Alva TT Bluetooth Turntable Review
THE HIGH NOTES
- AptX HD Bluetooth
- Moving Coil Cartridge
Company & Product Overview
Cambridge Audio, a UK based company, prides themselves on “Great British Sound”. In 1968, Cambridge was the first company to use a Toroidal transformer in an amplifier (which is now a standard in most high-end amplifiers). Fast forward 50 years and Cambridge has expanded their audio line from just amplifiers to speakers, streamers and DACs, and have won many awards for innovation and astounding sound quality along the way.
For the first time, Cambridge is releasing a turntable of their own, the Alva TT. Following their pattern of innovation, Cambridge added a feature to their turntable that has long been taboo in the world of HiFi audio...Bluetooth. After hearing about the Alva TT and its “Best of Audio” award at the 2019 CES, we were excited to get our hands on Cambridge's new AptX HD turntable and run it through some tests.
Design & Build Quality
Upon initial inspection, the Alva TT looks simplistic and sleek. It sticks to the aesthetic of a basic turntable: plinth, platter, tonearm and cartridge without any micro-adjustments, strobes or gadgets. With rounded corners and edges, the Alva has the ability to blend in, or be the centerpiece of a system. The looks of the Alva TT are reminiscent of Cambridge’s other (somewhat) minimalistic designs, like the Edge A and others. The non-technical design is seemingly a statement of “let the sound speak for itself.”
On the surface of the Alva TT are the four turntable essentials:
The Plinth - Constructed of brushed and black aluminum and weighs nearly 20 pounds to keep vibration resonance to a minimum.
The Tonearm - Cambridge calls this a “British Made Single Piece Tonearm,” which appears to be made by another popular British turntable company. It’s light and strong with a smooth bearing, and tracks very well.
The Platter - Constructed of very dense material called Polyoxymethylene (POM), a high-tech engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts that require high stiffness and excellent dimensional stability. The Platter is quite hefty and carries very little vibrations.
The Cartridge - Cambridge developed their own custom Moving Coil cartridge (the Alva MC) to perfectly match their tonearm and the specifications of their internal preamp.
The Alva TT also includes a removable, hinged dustcover to preserve your components and records.
Features & Technology
Despite the Cambridge Alva’s classic look, it’s packed with features that set it apart from any tables on the market. When developing this turntable, Cambridge put a lot of thought into modern listeners. They realize that some audio enthusiasts are constantly tweaking and adjusting their systems, and that the act of customizing is a hobby of its own. On the other hand, there are other listeners who want a simple and easy solution that is easy and sounds great. The Alva TT is made for the listener that loves the tactile feel, sound, and look of vinyl, with the convenience of modern technology.
To make this turntable work with their motto “Just add Vinyl,” they had to think of the hesitations that some listeners have before making the move to a turntable. They want easy adjustments and freedom to move their turntable according to their room. To make this happen, Cambridge designed the Alva TT with a few innovative features: AptX HD Bluetooth, a preinstalled high-quality Moving Coil cartridge, a built-in MC phono stage, direct drive, and simple setup.
AptX HD Bluetooth
To make this turntable unconfined to a few feet from the amplifier, Cambridge decided to go with technology that has long been frowned upon in the audiophile world, Bluetooth. Understanding the pros (convenience) and cons (sound quality) of Bluetooth, they looked to Qualcomm to minimize the cons. Standard Bluetooth (SBS) codec has lossy compression and transfers at 320 kbps, reproducing a sound that is stripped of a ton of detail. With AptX HD, the transfer is near lossless and can transfer up to 24-bit/48kHz (576 kbps), bringing in much more detail than nearly any Bluetooth on the market.
As mentioned in our other AptX enabled products, one downside with AptX HD is that the transmitter and receiver must be AptX enabled to hear full quality. With that being said, you can still use any AptX HD products with non AptX HD capable devices, you just won’t hear the 24-bit/48kHz quality. To see if your device is AptX HD capable, look in your manual or look here.
Alva MC Cartridge
To tie into the “plug and play” theme of the Alva TT, Cambridge includes their preinstalled Alva MC elliptical shaped cartridge. Cambridge’s Moving Coil cartridge is built to fit perfectly with their tonearm and preamp, reducing any excessive noise and tracking perfectly. Not many tables at this price point come with a Moving Coil cartridge because they’re typically quite expensive in comparison to Moving Magnet cartridges. Overall, Moving Coil cartridges extract much more detail than Moving Magnet, and most customers search to find the one that operates the best with their turntable. With the Alva TT, Cambridge didn’t want the listener to feel the need to buy cartridge upgrades and a moving coil preamp to have a great sounding table, they wanted it to sound its best straight out of the box.
Built-in Phono Stage
For a simple pairing with the Alva MC, Cambridge preinstalled a Moving Coil phono preamp. The built-in phono stage uses the same technology as their $300 duo preamp and allows it to operate over Bluetooth, or directly, connected via RCA into your integrated amp, receiver, or powered speakers. The built-in phono preamp sounds better than most integrated phono stages, featuring a subsonic filter and improved RIAA curve accuracy (+/- 0.3dB 30Hz-50Hz).
Cambridge decided to go an interesting route with their drive system by using direct drive rather than belt drive, the much more popular option at this price point. Historically, belt drive turntables have been more consistent with speed, and direct drive was more geared towards DJs and artists because of its quick startup speed and torque. So that leaves us asking the question, “Why did Cambridge go with a direct drive motor?” Well, pairing their direct drive motor with their heavy POM platter, it gives the turntable improved consistency (Wow and Flutter at .06%) while eliminating the maintenance related to belt drive. The Alva TT can also easily switch from 33 to 45 with the press of a button. Overall, the direct drive system is one of the most stable that we’ve seen and will last years without maintenance.
Cambridge made this turntable as simple as possible to set up. Once you pull it out of the box, all you have to do it set on the platter and attach the counterweight and you’re ready to connect to your system. You can connect to an amp via RCA or set up the Bluetooth on your connected device. For our setup, we connected to the Edge NQ, which has AptX HD Bluetooth capabilities. It’s as simple as pressing the Bluetooth button on the Alva TT and selecting it on the device you’re pairing to. If you’re connecting to a Bluetooth device that doesn’t have a menu, such as Bluetooth headphones, the Alva TT will automatically connect to the discoverable device.
One problem you can encounter with setup is that if you have multiple Bluetooth devices in the area, it can potentially cause the turntable to be confused about which device it is connecting to. This was a slight issue when connecting it in our store because we have around 30 Bluetooth devices in the vicinity, but after some trial and error, it connected. Once it’s connected, it will remember your devices and will automatically connect every time after.
To test the Cambridge Alva TT, we connected it to the Cambridge Edge NQ, Cambridge Edge W, and Bowers and Wilkins 803 D3 Floorstanding speakers. This system might be slight overkill for a $1,700 turntable, but we wanted to be able to hear every detail. We also tried more practical uses like a set of powered speakers and headphones.
On our full setup of the Cambridge Edge stack and Bowers and Wilkins 803 D3 Floorstanding speakers, we started by connecting via Bluetooth. We played a few albums of various genres like John Prine’s Bruised Orange, Direct to Disk Jazz Compilation, and The Persuasions’ No Frills. Over AptX HD Bluetooth, this was an impressive system. It sounded similar to the quality of Hi-Res streaming through Tidal or Qobuz, but with some of the qualities associated with vinyl like warmth and the sound of the stylus drop. Overall, the AptX HD surprised us and we wouldn’t have anticipated it sounding as high quality as it did. For Bluetooth, it had clear bass resolution, great staging, and surprising detail.
When we connected the Alva TT via RCA, we had the same great sound, but with slightly more detailed bass and better resolution.
When connecting the AudioEngine HD6 powered bookshelf speakers with AptX HD, the gap between RCA and Bluetooth started to thin. While the sound difference isn’t indistinguishable, the Alva TT’s Bluetooth sounds pretty close to an RCA connection. The AptX HD on the ALVA TT sounds much better than the Bluetooth from an iPhone streaming any format.
The last test done was with AptX HD Bluetooth headphones, the Sony WH1000XM2 over-ear headphones. This is a very cool and useful use of the AptX HD feature. The Bluetooth range gives you the option to be on the other side of the room and still listen to your album through headphones. This also gave us an opportunity to get a sense of the Bluetooth range, which allowed us to go to a complete other room and still maintain signal. The sound had the same sound signature and qualities as it did when connected to the Bowers and Wilkins setup.
Overall, the sound of the Cambridge Alva TT was beyond what we expected a Bluetooth turntable to be capable of. While vinyl’s sound will naturally be more detailed when connected via RCA, the AptX HD is a convenient and high-quality solution. If you’re looking for a wired or wireless setup, and want a simple, exceptional sounding turntable, the Alva TT is a great pick.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Bluetooth AptX HD
AptX HD gives the Alva TT Turntable freedom to be moved around the room while maintaining high-quality sound.
The simple and classic design makes the Cambridge Alva TT perfect for any audio lover that doesn't want complex setup or operation.
Moving Coil Cartridge
Cambridge made a great sounding Alva Moving Coil Cartridge specifically to fit their tonearm and built-in preamp.