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I never know what to get my girlfriend for her birthday. But that's no my fault, as she never knows what she wants. I try to help by reminding her she has almost 364 days notice, but she'll still be pretty much 100% undecided up until the week before it arrives. This year was slightly different. After finding a pile of records in the spare room - some mine, some hers - she wanted a record player.
Despite having a pile of records, hundreds of CDs and even a few tapes and mini discs clogging up the spare room - everything for us has been pretty much digital for the past couple of years. Both having smart phones there is no real need for us now to own anything other than a USB cable and internet access in order make sure music is still a big part of our lives.
I miss physically owning the music I love, and the piles and piles of CDs and records in boxes is testament to that - I just can't bare to part with some of my favorite albums, despite knowing I will never listen to them in that format again and I could probably make some money if I could face parting with them.
So, when my girlfriend said she wanted a record player, my ears pricked up - this might be a cool idea. Its totally inconvenient , but there is something nice about putting an album on, especially on vinyl - rather than skipping through songs on my phone, plus I figured it would look pretty nice in the house and would be a half decent excuse to have some classic albums scattered about the place.
When I clicked on Amazon.co.uk a few weeks ago and started having a peruse of what was on offer, I was very surprised at the selection - not to mention handy as I had some specific requirements to be able choose from a wide range was nice. Among this wide selection, 'Steepletone' kept cropping up, they seemed to be pretty popular and offer a fairly wide range, as well as generally having many positive reviews so I figured I would go with these guys, I just needed to narrow it down.
Narrowing the decision down was not that tough, I had set £150 aside for this gift and wanted to get my monies worth - and despite some players going for less than £50, reading the specs of this made my choice easy.
------NOT JUST A RECORD PLAYER-----
There is a reason for the pretty pricey price tag, this is not just a record player. It sort of looks like a record player, if not a little small but its packed with features. Size-wise, its a little bigger than a vinyl album, slightly alarmingly so - in that when you open it, its doesn't look big enough to fit a record on, let alone play one with the lid closed. Its just seems too small, its not though as the lid closes fine and it plays fine with the lid closed. Depth wise, its about half the size of a vinyl record - so all in all its not that bulky at all.
As I mentioned this is feature packed - it might even be a bit unfair to call this a record player, but as thats the most dominant feature I'll let it off. This is a CD player, AM/FM radio, MP3 player, and a record player - as well as being able to transfer vinyl to MP3. I think the only thing its missing is a digital radio function - that would have made this totally full featured, but again I'll let that slide as I already have one of those so a second would have been unnecessary. As such the radio on this is fairly useless to us, but I guess during/after the apocalypse we will be some of only a handful of people with access to this medium which might come in handy.
Anyway, a brief rundown of its main features. After having this for a week, I either fiddled with most of the features or spent full time getting a decent amount of use from them.
A CD player that works in exactly the way you would expect. You can either control this from the front of the player itself of with the remote supplied. Infact, the remote is mostly designed for use with the CD player, as that and the MP3 player are the only aspect that can really be controlled via remote, as well as volume and turning the unit on and off.
Open the draw, put a CD in a play. All the usual features - pause, skip and play, as well as shuffle and repeat. The only complaint with the CD function, is the 'compact disc' logo on the CD draw, one of the only real things distracting from the 1960s retro look of the unit.
I have had very fleeting use with this feature, as I have no real use for a digital radio. I listen to radio via digital radio because its clear and easy to use, and the radio on this unit is a good example of why. It has a small wire aerial that helps, along with some fiddling and messing will pick up the major stations on FM and AM. Its not that easy to use, but analogue radios rarely are - with a small dial that you turn to find the frequency. It has no presets with it being analogue and the only button is the one to flick i from AM to FM. The quality of sound is OK once you get it dead on, but getting it dead on is not that easy - with the dial being quite sensitive and not that incremental.
This was a feature that I liked the look of and was pretty eager to try out, and it didn't disappoint. Over the past few years listened to all my music in MP3 format through various devices. I can just play music through my PC, laptop, phone - and TV via PS3, but another way to listen to it is welcome. I have decent speakers for my PC, providing volume and bass but they have lots of wires and not the easiest thing to shift, so if I move my laptop I usually just disconnect them. If I want really portable music around the house its usually via my phone as its easier to move around but can be frustratingly quiet on its own and although I can listen to my music collection via TV, its something I rarely do as its a bit clunky and my TV is not that loud. So, an MP3 player in a central location in my house as I have with this record player is welcome. MP3s are played through the speakers in two ways, either by USB or memory card - and its pretty easy. Connect either the device with MP3s on or insert the memory stick and then choose what you want to play via the display on the front of the unit. Whilst this is a nice feature, its a bit clunky to use in that navigating to the song you want is not that easy - you have to hope the music is stored in clearly labeled folders rather than just randomly. Overall, this feature is great but designed for just putting something on and letting it play, rather than what I am used to which is swiftly navigating through my iPod the second a song gets boring.
This is the star of the show and the main reason we got this. I love the sound of vinyl - I prefer the earthy, denser way the music sounds - especially on bass heavy music. Plus I have some great old records that are just really nice to pop the record on to avoid the temptation of skipping through - Pink Floyds 'Dark Side Of The Moon' for example is much nicer listened in full on deep, crackly vinyl rather than easily skippable, clean sounding MP3. However nice music on CD or digitally sounds, its sometimes too nice sounding. That might sound odd, but I just love the sound of something not overly polished.
It plays at three speeds, 33/45/78, so everything is covered here and has a lid that can be closed once the record is playing.
Playing vinyl is not the only thing the record player does - you can also use it to transfer what is being played to a memory card in MP3 format - a nice, but for me useless feature. I suppose if you have rare records that haven't made their way to CD or MP3, or just don't want to buy them again, then you will make use of this. I gave it a little try for the purpose of this, and it was a frustrating experience. The first problem is its labour intensive. I'm so used to downloading a song in seconds, transferring it to my phone in just as little time and have it playing and be out of the house with it in minutes. Transferring vinyl with this is not only done in real time, but takes fiddling afterwards. Once its saved to the memory card you will need to rename it and then transfer it to another device to listen to. I assume there is a market for this, as many new record players have this function, I just see it as a huge chore and would rather just buy it again - but like I mentioned, I imagine there are people that would make use of this. If you are on of those people then be ready for the long haul.
There are some other nifty little features on this unit, it has a socket for extra speakers and headphones - something I made use of and as I mentioned earlier it has a remote. The dial and display both light up and this looks pretty nice in a dimly lit room.
For me, this is a biggie - sound quality. I have to admit, the first thing I did when my girlfriend finished playing with her new gift was to pull out my most bass heavy dubstep record and see how it fared at full volume. I wasn't expecting it to get me an ASBO volume wise, but I was hoping for a decent sound - and thats what it gave. With 2x5w speakers its was never going to be loud, luckily I have a separate sub and speakers to take care of that, but I wanted the sound this unit alone gave to be at least good. The sound is remarkably full, from what I gather this is a standard of Steepletone and a reason why people choose them. It didn't sound cheap or tinny at all, and only when cranked right up it only just started to sound like it was being pushed a bit too much. It actually got nice and loud, loud enough to drown out chatter and fill a room if you have a couple of people round. Overall, I like the way this sounds and would give it a 8/10 - it could sound a little warmer maybe and have a little more bass, but generally its a nice sound.
This for me, is the only weak aspect of the device, after the sort of poor radio. Photographed it looks retro enough, but the modern features are not that well hidden, the plastic is a bit flimsy and seems a bit cheap and the 'compact disc' logo on the front really distracts. When I was choosing it was in two minds about a wood effect model, but I didn't really suit out house so went for this. I kind of wish I chose a wood effect one now, hoping that would feel a bit more robust and bit more retro. To be honest, this model seems like the retro looks was more of an after thought if I'm to be really harsh. If I'm to be harsher - it doesn't really feel 60s, it feels like naff 80s, a bit of a let down to be honest. The chrome effect is a bit naff and cheap and the plastic looks boringly new and shiny. On top of that, the USB and card slot are not covered distracting even more from the retro feel.
When choosing this I let the price slip, I had a limit and I was happy to spend to it, with this setting me back £140 from Amazon. Usually I would go as cheap as I can, but as this was a gift I wasn't worried about that too much. There isn't much budge on price, you'll struggle to fine one cheaper and some places are asking closer to £150.
I was worried that my girlfriends desire to get back into her vinyl albums would be fleeting so wanted something that could do more, and was willing to foot the extra, for the extras. Whilst she (we) are not going to use all the features, I imagine we will make use of most overtime so its nice to have them. I realized when we got it I don't even have a CD player anymore, so right away was happy we now had that, and its actually quite nice to have a device in the middle of the house that can play music in a variety of ways. I would say I think I paid too much, as it feels a little cheap - maybe if they threw in a digital radio that would have taken the edge off that a bit.
I'm no technophobe, but I do like things easy to use - and this is pretty easy, only really the vinyl-MP3 being a bit fiddly, but thats expected and I imagine this is a function thats pretty awkward what ever type of device you use due to the nature of what you are trying to do. Powering up and getting going is easy, and the you can move through functions simply and it comes with extensive enough instructions. It benefits from the fact most people know how to use a CD player and most of the controls are based around this pretty basic set up.
The decent sound quality goes some way to make up for the flimsy plastic and naff chrome, and to be honest you have to have a pretty through inspect to pick out the niggles in the design that I have. Overall, this is a pretty nice unit maybe a little over priced - function wise really great but not quite good looking enough. It just scrapes by as a happy purchase, in hindsight I wished I tracked this down in a shop to have a hands on look before I bought it - would have maybe gone for a wooden look instead.