Onkyo's CP-1050 Direct Drive Turntable Offers Extraordinary Speed Stability, Attractive "Retro" Looks

Even had the purchase by Onkyo of Pioneer Home Electronics not been made public, some kind of connection would have been obvious to anyone opening the boxes of this Onkyo CP-1050 turntable and the recently reviewed Pioneer PL-30-K turntable.

While they are very different products—the latter is a $349 MSRP auto-play, belt drive with a built-in phono preamp, while the former is a $599 MSRP (“street” price $499) direct-drive manual play with no built-in phono preamp—if the packing material and dust covers are any indication, they appear to have been built in the same factory.

Interestingly, it also appears to be a very seriously downgraded version of Denon's $2499 DP-A100 100th anniversary turntable issued in 2010, though looks can be deceiving:

The Onkyo is a handsome looking retro-‘70s era styled ‘table framed in black MDF with a brushed aluminum control panel. It sits on four elastomer damped feet that do an excellent isolation job.

The direct drive operation features a customized brushless DC motor, a Quartz-Lock control system and a die-cast 12” platter topped with a thick rubber mat. Onkyo claims .15% or lower wow and flutter and a signal to noise ratio of greater than 60dBs.

Unlike the Pioneer ‘table, which comes with a straight pipe arm and offset head shell, the Onkyo’s arm is a classic “S” shape, which provides the offset angle, fitted with a non-offset head shell similar, if not identical to what Technics used to offer on its SL-1200 series. The arm’s effective length is 230mm.

The arm features dual gimbaled bearings that superficially resemble those on the SL-1200, though the arm is not of that caliber nor is the ‘table so priced.

A gentle tug on the arm tube reveals a small amount of “play”. In the microscopic world of vinyl playback, to be able to actually feel the “play” means it probably will be audible to some degree. That kind of “chatter” is usually heard as a bright signature on top and a less than tight and punchy bottom.

Also keep in mind that the arm does not allow for adjustment of either VTA/SRA or azimuth.

If a turntable’s job #1 is to turn at the correct speed, look at these impressive numbers and graphs:

The target frequency is 3150Hz. The Onkyo is “spot-on”. Both the relative and absolute maximum deviation from the mean frequency are minor. The low pass filtering removes the effects of record eccentricity and the results are superb—about as good as it gets regardless of price.

Now don’t read more into that than you should, which is what the “SL-1200 cultists” do with similar numbers. Far more factors are involved in a turntable's actual sound. If you look at the graph you can see the somewhat jagged traces, which can be caused by a variety of factors related to motor cogging and/or motor bearing issues—not surprising given the reasonable cost of this turntable. Compare these charts with the far more expensive George Warren Turntable .

Interestingly, while the traces are far smoother, the speed variations are far greater than those of the Onkyo. You can be sure that the far more expensive George Warren Turntable is in a different sonic league, regardless of speed measurements.

CP-1050 Set-up and Sound

As with the previously reviewed Pioneer, Onkyo makes easy setting up and using the CP-1050 with the included Audio Technica 600 series cartridge, though you’ll be tracking at 3.5 grams. You are better off replacing the cartridge, or at the very least replacing the stylus with the $29.98 LP Gear CFN-3600LE , which improves the sound and lets you track a gram lighter at 2.5 grams.

I didn’t compare this solution to replacing the cartridge altogether with the Audio Technica 95E, which at around $40 is one of my favorite budget cartridges. The advantage here is that if you a novice, you can still easily make the swap.

You did get to hear the ‘table with the CFN-3600LE in the recent budget phono preamp shoot out but I ended up doing most of the listening using a Shure M97xE cartridge driving a Graham Slee Era Gold MK V MM phono preamplifier. Actually, I’ve got 2 M97xEs, one of which has been cryogenically frozen. Once both are broken in, musical samples will be posted using both and we’ll see where the votes go!

In the end you will be listening, not measuring (though there are some foolish people who are led around by the measurements instead of by their ears) so how does the Onkyo CP-1050 sound?

The M97xE is considered to be a generally mellow sounding cartridge but for better or worse it came to life here with clean, somewhat “brisk” high frequencies. The top wasn’t harsh but it was lively in a way I thought complimented the cartridge’s generally smooth top end.

I also tried an Adcom Crosscoil XC E II that was rebuilt for me some years ago by The Garrott Brothers (the company not the late brothers). This upped the sound by a considerable margin in terms of detail, high frequency extension and especially dynamics. However, even with this high quality cartridge the bottom end was not particularly well-extended, but it was solid and “tuneful” as opposed to being soft and sloppy (remember, I played this through Wilson XLFs!). Through two way bookshelf speakers, I’m sure the bottom end will be more than adequate.

In terms of image stability and soundstaging in general, the Onkyo was far superior to the Pioneer, producing a solid, three dimensional stage and a reasonable amount of depth.

Conclusion

The Onkyo CP-1050 is an attractive, well-made for the price direct drive turntable that provides good value for the money and reasonably good sonic performance. However, at this price point there is some very strong competition, especially from the $399 Pro-Ject Carbon Debut DC, which comes fitted with an Ortofon 2M Red. The Pro-Ject’s carbon fiber-based arm does allow a full range of adjustability and the ‘table now includes a built in “Speed box” motor controller.

More competition comes from Rega’s $445 RP-1 fitted with an Audio-Technica-manufactured Carbon cartridge (It's an AT3600L, so the aforementioned LP Gear CFN3600LE stylus would be an excellent upgrade stylus for it). It’s another strong “plug and play” option. Both of these, I feel, offer superior sonic performance. However for a basic "plug and play" that's both easy to use and visually attractive and is aimed at the casual vinyl listener, the Onkyo CP-1050 would be a good choice.

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

...that Onkyo couldn't have charged just a bit more and fitted a somewhat higher grade of cartridge instead? For another $50 they could get the AT-100E, with an elliptical stylus, aluminum cantilever, more advanced magnetic/generator system and ~1.5g tracking force. This product is unlikely to be sold at the local stereo store where one could select the turntable and cartridge à la carte, so why fit a bottom rung cartridge? Sure you could upgrade the original cartridge, but anyone buying this turntable isn't looking for the absolute lowest cost unit on the market, so why not include a cartridge that will make their LPs sound that much better right from the start?

Mark UK's picture

Looks good and performs well enough for what it costs. After all, we are not talking 'Ferrari' prices are we?

I like it that Michael looks at 'reasonably priced' equipment quite often. Far too many reviewers/sites/magazines seem to consider it 'beneath them'.

Speed (obviously purely a personal view)

I don't care whether a turntable has a belt drive or direct drive. But it MUST have long-term stability. I used to have a Technics SL150, direct drive BUT NOT CRYSTAL CONTROLLED. It was a nightmare. I would not use it for a few days, turn it on, and the speed would be wildly different from the last time I used it. Each time you had to fiddle with the adjustment knobs.

Thus these days I will only use a turntable with a synchronous ac motor, running directly from the mains power, or with a crystal oscillator.

And PREFERABLY with no speed adjustment. If the manufacturer fits adjustment it indicates to me that he has little confidence in his speed control mechanism.

Michael Fremer's picture
Require a speed change to play back correctly including the original "Kind of Blue" and the original UK Decca "Beggar's Banquet" so for those few it's nice to have speed adjustability...
Mark UK's picture

Ortofan
problem with "charging a bit more" is there is no end to it. You can make this better, that better, the other better, and end up with a $2000 setup very easily. So they START with a price point. It's the same with most things, cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, even electric drills. - "It is going to cost $599. What can we do with that?" Even the $599 rather than $600 is an important price point.

And then theie is the 'Vinyl Revival". I wonder who is doing it? There is the long term Hi-Fi enthusiast - probably NOT a big part of it EXCEPT, like me, having always had a turntable, read a lot about a revival, observe that more records hare available than there has been for a long time, BUY A NEW MID PRICE TURNTABLE (a Linn in my case) and buy a lot more records than I ever used to, having found a certain 'relentless mechanical churning out of music' feeling about top quality computer audio.

(Have other people noticed that about computer audio?)

Then there is the Vinyl 'beginners'. Putting their toe in the water. Afford thousandsof Dollars or not, they ARE going to have a fixed 'starting budget' and it is likely to be low because they are only 'testing the water'.

Ortofan's picture

You'd expect that the product planners/marketing dept at Onkyo would have noticed that the AT LP-120 turntable, for example and selling for only $300, is now equipped with the AT95E and decided that their turntable, selling for twice the price, ought to come with a cartridge that's a step up from that one, not down.

Mark UK's picture

Onkyo are a large (by HiFi standards) and successful company and I am sure they won't have failed to notice anything. WE aren't the experts on what they 'should' do, THEY are. We, with our Linns, Caliburns $28,000 arms, etc, are just a tiny, often regarded as cranky, niche in the HiFi market.

But I agree that a 3.5 gm tracking force is a bit weird. But maybe we haven't got cats, dogs, and medium-sized children running about in our 'dedicated' music room.

And I stand by my 'price point' comment. Michael suggested an $29.95 different stylus ('needle' to the potential buyers of this turntable)

And in the 'electrical goods' store $629 looks a whole lot more than $529 :)

Mark UK's picture

Meant $599 not $529.

Mark UK's picture

I feel like elaborating so I will :)

I've got a computer audio setup. It's top quality, I have a lot of 'high res' music (far more music than I've EVER had before on any media whatsoever), a good DAC, AMP, Speakers.

IN FACT IT WAS THE BASIC OUTSTANDINGLY GOOD QUALITY OF COMPUTER AUDIO that revived my interest in music, caused me to greatly expand my collection, and caused me to upgrade everything else. This started about 6 years ago.

BUT IT NEVER STOPS. It's like Chinese water torture! It sits there, motionless. You don't even have to put a new CD in. Or it's not like the radio (we still have excellent FM in the UK), with an inane DJ who nevertheless gives you a short break. Or the 'coughing interval' (not that concert promoters call it that) on a live classical performance on BBC Radio Three.

Computer audio, high res at least, churns out 'perfect' sound, and it never stops. Set up a 'playlist (only a matter of seconds to do and sometimes you don't have to do even that) and that's it, it will churn it out for days. So you listen FAR MORE than you ever did before to what I can best describe as a 'relentless organ-grinder churning it out by turning the handle.

There is a certain 'ritual' in listening to music and I suspect it is part of the pleasure. Putting on a record or CD. Tuning the radio to a different station when the piece you like has ended. Bothering to pay for, and drive to, a live concert. This riitual is MISSING in CA and really does reduce it all to a mindless machine. It's driving me up the wall!

cundare's picture

Surprisingly, Mike, the thing that jumped out at me here is that you own a rebuilt Adcom Crosscoil. I have an old Adcom Microridge II that has worked well in my Denon for several decades, despite once bending the sh*t out of the cantilever and then carefully straightening it out (!) I wasn't aware that these guys can be rebuilt and that's certainly something I'd consider, given how much I love the idea of a good-sounding moving-coil with a _very_ oblong stylus that produces a line-level signal (post-phono preamp but w/no head amp) greater in amplitude than that of my disc player. You're satisfied with the rebuild you mention?

DJL

es347's picture

Mike...I always loved the look of the Denon but all the reviews I read were pretty negative. I remember seeing new units being blown out at something like half msrp. Was it really that bad a TT?

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I have recent experience with an excellent sounding Onkyo CD player that started skipping after eighteen months moderate use. On opening the player, the CD drive was found to be a flimsy thing (compared with my older NAD and Denon players that skip due to old age, 10+years).
I called the Onkyo service center and they would not offer to repair or replace. If the failure was a fluke why not offer help?
Since that time I have seen pictures of the same drive used in far more expensive Onkyo CD players.
The 'play' in this turntable's arm bearings is a clue to the quality. I would definitely look under the hood at construction quality before buying.
P.S. I checked the drive part number and replacement drives did not show up on the internet, so this CD player is trash.

Ortofan's picture

...and adjust them for inflation, how do they compare to the price of the Onkyo unit? If they're not in the same ballpark, then it's not a fair comparison. The inflation corrected prices of various Sony ES and Pioneer Elite players I've owned are in the range of $1.5-4.5K. If I'm expecting to get similar performance/longevity from a unit available today, I'd plan on having to spend a similar amount. Or, you can pay a lot less with the realization that the product might become a throw-away after several years of use.

Kent T's picture

This Onkyo is what the neo vinyl buff needs. Fairly priced, competent performance, and decently made without being finicky. A good choice for the price point.

john ryan horse's picture

I just bought this turntable in June. I'd been really in dire financial straits (no heat last winter) for a few years 'til I got some money from the sale of my mother's house. So I bought this Onkyo with Monitor Silver 6 speakers & Rega Brio-R amp. I find it to be sturdy and reliable. Comparing a side of "Axis" & the CD playing inaudible at the same time, the side ended on a dime with the CD. I wonder about the low end with some recordings: Comparing the Sundazed "Bo Diddley" LP to Hip-O's "Complete Recordings" series on cd, Willie Dixon's bass seems more distant on the LP (otherwise the sound is warm & punchy). This is a particularly noticeable case, but generally the low end is weakest part of the picture. On the other hand played "To Bonnie From Delaney" on solid 1970 Atco slab-o-wax and was seduced by the detail and presence of the whole picture...Maybe the cartridge change would make a difference?

WaltonGoggins's picture

Now the price is under $400.

Audiolad's picture

How do you build that arm with no adjustments? The Numark TT250USB looks as good with a clear plastic cover, very accurate speed control, and the arm has at least height adjustment (necessary for different carts), and all of this for $300. Stanton T.92 has maybe a better TT with the controls, but you only receive a cloth cover for $300. The 1050 is like a duck out of water or maybe a duck which can't fly.

watchnerd's picture

So the speed stability is awesome, but the arm blows chunks.

Now that it's selling for <$400, maybe you could make a killer combo if you replaced the stock arm with a nice Jelco SA-750D (or others)?

Michel Vondenhoff's picture

Did some experimenting lowering the tracking to 2.5g and sound did improve imho. Next is anti skate to go from 3 to 2 and have a listen.

When it came out I bought the Onkyo for €395 with a Music Hall 1.2 pre for €145.

It is for the money a nice entry level deck though lack of adjustments (VTA) rule out major upgrades.

Cheers Michel

Michel Vondenhoff's picture

2g tracking 2 anti skate. Just try it.

Leyland1671's picture

Todays' Onkyo is not what the brand used to be in the older days. This player is, while being quite different as for its looks, just another Hanpin (they produce for Denon, Audio-Technica, Pioneer just to name a few) turntable made for Onkyo. Nothing wrong with that but do not expect it to be something special. It is not bad but when it breaks it is a write off. Costs for labour and the lack of spares will condemn this product to the scrap heap. So I would say this product is for the ones who do not spin records on a dayly basis.

X