Since being a fan of Bluegrass music, I've been exposed to all sorts of old recordings of all the classic songs and artists. Despite being created back in the 50's, 60's and 70's all my old tunes have been in some sort of digital format, be it MP3, FLAC, etc so that's always left me with feeling that I'm still just some kind of Bluegrass/Old-Time poser. I mean, how can I truly appreciate the music if I don't know how it's meant to be heard.
It's been about 5 years of having this feeling looming over me like some sort of hipster god judging me with every play of the Foggy Mountain Banjo album MP3. To remedy this, a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to hunt down some old Bluegrass vinyl. I found a few in local bookstores and such, but then quickly realized I was still poser with no way to play my newly acquired vinyl.
So, I started hunting for used and sadly only came up with either really trashed examples of old turntables which also need new needles, or really super high-end audiophile $300+ examples. Neither of which fit the bill. After realizing this, I got a little discourage and basically set my search into passive mode and almost forgot about getting a turntable.
Then one day last week I was out shopping for groceries and what did I see, but a display tucked waaaaay in the back corner of SuperStore with a stack of Sylvania STT008USB Turntables. Interesting, it's only $24.99 too.
I weighed my options, had a quick read of a few Amazon reviews, which were not too bad actually. So thought about all the $25 used turntables I've seen and decided based upon that to go for it. I figured if it turned out to be total crap, I could just return it.
After getting it home and playing for a few hours, here's what I've come up with.
- It costs less than any used turntables I could find
- USB powered (came with a cable)
- 3.5mm jack lets you plug it into anything with an auxiliary input (cable not included)
- Built in speaker
- Battery (I can't confirm if this works yet, but there is a switch to run off battery)
- 33/45 rpm speeds
- Super compact size (relative to other players)
- Lacking any sort of tone control
- Bordering on flimsy
- Sound quality suspect
I have to preface this by saying, I'm no audiophile. I have a Yamaha receiver at home with some speakers. Notice that I can't even tell you the model name without going spelunking in the crawlspace to find the box...Yes,the receiver and all the speakers came in the same box to give you an idea about the level of quality I'm dealing with here.
Upon initial use of the Sylvania, I immediately decided the built-in speaker is basically useless for any real listening. I mean you can hear the music and recognize instruments and words, but it's basically the equivalent of listening to music on the built-in speaker of a 2010-era smartphone. Not good.
After hooking it up via 3.5mm cable to my Yamaha receiver, things were sounding better, but still seemed like the gain was a little high. The treble seemed quite high, while the lows were not coming through. Luckily the receiver has built-in treble/bass controls, which by the way were cracked to max treble for some reason. Once I adjusted the receiver, things were sounding much better.
Despite looking rather plasticy, playing around with the unit made me take note that the build quality was better than it looks. The needle arm is solid and has 2 mounting points that line up exactly and it stays put. There is one mounting point for the arm while in storage and one for resting the arm on while changing records, well out of the way. The volume knob is solid and has a good amount of resistance so that it feels heavier than it is. I'm not going to go as far to say it feels like those old giant silver 70's volume knobs usually associated with record players, but I appreciate the attempt by Sylvania; it's like a nod to the turntable forefathers.
I also really liked the fact that the unit is USB powered...so the generations of phone charger bricks that were laying around our house worked just fine to power it.
In terms of addressing the cons, the tone control can easily be overcome using whatever input you decide to plug the turntable into. In fact, I'm now glad there are no tone controls because the built-in speaker is useless and I'm positive my receiver does a way better job at controlling tone than anything this unit might have tried to do. I'm sure it helps keep the price down as well.
As for the flimsiness of the unit, I must say that the build-quality is pretty good, especially for what I thought would be just a gimmicky chunk of plastic. The hinges feel solid, the arm is solid, the head is solid and I've already mentioned how nice the volume control feels. All the input/output jacks are on one side of the unit, lined up and labelled nicely.
The one thing I wish it had was more weight. Seems like a weird thing to say these days considering everything is going towards lighter/thinner, but this not a new technology it's a throwback to the old heavy days. They could have just added some rocks or scrap metal hidden in the bottom and I'd be happy.
The upside to being small and lightweight is that when you're done listening the unit folds up into something the size of a shoebox and easily stows out of the way. Sylvania put some decent thought into getting it to fold up into a nice rectangle with no pieces sticking out to get caught on anything (this is where those arm mount-points really shine).
A final thing to note is that I can't help but wonder how the sound quality of this compares to a real turntable. It's been years since I've actually heard one and at that point I wasn't thinking about sound quality in the slightest, I was thinking about how fast I could run listening to Michael Jackson's Beat It. That song really got me pumped back in kindergarten. I can't help but think a real turntable would sound better but until I get one I can't really compare the two. One day I'll invest and do a comparison.
With all being said and as shown by the list above, I'm going to say this turntable is definitely worth the asking price. I'm even more impressed that I actually got it for cheaper than it's listed on Amazon. This is does exactly what you'd want it to do and no more. It plays your old vinyl you might have laying around and it does it without fuss. Don't be expecting it to outdo those $300 turntables, but if all you want is the player functionality I highly recommend it.