£229 (opens in new tab)
Something about vinyl captures the essence of music more than any other format. It seems to represent a simpler time, when people had a more visceral connection with music, and many purists still hold it up as a high-water mark. But they're in the minority. And since 1982, and the launch of the compact disc, vinyl's popularity had been in gradual decline.
However, in recent times vinyl hasn't simply been eking out an existence as it did for so long, it's been embarking on a comeback tour. Although still dwarfed by digital sales and CD purchases, there's been a resurgence in vinyl's popularity, represented by movements such as Record Store Day, and sales increased by 30 per cent in the last year (with 12m albums sold in the US last year). Ironically, vinyl is music's newest success story (opens in new tab).
And with this growth in interest come a number of plug-and-play products that enable you to either discover vinyl for the first time, or rekindle your passion with the humble record player. Mindful that many people don't want a full stereo set up in their homes, hardware manufacturers have released plug-and-play turntables that include pre-amps, which essentially means you can hook them up directly to speakers, or even through a Sonos network. Unfortunately, many of these products don't have great audio or build quality, and those people looking for superior sound have been disappointed. Flexson (opens in new tab) hopes its VinylPlay turntable (opens in new tab) will redress the balance (buy now for £229 at Amazon (opens in new tab)).
Although Flexson won't publicly comment, and we're in no place to say unequivocally that this is the case, Flexon works with a British supplier to produce the VinylPlay, and it does bear a striking resemblance to turntables made by Rega (opens in new tab). But this no bad thing, no bad thing at all.
The VinylPlay looks most similar to Rega's RP1, but with the addition of a phono stage (phono pre-amp) on the underside of the unit, a power switch on the side of the player rather than the top, and line out connections and a USB port, which enables you to connect the device to your computer to digitise your music (using an app such as Audacity).
The styling of the VinylPlay is minimalist, with players available in black or white. And you can use the VinylPlay with or without its clear, plastic lid (whether you use this will likely be influenced by the number of children or cats in your home, '0' of either being the optimum number for no lid).
The VinylPlay requires a small amount of assembly on your part. However, this only takes a minute or so, as you just have to add the counter-weight to the tone arm and mount the platter. But this really is a simple undertaking, and for most people it won't even require instruction. (It's worth noting that if you want to change the speed of the player from 33rpm to 45rpm, though, you'll have to lift the platter off the unit, which could become tiresome if you have a mix of 33s and 45s in your collection.)
As a seller of Sonos accessories, it's no surprise that Flexson is marketing the VinylPlay as a Sonos-friendly turntable, and it really is. If you currently own one or more Sonos devices there are two ways you can connect the VinylPlay. Firstly, and this is the simplest way, you can make a direct, wired connection via the RCA connection on the VinylPlay into the 'audio in' connection on the back of your device. This only enables you to connect to one unit, and you'll have to make sure that your VinylPlay and Sonos device are placed closed to each other.
But the real fun starts when you get your hands on a Sonos Connect, which enables you to stream your vinyl to every connected device in your Sonos network. All you need to do is use the supplied cables to hook your VinylPlay up to the Connect unit, and then group the Connect with whichever Sonos devices you want to connect to. Lastly, you select 'Line in' from the menu in the Sonos controller app and you're good to go. Streaming vinyl!
Is it for you?
We reckon most people fall into one of three camps when it comes to vinyl, and the chances are that you've either 1) Never stopped loving vinyl 2) Think the whole vinyl resurgence is a hipster-fuelled nonsense, or 3) Can't wait to dig into your old record collection. We fell in the latter group, and the few weeks that we've been using the VinylPlay have been a joy.
Waking up to the gentle, metronomic sound of a record spinning through its run-out groove isn't something you can benchmark, but it's nostalgic moments like this that separate vinyl from other music formats, and that are drawing increasing numbers of people back to record players. And with the VinylPlay, and other pre-amp turntables (they will all work with your Sonos), you don't have to sacrifice your digital set-up in the process.