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Turntable gives vinyl a new spin

In the age of digital music, analog records are having something of a moment some three decades past their prime, becoming a go-to medium for music fans looking to augment their collections with retro tech.

“The sound quality is a big factor, but I personally think my favorite thing about owning vinyl is having it in physical form,” said Bob Hertig, E’12. “It’s the best of my iTunes collection sitting on a shelf.”

U-Turn Audio cofounders Peter Maltzan, left, a Berklee graduate, Bob Hertig, E’12, center, and Ben Carter, right, a Cornell graduate, with the Orbit prototype. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Hertig is one of three founders of U-Turn Audio, a start-up launched last year to produce and market the Orbit Turntable, an inexpensive, all-analog turntable with high-performance playback.

Late last month, Hertig and his business partners—Ben Carter and Peter Maltzan, former high school classmates and graduates of Cornell and the Berklee College of Music, respectively—unveiled their product on the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter with the hope of raising $60,000; they’ve already raised nearly $120,000 from more than 600 backers.

Most record connoisseurs, especially those of the college-aged variety, begin by listening to their favorite artists on an old turntable, one that has been rescued from a parent’s attic or a dusty corner of a thrift shop. But when looking to replace a dying player or upgrade to a higher-quality model, they usually have two choices: spend upwards of $300 for a new turntable or fork over a modest fee for one of mediocre quality with extra features, such as a USB link to record audio onto a personal computer.

“You can get a record player for $40,” Hertig said. “But it’s going to be all plastic and you might as well not even listen to records because it’s going to sound way worse than it could as an MP3. But if you want to get more from vinyl, right now you have to spend about $300. So there’s a market for an inexpensive turntable that was stripped of unnecessary features and focused on quality sound.”

U-Turn developed its turntable with a $2,500 prototype fund grant from IDEA and worked with student-run venture accelerator to create a business plan for mass-producing the Orbit, which will be priced at about $150.

Backers who pledge $150 on Kickstarter will receive their own turntable, which will be produced in or around Boston. Image courtesy U-Turn Audio.

The idea of building his own record player dawned on Hertig when the cheap record player in his apartment broke down. “I did product development at Northeastern and on co-op, so I figured we could make one that worked well and sold at a good price,” Hertig said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s definitely worth it when we’re able to listen to records on a turntable we’ve built ourselves.”

Once Hertig receives the funding from Kickstarter, he and his business partners plan to move from their current workspace—an apartment in Medford, Mass.—to a light manufacturing space closer to the city. There, they will start producing their first run of turntables, which will be available to backers who pledged $150 or more to support their project. The goal of the company’s first production cycle, Hertig said, is to demonstrate to potential investors that consumers would be willing to purchase the turntable and that the young entrepreneurs would be able to produce the device in large quantities.

“This is the turntable I use to listen to my own records,” Hertig said. “It’s really rewarding to be able to bring this to other people, too.”