Gearbox’s Vinyl “Compact Disc” Player

U.K. based Gearbox, best known for its restored vintage all-tubed Westrex mastering system (Haeco Scully lathe with Westrex RA1700 series amps, Westrex 3DIIA cutting head and Telefunken U73B tube limiter) and eclectic all-analog vinyl record catalog recently entered the hardware business with this cool “compact disc” player it calls “The Gearbox Automatic” though it’s a manual player.

The mini-turntable mounted in a crystal-clear acrylic base that fully exposes the large circuit board features an integrated hybrid solid state/12AX7 vacuum tube MM phono preamp and is Bluetooth enabled.

If the arm and sub-platter assembly look familiar it’s because Pro-Ject manufactures the turntable for Gearbox. The arm is a shortened version of the fixed counterweight one found on the Elemental turntable and is fitted with an OM series Ortofon cartridge that’s set to track at around 2.6 grams or .2 grams heavier than the suggested tracking force of the $10,500 Ortofon MC Century. In other words its on the heavy side but not to worry.

The motor bearing and subplatter are familiar Pro-Ject components though the glass mini-platter is a departure from the company’s norms. A set of RCA jacks mounted on the plinth rear allows for connection to a preamp line level input using the supplied set of cables that will be familiar to Pro-Ject owners.

At Munich High End 2017 Gearbox’s Darrell Sheinman explained to me the turntable concept and that it was going to be Kickstarter campaign funded. That campaign failed but Gearbox chose to move forward on its own. The result is this somewhat more sophisticated turntable that retails for approximately $750. It’s on sale now for just under $700.

A speed check indicated that the Automatic turned at precisely 33.3 and 45rpm—something some more costly turntables can’t manage. The Automatic paired automatically and easily with nearby Bluetooth devices. After downloading and setting up the app (the instructions need some clarification), according to Mr. Sheinman the app is supposed to provide “… track tagging every time you play something recognizable in the Gracenote library.

“The app sends you a notification on your phone telling you which track is playing, with track artwork and the option to add the track to your Spotify playlist, allowing you to listen later in the world of streaming. We hope to have Apple Music playlists added soon. This tech is somewhat groundbreaking, and we have US and European patents pending on it. It is not audiophile like ripping a track directly off your vinyl via USB, but I don’t think many people use a USB facility because it is too much hassle. “Also, from a license point of view, the rip track can only be used in a local computer…theoretically no sharing allowed. Many of our users are enjoying this facility, especially those who do a lot of digital listening and like sharing their vinyl purchases with friends. The track must have been digitally published already however. I was brought up in an era where we went round to friends’ houses with a stack of records and sat and drank the night away sharing each others vinyl picks. So I felt this would be fun for the modern day listener who may have lost this art, but never-the-less likes to share their music taste with others…albeit in the cloud now!

There are further applications of this tech. We will hopefully in the future allow users to buy tickets to gigs playing near them according to the vinyl artist they are playing at that time, and present all sorts of production, master gin and artist metadata too.”

Unfortunately, though I thought I set it up according to the instructions, the app never managed to identify the tracks I played and the only message I got was “we’ve not detected any plays from your Gearbox Automatic. Put on some vinyl and enjoy.”

That’s advice I took! It’s possible I did something wrong and if not, whatever app glitch might have produced that result will surely be fixed soon if not already. Regardless, the set-up instructions could be better.

But it really doesn’t matter. That’s a secondary feature. More important is the sound and there the Gearbox Automatic scores really well, especially using its line level outputs. The sound produced by this turntable/phono preamp combo is rich and generously warm while also reasonable well-detailed. Rumble and noise were surprisingly well-suppressed, while bass performance was satisfyingly solid and reasonably well-extended. You’d never confuse the Automatic’s sonic personality for anything digital.

But don’t take my word for it! Watch and listen for yourself. Here, played back on the Gearbox Automatic is Brendan Croker and The 5 O’Clock Shadows from the eponymously titled 1989 RCA release (1209-1-1).

…..performing ”This Kind of Life”—a song buried on side two featuring a familiar guest vocalist.

Conclusion

Yes, the Gearbox Automatic sounds good and the Ortofon cartridge tracking at 2.6 grams was taking good enough care of my records that I didn’t hesitate to play collectibles. It’s too bad I couldn’t get the “tagging” system working but that could be my issue not the Automatic’s. I streamed Bluetooth too, without problems. I’d get rid of the felt mat and try one of cork even if you had to cut it down yourself from a 12” version.

If I worked in an office where I could play music I’d have this on my desk. For a kid’s room or a dorm room, or as something to bring to a party with a good Bluetooth speaker like the new Riva Concert (review coming) and a stack of second tier party records, the Gearbox Automatic is a no brainer. Or you could argue that streaming in those circumstances is the “no brainer”.

COMMENTS
Yorkshirefoxy1's picture

Great album. He was even better live, saw him on the album tour with Mark Knopfler playing along. They played Pontefract Park in West Yorkshire in a large tent. Those were the days. I have an original vinyl too.

Michael Fremer's picture
And obscure but good LP!
FvkedVpRoman's picture

Sorry to waste your time ... but an IMPORTANT QUESTION has arisen:
Is an album an LP?

Michael Fremer's picture
I don't understand your question
Tom L's picture

...in this context is a collection of musical works, no more than that.
An LP, or Long-Playing disc, is just one type of album.
CDs can also be albums, and I often refer to them as such, but the term is more frequently used for vinyl LPs. See below.

al·bum
/ˈalbəm/
noun
noun: album; plural noun: albums
1.
a blank book for the insertion of photographs, stamps, or pictures.
"the wedding pictures had pride of place in the family album"
synonyms:
scrapbook, register, pressbook, collection, treasury
"an album of pressed flowers"
2.
a collection of recordings issued as a single item on CD, record, or another medium.
synonyms:
record, CD, recording, disc; LP, vinyl; box set

recordhead's picture

First heard of Croker on AP Radio. Man do I miss that show. Any chance the early shows can be uploaded to Soundcloud? The first few are missing.

Michael Fremer's picture
I’ll look into it!
FvkedVpRoman's picture

do.

Michael Fremer's picture
"I'll look into it" referred to getting the early AnalogPlanet Radio shows on Soundcloud.
Ortofan's picture

... worthless feature, IMO.

With a budget of $750, I'd get a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB DC turntable - which includes an Ortofon 2M Red tracking at a more record friendly 1.8g - and a Schiit Mani phono preamp.

https://www.project-audio.com/en/product/debut-carbon-esprit-sb-dc/
http://www.schiit.com/products/mani

Wimbo's picture

Get one.

Tom L's picture

...is an adult, and appears to be a serious vinyl listener.
This product is not intended for such an audience.

WaltonGoggins's picture

to make a $150 record player cost $700.

Michael Fremer's picture
This is a one piece portable player with Bluetooth. Hardly comparable to your suggestion. Secondly: our readers in a blind test preferred the U-Turn Pluto to the Schiit.
WaltonGoggins's picture

Picked the Pluto,that is. Tried the test a year (two?) or so after the first time just for fun (still didn't know which was which) and the result was the same. I don't own either product, but that test has always given me the confidence to recommend the Pluto.

Ortofan's picture

... the Gearbox unit? Is there a handle on it or does it come with a carrying case? What protection is there for the tonearm and cartridge when the unit is being transported? Or, do you put it back in its box whenever you want to tote it somewhere?

Regarding the U-Turn Pluto versus the Schiit Mani, there are differing opinions as to which device is preferable:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9uQZXxy7pQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaARB28ZHkw

alfajet7's picture

Well it is not portable in the way you are describing. That would be too low end. We are primarily a record label and high-end mastering and cutting studio. We have the luxury of using/having elite gear such as Audio Note TT2, EMT 948, various Rega tables and at home I use a TW Acustic. So we are well acquainted with the high end and what it should sound like. Clearly, this is not intended to compete in that realm, but when I designed this, with help from Rega's and Project's electronics engineers, and our own in house engineer, we were aiming for a sonic fingerprint around the Rega RP3 level. In back to back testing we feel we just about achieved that. A lot of that comes from the circuitry in the phono stage and the tube warmth. Add to this the unique design (based on Dieter Rams' 1959 Braun turntable which also inspired Jonny Ive at Apple), we created a small footprint item. The reason being, I felt it unfair for those without the space to be able use "normal" turntables to have to suffer sonically by having to buy a Crossley etc. Other than a few bespoke makers, there are no good quality sound performers with a small footprint, which have the "portability" to be placed anywhere and not only in the middle of a hifi rack. Hence the choice of wired out or Bluetooth. Further, we packed it with tech in a plug and play set up to suit a newer generation of user who want this stuff. To be honest, I am older, and don't really want bluetooth etc, but hopefully had the humility to understand that what we want is not necessarily what everyone wants. That is not just altruism, but is also relevant commercially I am not ashamed to admit! Additionally, there are more women buying vinyl now, and this item appeals to them as a lifestyle product due to the aesthetic and easy to use nature. My wife is a self confessed technophobe but has no problem using this, and I am happy for her to play rare Blue Notes and Led Zep 1st pressings on it too! From this, she has plucked up the courage to use our TW Acustic, has even asked me questions about arm set-up and cartridges, and has taken an interest in my day job! Same goes for my 21 year old son. If this product can make one person take a little more interest in the world of vinyl and listening to music properly rather than as a sideshow to their lives, our work is done.

Darrel

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