Is the Andover Audio Model One the good old-fashioned record player I’ve always wanted?
For the last couple of years I’ve pushed this idea, mostly as a result of spending time with retail customers and finding out what they expect in a new turntable. I’ve concluded that we need to bring back all-in-one record players that sound good and are affordable. Vinyl newbs walk into a “hi-fi” store because they want something simple, an easy entry point into the hobby. They don’t want the salesman to ask things like “Do you have a preamp with a phono preamplifier?” or “Have you thought about a good cartridge?” They want plug and play. The want all-in-one so it fits on that bookshelf over there. They want one page owners’ manuals.
The problem is this: these people also want to know why everyone’s getting back into vinyl. They need to make that immediate emotional connection that we’ve been fawning about for thirty years. The trick is coming up with something that sounds good, so good that vinyl newbies will automatically “get it.” That’s tough to do when these people really just want something that already exists—a cheap plastic machine that does it all for $200 or even less. The concept of ultimate sound quality as a priority is still an elusive goal out there in the real world.
It’s an enormous chasm, and no single product has really built that bridge across it yet. That’s why the Andover Audio Model One Record Player caught my attention from the very first time I saw it.
What Is It and Do I Need it?
The Andover Audio Model One Record Player costs $1999, and the matching Model One subwoofer costs another $799. The additional LP storage module, which fits between the two, is $199 (100 LPs) to $299 ($200 LPs). So it’s potentially a $3296 all-in-one record player, something that the low-expectation-havin’ newbie probably won’t buy. Do you guys carry Crosley? That’s kind of what I had in mind.
It’d better sound good for that kind of money, right? I can almost see a product like that excelling in the marketplace merely because, well: “This is the best record player you can buy, and it costs almost $3000 complete. But it’s the best.” Some people really have to have the best, and they’ll want this.
Most audiophiles would have no problem with the Model One’s approach at this point. Except for one thing.
We now have to consider the Andover Audio’s lack of external speakers that can be detached from the components to deliver true stereo sound. We have a single enclosure that houses the turntable, the amps, the six-driver speaker array and much more, so there goes any hope of realistic imaging and soundstaging, right? Audiophiles would rather go with a modest system that delivers traditional two-channel audio performance, something that’s easily attainable for $2000.
The question becomes simple—who will buy the Andover Audio Model One Record Player? I asked Bob Hazelwood at Andover Audio this question, and he laughed a little when he said he wasn’t sure yet. (To put in succinctly, the Andover Audio products are designed to “put music in places where it hasn’t been before,” according to Bob.) That was the starting point for a very long discussion about the Andover Audio Model One Record Player, what it does well and, most importantly, will you enjoy what it does enough to part with $2000 to $3000?
As soon as it arrived on my doorstep, I asked myself that question. How will this fit into my life? As it turned out, it did. Quite nicely, in fact. Once I had the entire system set up—Model One, subwoofer, storage module—it only took me a few seconds to say “Oh yes. I totally get it.” Will you?
If you’re stuck on the cost of the Andover Audio Model One Record Player—let’s put the subwoofer aside for now, since a $700 subwoofer is far from a remarkable product—you need to consider what you get for your $2000:
- A Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Espirit SB turntable with carbon fiber tonearm and an Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge
- Class D power amps, a full function preamp with phono stage and a dedicated Class A headphone amplifier
- An integrated speaker enclosure that includes four 3.5” aluminum diaphragm woofers and two Air Motion Transformer speakers
- Subwoofer out
- Isolation provided by Isogroove
- Remote control
If you’re stuck on the idea that the Andover Audio Model One Record Player is still a one-box audio solution, and an expensive one too, then I can only say this: I understand, but you first need to spend ample time with the Andover before you decide if it’s worth this kind of money. We’re talking about your perspective, of how you’re going to approach the Andover Audio and fit it into your lifestyle. If you’re a serious, well-heeled and somewhat snooty two-channel audiophile trying to extract ultimate performance from your investment and impress all your audio buddies, this is not the way to go.
But if you’re anyone else in the world, keep reading.
Set-Up and Placement
First of all, there’s nothing rinky-dink about the Andover Audio Model One Record Player. The box weighs over 40 pounds, and the matching Model One subwoofer weighs over 60. Put ‘em together and this is a compact but sturdy and substantial piece of kit, as the Brits like to say.
Here’s another nicety—the Model One turntable is incredibly easy to set up, very close to plug and play. Remove shipping screws, put on belt and platter, slide the counterweight on the end of the tonearm and check the tracking force, set the anti-skate and that’s pretty much it. The addition of the LP storage module about halfway into the review period was a little more complex than I thought—let’s just call it Ikea-esque in its use of hardware. Otherwise, I had no difficulties.
While the rear panel of the Andover Audio Model One Record Player is fairly busy as turntables go, think of it as the rear of any typical preamp—inputs, line output, subwoofer out. The Model One subwoofer is also a breeze—the settings are straightforward. Once everything was assembled, I plugged it all into the AudioQuest Niagara 1200 power conditioner, flipped a couple of switches and everything came alive. I threw on a record, eagerly anticipating the sound.
Imaging and Soundstaging
I know, this is the first thing you wanted to know about the Andover Audio Model One. It was certainly the first thing I wanted to know. And the verdict?
Well, I thought the Andover Audio Model One would be very susceptible to placement, and that the magic–like a pair of old Quad 57s–would require precision and patience. Bob Hazelwood offers a wise launching point that proved me wrong:
“Like all audio systems, placement matters. In my opinion, Model One is no more critical than other systems, maybe even less so. It’s just that the considerations are a little different than people may be used to. Most notably, you can’t block the sides, and you want it to be angled if you need to locate it in a corner. In fact, I would argue that bad placement of a conventional system actually is more sonically deleterious than with Model One in most practical applications. And since you only have one box to worry about, it’s practically a lot easier.”
The owners’ manual suggests placement along a wall and fairly close to it, but not at the halfway point which might trigger some standing waves and other room reflections. I tried that and found that yes, lateral imaging and soundstaging exists. It’s not 180-degree Polk Audio SDA kind of width, but it’s far from sounding like a single-point source like the original Naim Mu-so did. (That sounds like an unfair swipe at Naim, but the Mu-so sound was so immersive that I eventually forgot about those typical two-channel perks.)
Here’s the thing. During my time with the Model One, I experimented with different room placements and set-ups. One of the most intriguing solutions involved using the Model One Record Player by itself, placed on a table and surrounded by listeners. Why did I try that? If you read my past pieces on “good old-fashioned record players,” you’ll know how special those childhood memories are, the ones where we all sat on a floor around a little record player and learned about music.
The Andover Audio system truly delivered great sound with this arrangement. If I had one of these when I was a kid, instead of a $50 Soundesign with detachable speakers, I might have had more friends. You get that same sense of community, of shared experience, but with killer bass and exceptional tonality. Perhaps that’s the most enjoyable aspect of the Model One—if you’re the kind of audiophile who has a monster dedicated listening room with a single chair, this won’t get your heart racing like your reference system hopefully does. But if you want to hear great sound throughout the room, the house, or among a space filled with people, the Model One fills every corner with beautiful music that’s tonally accurate and engaging.
The point is, the Andover Audio Model One as a system can deliver all types of sound with slightly different perspectives— especially near-field listening. Once you plug your headphones into the Model One—the headphone amp is solid and decent—you have another set of reasons to own it. Once you explore this aspect of the Andover, the almost customized listening experience, you’ll probably find that reason why you need it.
Do I Need the Subwoofer?
Despite the miracle that is the Andover Audio Model One Record Player, it cannot produce full range sound. With the Model One subwoofer, you can throw that party. Without it, you can still invite a couple friends over and sit around and listen to records and still fall in love with this system. It’s up to you and the reasons why you fell in love in the first place.
That said, I’m so intrigued with the Record Player on its own—its portability, size and flexibility all make it an ideal solution for bedroom systems, dorm systems, vacation systems and, most importantly, your kids’ system in their rooms, the system that turns them onto music and sends them on a lifelong journey to find more. My suggestion would be this: buy the Model One Record Player first, live with it, and if you need more bass you know what to do. As far as the LP storage models go, additional record shelves are always a good thing.
Plus, the entire Andover Audio Model One system—Record Player, subwoofer and storage, lifts the turntable to the perfect height for cuing.
Ortofon 2M Silver
What about that cartridge, the 2M Silver? I’m very familiar with the Ortofon 2M line, but I’ve never heard of the Silver. I even Googled it and came up with nothing substantial. I wondered if it was just an OEM model not available to consumers, so I asked Bob.
He explained it was a cartridge made specifically for Pro-Ject turntables. The 2M Silver is a 2M Red stylus paired with the silver coils from the 2M Bronze and Black models. That slots the Silver between the 2M Red and the 2M Blue in terms of performance, but here’s something noteworthy: when it’s time to replace the cartridge (which can be easily done by the consumer), get the replacement stylus for the 2M Bronze and you’ll have a true 2M Bronze.
The upgrade path is, therefore, incredibly easy. I told Bob that it was pure genius to choose the 2M line for Andover Audio.
In our phone discussion, Bob Hazelwood and I finally settled on the answer to that question—will people get this? Who are these people?
Quite simply, you will never find out until you listen to it. My expectations were fairly low—I’ve heard a lot of modern record players and some are downright bad when it comes to sound and build quality. After a few days with the Andover Audio Model One system, I knew I wanted one. This isn’t about assembling a reference system as much as it’s about filling your life with more music, in more places. It’s wonderful.
If the price is still bugs you, Andover Audio has another option—the SpinBase. This is merely a base that contains a pared down version of the innards of the Record Player. All you have to do is plug in your existing table and then set it on top of the SpinBase. At least two members of the PTA staff are chompin’ at the bit for that one. The cost? $299.
Is the SpinBase the answer for all those vinyl newbies? I suspect it is, but we’ll just have to wait and see.