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How I inadvertently became a vinyl nerd

·Senior Editor
·6-min read

I don't consider myself an audiophile. For years, my primary pair of headphones were just the wired earbuds that came with my phone. I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference between MP3 and FLAC. Yet, I recently bought a U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus turntable, a pair of Kanto YU4 speakers and several vinyl records on eBay. How did this happen?

It all began nearly a decade ago when I joined a They Might Be Giants fan club. For an annual fee, the band would send members not just bumper stickers and t-shirts, but also several 7-inch singles and the occasional 12-inch LP. Two years later and I had accumulated a mini collection of vinyl that I had no way of playing.

Not wanting to spend a ton of money, I decided to see what the fuss was about and buy a cheap Crosley Cruiser Deluxe (you know, the one in its own suitcase that every late-millennial hipster bought from Target a few years back). I wasn’t expecting much for $50, but somehow it still managed to fall far short of those expectations, with thin and flat audio that sounded bad even to my untrained ears.

U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus
U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus

But the experience was strangely charming: It’s hypnotic to set a record on the platter, watch it spin and witness the needle transforming its grooves into sound. Playing a record also reminded me of my childhood, when I would spend hours in my bedroom listening to cassette tapes and CDs, and reading the liner notes. I got lost in the music in a way that random playlists on Spotify can’t quite replicate.

I looked around for higher-quality turntables, but the only ones I could find at the time were far outside my price range. I was also reluctant to spend more money on extra equipment like amplifiers, preamps and speakers. Plus I wasn’t entirely convinced that my non-audiophile ears would be able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital. It didn’t seem worth it.

But as time went by, I secretly longed for one. I know it sounds shallow, but to me turntables just look cool. Additionally, vinyl has undergone a resurgence and it’s not uncommon these days for artists to release special edition LPs with album artwork and bonus tracks that aren't available elsewhere. Call me pretentious, but the idea of owning something tangible, something beautiful, that also supports an artist I love, really appeals to me.

Kanto YU4
Kanto YU4

Then came 2020, and in a fit of quarantine-induced mania, I decided that this was the time to finally give in to the vinyl lust that’s been building all these years. After a copious amount of research that included reading reviews and watching YouTube videos, I chose a setup that could deliver a combination of affordability, design and quality, at least for my tastes and budget.

I knew right away that I wanted U-Turn Audio’s Orbit Plus ($309) as the turntable. It’s not quite as inexpensive as the company’s own Orbit Basic ($200), but it’s still relatively affordable compared to some of the higher-end turntables on the market. Admittedly, one of my primary reasons for going with U-Turn Audio is the sleek and minimalistic design of the company’s hardware. I opted for the Plus over the Basic because its acrylic platter makes for more consistent speeds. It also comes with the Ortofon OM5E cartridge, which I had read delivers a more neutral, balanced sound.

As someone who’s never set up a turntable before, I was impressed with how easy the U-Turn Audio was to put together. When I received it, the tonearm and cartridge were already in place. All I had to do was position the platter, the mat and the belt, connect the appropriate plugs, and I was ready to go in a little over five minutes. Plus, changing speeds between 33 rpm and 45 rpm is as easy as slipping the belt into another pulley groove.

U Turn Audio Orbit Plus
U Turn Audio Orbit Plus

Another thing I like about the Orbit Plus is how customizable it is. It comes in a variety of different eye-catching colors, and I could choose to change out the cartridge for something a little more premium later on if I wanted to. I could also add a built-in phono preamp (which is needed to amplify the signal from the cartridge to your amplifier or speakers) or incorporate a cue lever that lowers and raises the tonearm. Bear in mind that adding these different options (aside from the color change) will cost extra. The addition of the preamp, for example, increases the price of the Orbit Plus to $379.

I went without a preamp on the Orbit Plus because my choice of speakers are the Kanto YU4s, which already have one built-in. I decided against separate components like an amplifier or a standalone phono preamp because I wanted to keep the setup simple, with as few devices as possible. Powered speakers like the YU4 allow me to do that. In fact, the YU4’s versatility is one of the reasons I like it so much. It has RCA and AUX inputs, optical inputs, a USB charge port, a subwoofer output, plus Bluetooth capabilities. Thanks to the latter feature, I often use the YU4 as computer speakers as well.

U Turn Audio Orbit Plus
U Turn Audio Orbit Plus

What's more, the YU4s are just so good-looking. It has this modern, minimalist design that I think pairs wonderfully with the Orbit Plus. I currently have the YU4s positioned on either side of it, and I'm very pleased with how it all looks together. On top of that, I found the YU4’s price ($370) quite reasonable as well, especially with all of its features.

As a self-professed non-audiophile, I found the audio quality of this entire setup to be more than satisfactory. The highs are crisp and the volume is powerful enough to fill the room. The one complaint I would have is that the Kanto YU4’s bass is a little lacking. It’s there, but it just isn’t as thumpy as I would like. Kanto does sell a separate subwoofer for extra bass, but for $300, I think I can live without it.

Since I’ve purchased the turntable, I’ve spent many evenings sitting in my room listening to entire albums without the distractions from the phone or computer. I even enjoy the ritual of cleaning each record and putting them back in their sleeves. It’s become a form of meditative self-care for me. Is that too precious? Does that make me a hipster? I don’t pretend it isn’t at least a little tiresome. But right now, in the midst of a pandemic, I’ll take any kind of self-care I can get.

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