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Even though it's 2022, turntables are still very much in production and are one of the best ways to listen to an album. Companies are creating new and innovative ways to listen to both old and new vinyl, including making use of modern technologies like Bluetooth.
Audio-Technica has been making record players since 1962 and is known for its entry-level turntables designed to introduce new listeners to the world of vinyl. Its latest record player is the AT-LPW50BT-RW, which uses Bluetooth 5.2 to stream your favorite albums to speakers or even wireless headphones. In addition, it has a built-in phono preamp that delivers an excellent listening experience, no matter how you choose to play audio.
This turntable model debuted at the end of August, so it's entirely new for the Audio-Technica lineup. I was able to snag an early unit and spent a long weekend listening to records to rank how this new model stacks up to the competition.
The Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT-RW is an eye-catching turntable thanks to its rosewood chassis and minimalist yet modern design. Its features include a built-in selectable preamplifier for phono or line-level output, a manual belt drive, an adjustable dynamic anti-skate control, and a straight tonearm with adjustable tracking force and a counterweight. It weighs about 12 pounds and measures 16.54 by 13.39 by 4.96 inches (W x D x H).
The turntable comes with an AT-VM95E BK cartridge, but if you're more experienced, you can opt to swap that out for any VM95 Series replacement stylus, depending on your preferences and budget.
The leading tech component of this turntable is its modernized Bluetooth capability. The Audio-Technica comes built with the latest Bluetooth 5.2 -- meaning it can maintain high audio quality while transmitting at low frequencies. While other Audio-Technica turntables are also Bluetooth-compatible, this model is the first to incorporate Version 5.2, so you'll get the best of the best connection from up to 800 feet (240 meters) away.
If you've never set up a turntable before, Audio-Technica includes detailed (but easy to follow) instructions for how to get the new record player spinning.
First, you'll want to level the record player in each direction so its anti-skate works properly. This process was a little difficult for me since my apartment is very slanted, but using a makeshift level did the trick.
Since it's a belt-driven turntable, you'll have to position the belt around the platter's underside, which may take a minute or two if you have never done it. Installing the headshell is easy; it clicks right in, and then you can finely adjust the cartridge within the headshell if you're a more advanced listener. The record player also comes with a dust cover to help keep your records and stylus free of debris. It's especially important if, like me, you have a cat that likes to lie on your record player.
The next step is perhaps the hardest part: installing and setting the counterweight. When setting the counterweight and balancing the tonearm, make sure the anti-skate knob is set to zero to keep the tonearm from rotating. Once the tonearm has been balanced and the tracking force has been set to 2, you can then turn the anti-skate to match the tracking force.
Overall, the entire setup took about 10 minutes. Then, it was time to tune in.
The great thing about this record player is that there are different ways to listen to your music. You can connect it via AUX or phono output if you want to use the turntable amplifier, a receiver amplifier, or a dedicated preamp, meaning it works with both new and vintage setups.
I have a vintage setup (a Pioneer SX-580 receiver), so I first tested the turntable to play through the speakers via RCA/phono connection. The sound was warm and dynamic on both new and old records. You could really notice the sound quality on older, more vintage records as the crackling sound -- that vinyl is known for -- comes through.
I then tested how records would sound with the turntable's built-in preamp instead of going through my receiver. Audio-Technica's built-in preamp gives a crisper and cleaner sound than my receiver, but that is just barely noticeable unless you're searching for a difference between the two.
To test the wireless Bluetooth, I used a portable Bose speaker and Skullcandy Hesh ANC headphones. The portable speaker was decent enough, but, of course, speakers make up a lot of the vinyl listening experience and portable ones just don't compare to bigger setups. However, if you have a smaller space or a tight budget, the fact that you can connect this quality turntable to any Bluetooth speaker is a plus.
What really made this turntable shine was using the Bluetooth connection to listen to my records with my noise-canceling headphones while working. The sound was so immersive, and I could put on a record, walk away to another room entirely, and still hear the crackles come through crystal-clear -- without disturbing anyone else with my music taste.
The Audio-Technica is a well-balanced turntable that produces clear sounds while looking sleek. Bluetooth is the innovation here, and listening to vinyl records wirelessly has been an exciting and unique experience.
Even though it's a little pricey, turntables are ultimately an investment that will provide you decades of listening time if taken care of properly. Audio-Technica paid attention to the details in this turntable, and it's well worth the splurge.
The LP120 model is a great alternative that's also from Audio-Technica. It still has Bluetooth connectivity and features but also has the bonus of being able to convert your vinyl records into digital audio files using the Audacity software available on Macs and PCs.