A record turntable may be a product of the past, but there are many who prefer the way a record sounds. Besides, there are still many recordings that haven’t made their way to compact disc. A vinyl recording can give you a sound that is wholly different from the bits and bytes of a CD - not to mention a larger case where the cover art and liner notes can be easily read by those of us no longer in our 20’s. The fact that there are so many companies, both big and small, producing vinyl recordings again attests to both the demand of vinyl as well as its worth.
All of this is useless if you don’t have a turntable. Fortunately the PL-990 not only provides for that, but prices itself well below the threshold of having to explain away spending the money on 20th Century technology.
The PL-990 is Ready to Play (almost) (4 out of 5)
The PL-990 is a fully automatic turntable; that means it has the smarts to know where to place the needle arm when there’s a recording on it, and when to pull the arm back when the recording has finished playing. The two speeds take care of LPs and 45s, and the moving magnet cartridge on the tone arm is geared for a quality sound reproduction. A nice touch is that audio equalization is built-in and so always active. This basically works to moderate the audio being produced and for all practical purposes can be forgotten about. But it’s good to know some updating of the basic technology has been put in place. Good for you Pioneer.
Setting up a turntable hasn’t changed through the years - although adding an uninterruptible power supply to keep the needle from gouging the vinyl should there be a power failure isn’t something I would have thought about doing back when I was a teenager. The RCA audio left and right stereo plugs go into your amplifier or to your powered speakers - you should first assemble a few parts on the turntable, though. And because the RCA cables are attached, most likely you will need to get an RCA extension stereo cable. All of this is not a big deal.
Checking the Build
I recommend putting an anti-static matt underneath it, as well as anti-vibration nubs. Of course it goes without saying- not that you would care about this with a CD player- that using a level to adjust the turntable so that it is even is necessary too. The PL-990 comes with a set of feet so you can forget about the nubs if you want, but they don’t rotate so getting the turntable lined up is all up to you. (A spirit level and lego blocks worked fine for me.)
Oh - I suppose this will really date me, but I’m not such a fan of the electronic display the PL-990 uses. Sure it makes sense to include a display, but since there’s a big fat ON button anyway, I wouldn’t have minded staying with the accepted practice of not having a lit up display. But that’s just me. On the other side, I’m cool with the phono amp being built in since that will work best with most of those who would be buying it.
Getting an Earful (5 out of 5)
The “smoked” plastic case hinges nicely, and the overall impression is that the turntable has a good, if somewhat light build. Of course the real issue is how it sounds, so let’s plug it in and put on that Frank Zappa “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” LP that I’ve kept through the years for the cover art.
Now that’s more like it - good old fashioned stereo with a hint of hiss and pop and crackle. The DC servo motor has a solid “feel” to it as I watch the vinyl spin and spin.
Nostalgia aside, playing a number of LPs, including an old 45 of the Dave Clark Five that was lying at the bottom of a box in storage, was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. But mostly the sound reminded me why so many feel that vinyl is better than digital - there truly is a warmer feeling to it. Could it just be nostalgia coloring my thoughts? Maybe. But thanks to turntables like the PL-990, a lot of people are coming around to the same conclusion.