To high-end audio enthusiast, the idea of a Bluetooth turntable seems almost oxymoronic. Part of the core appeal of a turntable is that it’s pretty much the only way to listen to music through a completely analog signal chain (ignoring the fact most modern pressings are mixed digitally). Introducing the digital compression of Bluetooth to that chain just seems…. wrong.
But when Cambridge Audio, a British company with a storied hi-fi history, decides to make a Bluetooth turntable, I pay attention – even if that turntable costs $1,700.
A disclaimer: I’m not one of those audiophiles who think “vinyl is analog, so it’s more authentic!” I firmly believe that digital music is truer to the source. Vinyl is an inherently compromised medium that is inferior to digital recordings save for perhaps few recordings that might’ve been mixed better in their vinyl form. And this is to say nothing of convenience.
Nonetheless, I like vinyl. I recognize that listening to music is often more than just an auditory experience. Vinyl plays to our senses of sight and touch; I believe there’s an ineffable quality to digging through a physical vinyl collection, enjoying the artwork, and seeing the motion of the record translate to music. Sure, some audiophiles do swear vinyl sounds better, but for others, it’s the vinyl experience that’s worth the mild step back in quality and a big step back in convenience.
The Alva TT, I suspect, is made for the latter. Audiophiles in the former category will likely dismiss a Bluetooth turntable out of hand, but those of us in the latter might appreciate having getting wireless convenience out of a very-inconvenient format. And while $1,700 is an eye-watering price for the average music-lover, it’s relatively midrange in the hi-fi world, especially considering all the Alva TT as a complete package.
High-end vinyl playback typically involves an amalgam of components. You’ll often need to buy your turntable, cartridge, and phono pre-amp separately, and Bluetooth is usually out of the question. The Alva TT combines all of these in a package as easy to use as a cheapo turntable, but with the sound and build quality to match its price tag.
You need only lift the 11kg (24lb) turntable out the box to feel it’s built to last generations. A chunky, solid metal plinth provides a stable, classy base for your records, and a hefty platter further adds to the sense of quality. Though I lean toward wooden turntables, I appreciate the Alva TT’s modern design sensibilities. A cover helps protect the unit and your music, though it’s certainly more striking without it.
Setting it up is simply a matter of balancing the tonearm with an included pressure gauge and connecting to Bluetooth (or cables, if so you choose). Some audiophiles might lament the fact you can’t use your own phono pre-amp, but Cambridge Audio is known for making some of the best components on the market – the built-in pre-amp won’t leave you wanting.
Once set-up, the Alva TT sounds fantastic. Again, I think digital is superior, but custom moving-coil cartridge is clearly designed to eke out detail without being so sensitive to pops and crackles that your ears will bleed.
Conversely, the Alva TT’s ability to pull detail out of glorified plastic discs might not appeal to vinyl enthusiasts who appreciate the rolled-off highs and warm low-end on other turntables. It’s what I imagine an ‘accurate’ turntable might sound like; though this isn’t to say it’s harsh. It just sounds ‘clearer’ than some other turntables. Subjective comparisons against digital recordings suggested a greater degree of fidelity over much more affordable turntables like the $500 Fluance RT85 (as one would hope, given the price differential).
As for Bluetooth? It’s pristine. At the time of writing, it’s the only turntable I’m aware of that supports AptX HD, and I’d be lying if I said I noticed a significant difference relative to the wired connection when played back through Master & Dynamic’s MW65 headphones or the $4,000 JBL L1000 Classics (fed through Radsone’s ES100 Bluetooth receiver). I’m pretty sensitive to compression artifacts, so I consider that a victory. I never noticed any signal drop-outs either.
Lack of wires aside, there’s another benefit to Bluetooth: Aesthetics. Usually, you’ll have to place a turntable near your hi-fi rack, where it can be lost in a mess of components, or else run long wires across your room. Not so with the Alva TT. Put the turntable wherever you want. Put some colorful vinyl on it – the blasphemy! – and it can practically be a statement piece in your listening room.
For those who aren’t ready to spend four digits on a turntable, there are plenty of excellent alternatives. Sony’s $150 PS-LX310 BT is a fantastic entry-level option at just $150, packing surprisingly good sound quality, Bluetooth, and USB functionality in a sleek package. For a few extra benjamins, you could invest in the U-Turn’s Orbit family or Fluance’s RT8X turntables and get more sound quality than you probably need.
But for those willing to make a bigger investment though, the Alva TT stands out in a crowded market. It’ not a ‘warm’ turntable that purposefully colors the sound, nor an option for the tweaker seeking to customize every component. It’s a turntable meant to get the most out of a dated format while providing some convenience for those who seek it. Add to this superb build quality, sleek looks and an excellent reputation, and the Alva TT feels like a turntable you’d buy to keep for as long as your vinylwilllast.
The Alva TT is available from World Wide Stereo for $1699,99.
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Published August 28, 2019 — 18:39 UTC