U-Turn Audio Orbit Turntables: U.S. Manufacturing, DIY-Style
I started collecting records at a very young age. I received my first shipment of Columbia Record Club vinyl when I was about 6; I had seen one of their ads (“12 Albums For a Penny!”) in a comic book and, thinking it was a deal too good to pass up, sent in the form. Soon thereafter, as anyone who knows how the Columbia Record Club worked, an unsolicited album would appear on the doorstep every month. (For those of you who don’t remember: the “deal” was you got a bunch of albums for a penny, then had an obligation to buy a number of albums at “regular” price, which was about four times higher than what you’d pay at a record store. They sent an album automatically, and billed you for it, every month unless you sent in a form specifically requesting NOT to receive it. This fine detail slipped my young attention.)
Bless my mother’s heart, because not once did she make me return one of these unwanted, super-expensive albums. As a result, I was exposed to music that other kids in my first and second grade classes were missing out on. Steve Miller Band, Glen Campbell, Beach Boys, Commodores, and many more. Almost forty years later, I still have many of these albums in my possession.
Fast forward to the 80’s, when my high school years found me buying vinyl albums with whatever allowance money I could scrounge: Van Halen, Night Ranger, Rush….. again, albums I loved and still own. But the trend towards more convenient cassettes and “better sounding” Compact Discs (they’re really not better) had me drifting away from vinyl in the late 80s. I accumulated hundreds, no thousands, of CDs as I entered adulthood, then watched them become obsolete overnight as mp3s took over. Suddenly I was clamoring to download as much music as I could find to fill up the new iPod.
A funny thing happened after awhile…. the ability to have 20,000 songs on an iPod is great, but I realized somewhere along the way that about 98% of the digital music I owned was never getting played. And do you really “own” a digital file? It doesn’t really exist; it’s just a bunch of data on a microchip. Convenient, yes. But there’s something missing. Something more tactile.
In 2011, I spent some money on a cheap turntable (while I kept all my albums, and thank God I did, I didn’t have any way to play them) and rediscovered the absolute joy of whiling away a few hours in a record store. Again, iTunes is cool, but shopping there for music isn’t anywhere as satisfying as flipping through discs in a real store. It’s the unexpected album you didn’t know you were looking for that’s the thing.
Now that I’m back playing vinyl records, and everything that that entails (when you play records, you sit and you listen to the music. It’s not just playing endlessly in the background.) I want to upgrade the equipment. And that’s where U-Turn Audio comes in.
U-Turn started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2011, a group of guys who designed what they thought was a high-quality, no-frills turntable for the masses. Their campaign was a huge success, though I missed out on the chance to be a supporter (I think I gave them $5). They’ve been up and running for a while now, and their turntables are available to the public.
The cool thing about U-Turn, aside from their do-it-yourself Kickstarter beginnings, is that they build each and every turntable by hand, right here in the U.S.A. (Boston). Most of the parts for their tables are sourced in the U.S. as well. In a time of Chinese-made low-quality crap (cough *Crosley* cough) their product is doing two things that I love: bringing vinyl back to the public with high-quality, audiophile turntables that don’t cost a fortune, and bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. where it’s desperately needed.
If you or someone you love is thinking about getting into (or back into) vinyl, check out U-Turn. The low price of department store turntables is attractive, but don’t do it. I’ve learned firsthand how horrible these plastic record-wreckers are. Vinyl is a physical medium, and it requires care and maintenance, and a turntable that won’t do them harm. haven’t purchased a U-Turn Orbit yet, but I’m saving my pennies and nickels. Check them out HERE.