With a seemingly never-ending surge in growth for vinyl record sales, turntables continue to be a hot commodity. One of the key markets is for entry level turntables, ideal for beginning record collectors, or those looking to move up a bit from something like a suitcase record player. U-Turn Audio’s updated Orbit lineup of turntables offers something for all levels of vinyl enthusiast, and the $249 Orbit Basic is its entry level, an inexpensive gateway to analog audio.
U-Turn Audio sent me one to try out, my first foray into this American audio brand with Kickstarter origins and a mission to offer vinyl fans high-quality turntables that leave them with money to buy records.
One of the selling points of the Orbit Basic is its ease of setup. For those new to turntables or someone moving up from an all-in-one record player, the prospect of setting up a turntable can be very intimidating. Installing and aligning a cartridge, balancing a tonearm, setting the counterweight and anti-skate? You don’t need to worry about any of that with this turntable.
Out of the box, all you need to do is set the platter on the spindle, loop the belt around the platter and pulley, remove a twist tie securing the tonearm and snap the lid into the hinges. Even looping the belt is easier than usual, thanks to a grooved platter that helps to hold it in place.
Three things don’t quite align with the ease of use message, though.
First, this turntable uses a manual speed change system. Instead of pushing a button to change from 33 RPM to 45 RPM, you need to physically move the belt from one pulley to another. Not the end of the world–and some very well known turntables use this system–but it can be a pain, especially if you flip back and forth between LPs and singles frequently.
Second, there is no built-in preamplifier. Or I should say, one is available, but it costs extra. Without this, a buyer has to own either an external preamplifier (to connect to the AUX input of an audio system or portable speaker), or a receiver/amplifier with a PHONO input. Odds are that a vinyl beginner or someone moving up from a basic record player is not going to own either of these…
Third, the cue lever is also an optional, extra cost add-on. If you listen to entire album sides, having to manually “drop the needle” and raise it may not be a big concern. However, doing so makes it a little too easy to scratch a record or damage the stylus. This is actually the first turntable I’ve ever reviewed that didn’t come with a cue lever as standard equipment.
I should also mention the cover hinges. These are plastic and the inexpensive flexible type rather than true moving hinges. I wouldn’t expect them to last for long.
Orbit Basic Turntable Key Specs:
- 2 speed (manual change), belt-drive turntable
- MDF plinth in choice of 5 powder coat colors and option of two solid wood finishes (black walnut and white oak)
- Audio Technica AT91B conical diamond stylus MM cartridge
- OA3 magnesium precision gimbal tonearm with integrated headshell
- Preset, adjustable stainless steel counterweight
- Internal anti-skate
- MDF platter with groove
- Liquid silicone rubber drive belt
- Low-noise AC synchronous motor
- Self-lubricating polymer bearings with stainless steel shaft
- Rubber feet
- Hinged, clear plastic cover
- Options/upgrades include integrated pre-amplifier, real wood plinth, cue lever, acrylic platter, 45 adapter and Iso-Level feet
- 3-year limited warranty
- MSRP: starts at $249
How Does it Sound?
Even the base model of the Orbit Basic includes features that will elevate sound above what many other entry level turntables can deliver.
The platter is powder coated MDF. This is not quite as good as the more expensive acrylic, but MDF is still a dense and heavy material; it will do a far better job of reducing vibration and helping to maintain speed consistency (both will make your records sound better) than the thin stamped steel or even plastic platters commonly found on low-priced turntables and record players.
Orbit’s OA3 (Orbit Arm 3) is a one-piece arm tube, molded from magnesium to dampen vibrations. While many basic systems rely on no-name cartridges, the Orbit 3’s pre-mounted cartridge is an Audio Technica AT91B. One of Audio Technica’s most affordable cartridges, the AT91B is known for its channel separation and balanced output. You can also easily upgrade the sound by popping on a higher end stylus without having to replace the cartridge itself. The plinth is stylishly thin, but made of MDF instead of plastic. Once again the use of heavier, denser material pays off with reduced resonance….