As we write this, Brian Eno has just launched a spectacular new colour-changing LED turntable. With just 50 of these record players being released, it's going to cost an absolute mint – much more than what was in the envelope your grandmother gave you for Christmas. So, what can you get with your limited budget? In this review, we're going to take a look at the ION Audio Air LP ($99.99/£99.99), an affordable belt-drive turntable with Bluetooth capability.
Manufactured by US firm ION Audio, this record player comes with a USB output and conversion software, meaning you can easily transfer your favourite vinyl to digital files, ready to play on your commute to work. With a built-in phono stage, there's also no need to buy a separate pre-amp – simply pair it wirelessly with any Bluetooth speaker/s and the party can get started. The ION Audio Air LP makes it on to our list of the best Bluetooth turntables, but is it right for you?
ION Audio Air LP turntable review: Design
With many modern turntables conforming to an almost identical aesthetic, ION Audio deserves brownie points for coming up with something a bit different. Available with a choice of plinths – either high-gloss black or red plastic, or natural wood – the ION Audio Air LP features a distinctive curved dust cover that leaves the company logo (front left) and the control panel (front right) unshielded. Classy and contemporary, it's sure to attract admiring glances from your music-listening mates.
It's fair to say that this turntable doesn't have the solid feel that you get with some of the more expensive record players, but it's not like you're going to be caressing it every five minutes (at least we hope not).
We mentioned the control panel being at the front right of the plinth – to be specific, that's the Bluetooth pairing button, the volume knob and a 3.5mm headphones socket. The controls for activating the turntable's Auto Stop function and for changing speed are further back, alongside the tonearm, while the on/off button can be found at the rear of the unit (this isn't ideal, to be honest, as it means having to fumble around whenever you want to power up the deck).
ION Audio Air LP turntable review: Features
ION Audio Air LP turntable offers an attractive set of features, especially considering the price. As mentioned in the intro, users can rig it up to their Mac or PC using the included USB cable, and transfer their favourite records to digital files. ION Audio's EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter software is a little on the simple side, lacking any kind of editing tools, but at least that makes it easy to use.
With Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in phono stage, the ION Audio Air LP provides an entirely fuss-free listening experience. Pair it with your Bluetooth speaker using the button on the right-hand side of the plinth, and you'll be rocking and rolling within a few seconds. We found the stated 10-metre Bluetooth range to be just about accurate, but if you want to play your records without having to worry about your signal dropping out, there are also RCA outputs for connecting to speakers or a stereo system using cables. If you live in shared accommodation and don't want to upset your housemates, you can even hook up a pair of headphones and enjoy a bit of private listening.
The ION Audio Air LP enables you to play your records at 33 1/3, 45 or 78rpm. However, you should note that the sapphire-coated ceramic stylus is not suitable for playing 78s, so you'll need to buy a separate stylus if you're planning to wheel out your grandfather's dusty old discs.
ION Audio Air LP turntable review: Sound
Your opinion of the ION Audio Air LP's sound quality is likely to depend on what you expect from it in the first place. If you're hoping for an audiophile listening experience (at this price?), then you're going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you expect precious little from such a small investment, then the ION Audio Air LP might just leave you nodding with satisfaction.
Yes, the stylus is slightly loud, and yes, the detail is a little lacking at times, but on the whole this turntable delivers a nice balance, with the lows, mids and highs all sounding fairly solid. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that the overall quality was better when the turntable was connected to our speakers via wires, but it sounded perfectly fine when streamed via Bluetooth.
ION Audio Air LP turntable review: The alternatives
The ION Audio Air LP makes it onto our list of the best Bluetooth record players, but it's a few notches below our top choice, the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT ($149/£179). This fully automatic deck offers superior sound quality to the American turntable and also packs a CSR BT chipset, which will enable you to pair it with devices that support the higher-quality aptX codec. There's no vinyl-to-digital conversion, though.
If you want something even cheaper than the ION Audio Air LP, you could take a look at the Victrola VSC 580BT ($89/£79). Manufactured by one of the world's oldest turntable makers, its suitcase-style aesthetic won't be to everyone's taste – and it also won't enable you to back up your old 12”s to your computer. It's super-convenient, though, not least because it has a speaker built-in.