AptX support is not this versatile turntable’s most impressive feature.
Price When Reviewed
Best Prices Today: Victrola Hi-Res Onyx
The Victrola Hi-Res Onyx is a stylish belt-drive turntable capable of either wireless Bluetooth playback or with a wired connection and its built-in phono preamplifier, or you can bypass that should you have one that’s better. By the same token, you can either rely on the outstanding entry-level Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge that’s included, or you can upgrade to a higher-end model later.
Buyers should note that Victrola has adopted a confusing naming scheme for its top-of-the-line turntables. The Victrola Hi-Res Onyx and the more expensive Hi-Res Carbon turntables are designed to work with Bluetooth speakers and headphones, while the older Victrola Stream Onyx Works With Sonos and Victrola Stream Carbon Works With Sonos turntables are more expensive and can only work wirelessly with Sonos speakers and do not support Bluetooth.
If you’re shopping for one of the four turntables or just looking for specific details about each model, you’ll need to be careful about search results, because Google and other major search engines seem unable to differentiate between the Bluetooth and Sonos models with the same mineral names. I have previously reviewed both the Victrola Stream Onyx Works With Sonos and Victrola Stream Carbon Works With Sonos turntables, and I’ll explain the difference between the four models in this review.
This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best turntables.
Specs and setup
The Victrola Hi-Res Onyx has an appealing, low-profile, and all-black industrial look. There’s a gray Victrola logo on the front of the plinth. and a ring light around the power button; the rest of the turntable could be none more black.
The Hi-Res Onyx measures 4.53 x 16.93 x 4.25 inches (HxWxD) and weighs 12.5 pounds with its dust cover. That cover is a unique Victrola design and, while I’ve gotten used to it as I’ve reviewed the company’s turntables, its design is weird as ever. Most turntables feature a rectangular clear plastic cover that attaches to the back of the plinth with hinges. That type of dust cover can protect a record during playback as well as when it’s sitting idle on the turntable, if you’re planning to come back and play it again tomorrow.
The black Victrola dust cover sits flat on the platter and creates a sort of garage for the tonearm. There’s no way to use it during playback or leave an LP on the platter while using the dust cover. I’ve never quite figured out where to put the dust cover while I’m playing a record, either. There’s also a power cable and an RCA cable with a ground at both ends.
This belt-drive turntable has an die-cast aluminum platter, an aluminum tonearm, and a removeable headshell that houses the Audio-Technica AT-VM95E dual moving magnet cartridge. There’s an included adapter for 45rpm 7-inch records with large holes, and a post on top of the turntable that stores the adapter when you don’t need it. Too many turntables include an adapter with no place to keep it, so points to Victrola for that.
There’s a power button on the front of the unit that also controls Bluetooth pairing. A switch near the 45 adapter storage post that offers 33-1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, and off positions. The rear of the plinth includes a switch to bypass the built-in phono preamp next to the RCA jacks, and there’s a switch that controls the auto-stop function. When that’s on, the turntable automatically stops spinning at the end of a side and reduces wear and tear on the stylus.
Victrola offers one of the easiest turntable setups on the market: Place the platter on the spindle, align the hole in the platter with the motor post, and then stretch the belt around the turntable over the post. There’s a bit of ribbon taped to the platter and wrapped around the belt, which makes it easy to guide the belt to its proper resting place.
The included counterweight slides to an engraved line on the tonearm and there’s a screw to hold it in place. There’s no balancing or alignment of the weight wheel on the front of the counterweight. You’re now ready to play a record.
The built-in phono preamp sounds very good, in line with what you’d expect from a turntable in this price range. I also bypassed the internal preamp and tested it with the $249 Andover SpinStage, and the performance was much better to my ears.
That’s what you’d expect from an entry-level turntable. At this price, there are really only two features that count for wired playback: the quality of the cartridge and the stability of the motor driving the turntable. Victrola’s motors have consistently delivered steady playback as I’ve tested with the turntables in this line, and the AT-VM95E is definitely the best cartridge for listeners just getting started with vinyl.
If you later want to upgrade the cartridge or use an external preamp, the Victrola Hi-Res Carbon is a turntable that can grow with you if your tastes evolve.
The Hi-Res Onyx’s real attraction is Victrola’s claims of high-resolution wireless playback. High-resolution playback in the audiophile world means lossless playback at rates higher than the standard 16-bit/44.1 kHz resolution a compact disc delivers.
What “hi-res” means in Bluetooth marketing is that the audio components support one or more of the codecs that offer more bandwidth than the old-school SBC codec: Those can be Qualcomm’s aptX adaptive, aptX HD and aptX codecs, Sony’s LDAC, or Bluetooth LC3. Each of those codecs deliver better-quality than SBC, but they’re all lossy and aren’t the same quality as the better-than-CD playback that requires a lossless wired connection. The Victrola Hi-Res Carbon works with all three of Qualcomm’s codecs in addition to SBC, but it doesn’t support Apple’s AAC codec. What does all this mean for you?
I tested the Victrola Hi-Res Onyx with the new $199 Soundcore X600 portable Bluetooth speaker, which supports LDAC but none of the aptX codecs. That means we’re listening via the lower quality SBC. Guess what? It sounded great.
The $799 Focal Bathys headphones support aptX and aptX adaptive, and there was a lot more detail, but the results weren’t significantly better when I listened to an AAC stream of the same Bobbie Gentry LP streamed from Apple Music.
In my experience, Bluetooth codecs don’t matter as much as the quality of the speakers that are handling playback. While we’re still dealing with different versions of lossy playback, the exact specs of the codec are less important than the capabilities of your gear.
Will you get noticeably better results from headphones or speakers that support codecs such as the aptX family, LC3, or LDAC? You might, depending on your sensitivity. Even if you aren’t aptX-exclusive in your listening setup, you’ll likely be satisfied with the Hi-Res Onyx performance.
How does the Hi-Res Onyx compare to the Hi-Res Carbon?
If you have an extra $200 to spend, you might want to look at the $599.99 Victrola Hi-Res Carbon Bluetooth wireless turntable. For your 200 bucks, you get a silver front plate on the plinth, silver hardware on the top of the turntable, a lighter carbon fiber tonearm, and the excellent Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
The Carbon’s carbon fiber tonearm will cause marginally less wear-and-tear on your vinyl, but you could buy the Onyx and later upgrade to the Ortofon cartridge for just $99. I much prefer the all-black look of the Onyx and would choose it over the silvery Carbon based on looks alone. The other differences are either minor or can be achieved by a later upgrade.
Should you buy the Victrola Hi-Res Onyx turntable?
Victrola has delivered a snazzy wireless turntable that mostly matches the specs of its competition. The $250 Monolith 60046 by Monoprice uses the same Audio-Technica cartridge, has a carbon fiber tonearm, but its Bluetooth function is limited to the basic SBC codec. The stylish House of Marley Stir It Up Lux costs the same as the Victrola, $400, but it also uses the SBC codec. Even the stellar $499 Audio-Technica AT-LPW50BT limits itself to basic Bluetooth streaming.
This is an elaborate way of pointing out that the hi-res label is far less important than other features of the Victrola Hi-Res Onyx turntable. It’s incredibly easy to set up, the playback sounds great no matter which codec your speakers or headphones support, and it’s got a sleek design that sets it apart from other Bluetooth turntables in its price range.
If you’re not committed to the idea of a traditional dust cover and like the look of the Victrola Hi-Res Onyx, it’s an excellent option at a reasonable price.