As someone who hung onto their vinyl record collection and record player much longer than most I have been somewhat encouraged by the recent vinyl revival. Let’s be honest, if its crystal clear audio and convenience you are looking for vinyl isn’t it. Vinyl offers something different. Vinyl has a distinctive lack of audio cleanness and perfection, vinyl fans call this harmonic distortion “warmth”. The sound of vinyl is also arguably more immersive. The lack of a skip track function also makes albums a more holistic experience, as intended by the artist. So has Sony’s PS-HX500 hit that sweet spot between the traditional warmth and immersive nature of vinyl while combining the usability and convenience of a modern music player?
Sony is no stranger to the world of vinyl, having made record players for over 50 years. However, the PS-HX500 sets itself apart from the rest, offering owners the ability to rip their records in double-DSD format. Once captured you can then transfer your digital music files into a number of formats giving you high quality vinyl reproduction on your preferred digital music player.
The PS-HX500 lhas clean lines and straight tone arm have a whiff of Rega about them. Build quality is top-notch, with some lovely attention to detail. The turntable mat is a full 5mm thick with a dimple in the centre. Given that records are a bit thicker in the middle, thanks to the label, this affectation enables them to sit perfectly flat.
The 30mm plinth is made from heavy-density fibreboard, and is satisfyingly solid. Sony insists that the dust-cover shape was chosen because it was deemed to sound better than alternate designs.
The turntable sports a two-speed, 33 1/3rpm for albums and 45rpm for 7” singles, rotary dial with a Standby mode. When switched on, the electrical circuit activates and any computer connected to the USB is alerted to the turntable’s presence. Connections include an analogue stereo line output, with a GRD terminal if needed, plus USB-B for PC hookup. There’s also level adjustment available from the insulator feet.
Setting up the turntable is simple and straightforward. The turntable boasts a separate phono equaliser – it’s literally bolted onto the undercarriage, and can be toggled via the back panel to suit your amplifier. Here, you can treat the deck as a regular line-level source. You can even plug it directly into a wireless multi-room speaker system and network your records.
The straight tone arm looks great; not only does it seem rather more fashionable than a J- or S-shaped arm, it tracks really well. The PS-HX500 is uniquely appealing in that it enables you to archive that first pristine needle drop for posterity, in the best-possible audio-recording format currently available. You’re then free to spin your record as often or as little as you like, or listen to the file with either portable hardware or a NAS-based media-playback system.
The Sony software is available for both Windows and Mac and is simple and intuitive. The interface is clean with a stereo timeline with big record and pause buttons. You can choose the recording format, which can be either linear PCM WAV or DSD at 2.8MHz or 5.6MHz. Generally, DSD 2.8MHz has greater compatibility, and there’s no obvious sonic compromise. This 1-bit recording system has a huge dynamic range with an extended frequency response, and is more than capable of capturing the output of the deck.
Maximum recording time is 80 minutes per session. Once recorded you can add digital markers to separate the recordings into tracks and then write the digital files to a destination of your choice. There’s no other editing functionality provided, so you’ll need a third-party package to tag and add metadata, art and so on (MP3 Tag now supports WAV, for what it’s worth).
Sonically, the turntable is terrific. Straight out of the box, there’s no sense of sibilance or stridency. This is a very mature, relaxed listen, with grin-inducing musicality. The DSD and Hi-Res WAV rips offer a complete mirror of the original playback experience. While it’s easy enough to edit out that needle-landing bump, it is part of the whole vinyl experience along with the crackles, so why would you?
Overall, the PS-HX500 is a fantastic turntable. Its minimalistic design and the artisanal nature of physically having to manipulate your vinyl to play your music. Combined with a rich masterful musicality and the simplicity of the Hi-Res Audio recording software, and you have a nigh-on irresistible marriage of form and function. It is, however, expensive compared to non-DSD rivals and may look too understated for vinyl ‘snobs’. The recording software also is a bit bare-bones. Yet, overall, the PS-HX500 is an inspired mix of cool turntable design and cutting-edge audio.