Pioneer PL-30-K Automatic Single Play Turntable

Spend some time with Pioneer’s PL-30-K automatic turntable ($349 MSRP/$300 “street price”) and you’ll quickly realize it’s not a “throwaway” turntable put together in haste by a company keen on “cashing in” on the vinyl resurgence.

It’s a very well thought out product aimed at a particular market segment: the music fan looking to play records with minimum hassle.

At 12.3 pounds it’s not exactly a high-mass ‘table but it’s also not a light-weight piece of plastic. The weight mostly comes from a metal plate in the chassis bottom that lowers the center of gravity and helps immunize the ‘table from footfalls.

The lightweight die-cast aluminum platter topped by a relatively heavy 5mm “moderately” thick rubber mat is belt-driven via a D.C. servo controlled motor.

A straight pipe arm with a detachable, locking collet-type head shell comes fitted with an Audio-Technica 3600L moving magnet cartridge that tracks at a 3.5 grams, which I consider unacceptably high, but it’s an easily solvable problem.

The cartridge and its variants are among the world’s most popular. The “L” model with the white plastic housing features a carbon fiber cantilever fitted with a spherical stylus. The 3600L sells for around $25.00, with replacement styli priced at around $12 and up.

The arm has an effective length of 221.5mm with a 19mm overhang. It can accommodate cartridges weighing from 4.5 to 9.5 grams. < b>Easy Set-up and Use

Pioneer has done an outstanding job with the directions so even a first time turntable owner can easily set it up correctly. The belt is in place around the platter’s inner hub, with a “grab and pinch” piece of paper attached at the access opening.

It allows you to stretch the belt over the pulley without touching and contaminating it with finger oil, after which it can easily be removed from the belt. After removing the stylus guard, you balance the arm, set the tracking and anti-skating force and after plugging in the ‘table, you’re ready to go, though it’s important to check the “line-phono” switch at the back to make sure it’s set to “phono” (2.5mV output) if you’re plugging the ‘table into a moving magnet phono preamp, or to “line” (150mV) if you’re plugging it into a line level input.

Put a record on the platter and after selecting record size and speed, simply push the “play” button. The platter starts turning and the arm moves across and lowers itself gently onto the record surface. At the end of the side the arm rises and moves back to the rest.

The mechanism proved to be 100% gentle and 100% reliable.

What to Do About the 3.5g Tracking Force

As the review was getting way, an email arrived from the LP Gear website offering for review theCF3600LE, a newly developed Audio-Technica cartridge exclusive to LP Gear that uses an elliptical stylus on the carbon fiber cantilever in place of the spherical one on the supplied cartridge.

Along with an obvious sonic and tracing improvement the elliptical stylus replacement tracks at 1.8-3.5 grams, with 2.5 grams optimal. The cartridge’s list price is $75 but on the LP Gear website it was priced at $34.95, with the stylus replacement costing $29.98. In other words, you might as well buy the whole cartridge, though you’ll just want to pop out the white spherical stylus and replace it with the elliptical one.

After auditioning the original stylus with a few expendable records in went the LP Gear elliptical tracking at a full gram less. The sonic improvement was noticeable in terms of high frequency clarity and extension and improved detail.

The Built-in Phono Preamp

It gets the job done but to get more from the ‘table and cartridge it’s worth investing in an outboard phono preamp. I listened through the Schiit MANI SCH-18, an American made MM/MC unit that sells for $159 (sorry, not going to make any “Schiity jokes” other than that one) and later I listened through a Pluto phono preamp, a brand new dedicated MM one from the U-Turn folks, made in America that sells for a ridiculously low $89.00. Too bad they didn’t call it Uranus, which would have melded nicely with Schiit (oops, two Schiit jokes. I’ll stop now). Separate reviews to follow.

I chose not to try other, more expensive cartridges in the PL-30-K because I feel this automatic turntable is a “starter” ‘table, or a “finisher” turntable for those only interested in hearing records without regard to sonics, though with the upgraded stylus, the PL-30-K sounded decent enough.

The overall sound was warm, with reasonably good low frequency extension and control and a rich, somewhat ripe midrange. The high frequencies were less than fully developed but cleanly rendered and overall you could say things were a bit murky compared to both far more expensive and similarly prices ‘tables that don’t offer the Pioneer’s feature set of built-in phono preamp and automatic start and stop.

Of course I was playing it through my reference system, which was a ridiculous fit. I imagine through a budget priced system with somewhat steely high frequencies, the Pioneer might be just the “warming trend” required to produce a pleasing overall balance.

The biggest issue was the unit’s approximately 1% fast speed. With a D.C. servo motor onboard, it’s possible that a speed adjustment potentiometer might be lurking within, but finding it was not my job, nor would most buyers be likely to look—or to even notice the slight speed error. Better too fast than too slow, though better to be on speed! However, speed consistency was impressive, which led to decent “rhythm’n’pacing” despite the slightly less than well-controlled bottom end.

The Pioneer’s strongest suits then, were its impressively quiet background and its speed consistency. I’d say a young person given one of these and a stack of clean records, would have a blast, freed from the harsh, hard, sterile grim reality of MP3 files.

Before packing it up, I put the PL-30-K in “phono” and plugged it into the Vanatoo powered speakers I bought after reviewing them and the combo worked better than the ‘table plugged into the big system. It was a more appropriate match.

Conclusion

Pioneer’s PL-30-K is not intended for the “serious” audiophile, yet the company has produced a well-designed and built automatic turntable that goes the extra revolution to produce pleasing sound and a mechanical infrastructure that will take good care of the records played on it. There’s a well-defined constituency for an automatic turntable so while this might not be for you, it is definitely for those people, and with this ‘table their records will live to see another generation. However, I highly recommend the stylus upgrade for the better sound and a gram lower tracking force.

Have a look here:

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

...from multiple sources. Another option is the Ortofon Omega for about $30.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes, that too is an excellent cartridge we've covered on AP
Ortofan's picture

...product planning meeting at Pioneer, but do you think that the automated tonearm feature is essential for an entry-level turntable such as this? Would lift-off (and maybe motor stop) at the end of the record been sufficient? Should it have been a completely manual design? And, then, would the savings in parts and labor have been better put toward a higher performance cartridge?

rtrt's picture

...we're looking for...

Michael Fremer's picture
Are you looking for?
rtrt's picture

In the pipeline. Iirc there was a reference somewhere - stereophile maybe that you were planning to review.

Think I've seen some others say the same thing on Hoffman too.

I asked on your axons 2015 story with an off topic comment and to be fair a typo where I said plc-1000. You replied but were maybe thinking about this one.

Apologies for the star wars ref earlier- reading about the new movie to come, earlier today!

Garven's picture

Same here. I thought (and was hoping) a review of the PLX-1000 was coming as it's got far more potential with on-the-fly VTA, direct drive, universal headshell, no built-in junk phono stage, detachable interconnects, etc.

Plus, Herb Reichert's Stereophile review claimed the PLX-1000 "is a serious contender for the best audiophile-grade turntable for less than $2000" so I thought the esteemed Mr. Fremer would put it through the paces to see if that was a valid assessment.

rtrt's picture

This.

Plus whether you experience any shortcomings in your testing Mike?

Mostly I've read that the manufacturer quoted w&f are 'too high' but since there's no context around the figures, an independent view would be beneficial.

Also the arm apparently suffers from some samples showing bearings that are loose and need to be tightened out of the box.

Appreciate a sample of 1, especially if shipped from the manufacturer may not be representative but still...

Garven's picture

Yeah the Stereophile review test showed their unit was only 0.02% W&F, which is about the same as the old Technics SL-1200's real numbers, and much better than the manufacturer's spec of 0.1%.

Michael Fremer's picture
I'll get one down the line. Meanwhile next up here will be the new Onkyo DD
rtrt's picture

ok Mike thanks -look forward to it and the Onkyo

Mark UK's picture

Over 40 years plus of being interested in High Fidelity I have always found that Pioneer equipment is a cut above most other 'high street' equipment. For example, my first 'serious' turntable was a Garrard SP25. Replaced a year later by the then highly regarded and low cost ($40 approx. at the time) Pioneer PL12, which is still in the attic. And I have never found an FM tuner at any price (we still have very good FM radio in the UK) that is a significant improvement on my $100 Pioneer TX540L 'analog' tuner, so it is still in daily use after 30-40 years.

This turntable? Personally if I was a beginner I would buy it in preference to the crude baseline Project or Rega turntables. In fact even with my experience, such as it is, I would still buy it in preference to those. Not because of its 'auto' function, but because of its easy availability in the high street and its likely superior quality of manufacture.

Inbuilt phono amp? Excellent idea - a potential new person trying vinyl for the first will be put off buying a turntable at all when he finds out he normally has to buy an extra box, at a price not so different from a budget turntable. And the inbuilt phono amp will be perfectly adequate for any cartridge he is likely to use.

Shame about the high tracking force of the supplied cartridge though. A 'newbie' will not dream of changing it and will likely think such a tracking force is the norm, which is a pity. They SHOULD have chosen a different one. If the buyer is in any way aware of the desirability of changing the cartridge it will again put him off. They did half of it right with the inbuilt phono amp, why not this too? (It is unlikely to be a limitation caused by the 'auto' function, I think.)

Rockadelic's picture

sometime later after the belt had 'settled' in? By the way will you be reviewing another TT named Connected Essentials, model CET500 which is similar to the pioneer.
We will be interested to see your views on that one.

calaf's picture

Michael (or anyone),
could you please spell out for a beginner why automatic TT are not audiophile-grade? Is there something in the extra mechanics that prevents the TT to work well? Or is it just that audiophiles like to jump off their couches when a record side is over? :-)

Mark UK's picture

They are 'bad' simply because the manufacturers of 'high-end' turnables are usually very small companies who do not have the facilities, expertise, or resources to make anything complicated.

Direct drive turntables are 'bad' for the same reason.

Ortofan's picture

...turntables in that, when the built-in phono preamp was set to be bypassed its input was still connected to the phono cartridge. Thus, even if its output wasn't being used, the input to the built-in phono preamp was still loading down the cartridge. Is this Pioneer unit designed the same way, or not?

Ortofan's picture

...turntables in that, when the built-in phono preamp was set to be bypassed its input was still connected to the phono cartridge. Thus, even if its output wasn't being used, the input to the built-in phono preamp was still loading down the output of the cartridge. Is the Pioneer designed the same way?

DJ Huk's picture

I bought the Schiit MANI SCH-18 because of the price and I liked that it had various gain options. I was very pleasantly surprised: nice clear sound for the bucks. I wonder why you or Stereophile haven't reviewed it yet: I realize it's budget, but it's manufactured by audiophiles (in the U.S. too) and would make a great addition to a beginner's table.

762rob's picture

Great alternative to the Crosleys out there. I always see the young people bringing broken ones into our local HIFI repair shop here in Nashville - they also love to bring in old console record changer pulls as well.
Great way to trash records- sigh....
I have 3 Pioneer tables, a PL 530, PL 570 and the Reference (Elite) series PL 90 they are all great vintage tables.
I use the PL 530 with an Ortolan red for vintage vinyl and the PL 570 has a vintage Pickering - the PL -90 with a Denon 103 for new vinyl.

mraudioguru's picture

The Schiit Mani phono stage is $129, not $159 and is a pretty decent little phono stage.

clemente_raya's picture

Thank you Mr. Fremer for taking the time to review an turntable that cost less than $10,000, it is refreshing to not see another astronomical price tag on a piece of audio gear. Keep up the goo work.

clemente_raya's picture

Thank you Mr. Fremer for taking the time to review a turntable that cost less than $10,000, it is refreshing to not see another astronomical price tag on a piece of audio gear. Keep up the good work.

John Macca's picture

Well, life under a zillion bucks?

green circles's picture

This turntable is almost 100% identical to the Denon DP-300F that has been out for several years. It has the same arm (silver instead of black), same base, same start/stop buttons on the front, etc etc

I wonder who manufactures these for Denon and Pioneer?

msl's picture

Yes - some of the new low cost tables out there like this Pioneer are pretty decent. As others noted, the PL-30-K appears to a share a similar arm and detachable headshell to the Denon DP-300F and the Teac TN-300, and probably the same electronic controls are in side. Kind of reminds me of he old days with CEC designed turntables being branded by several manufacturers.

With a few tweaks I think all of them can be excellent players - the 3.5g tracking with the as shipped cartridge on the Pioneer is obviously not good, but the tone arm is low mass and can handle a higher compliance stylus without issue.

Looking forward to your Onkyo review too.

mtgman's picture

In your review, you mention partnering the excellent Schiit Mani and U-Turn outboard phono amps. So, what was the outcome, what were the improvements, if any, with these attached to the Pioneer PL30-K with improved Audio Technica CF3600LE and bypassing the built-in phono stage? It would also be great to run these two phono stages on the Denon and Teac, budget turntables, with this cartridge and others - like the Ortofon Red and Blue cartridges! This gives entry turntable buyers valuable information and also gives valuable information for us established vinyl enthusiasts to buy turntables, cartridges, and phono stages as gifts to our friends and relatives!

Audiolad's picture

Since when does a reviewer rate a turntable by the throw away cartridge they give you. Remember, if it's premounted, then you can mark the overhang position for the needle. It surely makes changing cartridges much easier. What if it had an Ortofon black, would it be an audiophile turntable. It gets into a grey area what an audiophile turntable really is. Let's say you add this crappie cart to the Clearaudio turntables, would they then become entry level? My feeling is every review should be made using exactly the same cartridge, so then you get the turntable rating.

Leyland1671's picture

I'm sorry, I do not see the point here. This turntable is not at all developed by Pioneer. In fact, it can appear under another brand name, perhaps Denon. Perhaps Pioneer had a few wishes on its list but underneath it is just a Hanpin, made in Taiwan. Just like the Audio-Technica turntables, like the also reviewd AT-LP120 (usb) it is a Hanpin product. Not bad but not intended for the serious listener. At least these turntables leave your records in shape if properly adjusted and maintained. So maybe not a bad product, something that I do not denie, but at this price level there are better choices that can be made.

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