurt Van Scoy, Product Manager at Audio-Technica US tells Knowzy:

"We can understand that the AT-PL120 would be compared to the Technics SL1200, since they are aimed at the same market and have a number of similar features. However, any turntables designed for the professional/DJ market are going to inevitably have features in common, like a direct drive motor with back-cueing capability, variable speed control, a stroboscopic speed indicator, a platter with a slip mat and a detachable headshell, among others.

When we introduced the AT-PL120 we recognized the need to offer a lower-cost entry-model alternative to the market, while maintaining a high standard of quality and performance and offering the features professional users and DJs needed."

 

To be sure, there are a number of clear differences between the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB and the Technics SL-1200:

 

Better on the AT-LP120-USB:
  • Price. The LP120 sells for under $200. Expect to pay at least $700 for the SL-1200. Some places sell it for over $1,000.
  • Includes cartridge, preamp and USB output. The LP120 is a complete package. Even after spending at least $500 more on an SL-1200, you still need to buy a cartridge and a phono preamp. Also, you're on your own if you want to digitize your records with the SL-1200- it has no USB output.
  • Plays 78s. The LP120 has a 78 RPM speed. The SL-1200 does not. Of course, you still need a proper stylus to play 78 speed records.

 

Better on the SL-1200:
  • Specifications much superior. Wow and flutter is 0.025% on the SL-1200 vs. 0.2% on the LP120. Signal-to-noise is 56dB on the SL-1200 vs. "> 50dB" on the LP120.
  • Absorbs shock better. Outside vibrations can creep into the playback on a turntable. The SL-1200's construction does a better job of isolating external vibrations, according to an AudioKarma member. The SL-1200 is also 3 pounds heavier and the body is all-metal, whereas the LP120 has a plastic molding surrounding the body.
  • Adjustable feet. If the surface upon which the turntable sits is uneven, you can level out the platter by adjusting the height of individual feet on the SL-1200. When I was testing my LP120, I had to place a floppy disk under the back left foot to keep it level.

 

 

Records Very Softly

When I reviewed the older AT-LP2D-USB, I noted it recorded too loudly- to the point of clipping in some cases. The LP120 has the opposite problem- it records so softly, you must use software to raise the volume after recording.

The "Normalize" function in your software will raise the volume to the maximum level. It's an extra step but a necessary one if you don't want to reach for the volume knob when you play back your recordings later.

Since the A/D converter is digitizing such a weak audio signal, I was curious if it was discarding some of the quietest elements of the music. Luckily, this doesn't appear to be the case.

I tested this by drastically amplifying the fade-out at the end of Steely Dan's Peg. In the last two seconds, I can still hear the music but it is overwhelmed by pops, clicks and noise from the preamp and/or the analog-to-digital converter.

I can hear an extra four notes in the nice, quiet CD version that I can't hear in the LP120 version. But perhaps those notes are simply buried under all noise that the A/D converter faithfully captures.

 

Does Low Recording Volume Lose Quiet Parts of Music?
Source
Steely Dan
Peg- Last 6 Seconds Drastically Amplified
CDPlay LP icon
Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USBPlay LP icon

 

 

No Vinyl Recording Software. Just Audacity.

Like so many other USB turntables, the AT-LP120-USB doesn't come with easy-to-use or full-featured software to assist you in digitizing your records. Audio-Technica simply includes a free program called Audacity that anyone can download.

In my Crosley CR249 review, I explain the limitations of Audacity.

In their older AT-LP2D-USB turntable, Audio-Technica included a program called Cakewalk pyro Audio Creator. While this wasn't an ideal choice either, at least they had the right idea: They needed something beyond Audacity.

In my USB turntable comparison guide, you'll find quite a few software packages designed specifically for digitizing vinyl ordered by their usefulness. The ease-of-use and efficiency offered by the top two packages make digitizing with a USB turntable much more satisfying. Digitizing your vinyl collection with Audacity is tedious and is difficult to master.

 

 

Details and Specificatons

Turntable Basics
CategoriesUSB, DJ
Suitable for 78 RPM?Yes1
Pre-Amp?Yes
Upgadable Cartridge?Yes
CD Burner?No
SD Card, USB Flash DriveNo
iPod DockNo
SoftwareAudacity
Tape Player, RadioNo
SpeakersNo
Remote Control?No

1  Requires an aftermarket stylus available online at LP Gear.

 

Connections
USB OutputYes
Line OutRCA
Phono OutNo
Headphone OutNo
Line InNo
S/PDIF OutNo
Ground WireNo

 

Turntable Construction
Cartridge TypeMoving Magnet
Cartridge Mount1/2"
Cartridge Make/ModelAudio-Technica ATP-2
Adjustable Anti-SkateYes
DriveDirect
Adjustable GainNo
Speeds33.3, 45 & 78 RPM
PlatterDiecast Aluminum
Automatic FeaturesManual
Tonearm CueYes, Lever
DustcoverPlastic
Tonearm Height AdjustmentYes
Offset Tonearm?Yes
Adjustable FeetNo

 

Turntable Features
Adjustable Pitch?± 20%
Pitch Lock?Yes
Reverse (Backward) PlayYes
Strobe Light?Yes
Cue LightNo

 

Specifications
Signal to Noise (S/N)>50dB
Wow and Flutter<0.2% WRMS
Vertical Tracking Force (VTF)3.5g1
Tracking ErrorNot Published
Effective Tonearm LengthNot Published
Speed VarianceNot Published
Counterweight RangeNot Published
Cartridge Weight RangeNot Published
A/D Resolution16-bit 44.1kHz or 48kHz
Dimensions (W x D x H)17.72" x 13.86" x 6.1"
Weight23.5 lbs

1  Measured by Knowzy using this tracking force scale*. Figure not from manufacturer.

 

 

Photos and Pictures

Marketing Photo #1

Idealized marketing photo of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB.

 

Photo shows the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB from above and unassembled.
Before Assembly

Fresh out of the Styrofoam, the platter and cartridge are not yet attached.

 

Close-up photo shows the cartridge and stylus on the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB.
Cartridge Close-Up

This is the Audio-Technica ATP-2 cartridge with a generally desirable elliptical stylus.

 

Photo shows the back side of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB. Visible are the RCA and USB outputs and Line/Phono switch.
Back Panel and Connections

Here are your connection options. The Line/Phono switch bypasses the pre-amp. Unfortunately, there are no RCA output jacks- the RCA out cable is permanently attached.

 

Photo shows the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB from the front. The platter and controls emerge from the eye-level platform.
Head On

The feet are dampened with springs but you cannot adjust the height. The platter dots confirm speed accuracy.

 

Audacity screenshot show a waveform split in the middle of the clip. The left side's waveform's peaks barely reach 0.2. The right side's peaks reach the top: 1.0.
Turntable Volume Compared to CD Volume

You cannot adjust the low recording volume on the left. The right shows the CD version's volume of the same song section (Steely Dan's Peg).

 

Marketing Photo #2

Idealized marketing photo of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB.

 

Marketing Photo #3

Idealized marketing photo of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB.

 

 

 

Sample Audio Clips

Album Cover: The Black Eyed Peas - Monkey Business

The Black Eyed Peas - Dum Diddly

Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

Play Button
MP3 (192Kbps VBR)
Duration: 0:30
Album Cover: Michael Franti and Spearhead - All Rebel Rockers

Michael Franti And Spearhead - A Little Bit Of Riddim

Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

Play Button
MP3 (192Kbps VBR)
Duration: 0:30
Album Cover: Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd - On the Run

Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

Play Button
MP3 (192Kbps VBR)
Duration: 0:30
Album Cover: Steely Dan - Aja

Steely Dan - Peg

Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

Play Button
MP3 (192Kbps VBR)
Duration: 0:30
Album Cover: Fleetwood Mac's Self-Titled Album

Fleetwood Mac - Rhiannon (Abused LP)

Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

Play Button
MP3 (192Kbps VBR)
Duration: 0:30
Play Button

Extremely Amplified Fade Out - Steely Dan's Peg

Source: Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

Play Button
MP3 (192Kbps VBR)
Duration: 0:30

Listen to recordings from other turntables on our USB Turntable Samples page.

 

 

Disclosure

* Knowzy earns a commission on items marked with a *. We strive to find you the lowest price from reputable retailers but you may find a better deal elsewhere.

Learn how Knowzy puts your best interests before our selfish desire to turn a profit.

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Originally Published:  Thursday, December 8, 2011, 11:22 PM PT

Last Updated:  Tuesday, December 13, 2011, 6:34 PM PT

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