Review: Victrola Stream Carbon Turntable for Sonos Streaming
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A turntable that connects to Sonos? Uh-huh.
The Victrola Stream Carbon turntable is the first ever turntable certified by Sonos and the first turntable with Sonos streaming capability built-in. This means that you can stream directly from your turntable to your Sonos system over Wi-Fi without needing any other components or wires. Just plug it in and connect it to your network. Easy peasy... right? So let's set the stage: I'm a senior technician with World Wide Stereo - going on 20 years now. I'm not a writer and not a salesman. I've set up every kind of audio system there is - from the most basic, to fine tuned and calibrated systems worth tens of thousands in our client's homes. I've heard the good and the KNOCK-YOUR-SOCKS-OFF-WAIT-I'M-CRYING/HOLY-COW good. I'm a 2-channel lover at heart and I have a massive record collection. So, it's probably of no surprise that I was skeptical at the thought of taking the most sacred of music rituals and the most analog of experiences and digitizing it. But that's exactly what Victrola did with the Stream Carbon turntable and World Wide Stereo sent me (yes, the skeptic) home with one to try out.
2-Channel vs. Streaming
I have a dedicated 2-channel music room that houses my record collection and is the retreat where I do my critical listening. The physical act of combing through my collection and rediscovering something I haven't played in a while - or sometimes ever is a special experience. But, if I'm looking to get things done around the house, it's a hassle to have to run back to the 2-channel room to flip the record over. Not to mention, if I want to hear the record I'm playing anywhere else in the house, I'm reliant on turning it up LOUD, which just doesn't fly.
Out of convenience, I have Sonos streaming throughout my house. I have a Sonos Move in the kitchen that frequently ventures outside with us, various One's and One SL speakers and an Amp powering a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 803 D2s in our great room. Sonos is easy, sounds great, and I can play anything I want in seconds, anywhere. And, with a toddler, having the ability to cue up Baby Shark with a voice command is priceless. At the same time, there's a nostalgic, tactile experience that digital music and streaming lack for me.
So, how does Victrola bridge the gap with the Stream Carbon?
If you're at all familiar with the Victrola product assortment, you'll know that they generally appeal to those that like an element of nostalgia with their music, but also want the luxury of modern day conveniences like wireless streaming and easy setup. The Stream Carbon is Victrola's attempt to bridge the gap and by far their most bold and advanced product launch to date... with a price point to match.
I have considered connecting my turntable to a Sonos Port to get it on my Sonos network in the past, but I didn't want the sacrifice in quality by splitting the RCA output of my turntable and running a pair of RCA's into my amplifier, and another pair of RCA's into a line in of a Sonos Port. The Victrola Stream's built-in Wi-Fi lets you connect wirelessly right to the Sonos network or you can use the ethernet port on the back. By connecting to Wi-Fi, It also has a ground lug and a pair of gold-plated RCA outputs, so this turntable can be used easily and independently of the Sonos system by connecting to your existing hi-fi system.
The Victrola Stream gives me the ability to have a turntable in my great room and simply bring a few records at a time downstairs (my main 2-channel room is on the second floor). If I'm doing things around the house, odds are I am within quick walking distance of the great room. If I don't make it to the turntable in time to flip or switch out the record, the Stream stops at the run-off grooves and I don't have to worry about wear and tear on my cartridge from leaving an unattended record playing my least favorite song: Run Off Grooves.
I'm also the kind of music listener who wants to hear a record from track 1 until the end. I'm a dying breed, but I prefer linear listening as opposed to the convenient but more digital approach of track-skipping, artist or genre bouncing around. This is a perfect solution for this piece of equipment. As an avid collector of records of all formats, this would also save some money on a few monthly streaming service plans.
The Stream Carbon is packaged in several different black cloth bags and weighs in at 13.2 pounds. The first thing you see as you open the box is a QR code that gives you instant access to the Victrola App. You'll want to download the app once you're ready to connect the turntable to your Sonos network and speakers. There is a very straightforward video showing the setup of the turntable and also a simple picture-based instructional guide. They've covered all of their bases here to appeal to different skill levels.
Stream Carbon Build Quality
My first impression: it's heavy! Not necessarily heavy by turntable standards, but heavy in a way that makes me think solid, premium materials. The profile is sleek and modern, with rounded edges, a silver face and black body. The illuminated volume control is a nice touch with a tactile feel and lets you adjust volume manually (or you can use the Sonos app). It has a carbon fiber tonearm (meaning it's super lightweight and rigid = what you want in your turntable), aluminum head, and a pre-installed Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. More importantly, as I said before, it's Sonos-certified, so it doesn't need any wires plugged in to provide whole-home sound (other than the power cord, of course). If you decide to use conventional speakers, it does have the set of gold plated RCA outputs for direct hookup.
This piece comes mostly assembled right out of the box, but there are a few things Victrola has you primed for to get started. First off is the installation of the platter and connecting the belt. Anyone who has ever set up a turntable knows the importance of keeping any kind of oil from your fingers off of the belt to improve its longevity. Victrola has a great plan for this: The belt itself is taped to the platter and then secured with a small piece of ribbon. The end user simply removes the tape and then pulls the ribbon to the spindle located through a hole in the platter. Once the belt is secured, the tape and the ribbon are removed and it's time to put the silicone slipmat on the platter and you're ready to go!
Next the headshell and cartridge are installed. There is only one way the headshell can be connected to the Carbon Fiber tone arm: match up the groove on the top of the headshell, slide it onto the tonearm and a thumb screw is tightened to secure the connection. Simple.
Once the headshell and cartridge are installed you will add the countersink weight to the back of the tonearm. There are two marks on the back of the tone arm. One is designed for the Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge that comes with the turntable. Slide the counter weight up to this line and it's time to begin the setup within the Victrola App.
The app setup couldn't be a more simple and intuitive process. Connect your phone or tablet to the Wi-Fi and follow the on screen prompts. You will be prompted to name your turntable and select the default room for playback if using a Sonos system. In my case I'm using the "Great Room B&W 803 D3s" running through a Sonos Amp. It's recommended through the app if using through Sonos to set Autoplay to "on". This way, there is no need for human interaction to start playing a record other than putting the needle down. The turntable has an automatic start, so when the needle is hovering over the wax, the platter begins to spin. Once the run-off grooves of the record are touched, the platter stops spinning.
One function of the system that I found particularly beneficial is the Wireless Audio Delay. The default setting in the player is medium, but in moving it to high I was able to notice a discernible difference in the audio quality.
There is a volume knob on the front of the turntable which will adjust the volume in the room it's playing in. If you group the rooms using the Sonos App, you will be able to adjust the group volume as well.
The integration through Sonos is done completely automatically, if you prefer. But you can also turn off Autoplay and use the volume knob on the front of the turntable to trigger the connection to the default audio zone. I preferred the Autoplay function, for a "set it and forget it" experience without having to turn on equipment, or navigate my Sonos app for anything other than room grouping.
When played on the highest quality setting, this turntable sounded wonderful. Rivalling, if not besting other turntables in the same price point. This is an excellent idea for a product and an even better product. Retailing at $799 and shipping with everything you need to be listening to your record collection in under a half hour (for most, even sooner). From the time the expertly put together packaging is removed through to the ease of use, this is a turntable for everyone (with Sonos). This is also the turntable for anywhere. With no added wires other than a power cord and no additional components needed (I started testing this initially on my kitchen island), this turntable can be placed on any flat surface within your home.
Victrola Stream Carbon Pros:
- Sonos streaming built-in
- Easy set-up for all experience levels
- Included Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge
- High-end design with premium materials
- No extra components means you can place the turntable just about anywhere you have power and a flat surface
Victrola Stream Carbon Cons:
- Price point may be on the high end for some, but if you were going to connect a turntable to Sonos, you would probably end up spending upwards of $1,000 for all the necessary components.