Few audio companies have a product portfolio as wide ranging as JBL. On the one hand you have a selection of vibrantly coloured Bluetooth speakers that will withstand formidable levels of punishment, while at the other, you have truly iconic high-end stereo and AV speakers. In between, there is a bewildering selection of products to occupy most niches. What there hadn’t been until recently were turntables but the company has now launched a model in its Classic Line of electronics and the more affordable Spinner BT seen here.
Behind the distinctive appearance (don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a bit), the Spinner BT is relatively conventional but well specified at the asking price. It is an unsuspended, belt driven turntable of the sort the dominates this part of the market. There are some useful extra features though. This deck has a phono stage built into the player which means you can connect it to any line level input and it will work fine. If you have a phono stage of your own that you would prefer to use, you can switch the integraed one out of the system completely.
Nor is JBL done there. You’ll also find a pairing button for built in Apt-X HD Bluetooth on the back panel. This means, if your system has Bluetooth, you can simply stream wirelessly from the Spinner. Given the number of Bluetooth speakers that JBL sells, this is very sensible and gives some useful extra flexibility.
Most unusually, the Spinner BT has the option to have the platter automatically start spinning at the speed of your choice when you move the arm across to the record. This is rare to encounter these days and makes the deck extremely simple to use - just remember that there is no other automation so the arm won’t raise at the end or anything like that.
The Spinner has a straight arm with a detachable offset headshell (which means that more commonly seen straight headshells sold aftermarket won’t fit) which comes with a pre-mounted Audio Technica AT-91 cartridge; not the last word in vinyl replay but reliable and a model for which replacement styli are easy to find. The headshell and arm set-up would be capable of doing justice to a higher specification cartridge in the future if you wanted to upgrade.
In one particular area, the Spinner BT is reminiscent of a great many JBL speakers over the years. Behind the rather sudden looks there often lay some careful engineering and a performance that was usefully forgiving. And that’s still the case here. Used via its own phono stage, the Spinner BT is refined without falling into the trap of sounding soft and uninvolving. It will handle a variety of different quality recordings and sound perfectly happy with all of them.
Some of this is down to the balance between the fitted cartridge and the phono stage. The AT-91 is not the most detailed cartridge money can buy but it’s generally quite easy going. However, there seems to be a fractional forward lift in the phono stage that gives the JBL a bit more life and sparkle. This can mean that if your external phono stage is on the warm side the balance might sound a little too soft.
There is no compelling reason to rush into moving away from the internal phono stage though. It doesn’t have enormous amounts of gain but it generates no unwanted noise or hum and it does a good job of presenting a variety of material in a spacious and engaging way. If you listen to the JBL alongside a more expensive and elaborate turntable, you will note that there isn’t quite the same level of detail retrieval and airiness that can be had from the same LP but, crucially, listen to the JBL on its own and it’s consistently enjoyable.
Something else that’s rather engaging is the Bluetooth. I have questioned the presence of this feature on more expensive turntables in the past but on a £350 unit, sold by a company that also makes a veritable army of Bluetooth speakers, it makes rather more sense. While the gain stays fractionally on the low side, the performance of the Spinner BT is captured and maintained even when you switch to wireless transmission. This is unlikely to be the main way most people would elect to use the JBL but it sounds more than reasonable if you do.
Let’s cut to the chase. The JBL is not the most subtle turntable available at this (or indeed any) price. Two finishes are available, both of which use black as a base but then match it with gold or orange detailing. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I prefer the orange one. If you are going to go for something that looks different, you really ought to lean into those differences and go for the one in the lairy colour scheme because the gold one commits the cardinal sin of looking odd without styling it out.
Behind the textured front panel, giant logo and oddly frosted lid that looks for all the world like the Spinner BT has a condensation issue, the JBL is compellingly practical and well specified. Electronic speed control and an internal phono stage are not often found at this price, to say nothing of Bluetooth and semi-automatic operation; the Spinner feels robust and inspires confidence in use. One last detail that I really like is that the Spinner sits on well-damped feet that provide impressive isolation. This is a turntable that could sit next to one of JBL’s giant flagship speakers playing at full chat and yet the stylus will remain planted in the groove.
The JBL isn’t the obvious choice at this price but I admire how the company has gone about instilling points of difference to their affordable turntable. This is a well specified, well made and thoroughly enjoyable device that looks and feels like a JBL should. It’s a great deal of fun and it’s going to charm a lot of people.
Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra The Breaks
A wonderful revisiting of a selection of tracks that are the sort of thing that the JBL looks like it should playing. It delivers them with all their magnificent funkiness intact and revels in the superb display of musicality.
Alan Parsons Project I Robot
This 70s prog rock futuristic stalwart is beautifully mastered and the Spinner BT does a fine job of delivering the complex but extremely satisfying musical arrangements.
Royal Blood Typhoons
A big, gutsy recording with all the subtlety of being punched in the face. The JBL does a nice job of ensuring it never becomes too forward while preserving that entertainingly ballistic edge.
Let’s be honest, most affordable turntables look like a plank of MDF with a platter on top. The JBL Spinner BT has a completely different look and feel to pretty much anything else while still delivering performance that is wholly competitive at this sort of price. Go on, dare to be different…