While I love what technology has achieved (and is achieving) in the world of high fidelity music, there’s something very primal about an all-analog audio system. Perhaps it’s a bit of nostalgia, or perhaps it’s the need to constantly babysit the whole setup from dust, static electricity, heat, warping, etc. that has a special allure. Regardless of motivation, I’ve been wanting a decent turntable setup w/o breaking the bank for a while.
Late last year I decided to look into turntable setups from the table itself down to the speakers, wires, connectors and everything in between. I actually spent an non-trivial amount of my scarce free time reading reviews, specs, emailing back and forth with manufacturers, etc. After that process I had narrowed my choices for the turntable to either a Pro-Ject Debut or U-Turn Orbit. The review that follows focuses on U-Turn Audio’s Orbit turntable.
Audition stack: U-Turn Orbit, U-Turn-provided RCA cable, Emotiva TA-100 Integrated Amp, Monoprice OFC hi-fi speaker cable spool, Monoprice gold-plated banana plugs, KEF Q150 bookshelf speakers, Focal Elegia headphones.
Unboxing: well-thought-out and functional. Nothing fancy, but doesn’t have to. No complaints.
Aesthetics: for someone who appreciates and seeks minimalist design, U-Turn hits the sweet spot. No LEDs, no unnecessary nobs, sliders, etc. The wood finish is just gorgeous as is the transparent polymer platter. If I was judging this turntable by aesthetics alone, I would have to stop here because it’s really superb.
Build quality: in as much emphasis they put into the design aspect, they cut some corners in terms of build quality:
- The hinges that attach the lid to the turntable are made of what looks like and feels like cheap plastic
- The felt mat was visibly uneven
- The belt that connects the motor to the platter felt incredibly flimsy
Usage: the Orbit is extremely straight forward to use and operate. Simply put a record on the platter, turn the table on, place the tone arm in position and off you go. However, it’s not without annoyances: it’s completely manual and without anti-skating mechanism so you really cannot leave the record playing and go elsewhere in the house. You need to make sure you’re on top of it once the end of the record comes lest you wish to risk damage to the cartridge. Flipping sides or just the action of removing the LP from the platter was always a bit annoying: the drive belt is incredibly close to your finger tips and easy to slide off and in doing so needing to re-set it.
Audio: regardless how good or bad a piece of gear is in the above rubrics, it’s the sound aspects that really matter in this context.
- Self-noise: the Orbit lacks any grounding, thus quite a bit of static noise could be heard even when no record was playing.
- Treatment of uneven surfaces: I’m not sure if it’s the “angle of attack” of the tone arm or the hyper sensitive Ortofon Red 2M cartridge, but the Orbit was not friendly to mild, normal wrapping that happens to vinyl records. There was always slight pitch shifts as it went through bumps. Nothing major, but definitely present if you listened attentively.
- Grit: so one of the subjective characteristics that defines “that vinyl sound” to me is the grit. I felt the sound coming out of the Orbit was always subdued and lacking oomph. Put on some of my favorite records on and kept trying listen for that punch in the face, but it never happened. I even tried listening with my Focal Elegia just to make sure I wasn’t missing the sub-bass, but came out with the same feeling of lacking grit and punch
Conclusion: the Orbit is undeniably a gorgeous-looking turntable with a lot of minimalist eye candy. But the form and function isn’t balanced. In as much as I really wanted this turn table to do a good job, its performance was always lacking for my taste. If you prefer tame sounding gear and/or you’re looking for conversation pieces, this table has a lot to offer, however. In any event, I hope the folks at U-Turn Audio listen to user feedback and address the material and build quality issues in future iterations.