For music lovers looking to add hassle-free vinyl playback to their system, the AT-LP3XBT offers much convenience and connectivity.
Audio Technica’s LP3XBT is a fully automatic turntable based on their popular LP3 model. As the model number suggests, the latest incarnation brings the convenience of Bluetooth connectivity, but it doesn’t stop there…
The LP3XBT also features the new AT-VM95 cartridges series for easy stylus upgrades, and a new external AC adapter, which handles the AC/DC conversion outside of the chassis—this is good news for overall noise reduction in the signal chain…
Other features include a stylish damped base construction for reducing resonance and a die-cast aluminum platter. There’s nothing in the way of fancy TPE damping inside the aluminum platter, leaving this job to the included generously thick felt platter matt instead.
The LP3XBT is available in a smart black or white finish. I’m reviewing the white version, which I can’t help but feel has a slight futuristic Jetsons vibe about it!? For an automatic turntable design, I feel, somehow, this is quite apt.
Unlike some cheaper automatic turntables, the LP3XBT boasts a proper 8.7″ straight tonearm with a real counterweight and anti-skate adjustment. Also welcome is the inclusion of a detachable headshell for easy cartridge swaps.
Automatic turntables have a reputation for mostly occupying the baseline entry-level turntable market, but what we see here is an affordable turntable with some very credible HiFi specs at this price.
Many automatic turntables have fixed cartridges that can’t be upgraded, meaning it’s somewhat of a dead-end, so to speak. With the LP3XBT, you’re investing into a turntable that can grow with your thirst for higher fidelity as and when the desire and funds materialize.
The new AT-VM95 cartridge makes simple quick win sound upgrades a cinch thanks to the new stylus eco-system, which is designed in such a way that all VM95 Series replacement styli are interchangeable with the cartridge body. All you have to do is buy a new stylus and pop it right onto the existing cartridge body.
The supplied stylus is their baseline blue conical model. Great for getting started, but anyone seeking improved detail and clarity should consider an upgrade to the green elliptical stylus, or even the orange nude-elliptical model.
You can go further if you want (Microlinear and Shibata styli are also compatible), but with a turntable of this level, and the quality of system it’s likely to pair with, there comes a point of diminishing returns. Still, there is plenty of room for sonic exploration here with very minimal fuss!
Audio Technica AT-LP3XBT In Operation
As with most turntables, there’s a small amount of setup required before you can start spinning records. Audio Technica provide very good instructions on the basics of installing the platter and drive belt, as well as how to install the cartridge (which is pre-aligned), followed by setting tracking force and anti-skating. Other than this fairly typical initial setup, the LP3XBT is fairly plug-and-play.
You’ll need to choose your output mode according to your preference or current HiFi setup. There is a built-in phono preamp if your system doesn’t already have one. You can engage this using the fairly typical rear panel switch labeled “phono or line” – choose “line” to enable the LP3’s internal phono stage.
The LP3XBT, overall, has a great sturdy feel to it. The only aspect I think could be improved are the stop, start and speed buttons, which operate just fine, but do feel slightly “springy” and cheap. I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker, but as we know, there is no such thing as a perfect product.
The top dial allows you to switch between 12-inch and 7-inch automatic modes to ensure the tonearm lands in the correct place! If you’re spinning 10-inch records, you’ll have to cue these up manually.
It’s worth noting that the front panel speed control works independently of the record size switch, so you’ll not have to worry about compatibility with 45rpm 12-inch singles or 7-inch 33rpm EPs.
In operation, the arm works really smoothly. The lift control and rest are hydraulically damped, so that explains the gentle operation. In my experience, many much cheaper automatic record players and turntables hit your records with the grace of an elephant!
This is not Audio Technica’s most affordable automatic deck, of course. The LP60 model comes in at around $80 less, but is significantly more modest in its specifications.
Gone is the proper tonearm with adjustable counterweight and anti-skating, and, of course, with it, any ability to upgrade the cartridge. Also absent is a proper manual cue lever, which really elevates the operation of the LP3 when operating the turntable manually.
The cue lever works just as you’d expect on a manual turntable. The difference being that your platter will start automatically spinning when you position the tonearm over the record, but besides this, you’re free to cue up 10″ records, or specific tracks on any album.
The Sound Test
Until now, my experience with automatic turntables has always been one of great compromise on sound quality in exchange for convenience. Not so with the LP3XBT!
Granted, this deck doesn’t quite have the depth of detail and dynamics compared to something like my Pro-Ject X1. The sound stage isn’t quite as wide and large either, but that’s not to say the LP3 isn’t an extremely capable performer at this price.
With the stock conical stylus, the sound was solid, warm, and smooth on the top end. Much of this character is to be expected with a conical stylus, as they do tend to have a woollier sound with less fizz and sparkle.
Curious to hear how the green elliptical stylus might change this, I swapped out the stylus, which just slots on and off. In doing so, the sound opens up noticeably, extending the top-end and mid-range musical detail. The stereo separation seems to improve also, and there’s a cleaner, crisper quality to the sound—particularly in the high-frequencies.
The wooliness in the low end is replaced with something altogether more punchy and engaging. Given that you can upgrade to the green stylus for under $50, I recommend you do this as soon as you can.
In Bluetooth output mode, or using the built-in phono output the sound boxes in slightly, and instrument separation becomes slightly less defined, but this is typical of any built-in phono stage. In a casual listening space, such as a living room, though, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
Those seeking the best space, detail and dynamic range this turntable can offer should undoubtedly hook up a good quality external phono preamp, and when you do, you’re in for a treat – it’s a superb turntable at this price.
Audio Technica AT-LP3XBT Review – The Bottom Line
If you’re seeking vinyl playback without the hassle of manual operation at an affordable price, the LP3XBT is hard to beat.
Having spent around a month with the LP3XBT set up in my living room, the automatic operation made playing records more inclusive, as my wife has never really felt confident using our manual turntable.
Of course, in choosing an automatic turntable, you lose some of the ritual of playing records that many collectors enjoy. You’ll also find the auto lift will prevent you from properly hearing any locked grooves at the end of albums (take the end of Sgt Pepper’s, for example), so if this is important to you, a manual deck is the way to go.
In summary, this is a serious turntable that happens to be automatic and will suit any collector who wants to enjoy their record collection with minimal fuss without compromising on sound quality. I have to say; I’m going to miss the convenience of the auto-play and stop on Friday nights when we all select a few records and let loose as a family.
Whether or not this turntable is for you will come down to your wants and needs from the vinyl experience. As someone who does enjoy the ritual and process of manual turntable operation, I went into this review feeling I was reviewing on behalf of record collectors with very different priorities than myself; by the end of the review, I was seriously considering swapping our manual living room deck for the convenience of this automatic turntable. What a turn-up for the books!