In February 2021, music collectors’ website Discogs announced that a 12-inch vinyl single by an obscure UK breakbeat DJ had sold for a record-busting £30,000. Now, we don’t know who it was that shelled out for said disc, but it’s fair to assume they didn’t take it home and play it on a battered old Dansette. What we’re trying to say here is that priceless records deserve a premium-quality turntable – so if you’re serious about your music, you’ll want to choose your deck carefully.
As a winner of multiple accolades, Sony might well be a name that ends up on your shortlist. One of the Japanese tech giant’s most recent gongs was received at the 2018 What Hi-Fi? Awards. It came in recognition of the PS-HX500 (£350/$494) – a manually operated, belt-drive turntable that is not only engineered for superior playback, but also enables you to convert your vinyl music to hi-res digital files. We’re big fans of this product, too, and have included it on our list of the best turntables.
Sony PS-HX500 review: Design
When the quality of the music is the most important thing, why bother too much with looks? That seems to have been Sony’s thinking when it came to designing the PS-HX500. Stark, angular and minimalist, this all-black audio device doesn’t exactly demand attention, though we can’t deny it looks refined in an understated kind of way.
Seen from the front, the only things visible on the PS-HX500 are the turntable itself – comprising a high-inertia, aluminium die-cast platter topped by a 5mm rubber mat – a dial on the left that enables you to select between two different speeds (33 1/3 and 45rpm), and, on the right, a newly designed, straight tonearm with integrated headshell. According to the manufacturer, this type of tonearm “improves durability and stabilises the cartridge for superior focusing and dimensionality of sound”.
Adding to the cool, calm and collected appeal of this turntable is the Hi-Res Audio sticker at the front. It’s almost as if the PS-HX500 is reminding us what it’s capable of, without shouting about it.
Sony’s turntable is powered by a belt-drive motor – a system that is often favoured by audiophiles as it tends to minimise reverberation during playback. And all of this is housed in a 30mm-thick, acoustic-grade MDF cabinet, with rubber dampers on the bottom to help eliminate vibration.
Note that the PS-HX500 features an internal phono pre-amplifier, though the inclusion of a line output means you can use your own pre-amp if you’d prefer.
Sony PS-HX500 review: Features
Vinyl connoisseurs might balk, but the headline feature of this turntable is its internal DSD-native analogue to digital converter, which enables it to convert records into hi-res digital files (up to 5.6MHz). This is achieved by attaching the PS-HX500 to a PC or Mac via its USB type-B port, and downloading Sony’s Hi-Res Audio Recorder software. From there on, the process is easy – simply hit ‘record’ when your vinyl playback starts, and ‘stop’ once your track or album has ended.
Converting your old Saxon records to digital might seem pointless when you can stream pretty much any track ever made simply by signing up to one of the streaming services such as Amazon Music, Deezer or Spotify. But being able to hear your lovingly amassed vinyl cache in glorious high definition changes things somewhat.
While no digital recreation could ever perfectly echo the vinyl-listening experience (in our opinion, at least), the hi-res files we created with this thing came close, recalling at least some of that toasty crackle and pop. Note that the PS-HX500 is also able to convert analogue music into WAV files (up to 24-bit/192kHz).
A quick word about setting up the turntable: while there are about a dozen steps to follow before you can start to play your music, each one is simple to negotiate and you should be up and running within about 10 minutes.
Sony PS-HX500 review: Sound
Sony has an impressive pedigree when it comes to making audio products, so we went into the PS-HX500’s sound test with some confidence. On its website, the Japanese firm leaves no stone unturned in its description of this turntable’s various qualities (even the circuit board’s glass epoxy resin gets a credit for contributing to the sound quality).
And while we didn’t get to spend a huge amount of time in its company, the first couple of sides of Led Zeppelin‘s Physical Graffiti were enough to show us what this award-winning deck is capable of. Spacious and textured, with strong bass and clear treble, and virtually no background noise, the PS-HX500’s sonic abilities were an able match for Plant and co’s rock god dexterity.
Sony PS-HX500 review: The competition
Struggling to get past the PS-HX500’s minimalist looks? Unfortunately, you’ll find that turntable manufacturers are increasingly going down that route. One deck that slightly veers from the theme is the Pro-Ject Juke Box E Bluetooth Turntable (£429/$605). It combines a fun, quirky design with terrific sound quality – though it will cost you more than Sony’s bit of kit.
Slightly cheaper than the PS-HX500 is Pro-Ject’s T1 (£260/$367). It doesn’t look vastly different to Sony’s turntable, but at least you get a stylish see-through platter (woo-hoo!) and the bass sounds fantastic.