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We love music and we really dig small companies that decide to say, “fuck it, we’re doing this our way.” U-turn Audio is one such company—audiophiles who decided to make turntables. We sat down with Ben Carter of U-turn to get the lowdown on what it took to make Orbit and why.
Why make turntables? We had been listening to vinyl for a while, but were really discontent with the turntables available a few years ago. As recent college graduates, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend. So our choices were limited to cheap tables with ceramic cartridges that sound awful and damage records, or vintage tables. Vintage tables can sound great, but owning one is a burden for casual listeners—they require a ton of maintenance and parts can be hard to find. With vinyl rising in popularity, it was clear that there was a need for a reasonably priced turntable that truly sounded great.
What was the inspiration(s) for the overall design aesthetic? It’s clear that the turntable should be displayed…. Function informs the entire design. Keeping the table as simple as possible allowed us to focus on the music-making components of the table while keeping the price low. Simplicity also lends itself to easier setup and use, which is important since turntables have a tendency to intimidate new listeners.
I’m assuming there’s no built-in pre-amp because it would take up space? We try to keep the turntable itself as minimal as possible, so people have flexibility when building out their setup. Some people would prefer a built-in pre-amp, but others would just bypass it altogether—we don’t want to sell people something they don’t need. This is also why we offer platter and cartridge choices, as well as add-ons such as the Orbit Cue and cork mat. That said, we are working on a separate pre-amp that will be released this year.
Will we ever see an automatic turntable? Probably not. But we are working on creating add-ons that will give people additional functionality if they choose. One example is the Orbit Cue, which will be released in early 2015. This device is easy to retrofit to any Orbit, and will assist in lowering and lifting the stylus.
You think modern receivers/tuners will ever bring back PHONO? Companies like Onkyo and Marantz still make great stereo receivers with PHONO inputs, but most receivers these days are audio-visual (AV) receivers. I am not sure that dedicated stereo receivers will ever make a true comeback. There are more pre-amps on the market now than a few years ago, and I think we will continue to see the options expand. There also has been a recent trend towards smaller integrated amplifiers with PHONO capabilities. The Mies i100 and PS Sprout are both good examples of this.
The turntables from the 1970s are considered to be the pinnacle of turntables. What did you guys take from those tables? We took many of our cues from Acoustic Research (AR), a Boston-area company known for making great low-cost tables in the ’70s and ’80s. AR was really good at prioritizing music-making components to keep the price low and playback quality high. Like AR’s tables, the Orbit has a very simple arm and is largely constructed out of wood-based products and machined metal parts. In the ’70s, sound quality was king. We are trying hard to bring back this mentality.
Setup is simple on this turntable, though it will take a little bit of dexterity and patience to wrap the band around the platter and the pulley. Once it’s set, it stays in place even though you’ll think it’s loose. Don’t fret, it needs some wiggle room.
This is a whisper-quiet table. You won’t hear any noise from the movement whether it’s the platter, the motor or the pulley. It’s a sturdy table too that sits with authority, perfectly balanced with three beefy rubber feet underneath. It’s the only component in your system that is worthy of being shown, so we suggest leaving it out on top of your cabinet.
This is a fully manual turntable, so you will have to lift the arm and place it on the album. And when it ends, you’ll have to pick it up and return it to its place. Pretty basic. Like dad used to have. The top part of the pulley is where you will sit most of the time. This is for 33-rpm albums. Drop the band down on the pulley if you decide to ramp up a 45-rpm record. If you have old records with the big hole in the middle, you’ll have to buy an adapter, but you can find those online.
We built ours up with a green plinth (base) and a Grado Black1 cartridge. It’s a good cartridge that plays older releases like Dave Brubeck’s heavily nuanced recordings and new stuff like The Antlers “Familiars” with equal vigor. Turntables start at $179 ($224 shown). Fully customizable. uturnaudio.com