Vinyl is enjoying yet another purple patch. In 2020, with around 12 million record sold worldwide through music site Discogs alone – a 40% increase on the previous year. Yes, that's probably due to the fact that people were desperately trying to find ways to entertain themselves at home during lockdown – but maybe, just maybe the launch of Audio-Technica's AT-LP120XUSB also had something to do with it.
An updated version of the Japanese firm's hugely popular but sadly now-discontinued AT-LP120USB turntable, this mid-priced deck (RRP $350/£249) certainly caused a ripple of excitement among music-lovers when it was launched in 2019. But how much of an improvement on the original record player does it actually represent?
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Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB review: Design
The AT-LP120USB was regarded as one of the most stylish mid-priced turntables on the market, combining retro flair with modern engineering. So we're pleased to report that the manufacturer has not made any radical changes to the aesthetic with this new iteration. Any tweaks that have been made are for the better, in our opinion.
Available in black or silver, the AT-LP120XUSB is sleeker, lighter and half an inch shorter than its predecessor, and features a classy matte finish across most of its components, from its variable speed control and quartz lock, to its start/stop button. Still in place from the previous model are the professional-grade, die-cast aluminium platter with stroboscopic speed indicator and felt mat, the S-shaped tonearm and the removable hinged dust cover.
Like its predecessor, the AT-LP120XUSB is a direct-drive turntable. These tend to be quicker to start-up and more powerful than their belt-driven counterparts, due to the fact that the motor is located directly beneath the spindle. On the flipside, direct-drive turntables can deliver slightly inferior sound quality due to the vibrations caused by the motor – although it should be noted that the AT-LP120XUSB features a new DC servo motor that's been fine-tuned and elevated in order to reduce this as much as possible.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB review: Features
That big, fat 'USB' in the title indicates that this turntable, like its forebear, can be connected up to a PC or Mac for converting your vinyl records (via the included Audacity software) into digital format. This will seem kind of pointless to some people – after all, the vast majority of mainstream music is already available to play through streaming services. But it's handy if you have a rare Five Finger Death Punch EP that you're desperate to play on your bus ride to work.
As per the AT-LP120USB, there's an internal phono pre-amp inside this turntable, enabling you to hook it up to an external sound system. This time around, though, it's been upgraded so that it now delivers a better frequency response. If you'd prefer to use your own pre-amp, you can do so by using the turntable's line-out connection.
Speaking of connections, the power cord and dual RCA output cable are removable on this model, which not only serves to protect them from wear and tear if the turntable is constantly being moved about, but also reduces the level of vibration inside the unit, making for a slightly more satisfying listening experience.
One thing you will notice about the AT-LP120XUSB is that Audio-Technica has done away with the reverse-playback function that its predecessor had. That's because the AT-LP120USB was designed for DJs, whereas this model is aimed more towards the everyday consumer. Audio-Technica has retained some of the DJ-friendly functions, though – namely, the pitch-change slider control (now with +/-8% or +/-16% adjustment ranges), stylus target light and hydraulically damped lift control - so if you find yourself in a situation where you need to cue up records like a pro, you're in luck.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB review: Sound
Whether you want to play a new slice of vinyl or take a trip down memory lane with some of your old 1980s rock and metal singles or even explore what's on those old 78s that you found in your granddad's garage, the AT-LP120XUSB is up to the task.
With Audio-Technica having made the aforementioned tweaks – and also having fitted a high-performance AT-VM95E dual-magnet cartridge to replace the AT-95E found on the previous model - you would expect this turntable to sound great. And it does.
We flipped a well-looked-after copy of Guns N' Roses' seminal 1987 album Appetite For Destruction on to the platter, placed the stylus on the vinyl and were immediately taken back by the clarity and detail emanating from our speakers. While we're not quite at beard-stroking levels of audiophile experience, we didn't notice any unwanted vibration – and neither did we witness any skips or jumps, which is certainly partly down to the turntable's dynamic anti-skate control.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB review: The competition
If you're still unsure about this turntable, there are plenty of other very good options out there. Love Audio-Technica but want something a bit cheaper? You could try the AT-LP3, an automatic deck that we described in our round-up of the best turntables as sounding “downright excellent for the money, with a balanced, natural sound that doesn't mask your tune of choice”.
Got cash to burn? Then take a look at the Clearaudio Concept (around £1300/$1830) – aesthetically stunning, and with sound quality to match, this dazzling deck would be the envy of all your music-loving mates.