The vinyl revival refuses to slow and as such more and more turntables are coming to market at the budget end of the spectrum and with more features that will appeal to a younger audience. The Elipson Omega 100 RIAA BT costing a penny shy of £500 comes with a built in phonostage, USB out to digitise your records and even aptX Bluetooth for wireless use. Janine Elliot gives it a spin for Hifi Pig.
Elipson are a unique French company founded in 1938 and well known for their distinctive loudspeakers of unusual spherical shape, but their pedigree is more than just what we see at HiFi shows. Not only have their speakers been used by then French national radio station ORTF since its beginnings in 1949 but their loudspeakers were also taken up by the French experimental Musique Concrète music research group GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) made famous by important French composers such as Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer. These pioneers of sound experimented with tape recorders and electronic wizardry long before the BBC radiophonic workshop. They needed an array of speakers to create a vast sound-space that were able to perform a trusty portrayal of the complex sounds in their music. Just as the electroacoustic music itself could be described as ‘sound sculptures’, the unique Elipson products could similarly be labelled, being unique works of art that you will either love or hate; a bit like the music. Founder Joseph Leon tried lots of different shapes of spheres and reflectors predominantly using reinforced plaster, until he could create the best sound, and ever since then the Elipson engineers maintain that the best results for the sound is attained by using spherical shaped boxes, something that has remained an emblem of the brand, and not just with their loudspeakers. The new turntable up for review here is similarly curved at the edges, as well as having a round platter – of course.
Elipson have extended their portfolio to include a gorgeous Sound Tree (multiple suspended speakers), and new areas such as a circular music centre, cables, and now two turntables. The turntables, named the Alpha and Omega look very similar and offer similar features. The cheaper Alpha has a matt black PVC chassis whereas the Omega has a PMMA chassis (polymethyl methacrylate, also known as Perspex or acrylic) available in red, black or white. Under the solid plinth are the electronics and the unit effectively has 4 feet, with the front two isolating vibrations, though not adjustable so it is necessary to ensure the platform for the turntable is level before using the turntable. Both models come complete with Ortofon OM10 cartridge and whereas the Alpha uses an aluminium version of their OTT (Orbital Tension Tonearm) arm, the Omega arm is made of carbon fibre, a good feature for a turntable at this price point. The basic Omega and Alpha 100 have conventional RCA socketry, version 100 RIAA is equipped with a MM/MC phono preamp so it can be connected direct to a line input of your amplifier, and the 100 RIAA BT has, in addition to the phono-stage, a Bluetooth with aptX transmitter which allows better audio than the basic Bluetooth. Importantly for many, this model also has a USB output compatible with Mac and Windows allowing you to record your favourite discs at 24bit/192kHz resolution. Where turntables with built in RIAA phono-stage isn’t a new idea, several other manufacturers are beginning to add USB and Bluetooth. The Teac TN-400BT also has aptX Bluetooth but only 16bit/48kHz USB output and moving magnet phono-stage, and the Sony PS-HX500 that became big news in 2016 has DSD 5.6MHz as native conversion or up to 16bit/192kHz Wav but no Bluetooth. What singles out the Elipson model as special for me are the excellent dual MC/MM phono-stage, the good S/N ratio, and that it decodes as 24/192 wav files. It does require you to have a system of editing on your pc, which is fiddly, but worth doing if you want your vinyl ‘on the move’ at a later date. Nothing is done automatically, as in the Convert Technologies Plato, which I reviewed last year. You will need to edit the start and end of each track manually.
What was particularly exciting and relevant for today’s ‘look, no wires’ hifi audiophile is the fact you can play your records directly to your Bluetooth speaker. This is particularly relevant for the younger generation and particularly students – who are incidentally getting more and more interested in vinyl. The modern look of this turntable – like their speakers – will certainly attract the younger audio fan. This turntable, like their speakers and the music centre, is rounded off at the edges, and its good looks appealed to me; you won’t want to hide it on a shelf. The one piece arm might be cheap, and doesn’t even come supplied with a cueing system but rather relying on your steady hands to raise and lower the cartridge onto the record, but its design was certainly not an afterthought, and has very low friction. The turntable motor has a DDS digital frequency generator (Direct Digital Synthesis) to keep constant speed and the motor is suspended using rubber mounts so that vibrations don’t reach the arm and cartridge. The unit comes complete with a separate power source, so that it can work at any voltage, converting as it does to 12V DC. Although that part was missing for my review (previous reviewer please note) I was able to use one of my many regulated supplies, which gave a very steady direct current enabling this unit to play music with very low wow and flutter. The turntable uses a bronze bearing to ensure perfect centring of the turntable plate and low noise. The built in MC and MM phono-stages similarly give good readings of 78dB and 82dB respectively. The Omega is slightly heavier than the Alpha at 5.8kg, but still is a very light unit. The steel forged platter is just under 11” diameter, reminding me of my first record deck. As a child with a Philips turntable with just a 10” platter I always longed for a 12” one, just as I wished my FM radio aerial extended higher than my school friends FM radio; size mattered in those days. Interestingly the platter is fixed to the spindle and is supplied with it in place, rather than separately stored in the carton for you to assemble. Whilst this platter will ‘ring’ if tapped the felt matt does stop this affecting the sound, and the PMMA plinth itself is very absorbent of noises and vibrations, unlike many turntables costing significantly more that. The unit comes with a semi spherical weight (they call it a ‘centralizer’) to place on the spindle to keep those records flat on the platter, though it just sits on the top, rather than screwing in, probably to keep the costs down. Anti-skating is altered by turning a track-wheel on the arm pivot/bearing assembly, which makes a nice change from the conventional suspended weight on a nylon thread, though accurate setting-up relies on observing arm movement or using a test record. The turntable cover matches the plinths curvature nicely, though its hinge is not tensioned, so the cover needs to be fully lifted so that it doesn’t fall down. A pity. A tensioned hinge wouldn’t have added much to the price, though I shouldn’t ever recommend playing turntables with lids on. However, what is good is that the lid is provided in the box rather than an expensive accessory. Speed control is via a 33/45 toggle switch on the top of the unit, which is really a good looking feature, as is the fact that the turntable does not start revolving for a few seconds until the motor is able to go at full speed, to prevent belt slippage and eventual stretching; the motor feeding the flat belt around the edge of the plate. The DDS digital frequency generator maintains a very accurate speed. With speeds for 33 and 45 via the toggle switch, you can even persuade it to play 78rpm, should you have any shellac, by playing the unit at 45 and quickly moving the toggle back to zero and back to 45 again. You then need to repeat this procedure again once you wish to play a 45rpm disc again. The tonearm has a carbon fibre tube for stiffness and a low friction polymer plain bearing with an adjustable counterweight to get the cartridge to the correct tracking force. It should arrive ready to play the OM10, but do check that weight. The arm does not have a measurement engraved on it nor a means of setting to zero force, rather the turntable comes with a paper template for you to measure the distance from the gimbal to the adjustable weight, which is assumed to then be exactly to match the required tracking force for the supplied Ortofon OM10. No, this isn’t a good idea, nor very reliable as the template puts it nearer 1.75g. The OM10 is best set at just above 1.5 grams. My trusty cartridge scale to the rescue, then. Once optimum setup was attained I could then start to enjoy this threesome of turntable, arm and cartridge. A brand new Elipson 100 will have the cartridge already set up on the arm.
My listening started with the Schubert ‘The Trout Quintet’ (Sviatoslav Richter, Borodin Quartet), playing via my Slee/Graham Audio LS5/9 system. The music was so open and relaxed and very much in control, it was surprisingly good, and although bass and top end could have been better, and minute detail was somewhat lacking it was a good performance from everything, especially the musicians. It just lacked dynamics and detail that I would expect in a more expensive turntable and cartridge. Moving to the ELO ‘Out of The Blue’ re-pressing of this iconic album from my youth, it brought back memories of my attempting homework whilst pumping music loudly through my VMS20E/Trio KD1033/Sansui AU-D33/Audiomaster Image 2 set up. Just as then the deepest bass wasn’t as clear as I had hoped, and this new turntable lacked real detail that I needed to extrapolate from the music; I must be fair though, the OM10 is not the best cartridge out there for musicality, though its stereo detail and positioning of instruments was very clear and unwavering, showing that the arm is indeed better than its simplistic set-up and materials might otherwise suggest. This turntable was perhaps really crying out for a cartridge such as the Ortofon 2M Red, and with its selectable MC phono-stage, perhaps something even more exotic. The phono-stage had a flat response and excellent noise level. The lack of bass detail meant the deep spoken vocal ident in ‘Believe Me Now’ didn’t have the depth that I have got accustomed to hearing, though the lowest notes from the piano in Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 (Julius Katchen, LSO Sir Georg Solti) was very able and full. For the wallet-shy audiophile this was however still a reasonable performer. What really makes this turntable really worth the money, though, are the additional features offered.
Turning therefore to the Bluetooth facility, this is limited as one would expect to a 10m line of sight distance to your enabled speaker(s). Pairing is easy with a button at the back of the turntable, and will, by virtue of the format, limit audio quality, though I did find it adequate particularly with the aptX transmitter which is an improvement over the basic wi-fi standard. Of course audio interruptions will happen if other wi-fi signals are in the vicinity or if the Bluetooth device performs other activities (eg internet). When the record is switched off at the end of a “side” the wi-fi connection will continue for another 2 minutes of inaction before disconnecting. Not only did I try it with my miniature Bluetooth speakers but also with my Optoma BE6i aptX IEMs, which I have to say was extremely fun; wearing earphones and moving around the room whilst listening to music from a turntable. Quality was surprisingly musical and full frequency, making performances of Mozart, Pink Floyd and London Grammar highly enjoyable. This turntable would therefore be ideal for those fed up with wires trailing across the room to their speakers or who just like listening on IEMs/headphones, particularly students or those with limited space, or those simply wanting to enjoy the latest technologies. The range will suit every need and pocket; where the basic Omega 100 comes in at a penny short of £350, you can add £80 to the price for the 100 RIAA with its internal MC/MM phono-stage and a further £70 to also including the BT function making a grand total of £499.99. Not only can I play to my Bluetooth enabled devices but I also have the USB function, meaning I can copy my vinyl onto my computer. I was able to use Cubase to record 24/192 copies of my albums, though there are a number of free audio recording programs out there. I was disappointed that there aren’t any suggestions on either the instruction booklet or their website to offer help on finding a suitable program, nor do they have their own basic audio program to download (Sony supply one with their PS-HX500) and nor do they even supply a USB lead. But, this is a good looking and able machine with rather a lot of facilities for the price.
As a basic turntable at £349 this is certainly a reasonable product, offering good sound quality, and to some perhaps looking more fun and modern than Rega/Pro-Ject equivalents. The Carbon arm is certainly a good feature, but whilst the lid is rather cute it lacks a damped hinge. Once you add the RIAA stage and the BT/USB features then this turntable begins to shine. For an ‘all singing all dancing’ affair complete with a reasonable starter cartridge this is a good product. I just wished it came complete with audio software and USB lead. Being able to play 24/192 digital files is very attractive, and the sound quality and reasonable noise floor from the motor makes this a very well-priced package. OK, the detail extracted from your record won’t be as good as is possible from the best ‘basic’ £500 turntables, but then this is deck has so much more. If convenience of set up without leads is important to you, and you want to copy your vinyl to your DAP, then this turntable is well worth checking out and comes highly recommended for its target audience.
AT A GLANCE
Build Quality: Modern looks and ease of setting up. Solid PMMA plinth with electronics underneath. Carbon arm tube is a good feature
Sound Quality: Very pleasurable and surprisingly musical for the price
Value For Money: At £499.99 for so many features this is an excellent buy for those at the cheaper end of the audio market
MC/MM RIAA stage, 24/192 USB, and Bluetooth with aptX
Modern looks and choice of colours
Already set up with basic cartridge
No cueing lever
No damped lid hinge
No system for levelling
Plate : Pressed steel
Chassis : PMMA
Finish : Acrylic laquer
Cartridge : Ortofon OM10
Electronic : RIAA preamp
Bluetooth aptX & USB : 24 bits / 48 KHz
RCA cable provided : Yes
Centraliser : Aluminium
Frequency response : 25Hz – 20KHz (-3dB / +1dB)
Gain : MM = 40,5dB / MC = 61dB
Crosstalk : MM = 88dB / MC = 78dB
THD : MM = 0,006% / MC = 0,05%
Signal / noise ratio : MM = 82dB / MC = 76dB