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In the world of sub-500 dollar turntables, a handful of brands come up consistently. Audio-Technica, Fluance and Pro-Ject are among the most cited brands. Of these budget-friendly brands, U-Turn stands out for its unparalleled simplicity. While a brand like Audio-Technica gives you everything you might need in one box, U-Turn’s turntables are designed to be upgraded as you go, and the brand offers upgraded cartridges, platters and mats that you can buy (or not buy) as your collection grows. I had a chance to review the U-Turn Orbit Basic, the most simple, budget-friendly model the brand offers. As an average (non-audiophile) vinyl enthusiast, here are my thoughts on what makes this a great turntable, but not necessarily the best turntable for everyone.
Cartridge: Audio-Technica AT91B with conical diamond stylus
Drive Type: Belt drive
Preamp: Available with or without built-in preamp
Dust Cover: Detachable dust cover included
The U-Turn Orbit is among the better-looking turntables in this price range. Audio Technica’s LP60 looks fine, but not particularly exciting. The squared-off shape and clean lines of the Orbit make for a turntable that’s sleek enough to fit in any interior. Plus, you can choose between a handful of colors like black, white, red, blue and purple.
The most distinguishing feature of the Orbit is the belt. While with another turntable you might have to be familiar with the brand to tell if it’s a belt-drive or direct-drive, Orbit’s exterior belt makes it plainly clear what kind of turntable it is.
For those unfamiliar, there are two kinds of turntables that are most common: direct drive and belt drive. A belt-drive turntable has a motor that’s off-center from the middle of the platter. One way to visualize the difference is to think of a belt-drive turntable as a bicycle. The pedals turn (ie, the motor) which in turn pulls the chain (ie, the belt) which causes the wheel to turn (ie, the platter).
By comparison, a direct drive turntable has its motor under the platter, directly driving it, hence the name. Many high-end audiophile turntables are belt-drive, whereas direct drive is preferred by DJs for the ability to scratch without damaging the belt and motor.
On the U-Turn turntable, the motor is located entirely separate from the platter, and there’s a very thin belt that wraps around the pulley and the outside of the platter.
Upgrading the Orbit
The great appeal of the Orbit is the ability to buy everything you want in a turntable, and nothing you don’t. It’s a fully manual, fully analog turntable, so you’re making the most of the hands-on experience of listening to the best vinyl records. You can choose the model with a built-in preamp (which adds $70 to the total) or you can buy an external preamp, which costs $99. You can upgrade the cartridges to Ortofon or Grado, upgrade the slipmat to a cork, and replace the included MDF platter with an acrylic one. But you could also be perfectly happy with the $200 Orbit Basic, and not need to upgrade any of the components. And if you’re confused by this dizzying assortment of upgrades and features, U-Turn’s well-written, user-friendly FAQ and setup page make it easy to figure out everything you need as a beginner.
The Listening Experience
Without a doubt, the U-Turn Orbit Basic sounds great. Despite how delicate it looks on the outside, the motor is reliable, maintaining consistent speed for either 45 or 33 RPM records. For the casual vinyl listener, the audio quality is sure to please. Older, used records sound rich and deep, while newer ones have plenty of crispness and clarity. The Orbit offered a great listening experience, regardless of whether I was spinning Roberta Flack’s First Take or Spoon’s new LP Lucifer on the Sofa.
The Orbit also has sturdy, thick rubber feet. These do a great job of isolating the records from any movement. To test this, I jumped up and down in front of the cabinet the turntable was sitting on, and the turntable didn’t skip at all. It’s generally advised not to keep your speakers on the same piece of furniture as your turntable, for the sake of preventing the vibrations of the speakers from affecting the vinyl playback. But if you were to keep your speakers on the same surface, the Orbit would handle it well.
Of course, your listening experience will depend largely on your equipment. In my case, I was using the Sony STRDH190 stereo receiver and Sony 3-driver SS-CS5 passive speakers. The Sony receiver has a built-in preamp, so I didn’t test U-Turn’s Pluto preamp. This budget-friendly setup is a great companion to the Orbit, or you can opt for powered speakers if you prefer. In this case, you’re more likely to need either the separate Pluto preamp or the Orbit Basic with the built-in preamp.
Its Biggest Draw Is Also its Biggest Flaw
One of the major appeals of the Orbit is how simple it is. There’s one button, an external belt, a removable platter and a detachable dust cover. There’s nothing hiding under the hood of the Orbit Basic because basically all of the components are located on the outside.
But this simplicity can also work against the Orbit. One of the more frustrating elements of using this turntable is changing the speed. Where even the most minimal turntables from brands like Fluance will include a knob or button to change the speed, the belt on the Orbit has to be manually moved from the smaller ring of the pulley to the larger ring when changing speeds, or vice versa.
Changing from 33 RPM to 45 is actually quite easy; you simply slip the belt from the smaller ring to the larger one below it. It’s going the other way that’s more challenging. Because you’re moving the tight belt into a more slacked position, it’s ridiculously easy for the belt to slip off the platter as you’re moving it. There are no grooves on the platter to hold the belt in place; the placement relies entirely on the tension. I’m sure I can eventually master the technique given a little more time. But it is genuinely frustrating at first, especially when you consider that changing speeds on most turntables is as simple as pushing a button or turning a dial.
The difficulty in changing speeds leads one to feel like U-Turn treats 45 RPM records as almost an afterthought. In addition to the difficulty in changing speeds, U-Turn does not include a 7″ single adapter, which is included on Fluance, Audio-Technica and Pro-Ject turntables. Sure, 7″ singles are a more niche product than full-sized LPs, but even casual collectors might have a stack of singles.
In general, the Orbit is almost too simple. In addition to the lack of a speed switch, there’s also no cue lever; you have to manually lift the needle to put it into place, which can potentially result in skating or dropping the needle too hard. Again, I appreciate how simple U-Turn has strived to make their product, and the manual, tactile feeling of the turntable is a great part of the experience. But cue levers and single adapters feel like the kind of features that should be standard, not add ons.
U-Turn’s Orbit Basic is an exceptionally simple and very stylish turntable, but it comes with great features like an Audio-Technica cartridge, heavy-duty feet that isolate the turntable from vibrations, and a gimbal tonearm with an adjustable counterweight. However, it can feel too basic, when considering the tediousness in manually changing speeds and the lack of arguably necessary accessories.
Should You Buy It?
Despite my misgivings, I’ve greatly enjoyed using the turntable, and I can appreciate the tactile nature of the exposed belt. I also appreciate how easy and economical Orbit makes upgrading or replacing the turntable’s components. You can buy upgrades like improved cartridges or platters, but U-Turn also makes it very economical to replace any lost or damaged components. A replacement AC wall adapter is a mere $5, as is the replacement belt.
Most importantly, the Orbit elevated every record I threw its way, and even though changing the belt can be a challenge, it’s otherwise very easy to use. In short, it’s a great turntable for an economical price and makes a solid case for the argument that less is more.
- Stylish look, and multiple colors available
- Easy to upgrade and replace components
- Great sound and excellent isolation
- Detachable power cable
- Almost too basic in its lack of accessories
- Changing speeds can be tedious
- Dust cover could feel more secure on its pegs
What Are Some Alternatives?
There are a ton of great turntables in the $100 – $500 range (admittedly, a fairly wide range, but one that’s still useful). If you’re looking for turntables with more features, these are some options to consider.
Fluance RT80 Classic High Fidelity Vinyl Turntable Record Player
The Fluance RT80 is the same price as the Orbit. Unlike the Orbit, this turntable does come with a cue lever and a 45 RPM adapter. It also has an Audio Technica AT91 Stylus. The knob on the front can switch between 33s and 45s.
The AT-LP60X is the king of budget turntables, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s one of the most affordable turntables, and it’s made by a brand with a long history in the business. Plus, since it’s fully automatic, it’s very easy to use.
Sony PS-LX310BT Belt Drive Turntable
Sony packs a lot into a very sleek package. This turntable includes both USB and Bluetooth. The former allows you to download vinyl-quality tracks to your phone or computer, while the latter makes it easy to pair with a wireless speaker. Of course, if you prefer to keep it analog, you can do that too, and this turntable has a built-in preamp for ease of use. It’s automatic as well.
Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB belt-drive turntable
The Pro-Ject T1 is fully manual, much like the U-Turn Orbit, but this one comes with a few extra features. It has a switchable preamp built-in, as well as an included 45 RPM adapter. Plus, it comes with a premium Ortofon OM 5E cartridge and a sturdy and attractive glass platter. This is on the higher end of the price spectrum, but considering what you’re getting out of it, it’s a great value.