Platter Matters: Three Turntables

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This is a review that few would have predicted 8 years ago when Sound & Vision began as the merger of Stereo Review and Video. Back then, the hot topics were the new DVD-Video and HDTV formats, and all but the most die-hard audiophiles considered the vinyl LP to be dead and buried after 15 years of buoyant CD sales. But then a funny thing happened: The kids from Generation Y started discovering the LP collections of their baby-boomer parents, and this in turn started to give vinyl a sort of retro-chic appeal.

The real kicker, however, is that after 50 years of refinement, those old LPs can now sound better than ever. And many listeners argue that, on a gut level, vinyl can deliver an experience superior to that of CD. Of course, when CDs first came out, we marveled at what we didn't hear - the ticks, pops, and mistracking - but we failed to appreciate what we were losing along with the noise. Whether you call it a coloration or a euphony, many listeners find that LPs connect with them emotionally in a way that CDs can't.

To get a feel for what today's crop of turntables, tonearms, and phono cartridges can deliver from LPs, I checked out a top pick at each of three price levels: a good-quality but affordable rig that's easy to set up and get running, a more ambitious offering for those who take their vinyl quite seriously, and a real dream machine that pushes the boundaries of what can be extracted from a squiggly little black groove.