Question: I am purchasing a turntable to use with my stereo and to create digital files on my computer. I was going to buy the $299 Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB you reviewed on your website but then saw the Pro-ject Debut Carbon is available in a USB version for $499. Do you think the Debut Carbon USB is worth the extra investment? - D.N., Minneapolis
Answer: First of all, the AT-LP120-USB sells for only $219 on Amazon.com, a significant savings over the $299 MSRP. If you are going to compare the two I would use real-world prices rather than the list prices so you have a more valid comparison. Both turntables are very fine values and you won't go wrong either way.
Audio-Technica's AT-LP120-USB is far and away one of the biggest bargains in audio. It is a direct drive turntable that looks a lot like the famed Technics SL-1200. It features a USB computer connection and a built-in phono preamp so you can use it with any receiver or amplifier. The turntable is solid, looks good and sounds good, providing value far beyond its modest price. Most every $200-and-under turntable you find in department and big-box stores is junk and comparing them to the AT-LP120-USB is like comparing a convenience store microwave hamburger to Ruth's Chris steak house. You can see my original review of the turntable at tinyurl.com/mea96kf where you will find my only real criticism was of the fitted cartridge, a DJ cartridge of middling quality. It has since been replaced by a much better HiFi cartridge, the Audio-Technica AT95E. (audio-technica.com)
The belt drive Pro-ject Debut Carbon ($399) and Carbon USB ($499) are the latest versions of the famous Pro-ject Debut series of turntables. I have long considered the Debut series to be the best performing entry-level audiophile turntables on the market. The Debut Carbon is the biggest upgrade the series has ever seen. When the turntables progressed from the Debut to the Debut III the upgrades were meaningful, but incremental in nature. The Debut Carbon upgrades take the turntable up several orders of magnitude over the Debut III. The arm has been upgraded to a full carbon fiber design and the standard cartridge is the excellent Ortofon 2M Red. You can add a speed control box called the Speed Box II that improves sound quality by stabilizing the motor speed and allows you to change between 33 and 45 rpm with the touch of a button. It sells for $129. Without the Speed Box II you change speeds by moving the belt to a different pulley. (sumikoaudio.net)
The Debut Carbon will provide better sound than the AT-LP120-USB, and given it costs almost 2.5 times as much, it should. If you have high quality speakers and electronics I would say it is worth the investment if you plan on making vinyl record playback the centerpiece of your system. You will probably want to add the Speed Box II somewhere down the line, which will bring your total cost up to $628. At $219 the AT-LP120-USB will provide excellent sound and does not need any other accessories to control the speed. Since it is direct drive you never need to change a worn-out belt and if you want to improve the sound you can simply upgrade the cartridge.
Contact Don Lindich at soundadviceblog.com and use the "submit question" link on that site.
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