Getting a new turntable up and running can be one of the more frustrating experiences any new audiophile will go through. In my opinion, the best entry-level turntables are not only going to have solid performance; they’re also going to be essentially plug-and-play, at least as far as any turntable can be. You don’t want to scare off any budding audiophiles, after all.
The LP7 doesn’t disappoint in these regards. Once it was out of its packing materials, I installed the platter, leveled the unit using its adjustable feet, attached the belt, screwed in the headshell, slid on the counterweight, set the tracking force, and was listening to music in fifteen minutes. I tried my best to use only what Audio-Technica supplied with the deck, and found that I missed only two things: a tracking-force gauge and a bubble level. Fortunately, I have both, but some beginners might not. I recommend grabbing these two items if you plan on being in the audiophile game for a while; they’ll come in handy, trust me.
I plugged in the supplied RCA cables with attached grounding wire and decided to test out the built-in phono section first. When I got everything running, the initial sound was…horrible. It took me a second to realize that the switch on the back marked “Phono” and “Line” refers to the way you’re plugging in the cables. So if you’re plugging into an amp’s phono section or into a phono preamp, use the “Phono” set. If you want to use the built-in phono preamp, use the “Line” set. I felt like that was a little confusing, but not a huge deal.
By the way, in case you still need extra guidance, A-T set up a nice little video on YouTube that walks you through all the steps. Worth watching if this is your first time. Overall, high marks here for ease of setup.
I started with Sky Blue Sky by Wilco, one of my favorite albums. The track “Impossible Germany” is a smooth progressive jam with nice alternating depth of sound. Right away, I was struck by the timing and rhythm of the LP7. It felt quick and engaging, maybe on the fast end of exciting, but it kept me involved. The only negative I sensed was a nagging bit of inner groove distortion. I double-checked everything, made sure the ’table was level, messed with the tracking force, messed with the anti-skate, but in the end I could only minimize the distortion slightly. It’s not horrible, but it’s definitely there during more difficult passages closest to the record’s label.
After my initial session, I used the built-in phono preamp while listening to that same Wilco album, and it worked fine. That’s about as much as I can say about it, to be honest. Compared to my Schiit Audio Mani ($129), it sounded dull and lifeless. The low end was nicely textured, but the midrange and the upper felt almost veiled and uninteresting. I gave it a shot for a few days more, but overall, the built-in phono section didn’t blow me away. It’s serviceable and it’ll sound better than the real cheap phono preamps out there, but I’d consider upgrading pretty quickly.
Up next, I switched back to my Schiit Mani and listened to Steve Reich’s album Pulse/Quartet. The first side, the composition called “Pulse,” is a group of violins and violas playing around a central theme over an electric bass and piano. The steady beat of electric bass underpins the piece throughout, though meandering at times, helping to ground the violins and the violas. I felt like the LP7 did a good job of keeping the low-end steady, probably an offshoot of its pleasant timing and dynamics. The violins could acquire a touch of grain on their highest sustained notes, although the midrange came through as genial and smooth.