What Hi-Fi (UK)
Audio Technica AT-LP5X
Audio-technica’s original AT-LP5 turntable was a winner. Launched in 2016, its combination of solid engineering, useful features and fine sound were enough to make it one of our go-to recommendations for anyone wanting a sensibly priced, fuss-free record player.
So it’s no surprise to find that Audio-technica decided not to change its winning formula for this LP5X model. Why would it? At first, it’s hard to notice any changes between the models, but look carefully and you’ll find the addition of a 78rpm speed option alongside the usual 33⅓ and 45rpm. Perhaps of more relevance to most, there’s also a different cartridge, the AT-VM95E.
This moving-magnet unit builds on the foundations laid by the long-running AT95 design fitted to the original deck. The new cartridge features a more rigid and lower-resonance housing alongside improved mechanicals that result in not only a higher output but also an extended and better controlled high-frequency response.
This cartridge will also make a handy upgrade if you buy it separately for another deck, as it’s easier to fit than its predecessor thanks to the use of captive nuts in the housing. That’s not an issue here though, as it comes pre-fitted. If you want to play 78s, you will need to change the stylus to something designed for the job, such as Audio-technica’s AT-VM95SP.
A stage to aid the performance
The built-in phono stage can cope with both moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges. There’s a small switch on the back to swap between the two types.
Rather than being sited on the chassis, the power supply here is located at the mains plug. This moves a potential source of electrical and mechanical noise away from the sensitive deck structure, and so should have some sonic benefits.
Everything else remains pretty much as it was originally – but that’s not a bad thing. The LP5X feels substantial for the price, though its plastic plinth sounds a little hollow when tapped. The deck’s quartz-locked DC servo direct-drive motor is quiet and spins the aluminium platter up to speed quickly.
We like the crisp feel of the speed selector and the smoothness of the arm bearings. The arm’s detachable headshell makes swapping cartridges a breeze should you wish to upgrade. The company makes six different stylus options that fit the cartridge housing, so it’s easy to improve the sound over time.
This Audio-technica is an easy deck to set up. Once it’s out of the packaging, all you have to do is carefully put the platter in place, attach the headshell (the cartridge is already fixed in place) and set the tracking weight to the recommended 2.0g. Don’t forget to set the bias to the same value. We are up and running in around five minutes.
Once everything settles, we start serious listening and it doesn’t take long to realise that the Lp5x’s sonics mirror those of its predecessor closely. We think it sounds a touch cleaner and clearer than before, but not enough for it to be worth anyone with the older deck upgrading to this. Nevertheless, the overall sound is still good enough for it to be considered a class leader.
We play Mary J Blige’s No Drama and the Audio-technica turns in a cohesive and musical performance. It’s a surefooted and robust presentation that remains unflustered even as the song becomes more demanding. Detail levels are high and all that information is rendered with organisation and composure. This deck never sounds as though it is struggling, no matter how complex the music gets.
That point is reinforced when we play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Here the LP5X does a fine job rendering the scale and power of the piece. Dynamics are delivered with fluidity and force, while there’s enough in the way of resolution to track subtle instrumental strands even when there’s a lot going on. The stereo imaging is layered and precise, making it easy to locate specific instruments within the soundstage. This deck has little to fear from rivals when it comes to solidity and composure.
Sony’s PS-HX500 (see opposite) offers greater agility and even more midrange detail, but both are fine performers and the choice between them comes down to taste as much as anything else. If you don’t need the extra features, the Rega Planar 1 would still be our choice.
For fun, we bypass the Lp5x’s phono stage with our reference Cyrus Phono Signature and take a listen. Despite the price difference (the Cyrus costs £1495) the comparison shows that the Audiotechnica’s phono stage is a good one.
The AT-LP5X is a well executed design that sounds great for the money. It’s also well built and easy to use. These things make it worthy of anyone’s shortlist.