Audio Files take a standard Audio Technica AT-LP5 turntable, add a new arm and carry out other modifications and offer a stylus upgrade to the standard cartridge. Total costs including the stylus upgrade is £835, Ian Ringstead listens to see if this is a worthwhile route to take over the original AT-LP5, available at time of review available for £319. 

Audio Technica have been known to me for over 40 years and was a favourite range of cartridges and accessories I sold in my retail days. Whilst visiting the Stylus Show at Manchester I came across a room that was being shared by Audio Technica and The Audio Files a company new to me. They were eagerly demonstrating the differences between a standard AT-LP5 and there modified AT-LP5 IPT. What’s the difference you may ask? Well the philosophy behind the AT-LP5 IPT is that the standard AT-LP5 which is highly regarded could be improved upon without spending a fortune.

Gary Hargreaves of Audio Files explained to me what they had done. Basically, they take the existing arm off and replace it with an OEM Audio Origami AO202 tonearm based on a Rega 202. This isn’t just substituted but carefully mounted with a machined acrylic arm board for accurate alignment and a superior arm lead supplied made from Van Damme silver plated cable and Neutrik RCAs…a cable and plug combo I have used myself, to great effect.

The platter is damped with constrained sub layer materials that control any ringing present in the current standard platter very effectively. The plinth isn’t touched because this would have increased the costs to a point where the price would have been uneconomical. A modified design is all well and good but you must know when to draw the line on the upgrades. Sometimes overkill can destroy any gains made. The cartridge fitted as standard is the AT95E moving magnet, a fantastic little budget cartridge, of which I sold hundreds as it is such a gem for the money.

For £350 the standard AT-LP5 is an excellent direct drive with the nearest rivals being models from the likes of Technics with their SL 1200/1210 DJ turntables. These were the absolute standard by which all other direct drives were measured and compared. I sold hundreds to aspiring bedroom DJ’s and club DJ’s in the 80’s and 90’s and they were bullet proof. The AT-LP5 although not as solidly engineered ( it is  a lot cheaper) still presents superb value for money. It even has a built-in phono stage for MM cartridges. You can also digitize your records onto a computer if you so wish via the USB port.

Sound

How does it sound. The standard version is very competent and easy to use with good pitch stability, something you would expect from a direct drive motor. Compared to belt drives in this £350 price sector it’s great value and should last for years, with minimal servicing. Set up is a doddle and speed change between 33 and 45 a cinch. It may not be the most refined sound I’ve heard, but there was plenty of detail and sound staging was solid and well defined.

Switching to the AT-LP5 IPT was a revelation in terms of improved clarity brought about by the improved arm and damped platter of course. It was like (excuse reviewer clichés) a veil had been lifted from the speakers allowing the listener to appreciate the sound far more accurately. As if this wasn’t enough, next came the interesting bit; I substituted the standard AT95E stylus for an AT95P paratrace stylus. What’s the difference you might ask?

The paratrace stylus, although not a new design, is not unlike the Audio Technica’s SLC special line contact using an ultra-lightweight stylus tip ground to a high level of precision, AT have achieved a combination of low distortion rate with fuller frequency reproduction during playback. This stylus tip extracts every possible piece of information from the grooves on a record. Unlike AT’s SLC the paratrace is a lot cheaper at £140. When doing the comparison, it took only a second to realise the amazing difference. The sound stage suddenly grew in depth and width with so much more detail on offer. Top to bottom frequencies were faithfully reproduced and clearly portrayed, comparable to more expensive turntables I have heard and used. Yes, my Project Extension 9 with Ortofon Quintet Black (which has a shibata stylus) does sound better and with more oomph, but it is three times the price. I will at some point try the AT95E on my Project and compare it with the paratrace stylus. An irresistible option.

Conclusion

I love products that don’t require the hearing of a bat to hear differences. After all my years in hifi I have learned that if a product is any good then it will shine through, and be obvious straight away. It’s like drinking a good wine, you just know when it’s quality. I can fully empathise with the design behind the paratrace stylus because it’s obvious that a correctly shaped stylus will track the groove far better than a cruder profile. The micro groove of a record is a complex journey to undertake for any stylus and the paratrace seems to follow it better than many. The beauty is that the results can be so easily heard by just changing the stylus assembly, it’s that simple. If you have ever seen a highly magnified photo of a stylus in a record groove you realise what a job it has to undertake traveling at high speed under immense pressure.

Once heard, like any great product it’s hard to go back to the inferior version. I recently discovered this with speaker cable, namely the Tellurium Q Black II when substituted for the original Black. HD video as opposed to standard definition… no contest. So, there we have it, not only an audibly superior turntable upgrade, but also a brilliant stylus upgrade. I heard the AT-LP5 against the AT-LP5 IPT on two occasions and it was the same both times, a worthwhile and immediate difference. Whether it was Michael Jackson, Heaven 17, progressive rock, jazz, etc, I enjoyed the results of the AT-LP5 IPT and especially once the paratrace was fitted.

As a package, the turntable is so easy to use and uncomplicated, so no great skill is required to set it up or use. Compared to many decks out there this will please any users without the necessary abilities or desire to delve deeper. Technophobes rejoice; being a direct drive deck there is no worry over belt wear or speed stability. It really is a fit and forget unit that will give you years of reliable, low maintenance use and satisfaction. Isn’t that what we all want?

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Excellent with a well-executed upgrade of arm

Sound Quality:  Excellent, open and detailed with good pitch stability

Value for Money:  Brilliant

Pros: Fantastic upgrade from the original giving the deck a new lease of life to really show its abilities in an affordable package. The output lead can be upgraded as far as you wish to go. The paratrace stylus is a no-brainer upgrade and I feel a mandatory purchase. A very competitive addition to the sub £1000 area of quality turntables and stiff competition for some more expensive models too.

Cons:  Nothing for the money, hard to fault.

Price:  £695 with free shipping 

Paratrace stylus £140.

Ian Ringstead

Specification

Drive Method: Direct drive
Type: 2-Speed, fully manual operation
Motor: DC motor
Speeds: 33-1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
Turntable Platter: Die-cast aluminium with SDS Damping
Starting Torque: >1.6 kgf.cm
Braking System: Electronic brake
Wow and Flutter: < 0.2% WRMS (33 RPM)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: > 50 dB
Output Level@: “PHONO” (Pre-amp bypassed) – 4 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
“LINE” (Pre-amp engaged) – 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
USB Function: A/D, D/A – 16 bit 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz USB selectable
Computer interface: USB 1.1 (or higher) compliant Windows XP, Vista or MAC OS X
Accessories Included: Dust cover with hinges; AC mains lead; Dual RCA (male) to Dual RCA (male) stereo cable; 45 RPM single centre hole adapter; USB cable; recording software (Audacity), cartridge alignment and overhang adjustment template

Tonearm: Audio Origami AO202 by Rega Research
Single piece die-cast armtube
Three point fixing
Hand selected, high quality vertical and horizontal bearings

 

 

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