JBL’s compact turntable combines wireless streaming to headphones, Bluetooth speakers – or earbuds – with simple operation and great sound. The JBL Spinner BT is a great place to start for anyone who has bought their first LP and has plans for more albums.
It’s not where you’ll find the ultimate in budget sound quality. In that case, you’d be better off looking towards affordable players from Rega, Pro-Ject or Reloop.
But JBL’s wireless player is among the most affordable turntables that sound great and can also be upgraded at a later date. I’ll get back to that last point in a moment.
But first, a review of what you get for your money.
The JBL player is one of very few wireless turntables with Bluetooth aptX HD, which supports streaming up to 24-bit high-resolution audio and is the Bluetooth standard with potentially the highest sound quality.
The downside is that aptX HD only works with headphones and speakers that support aptX HD, and you can’t stream music from the player to some of Apple’s AirPod models, for example. As you know, they only work with Apple devices.
However, you can connect the player to your stereo via the outputs on the back.
Built-in phono stage
The Spinner comes with everything you need to get started. It’s built on a simple lightweight MDF plinth with a thin aluminium plate driven by a silicone belt. It comes with a felt mat, cables, dust cover, a single adapter and an MM pickup pre-mounted in a removable pickup housing.
It doesn’t take long to assemble and how to do so is well explained in the included instruction manual. Once everything is in place, just make sure it’s on a flat and stable surface. Then just plug it in and start playing records.
On the back, you’ll find a blue button to connect with Bluetooth. Press and hold the button and wait for the blue light behind the record disc to flash quickly, then you can pair the player with a speaker or headphones. The included cable connects to the amplifier and if it has a built-in phono stage for MM pickup, you can disconnect the player’s built-in with a switch on the back.
The third of the four switches on the back is a switch that turns autostart on or off. If it’s on, simply move your arm towards the disc and the player will start. The last switch is the power switch.
The speed is switched between 33.33 and 45 rpm with two buttons on the front.
In this price range, we don’t pay much attention to measurements, but it’s still worth mentioning. The 33.33 rotational speed deviation was quite a bit lower at 33.15 rpm. Which is a deviation of -0.55 per cent and within the acceptable range. But the fluctuations, or wow & flutter, were worse. Here, the measurements showed a deviation of 0.75 per cent. In practice, this means that you can hear a piano note fluctuate in pitch.
The included pickup is a cheap Audio Technica AT3600L, which does an excellent job, and since it’s mounted in a removable headshell, it’s easy to upgrade by changing pickups. For example, to an Audio Technica AT-VM95, Ortofon 2M Red or Sumiko Oyster. An even more expensive pickup would be a waste because there are some resonances in the player. Among other things, from a somewhat imprecise arm suspension, which will cause resonances to propagate to the pickup.
Built-in phono stage
The Spinner comes with everything you need to get started. It’s built on a simple lightweight MDF plinth with a thin aluminium platter driven by a silicone belt. It comes with a felt mat, cables, dust cover, single adapter and an MM pickup pre-mounted in a removable pickup housing.
It doesn’t take long to assemble and how to do so is well explained in the included instruction manual. Once everything is in place, just make sure it’s on a flat and stable surface. Then just plug it in and start playing discs.
The sound is suddenly much bigger and fuller with the JBL player connected to a Hegel H190 – from the player’s built-in phono stage – and a pair of Dynaudio Special Forty. Even great recordings like 2L’s Living with Jan Gunnar Hoff playing solo on a concert piano sound fantastic.
With the player’s in-built phono stage, the piano sounds well-defined, but it lacks depth and the bass reproduction is tame. Even worse, the sound is flat, there’s almost no discernible dynamics here, and a disc swap to Keith Jarrett, Dire Straits or Miles Davis makes no difference.
With the player’s built-in phono stage disconnected in favour of the turntable input in our reference – the Yamaha A-S3200 – everything immediately sounds better. The bass comes out from wherever it had been hiding, the soundstage opens up, and there’s actually some dynamics in the sound of the JBL player. It doesn’t have the warm, rich sound of the wireless Yamaha TT-N503 or the dynamic contrast of a Rega Planar 1, but it turns out that good sound also resides in the cheap JBL player. But under certain conditions.
Rega shows why they are considered number one in the market on sound for money.
The JBL Spinner BT has the advantage of being the only wireless turntable with Bluetooth aptX HD. Which can potentially provide better sound on compatible speakers or headphones. It doesn’t have Wi-Fi, which JBL has started rolling out in more of its Bluetooth speakers, but it does have a built-in phono stage, which means it can be connected to any amplifier – or speakers that have an audio input. The sound quality is acceptable when streaming via Bluetooth, and it gets better with a fuller sound and bigger soundstage when the player is connected to a stereo. But it’s not as dynamic and open as the best turntables in the same price range. If you’re very concerned about sound quality, consider how important it is to you that the player is wireless. If you can live without that, you can get better sound quality for your money elsewhere.
The first fully network and multiroom compatible record player