Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Orbit Turntable

The Orbit Turntable and a cool old Moody Blues album
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Further Out, side two is playing. It’s part of my second record collection, my first having gone to some guy who stopped by our 1997 yard sale. I didn’t intend to get back into records but I missed music being tactile and analog. 

Records need a turntable. I found on eBay the same model Technics SL-J2 I received for Christmas in 1984. The first SL-J2 lasted thirteen years until I sold it in the yard sale with my records. The second lasted stopped working after only a week. I took it into a shop and waited three weeks but they couldn’t fix it on the first or second try. I cut my losses and sold them the table for parts. I already had my eye on a beautiful, brand new turntable. 

I fell hard for the Orbit turntable from U-Turn Audio while waiting for my Technics. I configured versions of it through their website and stared longingly. My daughters picked the blue plinth. I liked the Ortofon cartridges and needed the cue lever. I loved every bit of the design. When it was clear the Technics was dead, I ordered a blue Orbit with the standard platter, cue arm, and ground-level Ortofon cartridge. 

A week later it arrived. I had watched more unboxing and set-up videos than is healthy and read scores of reviews. Unpacking mine, I saw the cartridge head was twisted counter-clockwise forty degrees. I set it right as best I could but had a bad feeling. My first records sounded good, but there was some skipping on albums from Reimagine Records, a great shop that doesn’t sell skipping garbage. It took another day to figure out the tonearm’s gimbal was no good. A day after receiving it, I returned my Orbit for a new unit. U-Turn paid shipping. 

A week later I received my second Orbit but within moments knew its tonearm was defective too. It wouldn’t set the cartridge down and instead swung back to the tonearm clip. I shot video, called U-Turn, and we decided that I had gotten two bum tonearms in a row. The support guy, Ben, was apologetic as can be and wondered if I was willing to stick with them. I was. It’s a gorgeous turntable and well-reviewed. I still wanted one. Ben upgraded to the acrylic platter and the Ortofon Red cartridge without me asking. Half a week later, my third Orbit arrived. I unpacked it nervously. 

That turntable is playing now. I’ve been playing records nonstop through a two-day snowstorm that has kept me happily housebound. The gimbal and tonearm are just fine. I’m a happy man. 

The Orbit turntable is belt-driven with the drive unit at the top left of the plinth. Two cogs one each for 33 and 45 turn a slim o-ring that fits surprisingly loosely around the acrylic platter. This is a fully manual turntable with only a power switch. I added a cue lever that clicks in at the base of the tonearm mount as I’ve never had steady hands and fingers. The table sits on three stout rubber feet, but I may need some dampening in our old house with kids and pets running about. The original Ortofon OM5E cartridge sounded good, but the Ortofon 2M Red to which U-Turn upgraded me for my trouble sounds even clearer. I’m no audiophile and don’t have them side by side, but it’s noticeably better. I hear no difference between platters. The acrylic looks cool, but is rarely seen, so I wouldn’t pay to upgrade, but I’m happy to have received it free. 

My only complaint is with the dust cover’s flimsy hinges. They don’t reliably hold the cover up. I want higher quality hinges that would stay open without me having to think about it. I would pay a lot for hinges that held the cover open stiffly at every degree. I would leave the cover off, but we have pets and too much dust. If U-Turn upgrades the hinges, I’ll buy them immediately. 

The sound is as good as anything I have ever heard. The engineering, aside from the hinges, is excellent. I’ve seen no other reports of tonearm troubles. It was just bad luck for U-Turn and me that I got two bad gimbals. Their service was excellent. These are people who want to do things right. They insisted on upgrading my Orbit to make up for my troubles and shipped my final unit more efficiently than I could have expected. Way to go, U-Turn. 

The Orbit starts at $179. My original configuration was $254 but the upgrades they’ve given me would have priced it at $369. A solid maple or walnut plinth, further upgraded cartridge, and built in phono pre-amp would add up to $665. I was perfectly happy with the $254 configuration and the design and quality are baked into every unit. The customer service is included and worth more than I can say. 

I’m loving being a record guy again. I frequent Reimagine Records because it feels good to be in this community of people who think about and enjoy music as much as I do. Many turntables would buy me admission to this club. The Orbit is a particularly fine turntable. Gorgeous enough as a focal point in our living room, designed to delight and sounding too good for so little money, I can easily recommend U-Turn and their table despite my bouts of bad luck. This is a great machine. You should come over and listen for a while. I’ve got some good bourbon and some great music. You won’t want to leave, not until you’ve ordered your own Orbit. I’ll help you configure it while we listen to another record.