Record players - or turntables - have been enjoying a steady rise in popularity over the past few years, with revenue from vinyl sales growing 94% in the US in 2021. Vast numbers of vinyl enthusiasts old and new are digging deep into their dust-collecting record collections and finding joy once more in the old technology.
Whether vinyl’s rising star is down to people seeking a more tangible approach to music in a world of streaming or a collective nostalgia for all things retro, there’s no doubt about it: records and their players are here to stay. And CES 2022 has made that very clear.
The most interesting record players showcased at the Las Vegas tech expo combined the very best elements of physical music playing - the tangibility, the warm sound of crackling vinyl - with the kind of modern conveniences we’ve come to expect from our audio devices.
Chief among these conveniences is wireless Bluetooth connectivity. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new turntable enter the market without some kind of wireless capability, and the models unveiled at CES proved just how crucial this spec is to everyone – from those buying their first cheap deck to the hardcore vinyl lovers who can tell you the right way to calibrate a tonearm without blinking an eye.
Bluetooth with bells on
One such model is the Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2, a follow-up to the first-ever turntable to come with aptX HD Bluetooth connectivity (and therefore the ability to stream hi-res audio). The new Alva TT V2 has had a few enhancements to make it more appealing to seasoned record spinners.
For starters, you can now turn off that all-important Bluetooth transmitter for better sound and more energy efficiency. This is handy if you’re using a wired setup instead of streaming your music to wireless speakers, which, let’s face it, you will be if you’re an audiophile.
The Alva TT V2 is also more flexible than its predecessor, with Cambridge Audio making it easier for you to upgrade your setup over time. The tonearm has a detachable headshell should you wish to swap it out for a better model. A switchable phono stage means you could use the phono stage from your existing stereo amplifier, for example, or try a different phono stage in the future.
It’ll cost you a pretty penny, though: $1,999 / £1,700 (about AU$2,770). While that might be reasonable for the most dedicated of vinyl enthusiasts, what about those who are new to the format and just want to dip their toes in?
Cheap and cheerful
Enter the Victrola Re-Spin, a cute suitcase turntable that will retail for just $99.99 (around $70 / AU$140) when it launches later this year. Coming in a range of bright colors that evoke the candy hues of a Vespa scooter, the Re-Spin is cheap, cheerful, and 20% smaller than most other suitcase record players.
Despite its retro looks, the Re-Spin offers Bluetooth connectivity and has a small built-in speaker, so you can still hear your vinyl if you’re away from your speakers. And, yes, it’s portable with a neat carrying handle. It doesn’t have a battery, though, so it will need to be plugged into the mains if you do take it on a trip.
If the Re-Spin doesn’t sound robust enough for your needs and the Alva TT V2 is way too pricey, Victrola has another new model that could be just right. The Victrola Premiere V1 is an all-in-one music system that can spin your records, stream your vinyl wirelessly to an external Bluetooth speaker, and even boost your TV's audio.
It combines a turntable with built-in stereo speakers and a wireless subwoofer, eliminating the need for lots of annoying cables snaking around the room from your record player to your amp and speakers.
Coming in at $499 / £399 (about AU$700), the Premiere V1 feels like a good middle ground between CES’s cheapest and most expensive turntables - and it has all the modern trappings you’d want from a record player in 2022.
What’s next for record players?
The record player industry is in a strong place, with vinyl sales continuing to rise and technological advances making a traditional audio device much more appealing to today’s music fans.
While we can’t say for sure how turntables will develop over the next few years, we can definitely see the appeal of all-in-one systems like the Victrola Premiere V1, especially for those that live in smaller homes and don’t have the space for a couple of stereo speakers and an amplifier on top of the record player itself.
Future models could come with even more modern trappings like built-in voice assistants, potentially making your turntable capable of controlling your entire smart home. Wouldn’t that be cool? (Or terrifying, depending on how you feel about Alexa et al.)
Bluetooth connectivity is a great addition to the record player, and it’ll be interesting to see whether future turntables take this further. Perhaps we’ll see Wi-Fi support or comprehensive integration with multiroom ecosystems that doesn’t require any extra kit. Sonos, hurry up and make a record player, will you?
Aside from these techy predictions, we can’t see the traditional hi-fi setup going anywhere in the next few years. People will still want to tinker with cables and spend hours choosing the perfect speaker stands, no matter how convenient record players become in the future. As long as manufacturers ensure audiophiles are still catered for as well as newbie vinyl lovers, the future of turntables looks very bright.
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