I know this will read as heretical to the general reader of a vinyl company’s website, but I have never cared about gear in my 25 years as a person who plays and collects vinyl records.
I played my first spin of the blue Beatles greatest hits album on my parents’ last turntable-- an all-in-one jobber that was used mainly for its tape deck--when I was 6. I owned a Sony turntable for my college years--I got the only one Best Buy was selling in stores in 2005--and when that broke when I was financially despondent, I ended up using my roommates’ Crosley turntable for close to four years. I am not a snob about my turntable, and I’m also not convinced I should be horrified by playing my records on a turntable that is actually affordable and accessible for the vast majority of the potential vinyl buying populace (what up Amileah?). All I really care about are my records; I could care less about what I play them on as long as it plays my records when I want to play them.
Since moving on from the Crosley, I’ve followed what I assume is the average turntable upgrade trajectory: I had a $120 Audio-Technica, and then ultimately upgraded to a $300 U-Turn. I’ve been content in that position--it me, person playing records on something that costs as much as an X-Box One--for a couple years now and had no plans of scaling up to a model that would cost more than my first car ($800 for a 1995 Dodge Spirit). But then I got the opportunity to test drive a Pro-Ject 1Xpression Carbon Classic--which we have in our store for $999 right now--and I’m not sure I can ever scale back to the more modest Xbox-priced model.
First off, the 1Xpression is prettier than any consumer electronics item I’ve ever owned. It’s got a wood veneer, and clean lines, and it just flat out looks cool. It’s the kind of turntable you own when you want people to come into your place and be wowed by the fact that you own a turntable. Crosleys might come in technicolor, and my old Audio-Technica looked cool and all, but no one would be impressed with it when they walk in the room. That’s not the case with the 1Xpression.
The major difference no one really tells you about when you start scaling up is that you have things like tonearm counterweights, and anti-skate weights, and dials to turn on said counterweights, and everything is considerably more gaga than the models that cost less. The assumption is that if you shell out for a $1000 turntable that you’ll want to change the weight and trajectory of the tonearm pressing on your records, and you’ll want to make 100% that you have calibrated properly--via fishing line and a small weight. Which is to say it took me two hours to stop futzing with my counterweight and decide I had done it as well as I could. If you are an obsessive person when it comes to making those kind of adjustments, I’d recommend something without a user-calibrated tonearm.
Scaling up is always kind of a crapshoot in turntables and sound equipment; there’s only so much fidelity you can wrangle out of your dad’s old copy of Jailbreak at a certain point, you know? But the 1Xpression made my records sound sharp, and it certainly sounded better than any turntable I have ever personally used to play my records on. Some of that might be do to the very spiffy Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge that comes standard on the 1Xpression ($300-ish retail for similar cartridges), but it’s also because it turns out $1000 turntables sound like 1000 bucks. An additional positive with the 1Xpression was the ease at which the rubber band could be moved to play 45s or LPs. That’s not always the case with lower models, which can actually make playing off speed records some kind of nightmare.
Pro-Ject’s parent company announced late last month that they had a four-fold increase in turntable sales since 2009, largely driven by turntables like the 1Xpression (and the Carbon model). After spending a month with one of the company’s top models, I’m confident that the increase in sales isn’t due to any gimmick beyond the turntable being great. If you can shell out for a $1000 turntable, make it the the 1Xpression.
Andrew Winistorfer is Director of Music at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard and The Story of Willie Nelson. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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