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After being given up for dead in the mid-1980s, vinyl has made a miraculous recovery. No, the big black discs with the little holes will never replace downloads or even CDs. For instance, while 9.2 million LPs were sold in 2014, according to a Wall Street Journal article, that’s dwarfed by the 257 million total albums sold in that year, 106.5 million of them as downloads. However, vinyl sales were up 52% from the 2013 total, while other album sales slipped 9%. Recent articles in several trade and general-interest publications have noted that vinyl pressing plants are operating at full tilt and trying to increase capacity.

Onkyo CP-1050

As a result, there are more SoundStage! Access-level turntables available now -- that is to say, for a few grand or considerably less -- than at any time in the last 30 years. Some of the names are relatively new; e.g., Music Hall, Pro-Ject, U-Turn Audio. Then there are the stalwarts, such as Rega Research, which never stopped making turntables; while some old “players” (pun intended) from years ago are re-entering the arena, such as Denon and Pioneer -- and Onkyo.

Description

Onkyo’s most recent turntable, the CP-1050 ($499 USD), is a manual model with nice features. In the world of fiddly record spinners, it’s as plug’n’play as can be imagined. It comes with an Onkyo OC-105 cartridge already installed, and step-by-step instructions to straightforwardly guide the owner, whether vinyl newcomer or vinyl veteran, through assembly and adjustment. The instruction manual is well written. In English.

The CP-1050’s appearance is conservatively attractive and decidedly retro: it as easily could be from 1975 as 2015. The plinth is MDF covered in black-grained vinyl, with a satin-finish aluminum band across the front of the top surface. At each end of this band is a large aluminum button: Power On/Off at left, platter Stop/Start at right. Next to Power are two smaller buttons for speed selection: 33.33 or 45rpm. The dustcover is reminiscent of those found on ’tables from the mid-1970s, even down to the mounting clips.

The CP-1050 measures 17.6”W x 6.2”H x 14.3”D, including dustcover, and weighs 18.9 pounds. The 12" platter of cast aluminum is directly driven by a brushless DC motor. Also included are a rubber record mat, a power cord, RCA patch cords (with integral ground wire), and a fine aluminum adapter for playing 45rpm singles. (For those of you who missed the analog era, those are the little 7"-diameter records with the big holes.) The tonearm mechanism includes an antiskate compensation control -- match its setting to the vertical tracking force (VTF) within a range of 0-3gm -- and a cueing lever for raising and lowering the arm.

Onkyo CP-1050

In keeping with the CP-1050’s overall design, the tonearm, too, is a throwback: a classic “static-balance” made of aluminum in an S shape, with a removable headshell at one end and a counterweight at the other. The headshell is in the standard “bayonet” H4-style that’s been used by Japanese manufacturers since the mid-1960s; if you wish, you can substitute another, similar headshell with a different cartridge. There’s nothing automatic about the CP-1050: You must move the arm manually to the record’s start, and use the cueing lever to lower it to and raise it from the record surface.

Onkyo calls their pre-installed cartridge the OC-105, but it looks identical to an Audio-Technica AT3600L. The AT3600L is very basic: a moving-magnet (nothing wrong with that) design with a 0.6-mil conical stylus (not so great) mounted on an alloy tube. I was troubled that Onkyo recommends a VTF of 3.5gm. That pressure might be fine if you plan to use the CP-1050 as a disco turntable with lots of scratching, but it’s not suitable for use with a high-quality home stereo, as it can cause record grooves to wear out prematurely.

Onkyo CP-1050

Unlike many of the new generation of basic turntables, the CP-1050 lacks a built-in phono preamplifier. It must be connected to an amplifier or receiver that has a phono input, or to an outboard phono preamplifier.

The CP-1050’s stated specifications are midrange. Its signal/noise ratio is acceptable, at >60dB, as are its wow and flutter figures of 0.15%. (Wow is a slowly varying speed of rotation; flutter is a quickly varying speed. Both are audible in playback.) By comparison, the respective specs for the U-Turn Orbit Plus table ($299), which I reviewed in September 2014, are 79dB and 0.125%. The limited warranty on parts and labor is for one year.

Setup

The first thing I saw on opening the CP-1050’s shipping carton was a diagram about how the turntable’s various parts were packed -- very handy!

First, place the aluminum platter on the drive spindle, and the rubber record mat atop the platter. For the next step -- leveling the CP-1050 -- it helps to have a bubble level. The height of each of the shock-absorbing feet can be individually adjusted. Don’t ignore this step; a turntable that’s not level can damage your records, and won’t sound as good as it could.

Leveling done, it’s time to mount and secure the headshell and cartridge to the tonearm. Then, after removing the stylus guard, it’s on to mounting the counterweight on the rear end of the arm, and adjusting it until the arm is balanced and floats level. That accomplished, set the VTF gauge to “0,” then dial in your preferred force. Although Onkyo recommends 3.5gm, I set it to 3gm and hoped for the best. The antiskate adjustment goes only as high as 3gm, so that’s where I set it. Finally, install the clips for the dustcover to the back of the plinth, and the dustcover to the clips.

All that’s left is to connect the power cord and the signal/ground cables. All of this should take about 20 minutes. You should be all set to sit back and listen.

System

I had two review samples of the CP-1050. The first, the Onkyo rep told me, had been circulated among audio reviewers for some time -- I can believe it, based on the condition of the shipping carton. One thing that bothered me was that when this sample arrived, its cartridge had no stylus guard and its tonearm was not taped in place. This could have caused invisible damage to the cartridge’s cantilever, to which the stylus is affixed.

As it was, my first impression was not terrific. I put on “Gone at Last,” from Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years (Columbia PC 33540). The bass was “kind of” there, but not what I’m accustomed to hearing, and the voices of Simon and Phoebe Snow sounded tinny and flat, rather like a bad AM transistor radio.

Advised of this, the Onkyo rep shipped me a new sample. However, when I installed this second sample in my main system, it had an unholy amount of hum I couldn’t defeat. I tried different everything -- cartridges, signal cables, ground cable, amplifiers (including an Onkyo receiver) -- but nothing helped. Onkyo then shipped me one of their A-9010 integrated amplifiers. The hum was far lower in level than with any other amp I’d tried, so I kept fiddling around, and found that when I attached the turntable end of the ground wire to one of the screws that hold the CP-1050’s RCA output jacks in place, the hum went away entirely. Amazing!

My speakers remained Acoustic Energy’s Reference 3 floorstanders and an Advent ASW-1200 powered subwoofer. I played a number of recordings on this second CP-1050 for 10-12 hours before I began my critical listening.

Listening

I have something over 750 LPs and a similar number of 45s, many of which have never been digitized. They’re precious to me, and I won’t play them on a turntable whose cartridge tracks at 3.5gm. As I said above, that’s fine for a disco -- the CP-1050’s ability to go from a dead stop to full speed reminds me of the turntables used at discos and radio stations in the 1970s -- but not for hi-fi. The first thing I’d do if I were buying a CP-1050 is put a better cartridge on it.

Appropriate alternatives would be a low-priced model with an elliptical stylus, such as (at typical street prices) Audio-Technica’s 95E ($50), Ortofon’s OM 5E ($70) or 2M Red ($100), or Grado’s Black 1 ($75). Any of those should provide better sound. They’re more compliant, and their elliptical styli cause less groove wear while extracting more music. Several online retailers sell the CP-1050 with a member of Ortofon’s 2M series (particularly the 2M Red) already installed. A similar service should be available from local retailers. For your records’ sake, get something that tracks at 2gm or less!

My alternative was a Grado Black 1 mounted in a bayonet headshell equivalent to the CP-1050’s. I set its VTF and antiskate at 1.75gm. One other point to make is that at both 33.33 and 45rpm, the turntable appeared to be right on speed. That’s sometimes not the case with lower-priced ’tables.

With “Money for Nothing,” from Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (Warner Bros. 26264), there was a wide soundstage that was particularly deep. The world’s largest drum kit was present, as it should be, and Mark Knopfler’s voice and guitar were perfectly centered on a very stable stage.

“Love Takes Time,” by Orleans (12” single, Infinity L33-1004), had some real get-up-and-go. The soundstage was excellent in terms of width, but very shallow. The Onkyo-Grado combination brought to the fore how compressed this recording’s sound is -- especially the kick drum -- probably to make it sound louder on radio. The lead singer’s voice was reproduced very accurately, as was the lead guitar.

Onkyo CP-1050

Up next was “Finally Found a Reason,” from Art Garfunkel’s Fate for Breakfast (Columbia JC 35780). I’ve always thought this a standout recording -- beautifully produced and mixed. Garfunkel’s delicate voice wafted through the room in front of the speakers, and the backing vocals meshed perfectly just behind him. The acoustic guitar sounded almost as if it were in my room. But not a lot of bass guitar came through, which seemed to be a feature of the Onkyo.

There was no stridency in Linda Ronstadt’s voice in “Love Is a Rose,” from her Greatest Hits (Asylum 6E-106), though she sings her guts out on this track. The soundstage was full, and there was some depth, though Ronstadt sounded as if she were sitting on top of the kick drum -- it was right below her voice, and the backing singers were gathered around her a bit too closely. The rest of the instruments appeared in good alignment behind her, but again, the bass line was a touch restrained.

“Pick Yourself Up,” from Mel Tormé & Friends at Marty’s (Finesse W2X 37484), is a live recording that sounded absolutely natural on the CP-1050. Tormé was placed precisely on the left, with the piano; drums were to the right; bass in the middle. His voice was tonally just right here. This recording gave me, as it has through other fine systems, a great sense of being a member of the audience.

And last, I listened to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” from Ella Fitzgerald and André Previn’s Nice Work If You Can Get It (Pablo Today D2312140). As this is a recording of just a voice, piano, and double bass (Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen), it’s a very intimate recording, and the combination of Onkyo CP-1050 and Grado Black 1 reflected that. It sounded very mellow, but not annoyingly so. Great soundstage! Bass came through with good slam -- something that didn’t happen with other recordings.

One song, three record players

I decided to experiment with one song -- “I’d Love to Change the World,” from Ten Years After’s A Space in Time (Columbia KC 30801) -- through three different turntable-cartridge combinations, in this order: Onkyo CP-1050 with Grado Black 1; CP-1050 with Onkyo OC-105 cartridge; and my vintage Pioneer PL-516 with Grado Black 1.

The Onkyo-Grado combo was about the most easygoing, relaxed performer I could imagine, and excelled with Mozart and small jazz combos. With Ten Years After wailing away, though, there was a slight muffling of the snares and cymbals, and the guitar sounded too laid-back. The voices, however, were clear, and the soundstage width and depth were quite expansive.

The CP-1050 with OC-105 cartridge was an entirely different kettle of fish. Man, was this performance alive! This resulted in some grunge and harshness being added to the sound of the electric guitar and voices. The soundstage was quite wide but shallow, and the bass somewhat recessive.

The Pioneer PL-516 with Grado Black 1 was somewhere between the other two. The cymbals and snares lost the haze that had surrounded them with the Onkyo-Grado combo, but lacked the harshness added by the Onkyo-Onkyo. Although I preferred the sound of the Pioneer-Grado overall, I suspect that the Onkyo CP-1050, with a lively aftermarket cartridge, would really show its stuff.

Conclusion

For me, vinyl is a joy. While I don’t prefer its sound to that of digital media, it offers a pleasant alternative. And with my limited budget and innate cheapness, I’m always looking for value. The Onkyo CP-1050 turntable offers great value in many ways, including but not limited to its price.

It’s not perfect. I have strong reservations about Onkyo’s pre-installed OC-105 cartridge. The hum problem, most likely, is a one-off -- I had no such trouble with the first review sample of the CP-1050.

Onkyo CP-1050

Otherwise, the CP-1050 has some very strong points in its favor. It looks good and seems to be well screwed together. Setting it up is easy and quick -- even a klutz such as I can do it. Its motor puts out reasonable torque, and at both 33.33 and 45rpm, it appeared to be right on speed. The tonearm-headshell combination certainly was competent, tracking warped records well. The CP-1050 seemed to have its own sound, and would match well with a slightly better, lively sounding, moderate-cost cartridge with elliptical stylus from Audio-Technica or Ortofon. If you’re in the market to enter or re-enter the Wonderful World of Vinyl, the Onkyo CP-1050 may be just what you need.

. . . Thom Moon
thom@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Source -- Pioneer PL-516 turntable, Grado Black 1 cartridge
  • Integrated amplifier -- Onkyo A-9010
  • Speakers -- Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer
  • Interconnects -- Dayton Audio, Onkyo
  • Speaker cable -- Acoustic Research (14-gauge) with Dayton Audio banana plugs and pins
  • Power conditioner -- Panamax Max 1000+

Onkyo CP-1050 Turntable with OC-105 Cartridge
Price: $499 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.

Onkyo USA Corporation
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Phone: (800) 229-1687, (201) 785-2600

Website: www.us.onkyo.com