The recent popularity of suitcase turntables with fully automatic functionality has reduced the record player to a toy, a retro trinket.
They appear to cater for those too busy to put down their craft beer or curtail an anecdote about trekking to Machu Picchu in order to lift the needle, rather than the genuine hi-fi or music enthusiast.
But in the AT-LP3, Audio Technica has fashioned a turntable with all the ease of use and affordability of such suitcase record players, but one that also follows the rules of hi-fi.
We need those rules: particularly ones that tell us no matter how much technology you use to make things simpler for the listener, it should never steal the spotlight away from the performance.
Features & build
In terms of facilitating the entry-level listener, there’s little else we could imagine being asked of the AT-LP3.
As well as being fully automatic, meaning you need only jab a few buttons for your record to play and the needle lift itself at the end, it has a built-in phono stage, use of which is optional, a fool-proof set-up and an easily-removable cartridge that can be swapped out for another moving-magnet or moving-coil alternative.
The inclusion of those add-ons means you’re really getting around £100 worth of turntable, but nothing about its build or general feel suggests it’s a budget deck.
It’s marginally less weighty, less physically substantial than its Award-winning sibling, the AT-LP5, but is just as easy on the eye and similarly tactile.
Being automatic, the AT-LP3 has more switches: to play and to stop, to change rotation speeds and size of the record.
There are separate controls for size and speed, so you’ll have no trouble with your 12-inches that play at 45rpm, or the other way round.
Set the tracking and bias weights as per the manual and connect it to your amp and power source and it’s ready to play.
That’s it as far as set-up; the only caveat being the interconnects, irremovable from the AT-LP3’s chassis, which restrict how far it can sit away from your amp.
In terms of performance, we could direct you to our AT-LP5 review. You can take away a little of the detail, space and dynamic range, but characteristically, there’s no mistaking these are from the same family.
Immediately upon pressing play on Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs we are drawn in by that familiar, full-bodied musicality.
At this price we may have been tempted to forgive some soft or hard edges if they were countered elsewhere, but there really aren’t any.
The soundstage isn’t cavernously spacious, nor the detail microscopic, though in both respects still probably more so than you’d expect at this price, there’s no clipping of frequencies and no coarseness here.
Overall it’s a balance that keeps the music’s character its priority. With The Suburbs that means purveying the alternating lilt and drive of the record and capturing the cool expression in Win Butler’s vocal, which it does with aplomb.
Change the record for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and there’s scale and power enough to give the performance heft, without it feeling like the orchestra has been squashed into the soundstage against its will.
Audio Technica understands what it takes to create entry-level products. It grasps what each performance is about, prioritising an entertaining performance ahead of focusing on any particular facet.
One note on The Suburbs regarding the AT-LP3 being fully automatic: because the turntable’s mechanism tells it to return the tonearm to its rest once the disc has finished, we weren’t treated to the locked groove at the end of side three.
This will be the case with any turntable like this, so if it matters that much to you then manual tonearms are the way to go.
If its performance wasn’t so thoroughly enjoyable and the price so tempting, we’d tell you to avoid the AT-LP3 and invest more in a bunch of separate components.
The fact it is so easily upgradable, with separate phono stages and different cartridges, only plays further into its hands as being pretty much the ideal entry-level product.
If you want an upgraded performance from the outset, then go for the AT-LP5, or Sony’s PS-HX500; but at this price there isn’t anything that gives us such an enjoyable listen.
At last, there’s an almost-all-in-one, budget turntable that treats your records as music and not a mere curiosity.