Pioneer PL-990 vs. Audio Technica AT-LP60
If you thought record players were out of style, you did not get the memo. Record players have been making a steady comeback over the past several years. From suitcase style retro designs to sleek modern designs, there is a record player for just about every budget, design, and level of enthusiasm. While there are many different models available, today we compare the Pioneer PL-990 and the Audio Technica AT-LP60 to help you determine which record player is best for you.
The Modern Record Player: Decades of Evolution
The modern record player is a bit different from the original. After all, it has undergone decades of redesigns and technological improvements.
Thomas Edison announced the invention of the phonograph in 1877. Using an inscribed piece of heavy tinfoil wrapped around a cylinder made of cardboard, the phonograph was the very first “record” player. In 1880, however, Alexander Graham Bell used the phonograph concept to create the graphophone, which used wax instead of tinfoil. These devices were typically only used for recording office dictations or in public arcades as coin-operated music players.
In 1895, another major evolution was introduced to the market. Emile Berliner introduced his gramophone as a commercial version of the graphophone. It replaced the cylinder with a flat disc and introduced records. First made from hard rubber, these new recording mediums then took the form of a hard shellac and, later, vinyl. The popularity of the record industry skyrocketed until the beginning of World War I.
After the war, the invention of a low-cost commercial radio threatened to bankrupt the ailing record industry. However, inventors used advancements in radio technology to help improve the record industry instead. Electronically amplified disc cutters, for example, became the new standard for phonograph disc production.
Between the 1930s and 1940s, the improvements continued. In 1931, the 12-inch disc, designed for playing at 33-1/3 rotations per minute (RPM), debuted. The 10- and 12-inch shellac disc, meant to be played at 78 RPM, came out shortly after. In 1946, companies began making phonograph styluses that were easier to replace.
In 1948 and 1949, the modern LP and a 7-inch disc played at 45 RPM officially kick started the modern-day turntable evolution. With record sales took off in 1958, when mass production of stereo albums started.
The record player has survived economic disasters, the radio, cassette tapes, compact discs (CDs), Walkman’s and iPod. They continue to thrive in niche markets and, thanks to disc jockeys (DJs) across the world, have become an instrument in their own right.
Important Components for Comparison
A modern record player has several integral parts you should be familiar with. Bonus features, such as USB ports or Bluetooth capabilities, can enhance your usability but are not necessarily standard.
The word “turntable” is occasionally used interchangeably with “record player”. That is because it is the most prominent feature on a record player. The turntable, or “platter”, is the large flat plate on which your record sits.
The majority of turntables are made from either metal or plastic. Some, however, are made of rubber. The turntable is often covered with a rubber mat to help protect your record from being scratched while it is rotated.
Steel plates are common for entry-level record players as they are a cheap and lightweight material. However, they typically have a lower rate of inertia that can affect playback. Aluminum plates are also popular. However, they do tend to cost more. These plates will be slightly heavier to help reduce the effects of vibrations on playback and give the record player better balance.
A metal rod protrudes from the center of the turntable to hold your record in place as it plays.
The drive system controls the rate of rotation. There are two standard drive systems included in modern record players.
A belt drive is one that sits off-center from your turntable’s central rod. Generally, sound quality is better with a belt drive system since the rubber belts can help to absorb vibrations.
A direct drive system is directly connected to your turntable’s central rod. This eliminates the majority of the intermediary gears used in a belt drive. DJs tend to favor direct drive systems because they typically have a strong motor. They also tend to offer better pitch control sliders. It is important to note that record players with a quality direct drive system are typically more expensive. Professionals consider cheap versions virtually useless.
Tone Arm, Cartridge & Stylus:
Your record player’s tone arm, cartridge and stylus work as one unit.
The tone arm is the long rod that attaches the cartridge to the pivot joint on your record player. Tone arms can be straight, curved or S-shaped.
The cartridge attaches the stylus to the tone arm. It also translates the grooves in your record player, as read by your stylus, into sound. Most cartridges today are easily replaceable pieces of plastic, however, some are fixed and cannot be removed. Most cartridges today are “moving magnet” models. Advanced record player enthusiasts, however, tend to favor moving coil cartridges instead.
The stylus sits within the cartridge. Quality styluses use diamonds that are cut into a cone-shape. Others may use sapphires. The stylus reads the bumps and grooves on your record’s surface.
Pre-Amplifier & Amplifier:
The pre-amplifier and amplifier transfer the sound received by the cartridge to your speakers. These components are responsible for the sound frequency translations you hear. Treble and bass, for example, are controlled by the output quality of your pre-amplifier and amplifier. Not all record players with a pre-amplifier and/or an amplifier.
Some record players include built in speakers, while others come with or provide jacks for external speakers. The built-in speakers included in cheaper record players are often considered inferior. However, your intended use and enthusiasm dictate whether these are acceptable or not.
The Pioneer PL-990 utilizes a belt drive system with a moving magnet cartridge. The cartridge for the Pioneer PL-990 is fixed and cannot be changed. However, you can replace the needle. This record player comes with a 45 adaptor that will allow you to switch between 33-1/3 and 45 RPM records. It comes with a speed adjust knob, stroboscope window, and dust cover.
When it comes to added features, the Pioneer PL-990 misses a few. There are no phono or USB ports.
- Pioneer is a trusted brand. Known for its durable products, the Pioneer PL-990 is no exception. Their user friendly –approach makes set up quick and easy.
- The Pioneer PL-990 is fully automatic. You simply need to load up your record player and hit start. The needle and tone are automatically position themselves at the start and end of your playback.
- These record players come highly recommended by those entry-level enthusiasts who are looking for something better than a “suitcase” all-in-one record player.
- You can play 7-inch and 12-inch records on the Pioneer PL-990.
- A built-in pre-amplifier is included.
- The Pioneer PL-990 does not allow users to bypass the included pre-amplifier. If you have bought a high quality receiver, this can be a problem as it likely comes with a better pre-amplifier. In addition to this, there is no volume control on the record player itself. An external amplifier or speaker is your only way to control volume.
- Because speakers are not included with this purchase, you will need to purchase them, as well as a receiver, before your record player will work.
- You cannot play 78 RPM records on the Pioneer PL-990.
- Records that are not perfectly round or are slightly larger than standard may have issues with playability on the Pioneer PL-990.
The Bottom Line:
The Pioneer PL-990 is a great buy for those looking for something better than entry level. The speed adjust knob and stroboscope window included with the Pioneer PL-990 set this unit apart from all other automatic players in its price range. It is the only unit on the market that offers this level of control for less than $200.
Audio Technica AT-LP60
The Audio Technica AT-LP60 also uses a belt drive system. Like the Pioneer PL-990, it utilizes a moving magnet cartridge that cannot be removed or replaced. Stylus replacements are available, however.
The Audio Technica AT-LP60 is fully automatic as well. Like the Pioneer PL-990, the Audio Technica AT-LP60 comes with an adaptor that allows you to switch between 33-1/3 and 45 RPM records. A dust cover is also included.
The Audio Technica AT-LP60 does have a phono port, but USB is not included. The more expensive Audio Technica AT-LP60 USB, however, does include this bonus feature.
- The Audio Technica AT-LP60 comes highly recommended by many users. Its decent sound quality and various color options make it a popular choice.
- The Audio Technica AT-LP60 plays both 7-inch and 12-inch records.
- This record player includes a built-in pre-amplifier.
- This record player will not play 78 RPM records.
- The included hardwired RCA cables are short. As the RCA cables allow for the phono and line level outputs, you will likely need to purchase extension cables in order to use this feature.
- As with the Pioneer PL-990, the Audio Technica LP-60 does not come with speakers or an amplifier. You will need to purchase these separately in order to hear your records play.
The Bottom Line:
If you are new to vinyl, the Audio Technica AT-LP60 is a great choice. It is easy to use, reliable, and budget friendly. For the price range, the Audio Technica AT-LP60 is a fantastic introduction to the world of record players
The Final Verdict
The record player that is best for you truly depends on personal preference. Both offer acceptable sound and are considered durable by users.
The Pioneer PL-990 can help entry-level enthusiasts learn how to effectively control record speeds. This can help lead to a more advanced understanding of record player operations that can prepare you for higher-quality players. While it lacks a USB or phono line, these features are not necessary to playability.
The Audio Technica AT-LP60, however, offers a budget-friendly entry-level approach. Its easy playability and sleek, variations in colors mean you can find one to match you décor easily.
At the end of the day, the Pioneer PL-990 gets our vote as the best player of the two. While both offer great beginner features, the speed adjust knob set the Pioneer apart from the competition. For those who want to grow their enthusiasm, learning how to control this feature is a great stepping stone for a later, higher-quality investment.