When I first heard about Andover Audio’s SpinBase in the PTA War Room, I obviously wondered, “What’s a SpinBase?” After a quick internet search and a read through PTA’s review of the Andover Model One from Marc Phillips, my curiosity was piqued. I’m just beginning my vinyl journey and SpinBase seemed to be targeting entry-level vinyl enthusiasts. So, I figured I would give it a listen and relay these experiences from a novice point of view.
For those in the audiophile fold, the Andover Audio SpinBase is not a traditional audiophile product; it’s not even two-channel! It’s part all-in-one unit, but with accessories and connectivity, both analog and digital, making it a distant cousin to the Bose Wavemachine and Sonos Systems. The Andover Audio SpinBase is, hmm, let’s say a different approach to musical enjoyment.
At the heart of the SpinSystem is the Andover Audio SpinBase. It’s a good-sized black (or white) box with a single knob on the front and a limited number of connections on the rear. It’s an elegant and simple solution for getting tunes into a room. It provides analog inputs for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges for its built-in phono stage, and for the digital types there’s a Bluetooth connection.
The Andover Audio SpinBase houses 270 degrees of speaker drivers, facing front and to each side. It doesn’t really provide a two-channel experience–think more mono with a little thrown out right and left a foot or two. The SpinBase also accommodates a mini headphone jack on the back when you want a more intimate listening session.
Accessorize Your Andover!
Andover Audio provides a few “accessories” for the Audio SpinBase: the SpinSub, the SpinStand, and the SpinDeck. The SpinDeck is a less expensive turntable option designed by Pro-Ject and comes with an Ortofon 5Me cartridge and a felt platter on a pressboard platter and base. The three felt feet (say that fast three times) rests nicely on the SpinBase and the table can spin at 33 1/3 and 45 rpm. The kit includes a Pro-Ject protractor and measuring tools to help align the cartridge should you need to replace the cartridge or upgrade it.
SpinSub is the newest product from Andover Audio. Depending on your room size, it can be a must-have addition. The subwoofer has a power rocker switch and two knobs, one for crossover frequency and the other for volume. Andover even has an upgrade program for older SpinBase owners.
The Andover Audio SpinStand I had delivered was black, and unpacking it brought back memories of assembling Ikea furniture back when Ikea was inexpensive but still offered decent quality. (My last Ikea purchase was rubbish and I was very disappointed.) Not so with the SpinStand. The directions were clear, and assembly was fairly quick and painless. No one will confuse SpinStand with a high-end European furniture house, but it’s good enough to fit into most decors without too much fuss.
There’s space on top for the SpinBase, a short shelf for other accessories, and two shelves for either LPs or a SpinSub. If you purchase the full Andover Audio SpinSystem (SpinBase, SpinSub, SpinStand, and SpinDeck) you will need a power strip, as the SpinBase comes with a wall-wart that’s big enough to hog a few outlet spots. My only issue with SpinDeck was the cord wasn’t long enough to effectively reach a floor level outlet. It really needs to be one to two feet longer, especially if it’s perched on top of the SpinBase/SpinStand assembly.
Why Would I Want an Andover SpinSystem!?
That was a question that popped into my mind several times, and as I pondered the audience for these products a few thoughts readily came to mind. First, if you are wondering what this vinyl hype is all about or you had vinyl way back in the day and would like to get back into it, then this is a well-thought-out system that has all the components you need to get up and running. You will need a few standard vinyl accessories, like cleaning supplies and of course LPs!
Second, if I was a crazy audiophile uncle and wanted to hook my niece or nephew on vinyl, the Andover Audio SpinBase with a SpinDeck is perfect. Said crazy uncle could come over, pull SpinBase out of the box and have the youngster fire up their favorite streaming music via Bluetooth in about 20 seconds.
It’s the easiest and most reliable Bluetooth I’ve used. Turn the knob clockwise and with a soft click a blue light comes on and Andover Audio SpinBase is Bluetooth-detectible. Make sure your Bluetooth device is on, look for SpinBase, select and you are off to the proverbial Camptown Races, do-da, do-da (and said youngster will have no idea what you are singing about).
While streaming tunes, you can unpack and assemble the more complex Andover Audio SpinDeck. As turntables go this doesn’t have too many parts, but it’s still a process and I wouldn’t recommend turning a rambunctious teenager loose on assembling it. Being a vinyl novice myself, SpinDeck does have a video to walk folks through the assembly. Silly me, I attempted to install the belt drive seven, yes SEVEN, times before succeeding. After watching the assembly video it was much easier, but it still took me three attempts. Maybe I’m hopeless (seems likely), but I could see some folks getting really frustrated on the assembly, so watch the video.
The other issue that I discovered using SpinDeck is that the combination of felt feet and the lightness of the table (shipping weight is 12lbs and that includes the box), the unit tends to scoot across the top of SpinBase when you press the power switch. You do need to hold the table when turning it on.
Once the Andover Audio SpinDeck is ready to drop the needle in the groove, lay down that LP and let the music flow. The SpinBase reminds me a lot of the Bose Wavemachine from way back. It created a sound that definitely wasn’t two-channel, but it wasn’t a crap clock radio or boom box either. Mid-fi is the right term here, but way better than listening to tunes on your smart phone, which I understand is popular with the younger crowd.
The other product that comes to mind is Sonos. My wife had a Sonos system she wasn’t using so I set it up for a comparison. More on that below.
The Andover Audio SpinBase has a frequency response down to about 60Hz so I turned the SpinSub frequency knob just below the default 80Hz setting and adjusted the gain by ear to a fairly balanced blend and left it alone after that. SpinSub basically did what is says on the tin. No muss, no fuss.
Ok, that’s nice and all, but how does it sound?
Harkening back to the Bose and Sonos systems, I recall hearing several Wavemachine systems and though the sound was capable of filling a smaller room and didn’t sound “bad,” it also didn’t sound great. It was always a gimmick in my opinion, where the sound field was artificially large and fuzzy without definition and for the price you could get a much better sounding two-channel setup. The Sonos system was harsh with a metallic ringing that could be heard in the upper
midrange even though I felt the frequency response was more even than SpinBase.
To my ears, the Andover Audio SpinBase had better drivers than either of those systems. With the 270 degree sound field it was better with the sides placed away from close surfaces. There was strong bass reinforcement that muddled the lower midrange to upper bass response if placed too close to a wall or other side surface.
I set up the Andover Audio SpinSystem in my listening room, front and center, and immediately welcomed the addition of SpinSub in my largish room. As I mentioned above, the SpinSystem had a strong mono presentation with a hint of channel separation to the left and right of a foot or two. It doesn’t support the typical 2-channel listening experience that many of us crave, but if you just want to have tunes in a room it does a good job.
The smallish SpinSub did an admirable job of extending SpinBase down to levels that were satisfying. It won’t shake the walls and floors, but extension was clean and even and at moderately loud levels I didn’t notice any distortion or breakup. In larger rooms SpinSub is a must buy add-on in my opinion.
In smaller rooms the SpinBase is fine by itself. The sound fills the room well enough even without the low-end authority of a SpinSub. I set up the SpinBase in my office and was satisfied with how loud it could play, and the quality of the music was adequate for that space. I pulled the Andover Audio SpinDeck from the system and installed it in my regular two-channel
listening rig to compare it to a comparably priced, and also entry level, Onkyo CP-1500. It wasn’t really a completely fair test as the Onkyo was using Cardas Clear cables, which cost more than either of these tables. I preferred the sound of the Pro-Ject-designed SpinDeck with the Ortofon cartridge despite the skewed test.
I think the SpinDeck table is a good value despite the use of inexpensive materials. The Ortofon 5Me cartridge isn’t the least expensive, or even second least expensive, cartridge by Ortofon so you get a nice cartridge that most folks will never feel the need to upgrade. The felt platter did generate more static than the rubber mat of the Onkyo. The SpinDeck manual does suggest a cork or other material platter and I would suggest that might be worth exploring for those who play lots of records.
I considered swapping the Ortofon cartridge onto the Onkyo to see what that would do, but wise-Graig looked at the Pro-Ject tools and remembering the level of effort many vinyl enthusiasts went through to get the alignment, tracking force, tone arm weight, etc., etc. just right I decided it was best to leave it all alone until I have more experience and guidance to tackle that. Granted it’s all in the SpinDeck manual on how to do it, but I wasn’t ready for that plunge.
All together the SpinSystem was a little soft in the upper frequencies. Cymbals didn’t have a crash or a sparkle that you get with a good tweeter in a two-channel set up. But thankfully it didn’t ring or sound metallic like the Sonos. Midrange had a solid presentation and actually surprised me with how much authority it had. There wasn’t any pinpoint imaging, but the midrange was clear and room filling with a richness and body that was pleasant. With SpinSub bass notes were present down into the 40Hz range, it wasn’t shake-the-windows bass, and as a self-proclaimed bass-head, it sounded a bit on the thin side to me. However, SpinSub was taught enough that it didn’t deliver that mushy bass sound that some speakers or subwoofers deliver either. I’d call it balanced and it mated well with SpinBase.
Andover Audio Speaks Up
I had a few questions for Andover about SpinBase, and James DiPaolo (Marketing Director/Industrial Designer) and Bob Hazelwood (Director of Engineering) were kind enough to entertain my questions. Paraphrasing, Andover aimed SpinSystem at the “vinyl enthusiast who wants to get into (or back into) vinyl.” There’s a definite slant towards the younger, entry-level
crowd, that doesn’t want to learn about component matching, and those who want a simple, space-limited system to fulfill that role.
I can understand how audiophile levels of hi-fi can be complicated and intimidating for those just entering the hobby. Heck, I’m still learning things about component matching, digital filters, electrical impedance interactions, blah, blah, blah. So, a simple no-brainer system does have an appeal. It’s probably why there are so many good integrated amps on the market right now.
Andover also wanted to point out that the SpinBase does have tone controls on the back to adjust treble and bass. Admittedly, I didn’t fiddle with these as much as maybe I should have, but being a bit of a purist I tend to leave tone controls at their default position as much as possible.
The other potential issue folks may run into is that the ceramic cartridge switch makes a difference when listening to vinyl. Make sure that the switch is set properly when playing vinyl of treble balance can be suppressed. I did listen to Bluetooth as well as vinyl; my treble impressions above were unchanged between modes.
There you have it. If you are an intrepid vinyl explorer wondering what the analog hype is all about, or a crazy audiophile uncle that wants to get a niece or nephew into hi-fi and vinyl, or need an office system to spin some LPs, or sold off all your vintage gear in the 90’s when home theater took over and want to dip your toe back into the musical waters, then Andover Audio has a viable solution in the SpinSystem.
The system is modular and it all builds off the Andover Audio SpinBase ($299). You can then add in SpinDeck ($349), SpinSub ($299) and SpinStand ($199) as you wish. It’s all a la carte so just buy what you want when you want it.
The SpinDeck impressed me the most out of all the SpinSystem components to the point that I will be researching the Pro-Ject lineup in more detail when I’m looking for a turntable upgrade. But every part of this system was competent and Andover has done an exemplary job of balancing the quality and sonics of each component in this system. Besides the slight edge of SpinDeck the level of musicality of each component was on the same level as the others.
I enjoyed my time with Andover Audio SpinSystem; enjoying playing several of my LPs from my slowing growing vinyl collection, with Fresh Aire, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd being memorable standouts. I’m a two-channel guy at heart, so it won’t replace my listening rig, but I can recommend it for that young audiophile-in-training or a music lover that’s not ready for the deep dive into the serious stuff as well as some of my non-audiophile friends that like vinyl.
And it sure as heck beats listening to your phone.