If it’s possible to be infatuated with a turntable, then I have a minor crush on the Audio-Technica LPW40wn.
With its clean, simple lines and simulated walnut veneer, the LPW40wn has an easy elegance that’s very appealing. Add the sleek, black carbon-fiber tonearm and you have a turntable that certainly doesn’t look like it costs $299. It also doesn’t look anything like a DJ turntable, which is the ubiquitous design favored by Audio-Technica for its various LP120 models (not to mention similar turntables marketed by Stanton, Numark, Reloop, etc.).
With its low-key classy design, the LPW40wn seems to be aimed at vinyl lovers who care about both looks and sound — and who may have a significant other who doesn’t want their living room looking like the DJ booth down at the Stumble Inn. It’s a lifestyle product that doesn’t forget its primary job: playing records.
The LPW40wn is the best bang for your buck
The LPW40wn, which is fully manual, does a lot of things right for just $299:
- The tonearm is pretty damn nice, although maybe not as nice as the more expensive entry-level Pro-Ject and Music Hall arms. Still, to see a carbon-fiber arm with smooth bearings, anti-skate adjustment and a cueing lever on a $299 turntable is noteworthy.
- The motor is surprisingly robust. It gets up to speed extremely quickly, as in immediately, and during the review, period remained accurate to within +/-.1, as measured by the Turntabulator app.
- The built-in phono stage, which can be disabled, is the updated and much-improved version debuted by AT on the LP120x.
- Instead of captured interconnects, there are RCA output jacks so you can upgrade to better cables (although that might be overkill for a $299 ‘table, but audio overkill is fun).
But what about the set-up?
Set-up is a breeze for anyone with experience and only a moderate pain for the inexperienced.
If this is your first turntable that needs assembling, do yourself a favor and go to AT’s website and download the full manual, which is very detailed. The printed instructions that come with the LPW40wn are wordless IKEA-style pictographs and are OK, but a couple of important things — such as how to balance the tonearm and set the vertical tracking force — are not exactly made clear.
The cartridge and the built-in phono preamp
The LPW40wn comes with an AT-VM95E cartridge ($50) already installed. I disagree with those who consider this cart a giant-killer, but it gets the job done — it’s like that friend who’s too loud and crude but who always shows up to help you move.
Using the built-in phono preamp, the LPW40wn sounded clean and clear. Nothing sounded drop-dead great but everything sounded at least decent while well-recorded albums could sound surprisingly good. The preamp offers plenty of value for those on a budget and should satisfy for a long time.
Experienced stereo geeks, however, will notice that the midrange and treble regions sound dry and a bit brittle while the bass is only adequate, but remember: This is a $299 package deal and shortcomings are to be expected. The kind of powered speakers that might be used with the AT, such as anything from Edifier, are voiced to be warm and bass-heavy, which would make for an ideal combo.
To see how the LPW40wn handled a phono stage upgrade, I used a Lounge Audio LCR MKIII. At $300, it’s easily the best sub-$500 phono stage I’ve heard and the AT and Lounge were a great team. I played records for many days using this combination and frequently forgot to think critically; I just listened to the music, which is the whole point.
There’s no getting around the fact that at this price point you’re giving up a noticeable degree of some important stuff: Voices sound less corporeal, instruments such as saxophones have less texture and color, drums don’t sound as alive and impactful. All of that got wildly and undeniably better when I switched back to my Clearaudio Concept with Satisfy tonearm and Grado Reference Master cartridge, fed into an Eastern Electric tubed phono stage. But that combination also costs 15 times the price of the AT, and I’d be in tears if it didn’t sound significantly better.
Why should you choose the LPW40wn over other turntables?
Realistically, the LPW40wn’s primary competition as far as looks and features is the U-Turn Orbit Basic. I don’t have a ton of experience listening to the Basic so what follows is strictly a features-based comparison.
- The AT’s tonearm has adjustable anti-skate but the U-Turn’s does not.
- The AT’s counterweight is classic 1970s style, with a separate dial that has grams clearly marked, making VTF easy to set (it’s also accurate). The U-Turn requires the use of a VTF scale, which you have to purchase.
- The AT comes with cueing, which is slow enough on the way down but a rocket on the way up. The U-Turn has cueing, but at an additional $40 cost.
- Phono preamps are also add-ons at U-Turn and add significantly to the cost.
- The U-Turn’s platters are more substantial than AT’s lightweight aluminum platters, although AT has electronic speed controls for said platters while you have to manually switch the U-Turn’s belt.
The Orbit Basic starts at $179 but by the time you add a phono preamp, cueing lever and replace the very mediocre standard cartridge option, the cost is $324. I would love to one day do a sonic shoot-out between an upgraded Basic and the LPW40wn because while features make life easier, great sonics make life worth living.
After a few weeks with the LPW40wn, I still dig this little buddy. A lot. If I had an office, this would anchor my office system. If I had one of those old-school garage workshops, where I drank beer and pretended to fix shit, this would be my cheap-and-cheerful turntable of choice. Hell, I might set up a workshop just to keep this guy around. He’s a charmer.