For a decade, the Audio-Technica LP120 has been among the world’s most popular entry-level turntables, enticing freshly-addicted vinyl users with its classic looks and appealing features.
But it has been put to sleep — mercifully, some cranks would argue — and replaced by the AT-LP120XUSB. The new model is meant to be strictly for home use, abandoning the nods to DJ culture made by its predecessor.
But what exactly are you getting other than a bunch of new letters? There aren’t a ton of differences, but all are welcome, including a price tag that’s $50 cheaper at $249 retail.
— The biggest change is that the built-in phono preamp has been upgraded; the original was an issue for some users, who resorted to ripping it out.
— The tonearm base and headshell have been redesigned to improve resonance issues, and thus tracking.
— The motor has lower torque, so you don’t quite get instant stops and starts, but this isn’t a DJ turntable so you don’t need them.
— The 120X is more compact, which is nice for the space-challenged, but also feels a bit less robust now that it’s several pounds lighter.
— It’s available in all black, including the tonearm, which looks very badass. I’m not sure why a black dust cover isn’t an option. Imagine that stealth vinyl bomber sitting on top of a Kallax in someone’s first apartment.
— Because it’s no longer meant to be an option for DJs, the reverse function is gone. Oh well. Another DJ-related feature, the cueing light, has also changed. Instead of being a permanent fixture, it’s an RCA jack and the light is attached to an RCA plug. Use it or not.
— The included cartridge is now the AT-VM95E, an upgraded version of the AT-95E that has higher output (4.0 vs. 3.5), a body designed to reduce resonances and, best of all, threaded mounting holes. You’ll never have to fumble with those damnable tiny bolts again, because all you need are tiny screws.
Setting up the 120X was fairly straightforward, unless you’re an assumptive dumbass like me.
Everything popped out of the box easily and the table was sitting on its shelf in a couple of minutes — only I couldn’t find the headshell, cartridge, counterweight, and dustcover hinges. I immediately assumed that Audio-Technica had failed me, but a couple of frantic minutes later I found everything squished inside one of the foam packing inserts. The moral of the story is don’t be dumb like me.
The arm balanced with no fuss, and I set the vertical tracking force (VTF) at 1.8 grams. I then pulled out my very fancy Clearaudio Weight Watcher digital tracking force gauge and sure enough: 1.8 grams exactly.
The already-mounted and presumably aligned cartridge had some issues, however, and needed a minor adjustment. As it was aligned out of the box, with the cantilever skewed, inner groove distortion would have been emphasized, which is a complaint LP120 users have had.
Long story short: Never assume your cartridge has been properly aligned, and teach yourself to do the job ASAP. There’s a learning curve involved, but it’s a crucial part of being a vinyl user. Not knowing how to do it is roughly analogous to owning a car and not knowing how to put gas in it.
Everything else was smooth sailing. The 120X didn’t misbehave other than making a couple of random mechanical noises during its first 10 hours, which never came back.
The phono stage is definitely better. I listened to the 120X primarily through a pair of powered Totem Kin Play speakers, very nice sounding units that do some remarkable things. Unlike other powered speakers, the Totems have a high-quality phono preamp built in, which made it easy to compare against the AT pre.
I’ve really enjoyed Totem’s phono stage — and the 120X more than held its own in comparison. While the Totem’s preamp did a better job nailing the sound of voices and some instruments, such as piano, the 120X wasn’t that far behind at all. It also sometimes sounded punchier and more dynamic, which may be due to its goosed-up output.
The original LP120 had some problems but fulfilled its primary purpose, which was to offer a decent turntable for new users with shallow pockets. Some issues were addressed during the ‘table’s run, such as a faulty anti-skate control, but the phono preamp remained pedestrian and people continued to have problems with warped platters.
The 120X is no different, and compromises had to be made to meet the $250 price point. There’s a lot of plastic. The tonearm is very basic and likely couldn’t handle a significantly nicer cartridge. I didn’t test this theory because it seems kind of moot. No one is buying a $250 turntable and then mounting a $500 cartridge.
My platter is perfectly flat but that’s a really small sample size, so we’ll have to wait and see. I also didn’t experience any random humming, buzzing or tracking issues. The tonearm lift is also takes a little finessing.
Overall, the 120X also does exactly what it’s built to do. It still isn’t a fancy turntable like a Rega Planar 2 or a tricked out U-Turn Orbit, but both of those are substantially more expensive. However, it is a notably improved turntable and even $50 cheaper than its dear departed brother.
This article was produced in partnership with Audio-Technica.