Crosley Radio has made a name for itself with bargain bin turntables for beginners, steadily becoming the world’s largest turntable manufacturer over the past two decades by way of its affordable suitcase models. But as the market continues to mature, more listeners are on a pricier upgrade path, leading the brand to step into loftier offerings. After spending time with Crosley’s entry-level C200 turntable, our curiosity about the company’s higher class of stationary offerings led us to dig even deeper for our Crosley C20 turntable review.
At $400, the C20 is the most expensive turntable Crosley has to offer, and it sure sounds like it. By combining a belt drive, a high-end Ortofon cartridge, and a high-mass acrylic platter at a relatively affordable price, Crosley has stepped into the high-end space with a product that even audiophiles should enjoy.
Out of the Box
The C20 enters your life in pieces, packed in a simple box that contains the turntable, platter, dust guard, tonearm counterweight, anti-skating weight, drive belt, USB cable, power cable, instruction booklet, and a smattering of tools to help you put it all together.
For those with some experience assembling turntables, the C20 comes together much like any other belt-driven device. Simply put on the platter and belt, tack on the lid, install the counterweight, and adjust the tonearm to the recommended tracking pressure. Then, plug everything in. From there, all you’ve got to do is pick which disc you want to spin first.
The instruction booklet has a helpful diagram and step by step instructions. It may seem complicated, but once you get started, you’ll be spinning wax in no time.
Crosley’s high-end option is simple and elegant in both form and function.
The striking zebrawood veneer is just about as thick as the eye-catching acrylic platter, and the simple black tonearm is accented by a trio of black metal feet, each of which is connected to shock absorbing rubber. There’s nothing much special about the plastic dust cover, save a silver Crosley logo in the center.
The C20 is simple and elegant in both form and function.
On its own, the C20 is downright gorgeous. Where we typically leave a record on any turntable we aren’t listening to for quick-play opportunities, the C20 is so beautiful with its acrylic platter in the nude, we found ourselves removing every record immediately after playback, just so we could gaze at the gorgeous topside between plays.
All functional elements of the C20 are well-hidden but easy to get to. You’ll find the RCA out, USB (for transferring vinyl to digital), and power cable inputs on black panels at the turntable’s rear, along with a switch that lets you choose between the built-in phono preamp or your external device. At this price point, we expect most would-be buyers already own an amp or receiver with a built-in phono output or a standalone preamp, but it is nice to know the C20 can plug-and-play when needed, speaking to the fact that Crosley sees even its best table as an upgrade device; Maybe you are buying a nice table now, and still saving for that sweet preamp or integrated amp as you .
Crosley opted for a no-frills approach for playback, adding just a simple power switch on the bottom left side, and no auto-return option to send the needle home when a side is done. That’s not all that uncommon with turntables of this ilk, but we were a bit frustrated with the lack of a switch to change speeds between 33 and 45 RPM for singles. To change speeds your forced to remove the platter and physically change the belt between two different hubs, which could be problematic if you often switch between singles and full-length LPs.
The tonearm itself operates smoothly, though, gently descending onto the outside of your vinyl when you lower the lever, and the included needle moves perfectly from right to left with no skipping when set to the correct pressure.
It may not have many bells and whistles, but the C20 sounds impeccable. That’s largely because every component is high quality. The high-mass platter comes straight from acclaimed manufacturer Pro-Ject, and the standard cartridge is a sweet-sounding Ortofon OM10, which combine for ear-pleasing spins.
The acrylic platter is so beautiful, we found ourselves removing every record after playback to gaze at it.
Even on our most worn out record — a beloved inherited copy of Elton John’s Madman Across The Water — clicks and pops were noticeably quieter than on lower-cost tables, and we noted a dramatic increase in mid and high-range clarity, too. The mandolins and snare drums on Holiday Inn jumped out of our speakers with gusto, providing a fresh and exciting shimmer to the already-beautiful mix.
Stereo separation and the overall soundstage are wider here than on the more affordable Crosley C200, with records like CSNY’s Deja Vu feeling almost haunting in their scope, especially at higher volumes through our stacked vintage Advent speakers.
On bassier tracks like those on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, all frequencies come through with gorgeous precision. Each element of the sound is richly represented in analog, but the C20 brings out impressive clarity you won’t hear from your budget table.
We achieved better sound with even an affordable outboard preamp like the Art Pro DJPRE II than with the built-in preamp. This was expected, as most high-end listeners will be using a standalone preamp, but it is worth noting that the fidelity wasn’t dramatically worse through the built-in option.Our Take
The Crosley C20 looks and sounds fantastic, and is easily the best piece of hardware we’ve come across yet from the brand.
Is there a better alternative?
There are a lot of great turntables in this price range, but the C20 offers among the best value you’ll find in its price bracket. That said, you’ll find an extremely similar table in Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon with an acrylic platter upgrade, and Pro-Ject provides a slightly more expensive cartridge and tonearm for just a moderate price increase.
How long will it last?
Provided you treat it well and occasionally replace the stylus, cartridge, and belt over time, there is no reason the Crosley C20 shouldn’t last for decades of solid use.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re looking to upgrade your analog audio setup to that next step towards audiophilia, the Crosely C20 is an excellent option.