With the vinyl revival, many people are looking to start listening to music the old fashioned way. There is no debating that vinyl is traditionally an incredibly expensive hobby. The Pioneer PL-990, however, isn’t an expensive turntable.
Pioneer are known for their direct-drive DJ turntables. But when it comes to belt-driven turntables, which are better if you just want to listen to music, they aren’t so well-known. In this review we’ll be taking a look at the Pioneer PL-990 which is their entry-level belt-driven turntable.
Being a simple budget turntable for home listening, the PL-990 doesn’t sport the futuristic and flashy designs of their DJ line turntables. However, its look still strays from the minimalist designs we usually see in belt-driven turntables. It has an old school design and far more things going on at its front. In fact, the Pioneer PL-990 has been around for a long time with updates every now and then, but the design has been left untouched.
Upon taking it out of the box, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my old VHS player. The design comes straight from that era and unfortunately I don’t see it fitting very well in most of today’s home decor. In my opinion there are plenty of better looking record players that are just as affordable as the PL-990. With all that said, design is subjective, and I know people who are fond of the PL-990 design.
The Pioneer PL-990 is an automatic belt-driven turntable. For those unaware, a belt-driven turntable is simply one that uses a belt to spin the platter.
For listening to music, this is the best type of mechanism. DJs, who rely on being able to spin the records without damage to the motor, won’t find much use with this kind of turntable, though.
Being a fully automatic turntable, you don’t have to worry about raising and lowering the tonearm manually. The process is fully automated, so you can just press the play button and let the PL-990 do its thing. This is not only convenient, but especially good for those new to vinyl as you won’t risk damaging the stylus or scratching your precious records. You do of course also have the option to do everything manually, should you want a more hands-on experience.
The PL-990 has a built in preamp that means you can hook it directly to your receiver or speakers depending on what your setup is. Most budget turntables have built in preamps, which saves the hassle of needing to buy a phono preamp.
The PL-990’s cartridge can’t be replaced. This is a bit disappointing, but most budget turntables are the same and with good cartridges easily costing more than the price of the PL-990, it probably would be better to upgrade to a new turntable altogether at that point.
As a result of all this, the Pioneer PL-990 is incredibly easy to get started with. It does however lack some features that other consumer turntables sometimes include, like bluetooth connectivity or a USB connection to let you rip vinyl to MP3.
Being a two-speed record player, the PL-990 can play at either 33 or 45 RPM. It doesn’t spin at 78 RPM, but these kind of records are incredibly uncommon.
Sound-wise, the PL-990 sounds pretty much the same as any other decent budget turntable. The audio is balanced, but misses a lot of the detail and wide soundstage that vinyl enthusiasts love about their high end setups.
You have to remember that under the bonnet, a lot of the working parts like the stylus are mass-produced and identical to the ones found in the similarly priced turntables from Audio Technica or Denon.
That said, you could do a lot worse. The PL-990, as well as the various other turntables that share the same basic parts, are still noticeably ahead of the Crosley C100A or the novelty turntables that purely exist to decorate your interior.
Pioneer PL-990 vs Audio Technica AT-LP60
It makes a lot of sense to compare the PL-990 to the Audio Technica AT-LP60 which is very close in price. These two are arguably the best decent ultra-budget turntable options, as even if you pay $200-$300 chances are you won’t get anything much better, audio wise.
The PL-990 has a fairly notable advantage over the AT-LP60 in its ability to adjust pitch and strobe.
Meanwhile, the AT-LP60 is slightly cheaper and lets you bypass the built-in preamp and use a separate one. However, this is not really a big deal as using a different preamp will make very little difference with a turntable that is built from budget parts.
Overall the PL-990 is a good entry-level turntable. While I would always recommend those who are more serious about getting into vinyl, there will always be those who are just looking to dip their feet in the world of vinyl. If that’s the case, and you don’t even own many records to begin with, the PL-990 can be a decent place to get started.
The AT-LP60 is the most obvious competitor, and the PL-990 is very slightly ahead in terms of features. Design-wise, I prefer the smaller and more minimalist AT-LP60, but many would disagree.
- Easy to setup and start listening to records
- Very affordable
- Outdated design
- Average sound quality
Still looking for your perfect budget turntable? Check out our recommendations.