Sony PS-LX310BT Turntable REVIEW
Sony PS-LX310BT Turntable REVIEW
A turntable for less than $400? It’s going to be shit, ain’t it? Well no, actually, writes GARY STEEL
Every now and then I like to grab a piece of audio gear that promises very ordinary performance just out of curiosity. Back in 2016 I even purchased a pair of Cerwin-Vega CLS-215 speakers to see whether the merciless scorn given to them by audiophiles was justified.
When I heard that Sony was offering a “high quality” turntable for less than $400 that could either be used in a conventional stereo system or connected via Bluetooth to speakers or headphones, I just had to hear it for myself. Expecting it to be a slightly jazzed-up version of those frankly terrible vinyl-to-digital turntables you get in places like the ‘red shed’, I saw the opportunity for a Sony PS-LX310BT turntable review that poked the borax.
But as you can see by the shiny Witchdoctor award at the top of this review, the PS-LX310BT turned out to be a game-changer. (And apologies for using the two most clichéd words in the English language, but on this occasion it’s true). For decades I’ve lived under the misapprehension that it was impossible to get a decent sound out of sub-$1K turntable, and that an expensive cartridge would also be a pre-requisite. Bear in mind that I’ve heard quite a few turntables over the last two decades, having worked in that time for a now-defunct hi-fi magazine and latterly, Witchdoctor.
“Its design is subtle and it looks elegant and unobtrusive.”
But let’s start with the looks and construction. My first surprise was that the PS-LX310BT, while hardly a heavyweight, felt solid at 3.5kgs and wasn’t made of flimsy die-cast plastic. Its design is subtle and it looks elegant and unobtrusive. No one in our family even noticed that I’d swapped out my Pro-Ject for the Sony.
My second surprise was just how easy it was to assemble, set up and play a record on. The whole process took less than 5 minutes, and I’m about as slow as a tortoise with these things. It helped that the manual explained everything simply, but I could have figured it out with no instructions whatsoever. It’s rare when it comes to turntables, but everything was incredibly intuitive.
Let’s face it, the PS-LX310BT – especially at its price bracket – will mostly get used on Bluetooth speakers, and probably by teens in their smelly bedrooms, but my mission was twofold. Sony had gone to the trouble to make it connectible using lineouts to conventional stereo systems, and I was damn well going to see what it sounded like when used in this manner. Expecting very little, when I heard actual music coming out of my Martin Logan’s, I was gobsmacked.
“Let’s face it, the PS-LX310BT will mostly get used on Bluetooth speakers, and probably by teens in their smelly bedrooms”
First, I played ‘Wornout Rocker’ from New Zealand group Waves’ self-titled 1975 album with its primarily acoustic fingerpicked guitars and CSN&Y-style harmony vocals. This well-engineered Kiwi classic has an organic sound that I thought might sound thin and gutless on a cheap and cheerful turntable. How wrong I was! The PS-LX310BT reproduced its sonorities flawlessly and produced an image that wasn’t lacking for definition or depth.
Next, I worked my way through most of my original, laser-etched vinyl copy of the Split Enz break-though 1980 hit album True Colours, with its very-much-of-its-era David Tickle production. ‘Poor Boy’ sounded exceptionally clean and there was plenty of sonic space for Eddie Rayner’s synth squiggles to do their thing in. The album’s last song, an instrumental which showcases Rayner, has always sounded great and the turntable does it justice, especially near the end where the Burundi-style drums come thundering in. (Expect a Witchdoctor review of the newly remixed-by-Eddie True Colours soon!)
“‘Poor Boy’ sounded exceptionally clean and there was plenty of sonic space for Eddie Rayner’s synth squiggles to do their thing in”
My auditioning got a bit messy after this, with my attempt to choose just one song from an album failing when I just couldn’t stop listening. I made my way through quite a lot of the Beach Boys album Carl & The Passions So Tough, which sounded particularly shiny. This 1972 album hardly made a mark at the time and its combination of country and boogie influences, all with a slick session swagger, doesn’t sound much like the ‘Good Vibrations’ guys, but it’s an underrated album that also sounds great. And on the PS-LX310BT there was a well-defined bass presence, excellent separation and just enough top end.
After that, I worked through my lovely original Japanese pressing of Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1981 masterpiece, Heaven Up Here and it sounded amazing. Fluidity and power come to mind and the Sony easily translated the record’s very post-punk flavour to the modern era of sound reproduction. I’ve never heard the record sound this good.
Human League’s ‘Hard Times/Love Action’ 12-inch was a great party record in 1981 and the b-side mixes really stretch it out with some studio jiggery-pokery/mind-altering stereophonic business. It sounded every bit as brassy and vibrant on the Sony as it did in the New Romantic era.
I had to stop somewhere and that was with ‘Third Uncle’, a bizarre, frenzied pileup of avant-rock from Brian Eno’s 1974 album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (half-speed mastered 45rpm reissue, 2017), which once again, the PS-LX310BT handled with ease, with decent bass response and sparkling highs that didn’t pinch the nerves in my tinnitus zone.
Was it sonically perfect? Could it match a true audiophile turntable with a stunning cartridge? Well, it’s a matter of degrees. Listening to a genuinely high-end deck can be a transformative experience where the music gets right inside your head, but that kind of experience also depends on incredible synergy with other expensive components. I’ve heard magic coming out of a $200,000 system but know that unless I win Lotto I’ll never aspire to own anything like that. A substantially more pricey turntable than the Sony with a great cartridge would have more grunt, while the bottom end would sound both fuller and more precise; I would also expect it to have more presence and have a top end that was practically 3D and so realistic to the signal received that sometimes it would become too edgy for some. The PS-LX310BT doesn’t do that.
“What it does do is squeeze music out of LP records, the sound quality of which is really nice and perfectly acceptable”
What it does do is squeeze music out of LP records, the sound quality of which is really nice and perfectly acceptable, even to a snob like me. Cliché alert, but the PS-LX310BT really does belt way, way about its weight. I guess the highest accolade I could give the humble Sony is that I would be happy to live with it in my system.
But what of its main purpose in life? The PS-LX310BT is primarily a Bluetooth turntable. What’s that all about? What this means is that you can plug it in almost anywhere (but do keep it out of reach of tiny monsters) and pair it with any Bluetooth speaker, portable or otherwise. I tried it out with my Ultimate Ears Megaboom and all I had to do press the pairing button and wait for the orange light to turn blue. It’s a weird experience hearing the needle go down (as well as a bit of vinyl crackle) on a small Bluetooth speaker, but it really is that simple to set up and it sounds just as good as streaming radio.
“It’s a weird experience hearing the needle go down (as well as a bit of vinyl crackle) on a small Bluetooth speaker”
I find the whole notion of pairing a piece of antiquated technology like a turntable with the latest digital technology (Bluetooth speaker) a bit odd, but different strokes for different folks. In a few years my 5-year-old will probably be into the whole retro vinyl fetishist thing but in all likelihood won’t want the encumbrance of a separates stereo system, and I can easily imagine the Sony taking pride of place in her room. And the PS-LX310BT’s very black look will be a perfect match for when she goes Goth, as well.
I love the sheer functionality of the turntable with no fussy setting up, and even though it’s a belt-drive it’s dead easy to switch between 33rpm and 45rpm. Oh, and it’s fully automatic, as well.
Downsides? I found the on/off button parked right around the back a tad annoying (the ‘play’ button is more conveniently on the front), and because there’s no earth wire I could occasionally hear just a bit of a hum, so it would have been nice if they’d added one. But that’s it. Really!
“My deranged synapses are still coming to terms with just how good this turntable is”
Sony PS-LX310BT Turntable Review: Summary
I made sure to audition the PS-LX310BT before I read any other reviews but now I see that it’s had plenty of superlative things said about it in the overseas hi-fi press, including a 5-star rating from What-Hi-Fi? Sony has really excelled itself with this one, and my deranged synapses are still coming to terms with just how good this turntable is, especially for the price.