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Sony PS-HX500 review

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Summary

Our Score:

7

Pros

  • Recording software is very intuitive
  • Nice build quality
  • Upgradable

Cons

  • Built-in phono stage holds it back
  • Hi-res recordings sound only okay

Key Features

  • Belt-driven
  • 9-inch tonearm
  • Audio-Technica MM cartridge
  • 33/45rpm
  • Bypassable built-in phono stage
  • Hi-res audio output via USB
  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Review Price: £449.95

What is the Sony PS-HX500?

This innocuous-looking record player has one thing that makes it stand out from the vinyl-spinning crowd – a Hi-Res Audio logo. Yes, the Sony PS-HX500 will take your vinyl and feed the tunes to your computer to be saved as glorious high-resolution files. So very 2016.

That trick aside, this is a surprisingly normal plug-and-play turntable. It’s belt-driven, comes pre-fitted with a moving-magnet cartridge, and has a built-in, overridable phono stage.

Related: Best turntables

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Sony PS-HX500 – Design and Features

The PS-HX500 is completely black and minimalist in its design. If it were an album, it would be Spinal Tap’s "Smell The Glove". If it were a spaceship, it would be Disaster Area’s stunt ship from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Only that Hi-Res Audio logo on the front of the plinth breaks up the monotony – and that can be peeled off, if you're not a fan.

The MDF plinth has a vinyl coating with a matte-black finish that follows through to the tonearm. Even the plastic on the cartridge and the heatshrink tubing on the cartridge tags are black.

On the front left of the plinth sit the combined speed control and on/standby switch. It too is black, obviously. The pre-production model we saw at CES in January didn’t have the On option, which has presumably been added so you can power up the phono stage to warm up the electronics without the need to spin the motor. It’s a nice touch for serious hi-fi geeks.

Related: Rega Planar 3 2016 review

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The platter barely protrudes from the recess on the top of the plinth, and it’s an insubstantial die-cast aluminium item. Sony has supplied a 5mm-thick rubber mat to help reduce ringing and to add some mass.

The tonearm is an all-new design that looks pretty decent. It features a distinctively shaped integrated headshell with a chunky finger lift, and a base with anti-skate, and an arm lift is built-in. The chunky bearing housing almost makes it look like a unipivot model.

Pre-aligned on the arm is what looks suspiciously like an unbranded Audio-Technica AT-91 cartridge, which is a budget moving-magnet model with a conical tip. They can be picked up for less than £20. It’s a fun-sounding, musical cartridge and variants of it can be found on entry-level turntables such as the Flexson VinylPlay and Rega RP1.

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Under the back edge of the plinth is where you’ll find the little box of electronics, housing the phono stage and analogue-to-digital converter. It has a power socket, RCA phono connectors, a ground terminal, and a USB port.

There’s also a line/phono output switch, which means you can either use the built-in phono stage to plug the HX500 directly into any line input – such as that on a Bluetooth speaker or most hi-fi systems – or you can bypass the phono stage and plug it into a dedicated phono pre-amp that’s connected to your hi-fi; the audiophile option. It’s another nice touch that leaves the door open for later upgrades.

The whole shebang sits on four chunky, rubber-bottomed feet, and a lid is supplied too. The lid’s hinges slot into brackets on the back of the plinth, so you can use the PS-HX500 lid-free without it looking messy. Also in the box is a 45rpm record adapter.

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Sony PS-HX500 – Performance

Setting up the PS-HX500 is relatively simple. One you've placed the platter onto the spindle, stretched the drive belt around the motor pulley, and dropped the thick rubber mat on top, it’s time to set the anti-skate and the tracking force for the cartridge. Sadly, no VTF gauge is supplied, but there’s a scale around the counterweight to help get the tracking force roughly correct.

I started out using the built-in phono stage, plugging straight into a line input on my amplifier.

The sound quality is pretty good – musical and fun, with a wide soundstage – but it lacks a little in detail. It sounds very similar in most regards to the far cheaper Flexson VinylPlay, which carries almost the same cartridge. Disappointingly, the Sony sounds a little thinner, and lacks warmth.

Switching to an external phone pre-amp – the superb Leema Acoustics Elements Ultra – revealed that it was the Sony’s internal phono stage that was holding it back. The Leema helped it to sound warmer and also added a subtlety that isn't seen in the Flexson.

It’s a shame that the built-in phono stage proves to be a hindrance, but at least the option is there to upgrade; this isn't an option in the Rega-built Flexson.

Using the PS-HX500 is a joy, however. The finger lift is a decent size, it all feels solid, and the speed-switching dial is great when you’re swapping between 33s and 45s.

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Having downloaded Sony’s Hi-Res Audio Recorder software, I tried plugging the PS-HX500 into my Mac (PCs are also supported) and making some hi-res files from vinyl.

The software provides two options here: you can either import in Sony’s own DSD format, or as 24-bit WAV files. Both file types are supported by Sony’s line of Hi-Res Audio Walkmans.

The software’s interface really is wonderfully intuitive. Compared to Audacity, for example, it’s just so much simpler and slicker – it doesn’t feel like you need to be a professional sound engineer to achieve a decent recording. It’s still no fun manually splitting out and naming every track, but it’s been made as friendly a process as possible.

As for recording quality, I honestly couldn’t hear a huge difference between 24-bit/192kHz recordings from the PS-HX500 and 16-bit/192kHz recordings from the Flexson VinylPlay captured through Audacity. Perhaps with a cartridge capable of digging extra resolution from the record grooves, the higher resolution of the Sony’s recordings would impress more. And since there isn’t that magical jump in quality, I do wonder how many people will bother going through the process of recording more than a handful of treasured records.

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Should I buy the Sony PS-HX500?

If you’re buying the Sony PS-HX500 purely to play records then there are better buys at this price. But, of course, that’s because a portion of the money has gone towards that clever hi-res analogue-to-digital "electrickery". Sadly, it feels a little wasted, since the PS-HX500 fails to dig out quite enough detail from vinyl to warrant making hi-res recordings from it.

That said, this is still a classy turntable. But if you can live without the simple speed changing and don’t mind the lower-res recordings, the Flexson VinylPlay represents much better value – it’s a whopping £200 cheaper – and actually sounds better from a purely plug-and-play perspective.

Related: Clearaudio Concept MM review

Verdict

A neat turntable, but one that doesn’t quite reach its potential.

Overall Score

7

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chaosdefinesorder

January 8, 2016, 4:20 pm

Interesting that Sony would be releasing this in the UK given that it is technically illegal to use to create those Hi-Res Audio files - and it's partly their fault that it still is illegal

mode11

January 8, 2016, 6:58 pm

So, music is recorded digitally, mixed and enhanced on computer, uploaded to the pressing plant, pressed onto vinyl (for that wonderful analogue sound), bought by enthusiasts, played on a turntable and digitised again. Then presumably played back using a DAC, keeping the delicate vinyl stored away?

What's the point of vinyl, if not the ritual? You might as well just download an mp3, and use a graphic equaliser to mimic vinyl's lower accuracy.

Derek Beck

January 9, 2016, 1:54 am

Most vinyl is from the days of analogue tape recording, made long before computer mixing and enhancement, any mp3 will be digitised from the analogue source tape. At best the digital version can only be as good as the original analogue version assuming the highest possible quality conversion is used, it cannot be better than the original source. Digital is far more convenient, it is more robust, it is NOT better.

toboev

January 9, 2016, 9:08 am

That would be amusing. Buy this deck, buy a Sony label record, use the deck to digitise the record for your own personal use on your Sony Experia phone. Openly advertise your exploits on Youtube and challenge Sony to prosecute.

toboev

January 9, 2016, 9:26 am

The ritual, yes. But if that increases the listening pleasure, then the point is well made.

mode11

January 9, 2016, 9:31 am

So you're saying the main point of this product is for playing back records released before the mid-eighties? Do these sound better than subsequent CD re-releases? If so, is this principally due to the 'noise wars' / modern mixing choices?

Clearly, digital delivery formats are not 'better' than the original master, the point is that unlike earlier mediums, they are exactly as good.

mode11

January 9, 2016, 9:48 am

Sure, I was just questioning the logic of re-digitising the record, especially if you would then not use the record player.

I guess the idea is that enthusiasts could capture the 'record sound' (i.e. colouration) using perfect digital recording, then play the music back when away from their hi-fi, e.g. on their smartphones, or whilst sitting at their computer. It would save the cost of a digital download, though this is a £400 turntable, so it's not really for the price-sensitive. In this scenario, it would probably make more sense to just implement the 'record sound' using a digital filter.

ipitydafool

January 9, 2016, 4:37 pm

24-bit for something with limited dynamic range? Why?

chaosdefinesorder

January 11, 2016, 9:43 am

So with this you can get REALLY HIGH QUALITY recordings of the pops and crackles?

I suppose it's for the best transferring to digital; that way you don't wear down your source media by dragging a diamond over it repeatedly...

RonRoyce

January 11, 2016, 11:57 am

I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. Sony never had a pedigree for good quality turntables, I doubt very much this one will be any different.

This is never going to match a Rega RP1 or Project Debut for replay quality, let alone any other well respected turntable around it's price. Hi Res audio from something that will suffer terrible issues with end of side tracking distortion? I'd probably try it with a Linn Sondek/Ekos with a high quality moving coil or similar quality gear from SME, Roksan, Rega and the like but this contraption? Forget it. It's nothing more than a gimmick and that goes for most turntables, let alone this effort. To be honest I doubt you will hear a difference between 16 and 24 bit recordings from vinyl even if you used a £30k turntable as the source, but I would love to do it as an experiment.

For me the idea of recording vinyl to digital makes sense with older recordings that are difficult to find in uncompressed formats. If you are trying to build a digital library of your music and you have as much vinyl as I have (1,200+ with less than 80 CDs, none of them duplicated) it is a difficult task to find good quality downloads. Pretty much without exception I found the MP3 and even the so called "uncompressed" ones to sound manifestly worse than the original vinyl I had. But it seems to make less sense with current releases, especially if you get a download card with the option of getting it in FLAC.

David Waker

January 14, 2016, 9:36 pm

Couldn't agree more!

TerryB

February 19, 2016, 11:58 am

I have a different approach. When Marantz released their first consumer-friendly priced DR700 I used this to directly dub my LP's to CD. Front end was an original un-modified 1974 LP12 with SME3009II and Dynavector Ruby Karat. Meridian 500 Series provided signal processing etc.

What perplexed me was why commercial CD releases of some of my best sounding LP's didn't sound as good on my system, whereas on paper at least and according to all the CD bumph the CD should have killed it.

Somewhat intrigued, I did an LP to CD copy on the Marantz and listened via headphones so as to avoid any form of microphony from the speakers. Much to my surprise and disbelief, this copy CD sounded better than the commercial CD but, and this really did surprise me, it closely matched the LP in sound, but marginally cleaner than the LP.

The recording was Kertesz's Decca Bruckner 4 from 1966. I took the CD to my hi-fi dealer, who was also a classical music enthusiast, and with whom I'd spend many hours in his shop simply listening to music, and on better kit than I had! Initially, he wasn't in the demo room when the CD started, but shot in when he recognised the Kertesz performance. I was waiting for a reaction. He listened and looked puzzled and wanted to know from where I'd got the copy because it sounded better to him than the CD original, too.

I've gone on at some length because it shows that good analogue recordings can transfer extremely well to domestic CD on decent kit, although my front end, though modest by today's standards, is far superior to this Sony. I did the same with transferring LP's to DAT, but I can't say the slightly higher frequencies this permitted made much difference to me. Given this, I harbour doubts as to the need for Hi-Res audio from LP recordings.

World Eater

March 3, 2016, 3:50 pm

If you are recording in 24-bit there are advantages - you can record with a lot of headroom. When I do needledrops I leave at least 6db of headroom above the loudest peak. With 24-bit, you can then amplify the digital signal and not lose resolution. I don't remember how this works exactly, and why recording a few db's away from digital 0 is advised, but a pro audio engineer recommended it years ago.

World Eater

March 3, 2016, 3:52 pm

What troubles me about this is that because of a lack of a recording interface (or is there? Do you connect it to a computer and interact with software to record?) is being able to control variables during recording - e.g., headroom of the peaks. All records have differing levels of signal. One major reason why I prefer a separate turntable and recording device.

Pavel Urusov

March 16, 2016, 9:46 pm

"Sony never had a pedigree for good quality turntables"

You, sir, should really look into what they did in the 70s. Many technical masterpieces, such as PS-X700, PS-X9, some excellent tonearms (PUA-7 which was one of the few arms with on-the-fly VTA adjustments and very low friction) and even great MC cartridges.

RonRoyce

March 19, 2016, 3:18 pm

I grew up in the 70's and was lucky to have a full on HiFi nut for a dad which meant we got to listen to a lot of stuff - including comparing direct drive adn belt drive turnables, arms, cartridges, all sorts - and this included a whole raft of brands, Sony included. None of it impressed my dad, whose opinion I trust as he ended up with a Linn Sondek - a turntable I now own myself and one that no Sony turntable will even begin to hold a candle to. So, you know, I do actually know what I am talking about.

Pavel Urusov

March 19, 2016, 7:41 pm

Whatever. If you enjoy primitive technology in an expensive cabinet — so be it. But not everyone loves "wobbly" sound, you know ;-)

> This is never going to match a Rega RP1 or Project Debut for replay quality, let alone any other well respected turntable around it's price.

How do you know it? The turntables you mention are not known for their great quality.

> Hi Res audio from something that will suffer terrible issues with end of side tracking distortion?

Why should it suffer from inner groove distortion? The arm looks a lot like Jelco 250ST, which is a respected arm with excellent geometry. And you can adjust the cartridge by moving it in the shell, just like on any other turntable.

RonRoyce

March 20, 2016, 4:07 pm

Wobbly sound. You really are going to have to explain that one. As for the quality of the two turntables I mentioned, my partner has a Debut and it is well made in my opinion and Rega have always made quality turntables, it is why they are consistently recommended.

As for end of side distortion, you do realise that the cheap cartridge that will invariably be fitted to this turntable will have a basic spherical or elliptical stylus fitted. Regardless of how well you set up your geometry these types of stylii will not track demanding passages perfectly, they will exhibit some form of distortion and miss fine detail. Having had many turntables and listened to many cartridges from abudget dual 505 equipped with an AT95 cartridge through to a Linn Sondek/Ekos/Troika I speak from experience.

Pavel Urusov

March 20, 2016, 4:36 pm

I was just kidding because I personally dislike suspended turntables — I think in this case decoupling creates more problems than it solves. And I don't like belt drives, because they (even expensive ones) tend to have more audible wow/flutter than idlers and direct drives. Put on a challenging record such as Schnittke's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, and any cheap Japanese quartz-locked direct-drive TT from the 80s will run circles around most "audiophile" turntables in terms of pitch stability.

I agree that even basic Regas and Pro-jects are well-built tables, but I also think that they're not very complex devices, not much more than a sheet of MDF with a primitive AC motor built in :-) The Sony in question is basically the same, and it's very difficult to drastically screw up something that simple.

> As for end of side distortion, you do realise that the cheap cartridge that will invariably be fitted to this turntable will have a basic spherical or elliptical stylus fitted.

Eh? Low-end Regas and Pro-jects also come equipped with cheap cartridges. If you don't like the cartridge it comes with, you can always swap it for something more exotic.

> Regardless of how well you set up your geometry these types of stylii will not track demanding passages perfectly, they will exhibit some form of distortion and miss fine detail.

This is not my experience at all. I have not used many exotic carts, but I used many cartridges with spherical/conical styli, including Denon DL-103, and they're much easier to setup and exhibit way less IGD — after all, a spherical needle still has the same profile no matter how you rotate it. They're also more forgiving about minor imperfections of the record itself.

This is compared to Audio-Technica AT20SS, which is equipped with an excellent Super Shibata stylus. It really extracts lots of detail from the records... But it's very fussy to setup properly and if your vinyl is not pristine, listening to it will not be pleasurable at all!

RonRoyce

March 21, 2016, 12:15 am

We will agree to differ. 30+ years of setting up all sorts of HiFi systems and I found the best sound comes from a belt drive - they simply sound better, it's not just about pitch and stability, they are parts of the whole. I have always preferred suspended belt drive turntables and while the Sondek is a pain to set up when you get it right it delivers in spades. I have enjoyed my Sondek but I will be getting an SME model 20 or 30 soon, they are marvellous pieces of engineering craft and boy do they sound good!

The point I was making about the cheap cartridge is that this is being pushed as a "hi res" device, recording digitally at 24 bits. I would love to compare 16 and 24 bit recordings with an SME 30 or similar high end turntable with a mega exotic cartridge. However, my gut feeling is if you did a blind listening test between them you probably would not be able to tell the difference so on a turntable like this Sony it is little more than a gimmick in my opinion.

splodge

April 19, 2016, 7:15 pm

The recording level is adjusted on the PC in software as part of the sound driver menu

splodge

April 19, 2016, 7:23 pm

I still think you haven't heard the better Sony models from 1978-81. I have had a Linn Sondek, a PT Too and a various Systemdeck and Dual models and I have ended up with a Sony PS-X800 direct drive from 1981 - exactly the opposite of what the flat earthers told me I needed. But I listen to piano music and that belt drive flutter does my head in. Direct Drive is the best for pitch stability and obviously that isn't as important to Linn users because they listen to jazz which is very rhythmic and lacks sustained notes.

RonRoyce

May 14, 2016, 12:11 pm

If you can hear pitch instability in your turntable I suggest the turntable is at fault. Never, ever heard pitch instability in my Linn and Kate Bush, Tori Amos and a fair chunk of classical exposes you to enough piano to hear any issues.

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