Sony’s new PS-HX500 could be just what you need if you still want to embrace the digital music revolution, but enjoy the beauty of vinyl, too. Andy Jones reports…
£299 – eu.audio-technica.com
You might be reading this magazine if you are a new vinyl convert or may be a little like me, rediscovering its virtues after decades away. Either way, you’ve probably been quite happy with the joys of digital music listening so far – all of that compressed audio, none of that beautiful packaging and the complete disregard to the album format. Okay, I’m being a little obtuse – this is Long Live Vinyl, after all. Digital formats do have their own plus points, of course they do. There’s the convenience, the portability and the immediacy and many vinyl lovers will lap up digital audio as much as, if not more so, than their vinyl. With the PS-HX500 then, is Sony delivering the best of both worlds? It looks to be a quality turntable and can record your vinyl digitally. Yes, it’s not a new concept, but Sony’s uses Hi-Res Audio to record those files, thus avoiding one of the pitfalls of digital… we hope…
Understated and black
One of the things that earmarked the glory days of vinyl for me was the black-and-chrome ethos of the 80s. If you were a happening chap about town then, your ‘flat’ would be decked with blackness, only interrupted by gaudy chrome, as would your hi-fi. And Sony’s latest could fit right in, yet its cool aesthetic – arguably too minimal for some – will easily sit in an updated loft apartment for this year’s vinyl addict.
Controls are minimal, too: just a Standby/On/Speed selector and an Anti-Skating knob. Around the back there are phono connections, a USB connector (for recording Hi-Res Audio), a plug for the adaptor and a Phono/Line output connector. You also get phono leads and USB cable thrown in. Build-wise, we are talking chunky and smooth on top of the aforementioned minimal. The unit feels solid and worth its asking price.
Setting Up is Easy
Setting up is very straightforward and the instructions are pretty good in this regard. Attach the platter and connect the drive belt with the handy ribbon and tape, and then place the 5mm rubber mat on – designed to reduce resonance and described as ‘the best in its class’. Then you set up the arm and the instructions recommend balancing the tonearm with the supplied cartridge using a counterweight setting of three, which delivered a nice parallel line between the arm and record. The tonearm itself is what Sony describes as an ‘integrated shell type’, which is designed to deliver a focused bass while the straight arm should reduce wow and flutter.
Alongside the standard discs that we use for test across the board for speakers and headphones, I was also lucky enough to have BBC Radiophonic Workshop 21 in for review, a re-pressing of the 21st birthday release that came out in 1979. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for easy listening, but it can certainly test the extreme ends of the frequency scales – not to mention having one side in mono and one stereo – and really should become a turntable reviewer’s standard disc.
The playback was faultless, offering all of the top end and higher mids of the screaming lead from the Doctor Who theme, yet perhaps a less muddy bass rumble than I was expecting when the TARDIS hit the speakers – a good thing, believe me. Indeed, the bass is perhaps the truest quality of the turntable, so perhaps that claim about the tonearm is true. Elsewhere on my more standard discs, everything was present and correct, and the same presence was definitely felt in the upper mids and treble whereas the bass felt solid and not overbearing. I’d use the word ‘true’ again. Overall, it was a very smooth experience, although some of the long-term damage to my collection was highlighted – nothing escapes with such quality playback – new vinyl is in order, perhaps…
I’d happily recommend the PS-HX500 to both camps of vinyl listeners that I started this review talking about. Those teetering on the vinyl edge will welcome its ripping features, knowing they can enjoy their new purchases in their old ways. (Doesn’t it sound strange describing listening to mp3s as the ‘old way’, by the way?). And those like me who have returned to the fold will appreciate the minimal fuss, the sophisticated yet minimal design, the very easy set up and the sound. Yet even for long-term vinyl lovers there is plenty to love, too. The sound is true and uniform, not coloured nor cheap, and overall, for any type of vinylist, for the money, the PS-HX500 takes a lot of beating.