Audio-Technica: AT-LP120X vs. AT-LP120 Turntable Comparison / Review
The Audio-Technica AT-LP120 Turntable has been the industry standard direct-drive turntable in the entry to mid-level price range for nearly a decade. The redesigned AT-LP120X (2019) offers several key improvements + refinements, all while lowering its price point (current retail $249.00).
1.0 KEY SIMILARITIES
The AT-LP120 series has built its reputation on (4) key features:
- strong direct-drive motor
- fully-adjustable S-Shaped tonearm
- extensive feature list including plug + play capability
- value at affordable price point
1.1 The LP120 series features a direct-drive motor which is unique in this price range. Direct-drive motors forgo belts and are directly connected to the platter. Direct-drive motors feature higher torque (motor power) and require less maintenance than belt-driven motors.
1.2 The LP-120 series features a higher quality tonearm than most entry level turntables. The S-shaped tonearm is modeled after the Technics SL-1200 turntable and features adjustable counterweight and anti-skate controls. These (2) controls allow you to optimize sound quality and reduce record wear using either the included cartridge or a future upgrade.
1.3 The LP120 line of turntables is fully-featured. There isn't much that the LP120 does not offer in terms of control and convenience. Here's a list of key features:
- built-in phono preamp for plug + play into any AUX input
- phono preamp can be turned off if you want to use an external preamp or an amplifier with a phono input
- USB output for connecting to computers / digital recording
- heavy-cast aluminum platter for stable speed
- tonearm lift and lower control lever
- removable cartridge headshell
- removable hinged dust cover
- pitch control - adjust speed of playback
- button control for 33, 45, and 78 RPM records
- vibration-absorbing feet
1.4 The AT-LP120’s extensive feature set, solid build quality and sub-$300 price point has made it one of our top 3 most popular turntables. With the introduction of the AT-LP120X, Audio-Technica has lowered the price further to $249, making it an even better value purchase.
2.0 KEY DIFFERENCES
We have identified (7) key upgrades to the AT-LP120X:
- turntable motor
- external power supply
- anti-skate mechanism + removal of tonearm height adjustment
- removable RCA cables, pitch control range, stylus light
- overall design + aesthetics, price
2.1 The LP120X motor has been upgraded. The new motor is more efficient and consumes less energy (2.75W vs 11W). This means the motor has to work less to spin the platter, which in turn reduces mechanical distortion and rumble. The new motor also features improved starting torque, which means that the platter will get up to proper playback speed faster.
2.2 The removable power cord now features an external AC adapter. On the previous model, the AC/DC conversion was done inside the turntable body and could interfere with the audio signal (minor distortions).
2.3 The anti-skating control adjusts the placement of the needle in the groove. It compensates the tendency of the tonearm to ‘skate’ towards the center of the record. Pre-2017 versions of the LP120 had known issues with this feature. Audio-Technica has addressed these issues and completely redesigned this component for the AT-LP120X.
Note that tonearm height adjustment feature has been removed. This was a problematic feature for beginner and mid-level users as it was unclear on the proper heights for different cartridge models. Audio-Technica has fixed the height for use with their AT-VM95 series, which offers easy upgrades within the range (more on this below).
2.4 The AT-LP120X has been upgraded with the AT-VM95E Cartridge and matching AT-HS6 Headshell. The VM95E features improved sound quality due to higher output (4.0mV vs 3.5mV) and a wider frequency response (20-22,000 Hz vs. 20-20,000 Hz) than its predecessor.
An important feature of the AT-VM95E cartridge is that it belongs to the VM95 Series, which all share the same body. This allows you to swap out the stylus with any of the VM95 Series styluses. For example, for $99 you can upgrade to a nude diamond stylus (which is similar stylus design of the Ortofon 2M Blue Cartridge / $239).
2.5 The AT-LP120X's preamp has been upgraded with a stronger signal / output. The preamp's off function has also been improved with a cleaner bypass, with little to no added distortion.
- PHONO on ATLP-120: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
- PHONO on AT-LP120x 4 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
2.6 The LP120X features several additional upgrades to its extensive features list:
- removable RCA cables - easier to replace or upgrade
- pitch control range - used to adjust the playback speed. The range was changed to the industry standard +8 / +16 (previously +10 / +20) - useful while DJing
- stylus light has been changed to a plug-in LED - longer life and easier replacement
2.7 The turntable's overall design has been refreshed. The LP120x has a sleeker body shape and a more consistent finish across the various components. We especially like the matte finish (including tonearm) and the matching AT-HS6 headshell.
The LP120X weighs approximately 17.6 lbs (about 6 lbs lighter than the LP120) likely due to the more efficient motor and external power supply. The overall dimensions of the turntable remain nearly identical, except the lower profile LP120X is 1/2" shorter in height.
⇉ IN SUMMARY
The improvements inherent in the AT-LP120X offer a thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing upgrade. The direct-drive motor, refined features and quality components (especially the VM95 cartridge) combine for an incredible value at $249. We highly recommend this turntable for all user levels looking at this price range.