U-Turn’s Remarkable $179 Orbit Turntable is A Crosley Killer!

Investors in U-Turn’s Kickstarter-funded Orbit turntable get more than their money’s worth in this remarkably well-designed record player manufactured in Woburn, Massachusetts.

One can only imagine why the principles chose the name U-turn™, but I’d like to think it means a reversal of direction from the low resolution MP3 digital hell into which a generation or two has been led, back to high resolution vinyl heaven.

Everything about the Orbit, from the packaging to the well-engineered bearing system and tone arm demonstrate careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding both of what’s involved in good turntable design and more importantly how to achieve maximum performance on a tight budget.

The heart of the Orbit is a smartly conceived platter bearing system. No doubt the designers did their homework and examined the more expensive budget competition before engineering theirs.

They chose an inverted bearing topped by a captured ball that’s attached to a molded plastic recessed circular platform bolted to the nicely finished MDF plinth.

The “female” bearing element is of plastic and incorporates the spindle. It includes a bronze bushing with a Teflon insert at the point of rotation below with an additional insert up towards the ball end.

While this second insert would appear to increase rotational stability some designers would argue that the second insert is a mistake because it actually produces a second axis of rotation that can actually increase wobble, but in the context of a $179 turntable (and one more expensive as well) we are talking about a damn fine, highly stable bearing design that places the point of rotation well above the platter and the center of gravity well below.

The molded “female” bearing element also includes a tapered outer shaft terminating in an ample diameter platform upon which rides the MDF platter. The taper and platform produce sufficient stability to prevent platter rocking.

Platter drive is via a 24 volt A.C. motor to which is attached a two-step Delrin pulley for 33 1/3 and 45 speeds and a silicone O-ring belt that rides on the platter periphery.

The drive assembly is effectively plinth-decoupled via a circular viscous element. The advantage of the design is excellent noise and vibration isolation. The disadvantage is that the pulley’s inevitable movement varies the distance between it and the platter, which varies slightly belt tension and thus potentially affects speed stability.

In my opinion this is yet another worthwhile and smartly chosen trade-off.

Though the plinth itself is rather “lively” if you tap on it while a record plays, the three rubber upon which it rests provide surprisingly effective isolation from the outside world. In fact, it was better than some very expensive turntables I’ve reviewed.

The 8.5” (effective length) tone arm is as ingeniously simple and as smartly designed as the turntable, though there’s no anti-skating. It’s uni-pivot featuring a money-saving “pyramid” of ball-bearings instead of the usual and generally more costly jeweled cup, with a bushing-restricted azimuth angle feature (similar in concept to Simon Yorke’s) that gives it the confident feel of a gimbaled bearing arm at a fraction of the cost.

The aluminum pipe terminates in front with an offset head shell of some kind of polymer and in back it just ends. Hanging from the back via a polymer ring is an under-slung cylindrical counterweight secured with a plastic grub screw. The counterweight places the center of gravity well below the uni-pivot point for greater stability.

The armrest features a soft, molded rubbery lock that secures the arm in place. The cartridge clips are robustly sized and shielded in plastic so if and when you decide to upgrade the cartridge, you’re not likely to break one off. Termination is via RCA jacks on a plinth-mounted metal box. U-Turn supplies a set of RCA plug terminated cables but feel free to roll your own.

Out of the Box, Up and Running In Minutes

From the time you open the box to when you’re spinning records should be but a few minutes, so nicely packaged and well-thought out is the carton’s internals. I checked the stylus pressure and it was 2 grams, which is just about in the middle of the cartridge’s 1.5-3gram range.

My only complaints as I set it up was that more emphasis should have been placed on putting the ‘table on a level surface. It’s in the hints but you know how people who are excited do things. It’s critical and a bubble level should have been suggested because otherwise what’s “level”?

Another minor quibble is that it should say in the instructions to “remove the stylus protector” since those new to this might not know there’s one on there! In addition, I understand that the ‘table can come with one of a few cartridges, but it’s also important to show how to remove each particular stylus protector.

The stylus guard of the $25 Audio Technica CN5625AL conical stylus equipped cartridge that comes with the Basic model slides forward but I thought it pulls down and off and in the process the stylus assembly came loose. Now I don’t panic when that happens, I just popped it back but imagine a kid doing that! I feel for you buddy!

Oh, and the advice in the instructions is to blow off the dust from the stylus every so often. I don’t think so! I know the U-Turn folks want to keep this simple and fun but that’s like people instructions coming with the suggestion to “brush your teeth every so often!” Good vinyl hygiene should begin immediately (end of lecture).

After letting the platter spin for an hour or so I checked the speed accuracy. Playing at the correct speed is job number one. The U-Turn spins accurately at both 33 1/3 and 45rpm. I used the Feickert Platter speed app and the 3150Hz test tone registered 3147.1, which is outstanding. The raw frequency deviation was significant at around ±.5% but once it was low pass filtered to remove record eccentricity induced wow it was down to very acceptable levels especially for a turntable at this low price.

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COMMENTS
Michael T's picture

Unbelievable for $179, with a cartridge included!  Last time I checked, this table was slated to be sold for $199.  They must have lowered the price to compete with Project's rival.

Sadly, in the Seattle area, the Crosleys are EVERYWHERE, not just Target.   I have seen them in two different independent brick and mortar shops (in one shop, they are sold as Third Man Records turntables), and in the Urban Outfitters clothing chains (who by the way stocked about 20 copies of Daft Punk and 15 of Lorde, and 5-10 copies of all the latest indie releases. Can you say vinyl is a big seller?).

We somehow need to convince these retailers to carefully step away from Crosley crap and step up to turntables like this and VPI's new Nomad.  How do we do it?!?!

Michael Fremer's picture

OK a hardware store and a clothing store haven't a clue but I wish I could figure out what Jack White is thinking pushing that shit and claiming to be a vinyl enthusiast.

tingly's picture

Last Week, Jack White/Third Man Records added a custom version of what looks like the Pro-Ject RM-1.3 for $100 extra. The Crosley is still for sale.

thirtycenturyman's picture

Also, those copies of Pure Heroine are $30 a pop!  I like the album and wouldn't mind one, but when I can get a copy of Jeff Buckley's Grace, pressed at RTI for $22, it's hard to make that jump.  Looks like the record companies have caught on; however, they better watch it or they'll price their target audience right out of the vinyl market which would be bad for everyone, young and old.

I wonder what the pricing sweet spot is for a record (quality of product vs. quantity and units sold, etc..)?  It obviously varies with each title, but I would assume it to be $20, give or take.  Having purchased some top notch records for that price, it is totally feasible for quality vinyl pricing to not be up in the clouds.  After all, quality is what matters.  If you have a great record and a shit table, or vice versa, or a shit record and a shit table, you might as well just play MP3's.  They're $9.99/month, after all.

Uh, there's nothing wrong with listening to music by a 17 year old girl right?  Is this going to f up my street cred?

vinyl listener's picture

... pure heroine sounds great on vinyl.

CCFK's picture

"Uh, there's nothing wrong with listening to music by a 17 year old girl right?  Is this going to f up my street cred?"

++++++++++++++++++

You're admitting to listening to Jeff Buckley.  If anything, listening to Lorde will restore the cred you've lost.

Klipschorn's picture

A particleboard platter and the world's cheapest cartridge...

Even the 280 dollar version is still cheap, totally manual and has a cheapo 40 dollar cartridge.

This thing is all for the looks, it will probably not last a year of use.

Martin Osborne's picture

Hi Mikey

Over the last 6 months I've been carefully accumulating vinyl for the day I get my first turntable which is down to Analog Planet and realising that so much of the new music I love is being released on vinyl.

As an aside, it's interesting how hi rez downloads are a wasteland for new music but vinyl is abundant. 

If you've got a moment, I'd appreciate your thoughts on where this table sits relative to the the Rega RP 1 and Pro-ject Debut Carbon, there literally being $26 difference between the Rega and Pro-ject where I live so it's a fair comparison.

I am kind of assuming U-Turn will sort out global distribution and the table will priced less than the aforementioned decks.

Regards

Martin

 

 

 

Michael Fremer's picture

You can order a U-Turn on line right now. However, remember: the U-Turn is $179. The RP 1 is $445 and the Pro-Ject $399.

It is not fair to compare the U-Turn to either of the other two since they are more than TWICE as expensive!

If you can afford the more expensive 'tables get one because they are in a different league. However, the Rega does not include a cartridge. The Pro-Ject does.

The U-Turn is a great introductory 'table that hopefully will keep young people away from Crosley and protect their records.

SigSoundRich's picture

Michael,

Just to correct a small mistake... the RP1 does indeed come with a cartridge. Its called the Rega Carbon (which I belive is a OE version of a Audio-Technica mm cartridge that is made for Rega). That cartridge is included in the RP1's $445 US Retail price. Before Rega came out with the Carobon MM, earlier RP1's came with the Ortofon OM5E cartridge. :-)

The U-Turn for under $200 looks like a awesome peice of kit. Nice review Michael.

Cheers,

Your friendly Rega retailer.

Rich Brkich

Michael Fremer's picture

Search the 'net for RP1 and see how many descriptions list a cartridge. 0 that I found...

Bix's picture

Hmm?  Rega's site is the first result: http://www.rega.co.uk/html/RP1.htm

The all new completely British-made RP1 features:

  • Brand new Rega RB101 tonearm.
     
  • Precision main bearing and sub-platter assembly.
     
  • High quality low vibration motor.
     
  • All new Phenolic resin flywheel effect platter for excellent speed stability.
     
  • Rega Carbon moving magnet cartridge.
     
  • Rega sound quality at an unrivalled price.
Michael Fremer's picture

I did a quick search and missed it. However, Needledoctor says Ortofon OM5, Music Direct says Rega Carbon.... but yes comes with cart.

Klipschorn's picture

Come on this is junk.

Get an old Technics player for 40 bucks and put a new stylus or even a new cartridge and a belt if it needs it and it would be miles better than this with a particleboard platter and 20 dollar cartridge.

Michael Fremer's picture

The RP1 and Debut Carbon are superior. They also cost more than twice as much so that makes sense. If you can afford either of them buy one of them. I like the Debut Carbon but haven't heard the latest RP1. 

That is not to take anything away from this excellent $179 effort.

Ortofan's picture

For comparison you might evaluate the (ersatz Technics) Audio Technica LP-120 and the (made by Dual for) Marantz TT-42.  An inexpensive phono preamp to try is the Rolls VP29 - only $50 at B&H. At just over $30, the Ortofon Omega has an elliptical stylus.

Trevor Gearhart's picture

How about U-turn vs. Project Elemental?

....or skip both and double down for the Carbon or RP-1?

Michael Fremer's picture

These two are similar conceptually: MDF plinth and platter, simple but effective arm. HOWEVER: the Elemental's arm has a fixed counterweight. It's meant as a "plug and play" only with the supplied Ortofon cartridge. The U-Turn has greater flexibility in the counterweight is adjustable...

If you can afford to "double UP +" to either the Carbon or RP1 you're in different performance territory...

thomoz's picture

If we are comparing turntable simply based on their price point, you have to include the $250 Music Hall (which has the added questionable benefit of a USB-out, and therefore an internal phono preamp to support it).

Trevor Gearhart's picture

Uh, scratch that previous one from me. I posted before reading the entire story.

Doh!

Michael Fremer's picture

Because I answered before reading your second post! Double DOH!

atomlow's picture

I find it's more of a crime that Needle Doctor sells the Crosley! What kind of vinyl doctor are they or do they just care about the needle?

Nice review! This will be my lowest price point turntable recommendation now. That's a bummer about the counterweight being light, maybe they can offer something better as an upgrade option.

Michael Fremer's picture

The Shure M97xe is heavy... 

Glotz's picture

It took my suggestion to advertise in the magazine 25 years ago, and by way of association they have seen the success they now enjoy. 

Vinyl Doctor... puleeze, he was firmly mid-fi for many years.  No clue how to set up a high-end turntable back then.  

I wonder if we could pin down an answer as to why they do sell it.. pfft. 

Bruggles's picture

1) the bassist for Nirvana is Krist Novoselic. Fairly minor, but worth noting. 

2) the article was great and will almost certainly go over the heads of basically the entire target demographic for this table. Can you publish a companion piece that explains what everything means? As a case in point: the Wilson XLFs could be explained as "hyper-expensive speakers that are so lifelike that they can make good recordings and setup sound real, and lesser setups will reveal all faults" or something.

I am still kinda new to the game, but I have been spinning vinyls for a little while now, and this article stressed me out a bit since there was so much jargon I was not following... Where do I learn all this?

atomlow's picture

Bruggles,

Good points and correction. I'd just type the jargon into google. We are lucky having so many resources now on any subject that can easily be looked up and learned on the internet. Some of this might be over the head of some readers but the review tells us all if we can only spend $200 on a turntable the Uturn is the table we should recommend and/or buy.

Michael Fremer's picture

Bruggies, I know that Mr. Novoselic is now "Krist" but when Nirvana's Nevermind was first released he was still known as "Chris", which is how it's spelled on the record.

As for jargon, you make a great point. I don't mean to be a pain, but could you list all of the terms with which you are unfamiliar? That would help me sort out what needs to be defined.

As for the Wilson XLFs, they are a very large, full range and very revealing loudspeaker that normally would not be used with a $179 turntable. 

If you take the time to list the "jargon" I'll provide the definitions...

Bruggles's picture

A) Touche (imagine the accented, French-style "e") on the "assimilated" version of his name. In my 20th Anniversary 4LP special edition, they put his actual Christian name.

B) Mostly I followed along alright. I have read a few reviews of the XLFs, for example (and I live an hour away from Wilson, and I really want to try to fanagle my way in to listening to some Baroness or Anciients there - just to see how those speakers can REALLY rock). I do think it would be cool to have a page that is basically an essential encycolpedia to explain record lore to people who grew up with the most rudimentary of understandings - if at all. I did listen to Thriller on LP as a kid, but I went multiple decades without touching an actual 12". 

Once you have the page, you could link to it from within other articles - either at the beginning or end, or throughout as words come up. But as some examples of particulars, I would possibly include "classic" or "ubiquitous" equipment like Wilson, Quad ESL, BBC monitors, old McIntosh, ARC, Krell, 3020, etc. I have learned of many of them, but I know there are more that I will encounter.

Then, I would include concepts like phono pres, integrated amps, separates, monoblocks, interconnects, balanced connections, line-stage pres. And then the fun stuff like VTA, azimuth, plinth (still think that's a funny word), tracking force (what engineer allowed that to be "measured" in grams?), stylus shapes, overhang template, unipivot, Feickert (et al), etc. Some of these I already know, and some I am embarassed to admit I do not know.

If there is some one-stop-shop location for all of that, I would love a link to a page or book for sale. I am the man in my house with a wife and three little kids, so I don't have an audiophile dad to show me around the joint, you know? But with my new Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, my kids get to join in the listening by lowering the arm themselves and picking which records with which to melt their adorable little faces clean off. (I even briefly owned a TEAC open-reel player they got to hear before I decided I wasn't ready for that level of commitment and flipped it for a good profit).

I love the feedback - and I love the interest in getting fresh blood in the game! I am in, and the indoctrination is ever-deepening. I would love more information for me, and perhaps a faster, simpler resource for newer noobs. Thank you!

Brian

CCFK's picture

It would be instructive to see a comparison of the U-Turn with the acrylic platter and Grado Blue or Black, which is now being offered, versus the entry level Rega and Pro-Ject tables...

vozhyk87's picture

I am wondering if over a hundred bucks difference of Plus from Basic is actually a worthy investment? I understand that Grado cartridge can make a difference there, but what about acrylic platter? Now that you can build-your-own Orbit there is flexibility in terms of upgrades. Anyone can chip in?

DTS MA 7.2's picture

I just ordered the orbit with grado blue and acrylic platter,
will arrive in july, i hope it best's my Akia 260.

jeffh's picture

I was wondering the same thing.  Is the $120 to upgrade to the U-Turn Plus a good choice, or should I be looking at another turntable at the for $299.

avrcguy's picture

Sounds like this table could benefit from such an add-on. Like the original, it would of course make dialing in tracking force, and azimuth easier, but would also be an easy fix to accommodate the heavier cartridges like the Shure. Wonder if anyone is planning such a device.

Russo7516's picture

U turn is about afforable audio plus made here in the US bravo .  They are making a good product at the right price and loads of people will  go  towards this.  Not many can spend  over a 400 for a decent turn table plus cart .  I speak with the young vinyl crowd and they say man 1000 for a turn table thats nuts.  I think in the near future U turn will make  a few differnent levels of thier turn tables. Give them some time . 

Ortofan's picture

Roll the calendar back to the 1970s and the entry level turntables of the time were products such as an AR XA/XB or the Pioneer PL-12D, along with a Shure M91ED cartridge. The ~$150 purchase price for those items didn't seem so outrageous back then, yet it translates to at least $500 in today's money.

Bruggles's picture

Times have changed. Think what $500 translates to in terms of a Spotify subscription! I try to convince people their ears are worth more than mp3s can give them, but short of an actual demonstration, it is a tough sell. So many people today just flat-out don't know what they're missing! Literally!

Back in December, I was picking up my little sister from her first semester at college, and her roommate was listening to "music" played from her phone's onboard speaker. She was coming down to my house as well the following day as a springboard to the airport, so I told her that phone made me sad - and she would get to hear real music when she got to my house with a turntable. As per usual, she was shocked that vinyl was bigger than nostalgic surface noise for me. But I did an mp3 vs vinyl shoot-out with her, and converted her about 5 seconds into Incubus's "Aqueous Transmission" played on a Numark TT through my new Marantz PM6005 into Dayton B652 - not exactly a reference setup. It has only gotten better at my house since then, btw - don't worry too deeply for me.

thirtycenturyman's picture

I came across this table a few months ago and recommended it to my brother in law, who was growing his vinyl collection sans turntable.  He ended up buying one recently so I'll have to check it out if I get a chance.  Seems like a great little setup and I couldn't find a bad review anywhere.  It's also nice to support some guys who are passionate about what they do.

DaveP's picture

I placed my order for the Orbit back in January and am eagerly awaiting its delivery early next month. I have been looking at replacing the stock cartridge and have my ears set on the Shure M97XE. Seeing how you had done this and had some issues and knowing the M97XE is a bit shorter than most cartridges, did you have to use a spacer to install it or was it fine just out of the box?

Michael Fremer's picture

in terms of SRA... but you'll need to stick Blu-tack on the counterweight to get the tracking force correct....

DaveP's picture

Great! Thanks a lot

lpgear's picture

It is troubling when one sees others bashing what others use to enjoy their LPs. Are we better because we have a higher sense of musical discernment or better turntables? The Orbit - good as it is based on Michael Fremer's assessment (and I believe him) - will not replace Crosley record players. The latter appeals with their combined features and while some may not like that, there are music enthusiasts who love the convenience of these features. I frankly admire Crosley and their emulators - they made LP record playing more popular, more desirable, more widespread. They enlarged the record playing community of which we are all part of. The wider market made new turntables like Orbit possible - by being investment justifiable.

All the best,
Rome Castellanes
 

my new username's picture

Depsite the damage a Crosley can do to a record, and to a music lover's resulting interest in vinyl (the bigger threat, right?) you raise an interesting point regarding exposure to the medium, because many of us also started with such dreck years ago.

So. An engineering challenge: 

Design one with most of the same attributes as the U-Turn but go "beyond" it ...

- smaller plinth with less-than 12" platter for small size, small box, less intimidating. 

- no dustcover

- money-saving things like captive RCAs

- give it some freaking STYLE

- Chinese made, if you must

- $100 retail

- advertise!!!

That will change today's vinyl world in a serious way.

buckvelvet's picture

Hi Folks, I just got a Uturn orbit plus, and while it sounds great, I'm noticing some pitch fluctuations on some guitar and piano tracks that are not apparent in cd or mp3 format. I'm trying to trouble shoot the problem, but was wondering what this phrase meant, and if it has something to do with the pitch issue i'm having. "The raw frequency deviation was significant at around ±.5% but once it was low pass filtered to remove record eccentricity induced wow it was down to very acceptable levels especially for a turntable at this low price"  

What is a low pass filter?

Michael Fremer's picture

The pitch issue you are having is not related to the low pass filter used in the measurements. Unfortunately many records are pressed eccentrically. That is, the hole is not precisely centered so the tone arm can sometimes be seen moving back and forth as the record spins. This produces "wow", which is a slow pitch fluctuation that's most noticeable on sustained notes... which is probably why you are hearing them on piano and guitar recordings.

Before blaming the turntable check the record's eccentricity. See if the arm moves back and forth as the record rotates. I bet you see it. Then the problem is with the record not the turntable.

Yes, the fact is, records can suffer from this problem. However, due to a brain fade I wrote "low pass" filter when I meant to write "high pass" filter (I will fix). The filter is used in this test to remove the effects of record eccentricity so the measurement reflects the performance of the turntable not the record.

Unfortunately one of vinyl's "issues" is this kind of wow. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. But records pressed well off center are simply defective and almost everyone finds such extreme 'wow' unpleasant.

Otto K's picture

Just ordered one of these for a good friend who has been living with a Crosley.  Can't wait to watch her reaction when first plays an lp on this.  Thanks for the recommendation Mike.  Otto

David.Stubb's picture

After reading the U-Turn review, I am having second thoughts on the purchase of an RP3. I haven't received the RP3 yet--it is on order from a great local shop here in Seattle. I thought it was the best table under $1,000, but after reading your review about the speed accuracy, I am wondering if I should have saved myself some money with a U-Turn and a really nice cartridge. Is the speed accuracy of the U-Turn really better thant the RP3?

Klipschorn's picture

Get The Audio Technica AT-LP120- or an entry level Denon or something for about the same price as this junk...

navydiver's picture

Orbit sounds WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY better and no I wasn't going to mod a new TT to remomve the crap phono pre that is not fully out of the loop even when the switch to bypass is engaged. My impression was cheap plastic crap with a heavy steel plate put inside to make it appear solidly built....
Did not like sound

Aronson's picture

Hi Michael,

Newbie here. I'm ordering this table today based on this thorough review. An upgrade from my AT LP-60, eh?

Which platter mat option were you provided with for the review? Jus' curious...

A

navydiver's picture

Got one with acyrlic platter and basic AT cart. Like it very much but like my Thorens TD 165 with Shure M97Xe - I don't think many would be surprised. Had a Technics SL-M3 at my place for 3 weeks while I considered buying from a friend (rare Linear direct drive T4P based TT) with AT132EP cart and stck P33 (I think) and thought it sounded light years ahead of both -lots of vids bposted on Youtube. My keeper is the Thorens though as the SL-M3 is too much TT for my needs...
Dang that Technics does sound good though....

navydiver's picture

Forgot to mention my don't like on the Orbit. Belt flops off a lot as it is a very loose fit (normal I am told). Keeps speed very well it seems but if you stop and come back after a while the belt is simetimes off the acrylic platter....

Rudy's picture

Actually, I have a better Crosley killer. It's called a 4x4 with monster tires... ;)

WaltonGoggins's picture

Several improvements made. See the blog at the UTurn web site.

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