What Hi-Fi (UK)
Let’s face it: the good ol’ record wasn’t brought back from the dead through discovery of a newfound convenience. An afternoon vinyl session still requires you to get up from your seat more than a 10-year-old in the final round of musical chairs.
And, of course, you have to be in the same room as your turntable to enjoy it – there’s no way round that. Or is there? What if vinyl could be pocketable?
No, we aren’t talking about a portable turntable – even the physical burden of a personal CD player would be sneered at nowadays – but how about one that can rip your records to digital files so you can carry them around in your pocket?
Record-ripping turntables have been around for a while, but the Sony PS-HX500 can record up to DSD 5.6. Ergo, Sony calls it a ‘hi-res turntable’, so it’s not surprising that one of the first things we notice when lifting the Sony from its box is the hi-res audio logo sitting loud and proud on the plinth’s front-facing edge.
So how does it work? Equipped with an internal analogue-to-digital converter and USB type-b output, the PS-HX500 simply hooks up to your laptop or computer’s USB input and, via Sony’s Mac- and Windows-friendly High Res Audio Recorder software, records the vinyl either as a WAV (up to 24-bit/192khz) or DSD (5.6MHZ) file.
The process is simple enough too: just choose your desired format, hit ‘record’ when the vinyl starts playing, ‘stop’ when it’s finished and hey presto! You have a hi-res song. And, of course, you can split recordings into individual tracks too.
On the design front, this turntable apes the minimalist approach of rival decks around this price. The straight-edged, angle-cornered rectangular plinth is an understated, all-black affair that leaves nothing to the designer-in-you’s imagination, but the quality of Sony’s slender, vertically challenged build is fine.
Assembling a turntable can be finicky, but all the Sony asks of you is to plonk (with care) the die-cast aluminium platter and 5mm-thick rubber mat onto the 30mm-thick MDF plinth, hook up the belt drive, and balance the one-piece tonearm (with integrated headshell) using the counter and anti-skating weights.
To save you flicking through the supplied literature, the recommended tracking weight for the Sony’s movingmagnet cartridge is 3g, although we recommend that any newcomers to turntables take guidance from the manual, which is thankfully as intuitive as instructions for the average piece of flat-pack furniture are complex.
Of course, there’s little advantage in ripping your vinyl to hi-res – or even playing it straight off the deck – if the PS-HX500’S sound quality is poor. But we aren’t about to rain on its so far promising parade. In fact, while accepting that the Rega Planar 1 is a clear level better, we are still full of compliments for the Sony deck.
We settle Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms down on the spindle and there’s no mistaking the Sony’s penchant for detail as the synthesized pan flute and Africaninfluenced drums in Ride Across The River come through with clarity and texture.
It’s articulate with the track’s offbeat rhythmic pattern, tying the multiple strands together for a coherent and layered delivery, and has the dynamic dexterity to bring fairly tenuous sonic shifts to our attention.
The sprightly Sony is quick off the bench too, springing into action with the upbeat opening of One World. It thrusts the drumbeat forward and, with a real sense of gusto and agility, puts its foot through the melodic guitar riffs that cut through the track.
It’s with the more sanguine tunes that the PS-HX500’S slight tonal inclination to the light side of neutral reveals itself, the presentation favouring a crisp consistency over the full-bodied solidity of some of its rivals. It’s not something to penalise the Sony for, but it’s worth bearing in mind when it comes to system pairing.
Sense of scale
Elsewhere, the Sony’s big, open sound lends itself to the lamenting guitar lines and lush, aching organs in the album’s eponymous finale too, and there’s the space and insight to keep a hand on both.
There’s a delicate naturalness to Mark Knopfler’s pensive vocals too, which are confidently presented in the soundstage and demonstrate the Sony’s pleasing midrange insight. Furthermore, the sundry piano notes and freewheeling trumpet in Miles Davis’s So What are both engaging, informative and staged with convincing stereo imaging.
We feel confident bestowing praise on the treble too; the intricate cymbalbrushing that fills the right-hand channel is clear and subtle, the Sony balancing detail with refinement admirably.
Anything that keeps vinyl fresh and appealing is gold in our eyes, and the PS-HX500 is a good example of that. It’s a best-of-both turntable that caters for record spinning and hi-res ripping. As always, performance is king, though, and in this instance that only furthers the Sony’s likeability. While it’s not the classiest-looking turntable around, it has all its class in the sound suite instead.