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ELP Laser Turntable Review

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ELP Laser Turntable Review

Post by admin » Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:03 am

ELP LT-100STD Laser Turntable with phono level output Review

Part 1 of 2

Occasionally I will browse the websites of high end audio stores in the area. I don’t do this too frequently (which probably saves me a lot of money), but once every few months I see what new equipment they may have listed. I especially like the listings for used items as often there are bargains to be had. Well, I was looking at one of these lists this past summer and I’m going down the list,... hmmm some Grado headphones, that would be nice to get so I can use them at work. And then almost at the end of the list I see it. “ELP Laser Turntable”. Suddenly, my interest was peaked.

I called the shop up and asked them about the headphones and turntable. Unfortunately, the headphones were sold earlier and the list was not updated. But, the player was still available. Supposedly new condition with the protective plastic still attached to the panel. I asked them if I could come down and take a listen and they were happy to oblige. I was there in two days with some LP’s.

I was really excited to hear what this player would sound like as I had read a few reviews over the years. I knew that it was rather controversial in the audiophile community. Lot’s of “if you want a laser turntable, just buy a CD player” comments. At the same time there was substantial praise as well. Maybe a love it or hate it situation? I didn’t know what to make of it before listening as many reviews said it made records less noisy and then some said it amplified any dirt or imperfections of a LP. Also, it is designed to only play black vinyl and that concerned me as I have a few colored vinyl sets that I really like.

I picked some records from my collection. This included a set of Pink Floyd The Wall 180gm that I had only played 2-3 times so it was practically new. I also grabbed my “slightly worn” Mark Knopfler Brothers in Arms disk that I have listened to no less than 40 times on my previous player. The disk is now over 30 years old and having listened to it so many times I know where all the pops and scratches are! I also included a colored vinyl set of the Star Trek II - The Wrath of Kahn soundtrack that my brother had bought me for Christmas. I wanted to see if it would play colored vinyl or was that out of the question. I brought a few more disks just for good measure.

It was the first time I had gone to this audio store and the gentlemen there were incredibly friendly and it was not a high pressure sales environment. They had the unit set up when I had arrived and they were just like “here, the room is yours, have fun and let us know if you have any questions or we can be of any help.” A big shoutout and thank you to http://www.avtherapy.net , these guys are top notch.

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I started with my clean copy of The Wall and it sounded really nice. Frankly, I was more interested in the technical qualities of the player vs the actual sound. I know that my speakers and setup are going to sound different then the demo unit they had there but the sound of crackles and pops would still be present. I was trying to ascertain if these artifacts were augmented, diminished, or neutral. What was a complete surprise (and then also reinforced with home listening) is that clean records had these sounds much like they do on my traditional turntable and were not significantly different than a traditional player. When I put records in that had a lot of surface noise, I thought that the Laser Turntable actually diminishes these unwanted sounds a little bit. Furthermore, there is a setting on the turntable that allows you to adjust the location of the reading laser in the groove of the vinyl. Small increments can clear up the sound tremendously. Also, with vinyl that has been played extensively adjusting the laser out of the worn area can bring new life into music. If you adjust the reading area too much then you will start getting distortion. I would say that 95% of the records play fine with the default setting and then 5% probably benefit from this fine adjustment.

I was pretty much sold. I bought the unit on the spot and brought it home. It would be another 2 weeks until I got to listen to it in my system as the original shipping box was not in the store (they mailed it to me via UPS later that week for no additional charge). Furthermore, they have someone come in and do ultrasonic record cleaning on a regular basis and asked if I wanted the calibration disk cleaned this way. I said absolutely and received the record with the original box the following week. I also decided to make a new set of RCA interconnects and Power Cable for the unit. I had to order some parts for the cables so that extended my setup time another week. I did some listening to my old turntable (Rega Planar 3 with a Dynavector 10x5 cartridge) for old times sake and so that I could make a fresh comparison to the Laser Turntable when I would have it installed.

I finally had everything setup and I did a little tinkering with my phono preamp (a heavily modified Jolida JD9) to get the new input levels just right and to try and get the best sound possible. A few hours later I was ready for some serious listening.

Review Continued Below
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Re: ELP Laser Turntable Review

Post by admin » Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:03 am

Part 2 of 2

Before we even start with comments on the music, I should mention that this player has a calibration vinyl disk. This is to help align the lasers and to prevent skipping. The manual says this should be done every week. Recently I have gone a few weeks without calibration to see if any problem arise with tracking if this is not done and I can say that up to 3 weeks without calibration had no effect on playback of my unit. I have gone back to calibrating every week as the manual recommends but I don’t think such frequent calibration is necessary.

The unit really reminds me of my laserdisc players as the tray slides out from the center of the housing. However, it only slides out about 2/3rds so you have to be a little careful with putting discs onto the try as you can potently scrape the top of the vinyl if you are not paying attention. I tend to use a vinyl cleaning brush on LP’s before playing and this cleaning process is difficult as 1/3rd of the disk is not exposed. Once you close the tray it will scan the LP and give a visual representation of all the tracks and respective lengths via a blue colored display. Once playing commences it gives you a MM:SS play count much like a CD player. You can also track forward and backward, pause, and skip to any track you desire. I have to admit this is really a nice feature. I never really had the coordination to drop a stylus at the beginning of a track in the middle of a record so this allows one to play a specific song directly. You can also program track order if you want (although I admit I have not done this yet). Unfortunately, there is no remote so any play functions have to be done at the device.

The $100 (or $11,000 as that is the MSRP for a new unit) question is: How does it sound? In my opinion it sounds wonderful. The sound is really not “colored” in any significant way. The unit is purely analog so there is no DAC. This is NOT turning vinyl into a CD as some reviews have commented. I really think that sentiment comes from not understanding the technology and presuming that being able to skip tracks like a CD player means the intent of the unit is to digitize vinyl. That is not how it works and the signal remains analog all the way through ( http://elpj.com/113-2/ ).

In comparison to my Rega turntable it does sound significantly better. Better dynamics, lower background noise, no appreciable distortion. Voices tend to be more clear than previously. I hear more detailed sound. I can pick apart instruments more easily than before. It simply is a very “transparent” player. You get out what you put in. Great condition vinyl will sound great, and bad will sound bad. My best vinyl sounds noticeably better on the ELP than it did on the Rega. I have played a few dozen records now with careful listening and there litterally have been no disappointments.

I will say that keeping records clean is very important with this player as it will pick up any dust or dirt. I think those of us who are considering players in this price range already have some kind of record cleaning system. I find that my cheap spin-clean system does a great job. If your records are in poor condition, perhaps a fancier vacuum or ultrasonic cleaning system would be more optimal? If you do have some records that have been played a lot this player has an incredibly useful option of adjust the groove read height. A few records have been brought back to life with this adjustment.

I know what you are saying. I am comparing a $10,000 player with one that costs 1/10th the price. This is true. I (unfortunately) have not owned a $10,000 traditional turntable so this is an admitted limitation of my comparison. I have listened to many players in the five figure range (in short sessions) and I did not appreciate them being better than the ELP. The audiophile hobby intrinsically is fundamentally governed by the law of diminishing returns. Is a $20,000 amp four times as good as a $5,000 one? What I would say is that the ELP laser turntable is “really damn good” and can compete with the best of them. When listening to the ELP I feel closer to the sound. More detail and greater immediacy that gives me a sense that I am hearing music and not simply playing a recording.

So why would somebody get a laser turntable vs a traditional turntable when we are dealing with such large amount of money? The technology has some unique advantages that traditional turntables simply do not offer. In my opinion the most important unique “feature” is that it does not damage your vinyl during playback. If you have brand new vinyl and you are only going to listen to that disc 2-3 times, then this does not matter. However, if you have some favorite albums that you spin dozens of times then this becomes a major issue. A record that has been played 40 times does not sound like it did new. The stylus degrades the reading surface with each play. Just simple physics, nothing we can do about it. The non-damaging playback of a laser turntable is an undeniable asset. I also like how you can adjust the reading groove height as this has brought life back into some of my older vinyl. The direct track selection is just a very nice and handy convenience.

Downsides? Sure. You may not be able to play colored vinyl (although it will play some). It supposedly will not play a highly warped record. It will do a full disk scan before playback to get the locations of the tracks and if the record is too warped the player will simply refuse to play. I personally have not encountered this but I don’t have any “crazy warped” vinyl. Nonetheless, it is a consideration if you buy a lot of records from yard sales where they have not been stored properly. It is a relatively expensive player and there are many high end options in this price range. The technology is made by one company so I would imagine that repairs are difficult and if your local shop can not do the work it would have to be shipped to Japan (ouch). The complexity of the technology makes DIY fixes hard (impossible) compared to a traditional player. It weighs 40 lbs and may give you a hernia when trying to lift it.

Overall I am very happy that I found this unique piece of equipment and I can see this unit in my system for many years to come.
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Current Conrad Johnson Equipment in System: Evolution 2000, PV-12L, and D/A-2b.

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