Orbit Turntable Review
Company & Product Overview
U-Turn Audio is a great American success story. Their three founders are diehard music lovers. Back when they were in college, they were looking for great quality turntables, but simply couldn’t find anything that met their standard and their budget.
In other words, they had filet mignon ears with hamburger helper wallets! With their creative and mechanical design backgrounds, they decided to put their heads together and build a great turntable at an entry-level price.
Ten years ago this would have probably never made it off the ground, but they decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. During this time, in 2012, turntable sales were on an almost straight up growth curve, so they got the investment they needed to get going, and by mid-2015, had already produced over 10,000 Orbit turntables in their home town of Woburn, Massachusetts.
Amazingly enough in this day of international manufacturing, today 80-90% of the parts in an Orbit table still come from local suppliers, and the entire assembly is done in their Woburn, MA plant!
The Orbit is a manual, belt-drive turntable. Instead of offering a variety of different models, all of U-Turns turntable configurations are extensions of the base model. The Orbit is available as the Orbit Basic, Orbit Plus, and Orbit Special.
Design & Build Quality
All of the Orbit turntables share the same tonearm, but there are many different options to configure it to suit your needs and budget, including five different color choices on the main model and a custom Orbit available in either a maple or walnut finish.
The Orbit was specifically designed to get the best sound for your money, so don’t expect any bells and whistles. It has an AC motor that is mounted in the back left corner of the table, suspended on rubber dampers to reduce motor noise from getting into the turntable plinth. The on/off switch is on the front left side, and to change speed, you simply move the belt on the exposed motor pulleys.
The Orbit tonearm is extremely impressive for the money. It is virtually friction free, and we detected almost zero bearing wobble. The arm even has anti-skate built-in as well. While it will come preset for the cartridge you select, tracking force is adjustable if you decide to upgrade your cartridge. Like almost all turntables in this price range, VTA (or vertical tracking angle) is fixed. U-Turn suggests a handful of cartridges (all of which we like here at Audio Advice) that work great with the tonearm’s fixed VTA.
The plinth (or base) of the Orbit comes from a manufacturer in Minnesota, keeping with the American-made tradition. It even comes with a hinged dust cover -- a real bonus in this price range. The base has three rubber feet which compress a bit, just like you would find on turntables selling for far more than the Orbit.
When we first tested it, we were most surprised by the quality of the turntable bearing. At first glance, it looks pretty small in comparison to what you find on a much more expensive table, but we found it did an amazing job. They use an inverted bearing design, which means that the shaft of the bearing points up and is anchored very well to the plinth. The inner platter sits on top of it and uses a bronze bushing with two Teflon inserts. The inner platter has a tapered spindle that locks perfectly into the platter. We can’t overstate how great this bearing is on a table in this price range; it spins freely for a very long time and appears to have zero noise.
Being a basic belt-drive turntable means that there isn’t a ton of cutting-edge technology to talk about like we have with some of our new digital toys. However, all of the tech investments that U-Turn Audio puts into assuring the customer that every product is perfect is quite remarkable.
Each motor is checked out before it is mounted to ensure it meets their spec for lack of noise. Once the platter is on the table, a digital microscope is used to make sure it is perfect with no wobble. Every single tonearm has its bearings hand calibrated. Once the table is assembled, it gets checked out at several locations with a stethoscope to confirm that it is lacking in noise. Then all tables are burned in for two hours on a test bench and tested (every single one) with familiar records. Pretty impressive!
All and all, the U-Turn Orbit is a brilliantly impressive work of American engineering.
Features & Technology
Most basic belt-drive turntables do not really have a ton of “features”, but there are some different choices you can make when selecting the Orbit in order to customize it just for you.
Built-In Phono Preamp
If you have a phono stage already, either separately or in your amp, we’d suggest you save the money and get it without -- but a built-in phono stage is an option on all Orbit tables. If you do not have a phono stage, however, having it built into the table will save some cable clutter, and the preamp that’s included is actually pretty decent for the price.
It is designed to work well with the handful of moving magnet type cartridges U-Turn suggests for the Orbit. The phono stage is a $70 option. You can also purchase U-Turn's Pluto Phono Preamp for $99.
Another intriguing option on the Orbit is the choice of a cue lever. This is a really clever way to be all about performance. If you have a steady hand (or you’re old school) you may be perfectly happy carefully dropping the stylus on the record and picking it up at the end. The Orbit tonearm has a very nice finger lift, so with a steady hand, this is actually no big deal. However, if you are a bit timid about the possibility of damaging your stylus, you can opt for the cueing lever for an extra $40.
If you decide to get an Orbit without the cueing mechanism, then get the jitters about going the self-cuing route, you can simply purchase one after the fact and pop it right in! That is a first for any table we have ever seen!
Choice of MDF or Acrylic Platter
You will also have a choice of two different platter materials on the Orbit. The base model comes with an MDF platter, similar to what we see on some tables in the $300 price range.
There is an acrylic platter for $90 that we feel is worth every penny. The acrylic platter is finely machined to spin more accurately with less wow and flutter than the MDF version. It is also constructed of a type of acrylic that is very good at trapping and rejecting energy. What you will hear with the acrylic is much more punchy bass, a better sense of rhythm to your music, and many more of those fine details that draw you into the music. This one is well worth it -- we strongly recommend anyone interested in the U-Turn Orbit add the acrylic platter to their table.
Choice of 5 Cartridges
Finally, you have a choice of five different cartridges with the Orbit. The base model includes the Audio Technica AT91B. This is a really basic cartridge with a conical stylus. For an additional $35, you can step up to the elliptical stylus based Ortofon OM5E. For $55 you can get the Grado Black: one of our favorite cartridges for the money, and it's made just south of U-Turn in Brooklyn, NY.
For $75, you can jump up to the Ortofon 2M Red. This is probably the world's most popular mid-level cartridge as it comes on several other brands of tables. If you want something even better, the Ortofon 2M Blue with its special nude elliptical stylus is your top choice for an extra $211. While you can upgrade later to any of these if you start out with the basic, there are some savings if you start out with the one you want.
If you’re interested in additional upgrades to improve the quality of your U-Turn Orbit turntable over time, there are a few more things that you can tinker with.
The phono cable for the Orbit is user replaceable, so a better RCA cable would be an easy thing to upgrade. It comes with a basic RCA to RCA cable that’s about 6 feet long. Like the Rega tables, the ground is on one channel of the cable. Before we tested our demo unit, the first thing we did was swap out the included RCA cable with a 1M Audioquest Evergreen, which is by far the best $35 you could spend. Since we were using an external phono stage, those entry-level cables would crimp down the super low-level signal coming out of a phono cartridge (it’s about 1,000x less than a CD player). Bass got tighter and deeper, and the sound became much smoother as you would expect.
The Orbit actually comes with a very nice felt record mat. It’s far more dense than most mat’s in the table’s price range and reminded us a lot of one you would get with a Rega or Linn turntable. Of course, there are tons of options for upgrading the mat as well, but for most people it will probably be fine.
While we suspect most people purchasing a U-Turn Orbit would not connect it up to one of the higher end systems we set up for testing, we wanted to really push it and find it’s limitations! Both of our test systems had built-in phono stages, so we used the Orbit without the phono stage.
The first setup consisted of the new Anthem STR Integrated amp and a pair of Vandersteen 2ce Signature II. The second setup included the new Rotel A-12 integrated amplifier and a small pair of Bowers & Wilkins towers.
Our test table had the acrylic platter upgrade and the Ortofon 2M Red, which put the combo at $329.
We played a lot of our favorite tunes and came to the conclusion that the Orbit is just flat out fun to listen to. Speed consistency is very good for its price, which results in that tuneful sound a good table can reproduce. On a good system though, limitations are revealed. Our better (and obviously more expensive) tables get more music from the grooves. We found, for instance, that the Rega turntables were able to track more difficult passages with less distortion and produced an even more pure speed (which they are known for). Of course, you can’t buy a Rega for $329 or less!
If you are looking at some of the cheap suitcase turntables, like a Crosley Cruiser for instance, we strongly recommend that you save for a little longer and get the U-Turn entry-level Orbit with a built-in phono stage.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
The entry-level Orbit is probably one of the best turntable values around. It will get far more information out of the record grooves than those all-in-one suitcase turntables!
Made in the USA
80-90% of the parts in an Orbit are sourced in the USA. It is 100% assembled at the Woburn, MA factory. Each and every table goes through extensive testing to assure you of a great product.
Easy to Upgrade
We love the fact you can easily upgrade to the better platter, swap out the phono cables for better ones, move up to a better cartridge, and even add cueing if you have shaky hands -- very cool!