Are you ready to buy a good quality turntable without spending a fortune? The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB may be just what you are looking for. This is a very well crafted copy of the popular Technics SL-1200 series of turntables made by Panasonic. The Audio-Technica AT120 is becoming popular because of its sound quality, durability, speed accuracy and reasonable price. You can’t really get a better turntable for this price.
I decided to review this product because of its popularity and high consumer ratings. I recommend this turntable to someone looking for a good sounding record player at a moderate price. Top quality turntables are quite expensive. Depending on your experience and expectations, you may find this one just perfect for your needs without emptying your wallet. One good thing about this turntable is that you can always improve the sound quality by upgrading its components.
This product is also excellent for people wanting to digitize their music with good sound quality because it can be connected to a computer via USB or analog audio. However, this record player is not recommended for somebody who wants an easy solution to transfer their albums to their portable device or car without messing with calibration or learning a “complicated” software.
With the appropriate stylus, the AT-LP120-USB makes a great disk jockey starter turntable because of its high torque direct drive motor and features like accurate speed, fast start-stop, reverse playback, strobe speed indicator and pitch adjustment. If you have been needing or wanting a Techniques 1200 but can’t afford its price, this turntable can be a viable substitute.
Don’t worry if you have never setup a turntable before, this one is easy to setup. Audio-Technica provides detailed and easy to follow instructions, on video and written form. However, if you don’t like messing around with adjusting components, then you are better off getting a record player that is already adjusted for playback like the AT-LP60USB which is also fully automatic.
Before we continue reviewing the Audio-Technica AT-LP120, let me warn you that this turntable is completely manual. It doesn’t have an automatic tonearm return or auto-stop feature. If you tend to fall asleep while listening to music, this may not be a good player for you.
So, if you are looking for a decent quality turntable at a decent price and don’t mind the operation being completely manual, you’ll find this review very helpful and this turntable a great choice.
Headshell, Cartridge and Stylus
The AT-LP120-USB comes with a Dual Magnet phono cartridge pre-mounted on a universal or half-inch standard headshell. The advantage of having a standard headshell is that you can upgrade the cartridge in the future if you need a better quality one.
The cartridge that comes pre-mounted is the green Audio-Technica AT95E. This is a high performance cartridge that produces a clear and detailed sound. It has an elliptical diamond stylus designed for high tracking accuracy and excellent audio playback.
The cantilever is very soft and delicate, so you have to be careful about how you handle it because it can easily break. If you ever need replacements you can find the AT95E on Amazon. If you only need to replace the stylus, search for ATN95E instead. Some times people can’t find the information on the tracking force required for this cartridge. Audio-Technica suggests setting a tracking force of 2.0 grams.
Does the color of the cartridge matter? Well, not really, but I thought I should warn my readers about the white cartridge that used to come with this unit. In the past, this unit was sold with either a white (ATP-2) or a green (ATP95E) cartridge. In fact, Audio-Technica provided a different manual depending on which cartridge came with the phonograph.
Many consumers have complained about the white ATP-2 cartridge because it doesn’t sound as good and may wear out your vinyl records faster. When reading consumer reviews, be cautious and find out what cartridge they are referring to. The good news is that the ATP-2 cartridge was discontinued. The AT-LP120-USB does not come with the white cartridge anymore, it comes with the green ATP95E instead, which is much better.
The cartridge that comes with this unit is not appropriate for scratching. If you want to buy this product for that purpose, consider spending a little bit more to get the proper stylus. You can get the Shure M44-7 on Amazon for about $50 at the time of writing this review.
There are different opinions out there about whether or not this is a good turntable for DJing. Some reviews suggest that this turntable is appropriate for DJ starters and basic scratching, but they don’t recommend it for juggling. I’m not a DJ myself but I found this interesting video comparing the popular Technics 1200 and Audio-Technica AT-LP120 so you can judge for yourself.
This record player supports the playback of 78 rpm records but it does not include the appropriate cartridge. Remember that 78 rpm vinyl records have wider grooves and are monophonic, meaning that they contain a single audio channel. The cartridge that comes with this unit is only appropriate for 33⅓ and 45 rpm records. I don’t recommend using the included cartridge to play 78 rpm records because the stylus and your vinyl could get damaged. For 78 rpm records you need a special monophonic cartridge. The most popular is the Shure M78S.
If you are planning on listening to 78, 45 and 33⅓ rpm records continuously, you’ll need to switch cartridges often. This can be a pain because replacing a cartridge can get really tricky depending on your ability to handle small objects with your fingers. One thing you can do, is to buy a separate headshell for each cartridge as it is easier to insert the headshell in the tonearm than it is to mount the cartridge on the headshell. This way you go through the trouble of mounting the cartridge once. Next time you just slide the headshell and you’re ready to play some music. The base or plinth of this turntable has a storage receptacle for an extra headshell.
Tonearm and Adjustments
The AT-LP120-USB comes with an S-shaped metallic tonearm with adjustable counterweight, anti-skate adjustment and tone-arm height adjustment. The S-shape of the tonearm helps reduce tracking errors. It has a tonearm lift control lever or cueing lever with an hydraulic mechanism for a slow descend motion. The tonearm rest includes a lock clamp to secure the arm during transport. Be aware that the lock clamp is very delicate and can easily break.
To get the best performance and sound quality out of this record player, the tonearm components need to be assembled and adjusted. That means balancing the tonearm and setting the appropriate tracking force and anti-skate for a particular cartridge. This may sound complicated but it’s actually very easy, even for somebody that has never done it before. You just need to follow the instructions on the user’s manual or watch the video setup by Audio-Technica. I find the video clearer and easier to follow than the manual.
The tonearm height adjustment is very useful, as you can set the height according to the thickness of the record you are going to play. For example, if you want to play 78 rpm records or if you have recently bought one of those high quality 180 gram or 200 gram vinyl records, just adjust the height so that the tonearm is parallel to the surface of your vinyl record.
Remember that the tone arm operation is completely manual. This unit does not have an automatic arm return or auto-stop mechanism. When the needle gets to the end of the album, you will need to manually lift the arm and return it to its rest. You may not need the auto-stop or auto-return feature if you are using this deck for DJing, but many casual listeners consider the lack of this feature an important disadvantage.
Platter and Motor
High torque, direct drive motor
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB professional turntable has a high torque motor. High torque refers to the ability of the motor to rapidly acquire the desired speed. This particular unit has good start-up times – it can reach 33⅓ rpm in about 0.7 seconds. This type of motor is commonly found on DJ decks. This is a direct drive turntable. The platter mounts directly to the motor’s shaft or center spindle, so there is no need to install an elastic belt. Generally, direct drive turntables are noisier than belt driven ones, but the rumble on this one is barely noticeable. If you pay close attention, you may be able to hear some motor noises in the middle of the playback. Someone has suggested to replace the felt mat with a rubber mat to reduce the noise. But be careful, this may not be a good idea if you are planning to use your turntable for scratching.
Felt slip mat
The turntable comes with a felt mat. The right type of slip mat is really a personal preference and also depends on your specific needs. A felt mat, for example, allows a disk jokey to manipulate a record without damaging it. The felt helps the platter spin underneath the record during scratching. A rubber mat, on the other hand, wouldn’t be a good choice for this purpose. Some people argue that the type of slip mat also affects the quality of the sound. It may attenuate some frequencies and boost others depending on its material. The slip mat can also help reduce external vibrations getting into the stylus through the platter. I would personally stick with the mat that comes with the unit, generally that is the one that works and sounds best in most situations.
This record player comes with a light-weight die-cast aluminum platter. It has strobe dots on the edge of the platter that function as a visual indicator of the platter speed accuracy. They are used in conjunction with the strobe light. The top two rows indicate speed accuracy for a 50Hz current. The two bottom rows indicate speed accuracy for a 60Hz current. The small dots correspond to the 33⅓ rpm speed and the big dots correspond to the 45 rpm speed. No dots are provided for the 78 rpm speed.
Rotation speeds and power source
The motor supports the three standard rotation speeds, 33⅓, 45 and 78 rpm. The speed of this turntable is very accurate and it has a quartz-lock button that will bring the platter immediately to the proper speed regardless of the pitch control slider’s current position. This record player has forward and reverse playback. It has a voltage selector under the platter so you can connect it to either a 115V (60Hz) or 220V (50Hz) AC power source.
Wow and flutter
The terms wow and flutter refer to the magnitude of the speed fluctuations. This turntable has fluctuations of less than 0.2% according to the manual. This value is high compared to other turntables. The Techniques SL1200, for example, presents a wow and flutter rate of 0.01% according to the manual. Although the value of 0.2% seems high compared to 0.01%, it is still a decent value. In fact, 0.2% actually corresponds to the Just Noticeable Difference for Frequency in Complex tones. In other words, we cannot perceive pitch variations of less than 0.2%. That’s just a limit of human hearing. I state this with authority because I have research experience in the field of phychoacoustics. But if the theory doesn’t convince you, I found only one review complaining about the wow and flutter being a problem on this particular turntable.
Pitch adjust control
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB has a pitch adjust control slider. Its purpose is to increase or decrease the speed of the platter by small amounts. The range of of pitch variation can be changed from +/- 10% to +/-20% by pressing the pitch button. This slider has a nice, smooth feeling. The center position is dented for easy finding. When the slider is at the zero position, the quartz control lock is activated. You can also toggle between the internal quartz lock and variable pitch by pressing the quartz lock button. When quartz lock is active, the platter will spin at the precise speed regardless of the position of the pitch control slider. The pitch adjustment is used a lot by disk jockeys for beat matching and mixing. Casual listeners may find this feature useful to adjust old records to the right pitch or tempo.
Outputs on the AT-LP120-USB
I have read many questions and comments regarding the different possible audio setups for this turntable. Here are some of the most common questions I have found:
- What are good speakers for this turntable?
- Can I connect this turntable to a wireless wifi system like Sonos, Jambox, JBL Flip, etc.?
- Would this unit record to a SD card?
- Does it have Bluetooth or wireless connectivity?
- Would the USB only work with the computer?
- Can I connect this turntable directly to an amplifier through USB?
- Can I plug headphones into this turntable?
I’ll try to answer some of this questions the best I can, but bear in mind that the possibilities are endless. So are the amount of audio components on the market that could possibly work with this unit. It would be impossible to list them all. Instead, I will explain the basic output features and some possible audio setups. I’m sure you should be able to apply this information to your particular situation.
There are only three types of outputs available on the AutioTechnica AT-LP120-USB:
- USB, cable included.
- Phono, RCA cable hardwired to the unit with the pre-amp selector switch set to PHONO.
- Line, same RCA cable with the pre-amp selector switch set to LINE.
For your convenience the product includes 2 cable adapters to be used with the LINE output:
You could buy other adapters if you need to, but these ones are the most commonly used. The RCA cord that comes with this unit is rather short, so you may need to buy RCA extensions or an extra cord with a pair of couplers.
Now let’s discuss each one in more detail.
The USB connection on this unit was planned for transferring your music to a computer through the USB port. According to the manual, no special drivers are needed. The record player comes with a CD containing a recording software called Audacity. It’s an Open Source audio editing software that can be downloaded for free. Some people find it difficult to use. I personally love the software and find it easy to use. This really depends on your experience with computers and technology. I must say that Audacity is a 3rd party software and you don’t have to use this particular tool for your recordings; feel free to use your favorite audio recording tool.
If you have never used Audacity before or any other audio editing software, expect a certain learning curve and don’t get discouraged. You can also read my tutorial on how to transfer you vinyl music to a digital format [link coming]. Audacity is in constant development, so I suggest to download the latest version from their website instead of the one on the CD provided.
Some amplifiers and audio receivers have a USB port. One would think that you could plugin your AT-LP120-USB to hear some music, right? The thing is that those ports are generally meant for storage devices like USB flash drives, memory sticks or mp3 players. You wouldn’t be able to play your music through that USB port because the turntable is not a storage device. It streams audio through the USB port live and in real time. It would work only if your amplifier or audio receiver supports USB audio streaming. The problem with receivers that support USB audio streaming is that they have a USB type B port like the one on the image. This means you would have to find a cable with two type B ends. I’ve never tried it, so if you want to be the first, be my guest, but please leave us a comment to let us know how it went 🙂
It is not possible to transfer your music directly from the turntable to a storage medium like an SD card or an external hard drive. However, you can first save your music in the computer, and then transfer the files to your other storage devices.
Phono cartridges produce a weak electric signal. The phono signal needs to be amplified to line level in order to be manipulated by other audio devices. The device that boosts the phono signal to a line level is called a pre-amplifier or preamp. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB has an internal stereo phono pre-amplifier. You can bypass the preamp by selecting PHONO on the preamp selector switch. You may want to use this feature if you have a receiver or amplifier with a PHONO input or if you have a better quality external preamp. Great way to improve sound quality!
If you decide to buy an external pre-amplifier, make sure it is RIAA equalized. When vinyl records are made, low frequencies are attenuated and high frequencies are boosted so that more music can fit in the vinyl record. During playback this process has to be reversed. A RIAA equalizer is a standardized equalizer that serves this purpose.
As we said before, this record player has a built-in RIAA equalized phono preamplifier. This is very practical since many receivers, amplifiers and power speakers don’t have a phono input. In this case, you need to connect the RCA cables to an amplifier with Line-In or Aux inputs. Or you can connect your player to self powered speakers with RCA Line inputs. Again, there are many possible setups.
The two adapter cables come in very handy. They allow you to connect your turntable directly to powered speakers or to your computer’s sound card without the need of an amplifier. You can even connect your headphones using the 3.5 mm female mini-plug adapter. Just be aware that you cannot control the volume of the signal from the turntable. You will have to control the volume with whatever device your player is connected to.
Being a knock off of the Techniques 1200, I wouldn’t expect the Audio-Technica LP120 to have a built-in Bluetooth or wireless transmitter. But that does not mean that you can’t have this benefit. Of course you would have to spend a little more to get an external wireless transmitter or receiver. There are many out there. The Sonos System, for example, has a wireless receiver component called SONOS CONNECT that would allow you to connect any analog audio, including your turntable, so you can wirelessly transmit the music to any Sonos speaker. I could list other products, but I’m sure you can do the research yourself. Just search for wireless or Bluetooth transmitters and you’ll get what you are looking for. Make sure the device has Line or Aux inputs.
Sound Quality of the Audio-Technica AT-LP120
Sound quality depends on many factors: vinyl quality and condition, cartridge, stylus, pre-amp, amplifier and speakers. Think of it as chain, if one link doesn’t perform well, the whole chain gets affected. Imagine a top quality turntable with a super hi-fi cartridge connected to the cheapest portable monophonic speaker you can find. Obviously, the sound quality will be that of the portable speaker. Why buy a super turntable if you don’t have a comparable audio device to connect it to? When assessing the sound quality of a turntable always consider all the factors.
In my opinion the most important element in terms of sound quality is the cartridge. As we have seen before, the AT95E is a high quality cartridge that will give you a clear and detailed sound as long as you have a good amp and speaker system to go with it. Remember that you can always get a better cartridge or audio devices to improve the sound quality of this turntable. Also, always keep your vinyl records in optimal condition to get the best sound and to extend the life of your vinyl and stylus.
One caveat is that the pre-amp has a gating circuit that shuts off the sound when it falls below a certain level. It was designed this way probably to avoid background noises when no music is being played. This could only be a problem when playing music with very soft passages like classical music. The only way to solve this is to bypass the built-in pre-amp by selecting PHONO on the pre-amp selector switch. You would obviously need an external pre-amp or receiver with PHONO inputs.
Overall, the sound produced by this phonograph is beautiful and clear, with a good balance of low, mid and high frequencies. It has good dynamic range and channel separation. The motor can be heard very lightly during quiet music passages. The speed is very accurate, so you shouldn’t have problems with background noises or noticeable pitch variations. The sturdy, heavy and thick construction of this unit helps it isolate external vibrations. Just remember to be cautious with reviews complaining about the sound quality of the cartridge, they may be talking about the white ATP-2.
Body and Look
This unit comes in two colors, black and silver. Some times there is a different in price depending on the color. If you don’t care much about the color, go for the one with the lower price. The Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB has a nice professional look and a very familiar and intuitive layout. It looks pretty much like the Techniques 1200 series. It has a removable transparent dust cover. It can be safely closed when the unit is operating. The dust cover and the entire body are made of durable, high-impact plastic. The platter base and tonearm are made of high-quality steel. It comes with a metal 45 rpm adapter for playing 7-inch vinyl records that have a larger center hole. This turntable is very heavy and solid. The record player has adjustable feet with a dampening material on the bottom to isolate external vibrations. It really feels like a quality piece of equipment.
- Width: 450.0 mm (17.72″)
- Depth 352.0 mm (13.86″)
- Height 157.0 mm (6.1″)
- 10.7 kg (23.5 lbs.)
- USB cable
- Audacity software
- RCA output cables
- Headshell with pre-mounted cartridge
- AC line cord
- dual RCA (female) to 3.5 mm (1/8″) mini-plug (male) stereo adapter cable
- dual RCA (female) to 3.5 mm (1/8″) mini-plug (female) stereo adapter cable
- 45 RPM adapter with storage receptacle for playing 7-inch records
AT-LP120-USB Consumer Reviews
This product has very good ratings. Many users report using this unit without a problem for more than a year. They appreciate the durability and professional look and feel. In general, consumers have found this unit easy to assemble and setup. Most people have been satisfied with the sound quality of this unit. For many this turntable has exceeded their expectations. The Audio-Technica video tutorials are considered very useful and people brag about the great customer service. Most consumers appreciate the many features and adjustment options of this turntable as well as the ability to upgrade the cartridge. I have found many reviews of people satisfied with the sound quality of their digitized music. They find the USB connection to the computer very convenient.
Despite the high ratings of this product, there are a few things that have disappointed some consumers. I’ll start with the most serious and repeated complaints.
Many people have reported one of the channels not working. In other words, sound would only come out through one speaker. Either the left or right channel was not working. I know that Audio-Technica offers great customer support, so before you send the product back, it’s always a good idea to contact them. It may be a simple issue that could be resolved with a quick phone call. Few people could not get it fixed and had to return it or get a replacement.
The most common cause for the “one channel” problem is that the cartridge has 4 little cables connected to 4 little pins inside the tonearm. Sometimes those get stuck and can’t move freely or they may be loose. To fix the problem you have to remove the headshell and make sure the pins are well connected. Some times the cable adapters are bad which isn’t a big deal, just get another cable. Other times, the problem is the RCA cables that are hardwired to the unit. If that happens to you, again, call customer service as Audio-Technica has a very good reputation.
Another important issue that has been reported by users is a warped platter. This seems to be an old issue that has now been resolved. How much warped? I don’t know. People have different perceptions. Some times it’s not the platter that is warped. It may be that shaft of the motor is not completely vertical and makes the platter look warped when sniping. I personally would compare the platter against a flat surface like glass. If it does not look warped I would play a record and see if I can hear anything. My advice is again, to call the manufacturer, they can send you a replacement.
Few consumers have complained about a electrical humming during playback. That can be caused by many things. It could be your wires, your electric connection or your computer sound card. I don’t think this one is a big issue. You can also check the connections inside the tonearm as in the channel malfunction case.
Many casual listeners complain about the lack of auto-stop and automatic arm return function. There is nothing that can be done about it at the moment. There is a product called “The Q Up”, which is an automatic tonearm lifter for manual turntables, but it was pointed out to me that this device is not compatible with the AT-LP120-USB or the Techniques 1200. I’m leaving this information here so that you don’t make the mistake of buying “The Q UP” for this particular turntable.
One of the most annoying problems of this unit is it’s extremely delicate arm locking clamp. It can very easily break. Be very careful with it or prepare yourself to get a replacement in the near future.
Finally the last minor complaint repeatedly seen in reviews is that the RCA cables are hardwired and they are too short. I agree, I think Audio-Technica could have done a better job by adding RCA inputs with removable cables. But I can live with it, can’t you? As for the length of the cord you can just buy some RCA extension cables.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120 USB Video Review
I found this very detailed review on YouTube.
Pros, Cons and User Manual
- Good sound quality
- Many adjustment options
- Very high quality for the price
- Easy setup with good instructions and videos
- Well written instructions
- Great customer service
- Universal tonearm and headshell
- Built-In preamp
- Heavy and solid
- Quiet for the most part
- Strobe and speed adjust for accurate speed
- Good looking machine
- Good quality cartridge
- USB for computer connection
- Reasonable price
- Familiar layout, easy to operate
- Lack of auto-stop/automatic arm return
- Fixed and short RCA cable
- Flimsy lock clamp
- Possible channel malfunction
- Possible warped platter
- Full manual operation
You can download the user manual here.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Overall Review
Overall this product has excellent ratings. It has a good sound quality. It’s a product suited to somebody looking for a good quality turntable at a reasonable price. This is a viable substitute of the Techniques 1200 at a lower price. Good DJ starter turntable. Great for digitizing your collection with high sound quality. Not a good option for somebody wanting an automatic turntable. Some issues have been reported but remember that Audio-Technica has great customer service. I hope you liked this review. Please feel free to leave your comments so other readers can benefit.