The story of the C20 is one of a major player trying to lure in hardcore audiophiles — and it might just work. With a caveat or two.
If you’ve ever been to a Target or department store, you’ve probably heard of Crosley. But don’t let that impression entirely color what you think of the C20, because it is not your typical Crosley turntable. The company became one of the biggest players in the low-tier record player market by cranking out affordable, typically portable, record players that are (to put it simply) pretty cheap. The company’s $70 suitcase models are ubiquitous in dorm rooms, and there’s a decent chancee your mom has one of their all-in-one units in her kitchen, but they aren’t really known for high-quality. But, hey, you get what you pay for. That’s life.
Now, Crosley is looking to up its game considerably with products like the C20, trying to steal away some high-end market share from companies like Audio Technica. Instead of targeting college kids and weekend rockers, the C20 and its ilk are aimed squarely at serious audiophiles. And with a MSRP of $559, it better be good.
So, does the C20 do enough to put Crosley on the map for serious music fans? Mostly, yes. But, the roots are still showing just a bit.
On its surface, the Crosley C20 is a gorgeous turntable, featuring a plinth made of zebrano wood veneer, and an acrylic platter that makes a great host for your vinyl. To top it off, there’s a clear, fold-down cover to keep everything nice and dust-free when you’re not spinning. It has a high end look, and the components are top notch. Pair this thing with a sharp pair of speakers, and it’ll make any music den look great. But, it’s not all perfect.
The power button is a switch on the underside of the plinth, which is slightly recessed just enough to be annoying to reach and kick on. It’s understandable why they put it there — to keep the top clean and simple — but it doesn’t feel like the most user-friendly move. The unit I received had a piece of the plinth splintering off on the back. It was minimal and quite possibly a fluke. But still, not something you’d want to happen with a nearly $600 piece of kit. Then, there’s the 45 adapter, which is just a cheap little piece of plastic that seems like a better fit for the company’s $70 player, as opposed to its $559 model. But, if you’re serious enough to spend this much on a record player, you probably have your own, already.
There’s also no headphone jack, which is a shame, because it’d be great to plug in and disappear into some tunes. One of the worst offenders? The system does play two speeds, 33 1/3 and 45 RPM, but you have to literally pull the platter out and move the belt to switch it. Which, as you can imagine, is a major hassle if you’re keen to jam some singles regularly. Again, these are somewhat minor things, but they’re small cues that slightly mar a really good turntable. But, don’t let those nitpicks deter you — if you dig the Crosley brand, or just want to give them a shot at taking up a place in your audio set-up — the C20 is still an excellent option worth checking out.
With a shot across the bow at high-end turntable manufacturers, Crosley has certainly done its homework to put the right components into the C20. It has a belt drive system to keep everything running smoothly, which worked great during my tests. The rig has an audio-grade solid MDF plinth, an 11 3/4” acrylic platter, a built-in phono stage with USB output, an S-shaped aluminum tonearm with sapphire bearings with manual return, a pre-mounted Ortofon OM10 cartridge (which is pretty great), anti-skate adjustments and an adjustable tone arm weight, and specially-designed feet for vibration control.
The dust cover is classy and seals well, providing a timeless look to really make this thing pop, even when it’s closed up. It’s also quite adjustable thanks to the weights on the tone arm and anti-skate system, so if you like to tinker, there’s some flexibility depending on exactly how you like to play your tunes. Put simply, Crosley did a good job of putting together the components list on this one. The company has built an excellent rig, and for the most part, the components are top notch.
The big question: This is a $559 turntable, so how does it sound? Pretty great. I played several different records on it, from a few newer albums by The Gaslight Anthem, a couple of old Kinks records, Ryan Adams’ 1989 cover album, and Kaiser Chiefs’ Education, Education, Education & War, among a few others. I had it running through a solid, mid-tier set of speakers, and the sound was as crisp as could be.
The rock ’n roll rumbled, the quiet moments were strong and clear, and Adams has rarely sounded better crooning T-Swift’s cavalcade of hits. This is definitely not your old Crosley in the audio department, and I mean that in the best possible way. The Ortofon OM10 is an excellent cartridge, and with the ability to adjust and tweak the weight, you can get some excellent playback out of this thing.
So, should you plunk down the cold, hard cash for the C20? If you’re looking to spend just shy of $600 on a record player, you could do far worse. It looks great, and sets a new standard for what a Crosley record player can actually be. But, it’s not perfect. If you can look past the minor flaws, though, you’ll find a gorgeous turntable that will look great in your stereo set-up, and do your wax justice, to boot.