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Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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In my city, the Crosley name carries a lot of weight. It was here in Cincinnati, in 1920, that successful auto-parts manufacturer Powel Crosley Jr. found himself appalled at the price of radios: a simple crystal set cost $100 -- the equivalent of $2262.20 in 2018 dollars -- but that didn’t include the necessary headphones and long outdoor antenna. His son really wanted a radio, but Crosley was frugal. Instead, he bought a $9 book on how to build a radio. He built it, then hired a couple of engineering students from the local university to build replicas, which he sold for $20 apiece ($452.44 in 2018). He sold a ton of them. By the mid-1920s, Crosley was the largest radio manufacturer in the US, mostly because he made radios affordable for so many; he was often called “the Henry Ford of radio.”

To sell more radios, Crosley started his own radio station, WLW, one of the first in the US. It began broadcasting in 1922 with a mere 50W, but he kept increasing its power: the more people who could hear it, the more radios those folks would buy. From 1934 to 1939, WLW’s power was a massive 500,000W -- ten times the maximum power AM radio stations can have today. In that era, he called it “The Nation’s Station” -- at night, it could be heard in 40 of the nation’s 48 states, and it had a staff of more than 200 musicians, announcers, actors, and engineers. One WLW feature became a national habit: daily potboiler dramas, nicknamed soap operas because the originals were sponsored by Ivory soap and Tide detergent, both made by another local company, Procter & Gamble.

Not satisfied with radios and radio stations, Crosley encouraged his employees to innovate. When his company started building low-cost refrigerators, one of his people brought him plans for a revolutionary idea: a refrigerator with shelves in the door. Crosley thought so highly of the idea he offered the man $15,000 in cash or 25¢ per refrigerator sold. As this occurred in the depth of the Great Depression, the guy took the $15,000, only much later realizing that the per-fridge bonus would have made him wealthy -- the Crosley Shelvador became a top-selling model in the US.

Crosley also lit the grounds of Crosley Field, home of the baseball team he owned, the Cincinnati Reds, so it could host the first-ever night game in professional baseball: in 1935, against the Philadelphia Phillies. And through Crosley Motors he built one of the first US-made small cars, the Crosley, from 1939 to 1952 -- and even a low-cost biplane, the Moonbeam (1929).

Crosley

So it was with great pleasure that I learned that a firm based in Louisville, Kentucky, had resurrected the Crosley name for radios and other products. Their first products were reproductions of famous art deco radio models; more recently, they’ve jumped feet first into the vinyl resurgence. Near the lower end of their line is the subject of this review, the Crosley C6 turntable, for $169.95 USD. When I saw a picture of it, I wondered how good it could be at that price.

Description and setup

Having just spent time with the sizable MoFi StudioDeck+, the Crosley C6 looked petite at 16.34”W x 5.51”H x 14.17”D. It’s available in three finishes: Black, fire-engine Red, or the pleasant Walnut of my review sample -- a vinyl wrap so good I had to look carefully to determine that it wasn’t real walnut veneer. The C6 comes with a heavy plastic dustcover that clips into sturdy hinges, and power is supplied by a wall wart. Built into the C6 is a switchable phono preamplifier that allows it to be used with electronics that lack a phono stage.

The C6’s two speeds, 3313 and 45rpm, are selected by lifting off the platter and moving the flat drive belt from one pulley to the other. The platter seems to be made of steel; it’s quite heavy, which should provide adequate inertia to reduce variations in speed of rotation, as well as damp wow and/or flutter. Atop the platter is a fiber record mat. The motor seems to have plenty of torque. The front of the plinth is supported by a flexible foot at each corner. There seems to be no way to adjust the height of each foot to make plinth and platter precisely level, so try to place the C6 on a surface that itself is level. Get out your pack of playing cards to use as shims.

The power switch is on the far right of the back panel. Near the center of the rear panel is a coaxial jack for the power supply, and to the left are a pair of RCA jacks for the phono cable and a ground post. The tonearm is 8.6” long -- a bit shorter than many, but in the ballpark, especially at this price. It appears to be made of cast aluminum and its headshell is not removable, for greater rigidity. It comes with a pre-mounted Crosley NP5 cartridge -- which, as even the most cursory glance reveals, is made by Audio-Technica. A little more digging identified it as A-T’s ATN3600, a basic moving-magnet cartridge with a 0.6mm conical stylus. Crosley recommends that this cartridge be used with a rather high vertical tracking force (VTF) of 3.5gm -- higher than I’d like to see, but not out of line for a $169.95 turntable.

Crosley

Build quality is good, especially for the price. In this, the resuscitated Crosley follows in the footsteps of the original Crosley brand, which was kind of the IKEA of its day: keep it simple, keep it inexpensive. To this end, antiskating compensation, usually user adjustable, is set at the factory. That allows the C6 to fulfill those old Crosley dicta. (Antiskating compensates for the tendency of any pivoted tonearm to move toward the center of the record it’s playing, which can damage the inner side of the groove. A very small counterpressure, called antiskating, cancels out that tendency.) The C6 also has a very accurate cueing control for the arm that’s one of the best I’ve used on any turntable; its operation was smooth, and very precise. The C6 is covered by a limited warranty of one year.

As if to emphasize Powel Crosley Jr.’s approach to economy, the C6 doesn’t include a grounding cable. I think that’s a false economy -- grounding cables can be pricey for the user, much less so for the manufacturer -- but perhaps I’m being too critical of so inexpensive a turntable. I was fortunate in that the Crosley C6 plugged into my Onkyo A-9010 integrated amplifier didn’t require grounding. Of course, if you have grounding problems, you can wrap the phono cable with thin, insulated wire to a good ground path from turntable to amplifier.

Setup is simple and well covered by the C6’s owner’s manual. It was a snap to install the drive belt and dustcover. A caution: Setting VTF is a bit more complicated than on some other turntables, and than as explained in the manual. To reach the recommended 3.5gm VTF requires you to balance the tonearm, then turn the counterweight one full rotation to the left (for 2gm), and then another three-quarters of a rotation. The guide on the counterweight will read “1.5,” but it’s actually at the specified level.

Crosley

Once the power switch on the rear panel is thrown, whether or not the platter is spinning will depend on the position of the tonearm.

Listening

For most of my listening I used the phono stage of the Onkyo A-9010 integrated amplifier that’s the heart of my office system. But first I tried the Crosley C6’s built-in phono stage, and found it to be more than adequate. It sounded slightly less bright than the Onkyo’s (see below); it may be that it was designed to work well with the Audio-Technica cartridge. The Onkyo has a rather lean, detailed sound overall, with reserved bass but sparkling highs -- in line with what I heard from its phono stage.

I began my serious listening with “My Little Town,” which Paul Simon sings in duet with Art Garfunkel on Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years (LP, Columbia PC 33540). Until I read the album credits, I hadn’t realized that most of the musicians are members of the Swampers, aka the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a group whose playing is about as tight as it gets. The Crosley reproduced that very well. Voices, especially when singing loud, high notes, were somewhat strident, but it may be that the cartridge needed more time to break in than I gave it. I heard no variation in platter speed. Overall, I was surprised by how good the C6 sounded.

“The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” from Billy Joel’s Piano Man album (LP, Columbia KC 32544), could have been composed by Aaron Copland -- it has all the syncopation and powerful chording you hear in Copland’s Rodeo suite. There’s a lot going on in this track: piano, of course, as well as manic drums, sharply played strings, etc. Articulating all of that is beyond many turntables. As it turned out, the Crosley was mid-pack -- not as good as the best I’ve heard but far from the worst. Other than the somewhat strident highs, the only real shortcoming was that the soundstage collapsed: the instruments were tightly bunched together at the center. Still, I was surprised: despite its occasional shortcomings, this is a fairly serious turntable capable of good sound.

Crosley

Stan Kenton led some of the most inventive big bands of the 1940s through the ’70s. I turned to an album of his from 1959, Standards in Silhouette (LP, Capitol ST 1394), and cued up “Django,” a tune by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. This version begins with solo piano followed by solo trombone, the rest of the band then entering in turn. Taped at the Riverside Tower Hotel in Manhattan, the recording sounds very live, with lots of the natural reverb that can sometimes flummox entry-level devices. Not the Crosley C6. It reproduced this track very solidly, and this time the highs weren’t strident -- in fact, Kenton’s signature arranging for high trumpets sounded very fine. I bought this album used, and its previous owner hadn’t kept it in pristine condition. Even after a thorough cleaning, it still has a fair amount of surface noise, which the C6 faithfully reproduced -- it’s probable that that’s one side-effect of the cartridge’s rather heavy tracking pressure.

Among my radio-station vinyl is a 12”, 33rpm single of the disco version of one of the Doobie Brothers’ big 1978 hits, “What a Fool Believes” (Warner Bros. WBSD 8778). It’s slightly faster and mixed at a hotter signal level than the original, with a fairly obnoxious 1-2-1-2 bass-drum/snare beat. The Crosley reproduced it well, with good snap on the snare and solid bottom-end punch. Michael McDonald’s voice came through quite clearly, while the spare accompaniment was prominent on the soundstage, as it should be. The best I’ve ever heard it? No, but more than adequate for enjoyable listening.

One 12” single led to another. Orleans’s “Love Takes Time” (33rpm, Infinity L33-1004) was designed to sound good on the AM radio stations of 1979: lots of compression and midrange equalization, and everything above the 7.5kHz cut off. In short, it doesn’t sound so hot on a high-end audio system. Especially telling is the compression of the bass-drum beat in the intro, which sounds anemic and then is “squzz down” (a radio term for excessive compression) to keep it from overloading the station transmitter. Through the Crosley C6 it sounded like a really good-sounding AM station of the era. The lead vocal was right out front, the backing voices nicely behind it, the instruments spread across the stage. Overall, I was impressed: the C6 did the best that could be done with what it was offered. That’s pretty much all one can ask.

Crosley

Probably you’ve never heard of Roger Nichols, but he has a pretty good track record as a songwriter: “We’ve Only Just Begun” (with Paul Williams); “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” (for the Carpenters); “Out in the Country” (for Three Dog Night and, later, R.E.M.); and “Travelin’ Boy” (for Art Garfunkel). He also fronted his own group in 1968, Roger Nichols & the Small Circle of Friends, whose eponymous album (LP, A&M SP 4139) includes a cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Melinda MacLeod’s lead vocal is front and center, with the voices of her brother, Murry MacLeod, and Nichols to either side, and an orchestra that stretches from Bangor to San Diego. Melinda’s voice sounded very fine -- sparkling, even -- through the Crosley, and all three were reproduced with good clarity and presence. A very impressive performance.

The early days of stereo produced many records that deemphasized the music and emphasized the stereo. Some of the earliest stereo hits were recordings of freight trains passing by a pair of microphones -- usually, the train entered the soundstage from the right very softly, at a great distance, its sound building rapidly to a thunderous crossing of the center of the soundstage (the microphones’ position), then trailing off to infinity through the left channel. (Back then, we had only three national TV networks -- we were easily amused.) Enoch Light, a popular dance-band leader of the 1940s, was into stereo early, and in 1959 founded his own record label, Command Records, to produce stereo spectaculars by making his master recordings not on magnetic audio tape but on 35mm film. One such album, by the studio group Los Admiradores, was Bongos/Flutes/Guitars, which pretty much describes the combination of instruments recorded. The stereo effect was actually spectacular, if totally bizarre sounding, but I thought the album would help me determine the Crosley C6’s ultimate resolution.

Crosley

I picked, at random, “How High the Moon,” a famous standard from 1940. It begins with everything (bongos, flutes, guitars) in the left channel for the first two bars, then moves them all to the right channel for two bars. Finally, muted trumpet, xylophone, double bass, and brass are added. Everything is in either the left or the right channel, with nothing in the middle. But the C6 reproduced it all quite well. The bongos sounded nice and crisp, as did the trumpets; the guitar was mellow, just as it’s supposed to sound. I was amazed at how well the C6 reproduced this 59-year-old recording.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the Crosley C6 is a star among entry-level turntables designed for vinyl newcomers. By definition, then, it’s not an ultimate turntable -- but it’s a real bargain at its price.

I place entry-level turntables in several strata. Most of the ones that sell for $100 or less are toys that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, or on his or her LPs. Then there are the models costing $250-$400. These are usually good investments, but often require efforts in setup and operation that might perplex the vinyl newbie. Turntables costing $400 and up tend to be the stars, as you’d expect, but often have their own setup foibles and can profit from professional setup.

Between the two lower ranges is the realm of the Crosley C6, and it’s one that few manufacturers have addressed. Certainly, there are better turntables than the C6 -- but not at its price of $169.95. Crosley has designed and built a very basic but good all-around deck. The included Audio-Technica cartridge, while entry-level and requiring a pretty high VTF, is a no-brainer: A-T makes excellent cartridges, so why not use one of them? And the Crosley is attractive.

Crosley

A primary competitor to the Crosley C6 is U-Turn’s Orbit Basic ($179). I had the pleasure of reviewing its more expensive sibling, the Orbit Plus (currently $289), for SoundStage! Access in September 2014 (see review here). The Orbit Basic offers an Audio-Technica CN5625AL, which tracks at a lower VTF, and, perhaps, a slightly more sophisticated tonearm design.

I was surprised at how well the Crosley C6 performed. If you want to get into vinyl at the absolute minimum price with a turntable that won’t eat your LPs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, consider the Crosley C6. Is it truly high fidelity? Maybe not -- but it doesn’t miss that mark by much. It’s possibly the least expensive way to get into vinyl with a serious turntable.

. . . Thom Moon
thom@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Source -- Pioneer PL-516 turntable with Sumiko Oyster Moonstone cartridge
  • Integrated amplifier -- Onkyo A-9010
  • Speakers -- Electro-Voice Interface 1 Series II on 24” Sanus BF24 stands
  • Interconnects -- Dayton Audio, Pioneer captive
  • Speaker cable -- Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated with banana plugs and spade lugs

Crosley C6 Turntable
Price: $169.95 USD.
Warranty: One year, limited.

Crosley Radio
1220 Oak Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Phone: (888) 276-7539

Website: www.crosleyradio.com