As we look at the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable, we realize how far turntables have come. Many of us might have considered the return of vinyl improbable. The high-tech digital age was upon us and offered perfection. Except it wasn’t.
Perfection in terms of reproduction, but also lifeless regarding performance. The nuances of musicians and the recording were gone. It was almost clinical to some ears.
In 2007 there came the idea of dragging the old vinyl records out of the museums and getting us hooked again. We remembered. It didn’t matter about the convenience of the MP3. It could not match the sound of vinyl.
The new breed of ‘digital-only’ albums panicked, and even they were found on vinyl. The turntable was back. Some good, some brilliant, and some, well just ordinary. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is one of these turntables with a few extras thrown in.
So, what is this turntable all about? Let’s find out in our in-depth Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable Review…
Audio-Technica at a Glance
Founded in 1962 in Japan, Audio-Technica has become a serious presence in the world of music. They design and manufacture not only turntables but also excellent microphones and headphones.
Their equipment is high quality but set at an affordable price filling an important gap in the markets in which they operate.
They are known for the quality of their design and the build quality of their products. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable is a good example of what this company can deliver.
This turntable is not a new kid on the block. There is a reason it is still popular. It is easy to set up and use, and it offers listeners a way of playing vinyl at an affordable cost.
One of its plus points is the built-in preamp. This saves you buying anything extra when connecting to powered speakers. However, its uses go beyond listening at home. DJs have found the direct-drive, high-torque turntable is perfect for them.
Made for the modern world…
It has a USB output for digitizing any of your records to a computer and includes the software for that. Also included is a replaceable cartridge that has been pre-calibrated. As well as a needle that sounds good across all genres of music.
It has a lot going for it. So, let’s take a closer look…
This is a typical level of quality from Audio Technica. As we already mentioned, Audio-Technica produces good quality products at attractive prices. One way they do this is by ensuring that the build quality is stable and secure, but also has a budget-friendly cost.
This turntable has a plastic base, which some might find disappointing. However, because it is sturdy and well-made, it is quite acceptable. It measures 13.88 by 6.00 by 17.75 inches and weighs 23.5 pounds.
Ready and steady…
It has four feet that keep the turntable solidly in place. They give it that solid base required for removing any vibrations that occur externally.
Keeping the platter level gives it increased stability. It feels solid and strong, and it is. Plus, it comes with a plastic removable dust cover with two hinges.
Selectable pitch lock up to 78 rpm…
The servo DC motor that keeps the rotation speed accurate. It is controlled by a selectable, quartz-controlled pitch lock. That pitch lock will control the rpm speed selections at either 33 and a third, 45, or 78 rpm.
The inclusion of 78 rpm is something that is not always included on a turntable, and is superb for old-timers.
Balanced and secure tonearm…
It has a die-cast aluminum platter that is anti-resonant and has a slipmat. There is an S-shaped tonearm that is nicely balanced. This has a hydraulically controlled lift that gives accurate placement of the stylus.
There is also a lockable tonearm rest that secures the arm if you move the turntable. On the tonearm, there is a counterweight that is adjustable and features an anti-skate adjustment.
Set the weight you want…
The adjustable counterweight is a useful feature. You can set it to provide the necessary amount of downward force that is applied to the record. Without this option, there could be problems when playing your vinyl.
Furthermore, if the VTF or Vertical tracking force is not heavy enough, the needle will not stay in the groove and may jump and skip. On the other hand, too much VRF, and it could cause permanent damage to the vinyl.
Headshell, cartridge, and stylus included…
There is a ½ inch headshell with an Audio Technica dual-magnet cartridge. It comes with an elliptical diamond stylus with a plastic guard.
A good solid build with plenty of options for the safety of your records and for accurate operation.
Most equipment has a standard it tries to equal or even emulate. A product that to a lesser or great extent it models itself on. With the Audio-Technica AT-LP120, it is probably the Technics SL-1200MK2. It has a direct-drive and other similar features that, in part, mirror that excellent turntable.
Unfortunately, it is no longer in production, but the Audio Technica LP-120 has taken on the mantle. As a result, it has become just as favored by working DJs.
At home or in the club…
This turntable is popular with DJs and casual listeners at home for similar reasons. The direct drive system and the high-torque offers benefits for both. This is because turntables with these functions are quick to start and stop.
Likewise, they can also reverse the rotation of the record. Thus allowing you to hear if John Lennon is offering any more coded information.
A hands-on experience…
It uses a fully manual operation. This is an area where personal preference does play a part. Being manual, you will have to place the needle on the record for each use.
You will also have to remove it at the end. It will not end itself and return the tonearm to its resting position.
As we said, it operates on 33 and a third, 45, and 78 rpm. It has a strobe light that works in conjunction with the strobe dots on the edge of the platter. This enables you to set the speed accurately. However, this feature only works with 33 and 45 speeds, and not 78.
Again, as mentioned, it has a built-in preamp, which simplifies connections and saves the cost of an external amp. There is also a target light for the stylus. This is a great help, especially for DJs, if you are trying to cue in the dark.
Some nice features. All really quite basic in many ways. But at this price point, many turntables may include some of them, but not all. That puts this turntable in a very favorable position.
The controls are compact and easy to use and placed on the front edge of the turntable. There is a special space for the 45 rpm adapter. It has a stop and start button. Additionally, there is a slider control for changing the pitch of the music, which works in 10 or 20 percent increases and can be locked. The pitch lock control is situated on the right side.
Above that is a Direction control, which reverses the record. We have already discussed the counterweight and anti-skate device as well as the lifting and locking tonearm. Basic to some, but all very relevant to the successful operation of the turntable.
We mentioned earlier some extras that this turntable offers, so let’s return to that. First, on the rear of the unit, there is a USB port. This will connect directly to your computer. This is not unusual with many of today’s turntables.
One very cool extra is the inclusion of Audacity software. This will allow you to download your vinyl collection. For us, this could be a slightly negative situation. Why convert it to a digital source that desensitizes it as digital recordings often do? You bought your turntable to use with your vinyl to escape that.
But consider this…
Vinyl is fragile. You may have a rare or special recording that is important to keep. Downloading it will at least preserve it in some form if the worst should happen.
Furthermore, from a DJ point of view, downloading to digital allows a more seamless and professional performance in many ways. Audacity is a simple to use program with some good features. An excellent extra, in our opinion.
But one further addition to this which is of great benefit is that all the cabling you need is included. You don’t always get that from a manufacturer. We will list them all later, so more on that soon.
Buying a nice turntable doesn’t always guarantee a good sound. There are other issues to consider. But having a turntable with a decent frequency response and the right build is a good start. The frequency response on the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB is a very reasonable 20-20,000 Hz.
You will need a good cartridge and stylus, and Audio-Technica has included their own products. Not the best that they produce, if we are, to be honest. But nevertheless, very good for an entry-level turntable.
External gear plays a part…
Also relevant will be the speakers you listen through. And if you use an external amp with unpowered speakers, the quality of the amp is also a factor.
The AT-LP120 has a nicely balanced and even sound that will perform well even with modest equipment. And it has no ‘genre-bias’ as some systems do. It will perform equally well with all musical styles.
What is included?
So let us return to what Audio-Technica includes in the package with particular reference to cabling. You get an AC cord, a dual RCA to 3.5mm stereo cable that is female-to-male. Also, another dual RCA 3.5mm stereo adapter that is female to female, a USB cable, and a 45 RPM adapter.
We have mentioned the Audacity software and, of course, the headshell and cartridge.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable Review Pros and Cons
- It has a good strong build with anti-vibration feet.
- Easy to use controls with plenty of options.
- A built-in preamp and a USB port if you want to save your vinyl to a computer.
- Access to Audacity software for downloading your tracks.
- Direct-drive operation with a quiet, high-torque motor.
- All the cabling you will need is included.
- Some people prefer belt-driven turntables, which tend not to transfer the sound of the motor to the needle as direct drive turntables can.
- The RCA cables are hard-wired.
Looking for Something Else?
Need more turntable options? We have you covered for a variety of price ranges.
So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Turntables Under $1000, the Best Turntables Under $600, the Best Turntables Under $500, the Best Turntables Under $300, the Best Turntables Under $200, and the Best Turntables Under $100 you can buy in 2021.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable Review Final Thoughts
There is no doubt in our mind that this turntable is good value for the price point. It offers versatility and has plenty of built-in options. It will connect to a pair of powered speakers very easily. The functions operate smoothly and quickly and enough in the way of extras to make it an attractive option.
It is going to be a very good entry-level machine for either home use or for aspiring DJs. Audio-Technica has a habit of producing good cost-effective equipment. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable is another good example of that.
Until next time, may the beat go on.