What is the Crosley C20?
Crosley has played a major part in the vinyl comeback story, selling boatloads of cute, cheap, retro record players that have maybe looked nicer than they’ve sounded. The C20 is Crosley’s cry to be taken more seriously.
Designed and made in partnership with Pro-Ject – the Austrian company renowned for its vast hi-fi turntable range – the Crosley C20 features an S-shaped tonearm fitted with an above-par Ortofon OM10 cartridge. It also has an acrylic platter and a bypassable built-in phono stage.
But Crosley clearly hasn’t forgotten the importance of aesthetics – the plinth is finished with a Zebrano wood veneer to complete an incredibly attractive package.
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Crosley C20 – Design and features
The most striking thing about the C20 is definitely that beautifully figured Zebrano plinth. The one on my review sample was gorgeously striped and perfectly finished. It’s more compact than you might expect, too – roughly the same size as a Pro-Ject Essential II, as it appears to use the same dust cover.
Brand snobs will be pleased to know that the Crosley logo is quite subtly branded into the top on the front right.
Mounted in the usual position is an S-shaped aluminium tonearm that bears many of Pro-Ject’s usual trademarks – but, as far as I know, isn’t currently used on any model other than the Crosley C20. It seems to combine the arm tube from the RPM 1.3 Genie with the base and bearing housing from an Essential.
Mounted and pre-aligned to the arm is an Ortofon OM10 moving-magnet cartridge. That’s around £80-worth of cart right there, and it’s a smooth and detailed performer.
What sets the C20 apart from the majority of Pro-Ject decks is that the belt drives a sub-platter on which the platter sits – just like on a Rega turntable – rather than being wrapped directly around the outside of the platter. This makes for a neater look, and also means the belt won’t come off easily. And if it does, it’s much easier to replace.
The downside of this sub-platter design – when combined with the lack of push-button speed change, at least – is that you have to remove the platter to adjust speeds from 33 to 45rpm. This is done by using your finger to hook the belt onto a different part of the motor pulley. However, since the platter is made from translucent acrylic and doesn’t require a mat, it’s pretty easy to get it on and off the spindle.
Another similarity to current Rega turntables is the position of the on/off switch. It sits under the front left of the plinth.
To the underside and rear of the C20 is a built-in phono stage, which is bypassable. This means you’ll be able to upgrade to a dedicated phono pre-amp at some point. It also offers USB output for recording your vinyl to a computer.
As mentioned, the Crosley C20 comes with one of Pro-Ject’s standard Essential dust covers, which pushes onto the hinges pre-fitted to the back. I’ve never been a fan of the front chamfer on these covers, which has tended to make the Pro-Ject models look a bit like the record players found on midi systems from the 1980s. But the cover somehow looks right on the C20.
Crosley C20 – Sound quality
Setting up the C20 is easy, although to get the best result you’ll want a tracking gauge. There’s a scale around the counterweight helps you to achieve roughly the right tracking force, but the supplied cartridge deserves a little extra precision.
Other than that, it’s really just a case of slipping the acrylic platter onto the spindle, and sliding the dust cover onto the hinge pegs. Crosley supplies a felt platter mat, but you really don’t need it, and it actually throws off the vertical tracking angle. It’s best left in the box.
I started with the C20 plugged directly into my hi-fi, using the Crosley’s built-in phono stage.
At the cheaper end of the hi-fi turntable scale, you generally have to choose between a dynamic, exciting sound or one that’s full-bodied but lacking in timing. The Crosley C20, however, offers somewhere close to a decent compromise.
The Ortofon OM10 has a nicely balanced tone, but can still sound a little stodgy in the wrong setup. Thankfully, that acrylic platter helps things tick along nicely. There’s real snap to the C20’s sonics, but without sacrificing mid-range detail or bass depth.
Spinning The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’, there’s plenty of texture, depth and width to the soundstage, while the bleeps and beeps have some excellent definition. Vocals, too, are never pushed to the back.
Switching to a far better dedicated phono pre-amp – I had the Leema Acoustics Elements Ultra to hand – does open out the sound, helping with separation and a greater sense of purity. You don’t need to spend that sort of money for a separate phono stage to hear a noticeable improvement, though, so it’s worth thinking about that as a future upgrade.
Why buy the Crosley C20?
The majority of plug-and-play turntables are plastic tat, or at the very least look entirely uninspiring – unless you have a spare £4k or so for the awesome T+A G 2000 R, that is. The Crosley C20 is a rare exception, combining everything you need in a wonderfully attractive, classy package that doesn’t cost a fortune.
For less money, you can get the wooden-plinthed Roberts Radio RT100, but you won’t get anywhere near the sound quality nor class of finish. You’ll get push-button speed change, however. The Elipson Alpha 100 RIAA BT is around the same price and has the novelty of Bluetooth connectivity, but it’s plasticky and lacks some of the Crosley’s dynamism.
If the C20 had a Pro-Ject logo on it, it would probably be dominating the market right now. This is a record player so good that it deserves you putting any brand prejudices to one side. The biggest shame is that it currently isn’t widely available outside the USA.
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Pound for pound, the best plug-and-play turntable you can buy right now.