"Stanton" now has a 1200 semi-knockoff with many useful features down below $250 street price,
Stanton 500 cartridge included:
I was curious enough about this thing, and wanted a turntable for the office, that I bought one of
"factory resealed" units from ZZsounds.com, $240 delivered (with no sales tax). If one wants to play
78's, it's another $40 or so street price for the appropriate Stanton 500 needle.
Let me say from the outset -- I'm not recommending this as a transfer-grade or archive-grade
solution. But for casual listening and "vinyl to the iPod" transfers, this thing offers some
compelling features. What surprised me most was the decent build quality for that price range, the
powerful motor with quick start and speed-lock, the Technics-like tonearm which sounded like it
didn't have resonance problems and felt non-cheap. I also liked that it's an exact copy of Technics'
dimensions, so you can just swap cartridge/headshell combos. The counterweight and gimble system is
cheaper build quality than a Technics 1200, but not junk. The most surprising thing to me was the
relatively low rumble and impressive isolation for a low-priced turntable. I can see how Technics
can't compete with this sort of product because, at half the price of a 1200, it's about 3/4 as good
as far as durable build and probably near equal in rumble, speed accuracy and tonearm geometry. A
Technics may well be a good bit more durable in the turntablist world, but these "Stanton" tables
are so cheap that durability might not matter as much.
The built-in preamp was OK but not great. It would be fine, for instance, to dub spoken-word records
or poor-condition records. For 78's, it clipped when the groove-velocity was high. Note that all of
this directly transfers to the digital outs, so keep that in mind when interfacing with a computer.
I didn't expect a superb built-in amp with this. When I listened, to a variety of records for hours,
through headphones and a decent preamp (nothing too fancy, just a decent-grade Gemini "DJ" preamp),
I was impressed by low audible rumble, the decent but not great trackability you'd expect from a
Stanton 500, and the nice isolation (the turntable was on a desk and I tested tapping the table at
various spots, and then the turntable itself, and didn't get the needle to jump -- I'm sure a good
hand-slam on any of these points would have cause a skip, as would a knee into the table). I swapped
in a better Goldring cartridge and the sound improved as expected. Looked at the signal on the scope
and didn't see the kind of rumble you see on some cheapo direct-drive turntables which I think comes
from platter bearing or motor rubbing or uneven-ness. Then I swapped in a 78 needle and put the
Stanton 500 back. Playback of 78's was pretty good, what you'd expect through an RIAA preamp. I was
able to get the thing to turn at exactly 78RPM by adjusting with a strobe disk. For casual listening
to 78's, this is a very appealing option due to it's "low fuss" factor. I should also mention that
there's good grounding (no audible hum and very low measured background hum and noise). For
background listening at the office, I'd say it's a no-brainer to just use the built-n preamp and
connect to powered speakers or the line in on your computer soundcard.
Another plus is that the unit ships with an install disc for Cakewalk's recorder/waveform editor
software, so you are not stuck in Audacity hell, there's another option.
Overall, I'd say build quality and features make this a very compelling cheap turntable. I think a
produce like this price where this is makes it difficult for Technics to compete because it shrinks
the 1200's potential customer base. I also think this particular unit is a good candidate for a
"listening station" turntable for a college or archive. It's better built than other low-end
turntables I've seen and it seems to have much better isolation than lightweight all-plastic
competitors. The S-tonearm also offers some preferable features with some cartridges. The included
Stanton 500 is idiot-proof, and one can use a cheap and available (for now) Technics alignment tool
to set up the cartridge of your choice or verify the 500 was set up right (mine was delivered
slightly too far forward). The conical needle makes it more safe in the hands of less experienced
users. The available 78 speed is a big plus, too.
-- Tom Fine