Is the Crosley Cruiser really THAT bad?

Is the Crosley Cruiser really THAT bad?

August 7, 2019 100 By Kailee Schamberger


[Music] [Music] “The Crosley Cruiser portable record player. (Wow!)” “The Crosley Cruiser portable turntable.” “It’s called the Crosley Cruiser.” “The Crosley for Urban Outfitters Cruiser portable record player.” “Brand-new, state-of-the-art Crosley Cruiser record player.” Yes, it’s the record player everybody’s been talking about, the Crosley Cruiser. But as much has been said and written about this record player it’s difficult to find an in-depth review of it, mostly because the people who have the wherewithal to do such a review would rather simply tell you not to buy one: “Don’t buy Crosley Cruiser record players! Don’t buy Crosley Cruiser record players!” They claim it has poor sound quality, that it’s cheaply built and often has problems — and if that’s not enough to scare you, they claim it will destroy your records in short order: “Crosley turntables are very bad for this business. Kids are gonna buy these cruddy turntables, they’ll play ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ five times, and then the grooves will all be chewed up, and they’ll say ‘This is a stupid hobby, why did I get into this?'” But nonetheless, the Crosley Cruiser remains a very popular record player, mostly because you can actually buy these in stores, and it’s priced low enough that somebody who’s just looking to get into playing records for the first time or is thinking of giving one of these as a gift is likely to pick one up. So I thought I’d take a stab at doing a review of this model, especially for the benefit of those people who are going to be receiving one of these as a gift during the upcoming holiday season and they’re wondering if they really should actually use it, or if they should reject the gift and possibly start a family crisis: “I will never forget the day my son Jeremy told me he hated me and slammed the door in my face.” As you can see, this is the latest version of the Crosley Cruiser, called the Cruiser Deluxe, and the going price for these is about $62, but I bought the cheapest one I could find online in new condition. It cost me $55 with free shipping from eBay. The box claims “impressive sound performance meets outstanding vintage design in this portable turntable,” and I’m sure absolutely none of that is actually true. On this side it says “tocadiscos portátil de tres velocidades” — Ahem, other side! Three-speed portable turntable, 33⅓, 45, and 78 RPM, dynamic full-range stereo speakers, headphone jack, RCA outputs, and Bluetooth — which is one of the new features of the Deluxe model, as well as the pitch control. And it claims “designed and engineered in the USA,” but of course it’s made in China. Inside the box we get the player itself. This one has a brown tweed finish, which is probably generating some rather trippy looking moiré patterns on the video. We also get a 12-volt DC power supply, the manual, some audio cables, and rather surprisingly, three spare styli, or what most people would call needles. For some reason there’s two loose in this bag and one in this bag, which also has a spare stylus protector on it. Opening up the latch reveals the turntable. It includes a small rubber platter mat, 45 RPM adapter, and a stylus protector on the tonearm. And this has a very common turntable mechanism used by countless different brands and models of record players and turntables, and many of them have a very similar briefcase-style portable design, which are commonly referred to as Crosley Cruiser clones, even though this is not really an original Crosley design — the company who actually makes these mechanisms is called Skywin. So if you’ve been looking at any of the inexpensive record players you’ll surely recognize this design of the tonearm and the controls. As I already mentioned this has three speeds, including 78 RPM. There’s an auto-stop on/off switch, tonearm lifter, a little clamp to hold the tonearm down, and this one comes with a stylus protector, which you should put in place when you’re not using it. You also get a headphone jack and a volume control, which is also the on/off switch. And the new features of the Cruiser Deluxe are the Bluetooth capability, which is only a Bluetooth input for playing audio from a mobile device into the built-in speakers of this, so it does not transmit the audio from the turntable out via Bluetooth — it’s only an input. And you get a pitch control for the turntable, and there on the front you can see the carrying handle and the very tiny oval speakers which are responsible for this thing’s absolutely atrocious sound quality. But if you wish to improve that sound quality, it does include line output jacks on the back, and these are not speaker outputs — they’re not amplified, so you will need to use either powered speakers or an amplifier or receiver and a pair of regular speakers. Also has an aux input jack in case you really want to hear something through the built-in speakers. There’s an input for the power supply, which it needs to run, because this does not have a built-in battery — it should, but it doesn’t. There was actually a model that Crosley had that did have a built-in battery; that was the Cruiser II, but for some reason they discontinued that version of it. Also some versions of these cheap little portable record players include a USB output for connecting to your computer, but this one does not. The lid stays open at an angle but does not remove, and you need to keep it open when playing 12 inch or 10 inch records because they hang off the edge; it would not fit within the lid when it’s closed. And here’s another very common sight which is often called the infamous red ceramic cartridge. It’s actually a Chuo Denshi CZ-800, and unfortunately the version that Crosley decided to put on this is the lowest-quality version of it with a sapphire stylus on a plastic cantilever, so in my review I was going to tell you to immediately upgrade it to a diamond stylus, and I actually bought a pack of them on Amazon — this one even says “for upgrade of most supplied starter needles, premium diamond head stylus needle replacement,” and these are colored gold for some reason. You can find these on Amazon but luckily Crosley actually included them in the package so we can swap it out as soon as you get it. I don’t know why they don’t put one of these on it to begin with, but at least they include them. One stylus that Crosley does not give you is the kind you’ll need for playing these things: 78 RPM shellac records. You definitely won’t find these for sale in Urban Outfitters, so Crosley probably thinks their target demographic won’t be playing these. So I can understand why they don’t include the stylus for it, but in case you come across some of these in an antique shop or in your grandfather’s attic, you should be aware that the grooves on these records are about three times as wide as the grooves of a standard 33⅓ or 45 RPM record. So if you try to play these using a standard-sized stylus, it’ll scrape along the bottom of the groove and pick up a lot of noise and distortion, and could possibly damage the stylus or the record. So to play these old 78s you need one of these — just look for part number 793-D3. That’s the proper 3 mil stylus for playing these 78 RPM records. You can find these for about $12 on eBay, and you can install it. Notice the green paint on the front of the stylus; it’s there to indicate that it’s the special size for playing 78s. The exception are some of the last 78s. They were pressed on vinyl in the late ’50s and early ’60s, like this one here from about 1956, I believe, and it specifically says on it “for best results use LP needle,” so for a record like this, you play it using the standard needle that the record player comes with. I’m not going to give you a tutorial on how to play a record using one of these because there are already plenty of teenagers who have done that. But I will show you how to replace the stylus with one of the better ones that it comes with. To remove the stylus, the manual tells you to simply push down on the front of it with your fingernail, but this one is not being cooperative — the whole thing is just bending when I try to do that, so some of these are in there rather stiffly, and the one way I’ve found to make that easier to remove is to get a very small flat-blade screwdriver and just carefully poke it in the gap between the black part here and the front of the stylus body. Just stick it in there, and there we go — just kind of pry down until it pops down. Now grasp it by the sides in the back and you can pull the whole thing off. Now to put the better stylus on there you have to hook it on at the back first; it’s the opposite of how you got it off. It’s a little bit stiff as well, so you gotta kind of spread it apart at the sides to get it to fit, and then you can swing it up in the front. Some of these make a rather audible click when they go into place but this one does not, so just make sure there’s no gap between the red part and the black part and you should be fine. And now we’re ready to go with the better stylus, so we’re ready to play our first record and see if this thing actually works. One thing I noticed is that the center spindle is actually slightly smaller than the hole in the record, so you get a little bit of free play there if you wiggle it back and forth, and that’s because the spindle does not move. It stays stationary and only the platter rotates, so I guess to avoid any extra friction they make it slightly smaller, so when you put on a record you may have to kind of wiggle it around until you find it exactly in the middle there. And I decided not to use the platter mat; it just seems like a gimmick. I don’t know what really the point of that is. Actually I like this record too much to let it possibly get damaged by the Crosley, so I’m going to switch to a record I have two copies of, so if one of them gets ruined it’s not such a big deal. So let’s turn it off and see what it sounds like. [Music] It sounds a bit drunken that’s probably more Don Ho’s fault than it is Crosley’s fault. [Music] That’s all the way turned up. [Music] Here’s that pitch control: [Music] (Decreases pitch) It sounds even more drunk now. (Increases pitch) That’s Don Ho sober. Let’s see if that auto-stop feature works… indeed it does! [Music] Now some of these auto-stop turntables stop too early when playing 45s, and that’s part of the reason why they give you a switch to disable auto-stop, but this one seems to be OK. It’s time for something a little more contemporary than Don Ho, so I pulled out “Random Access Memories”, and this time we’re going to use the tonearm lifter, which does have some dampening to it, but not very much, and this is a 180-gram vinyl record. [Music] [Music] [Music] According to Michael framer I only have four more plays left of this record before it chews up the grooves! So now that we know it works about as well as one of these could ever possibly work, it’s time to get a bit more technical. Among the many shortcomings of this record player that people talk about is that they claim its tonearm does not have any kind of counterweight. If you’ve seen my video about cheap turntables such as the AT-LP60, you know that it’s also possible for a tonearm to use a spring instead of a counterweight, and indeed many high-quality turntables throughout history have used a spring to set the tracking force, either instead of or in addition to a counterweight. It’s hard to get a good angle of this since the back cover does not come off, but if we look into the back of the tonearm where you would think a counterweight would be, indeed it’s just an empty plastic housing. I cannot find any sign of a counterweight or a spring in there, which means that when you go to play a record, the entire weight of the tonearm is pressing down on the stylus. And I’ve heard people claim that these things have a tracking force of anywhere between 6 and 10 grams — the only problem is, the people making those claims have never actually used or tested one of these. But since I actually have a Crosley Cruiser to test and a scale to test it, with let’s take care of that right now. 5.6 grams! Now, the recommended tracking force range of the cartridge these things have is 4 to 6 grams with 5 grams being ideal, so this is within spec. It’s a little bit on the high side, but it’s well within acceptable range for this cartridge and stylus. As for what other people have measured, there’s one user on VinylEngine who measured their Crosley Cruiser by balancing it with a U.S. penny (which weighs 2.5 grams), a 2 gram weight, and a 1 gram weight — so that’s 5.5 grams which, is almost identical to what I measured. There’s an article on the web site called Sound Matters which claims 7 grams, but they didn’t actually test it themselves and they don’t provide any source for that claim, so I think it’s just a rumor they saw on some message board somewhere. And there’s a review on Trusted Reviews.com of the Cruiser II which says they measured theirs at 5.93 grams, and for reference they also measured a Vestax Handy Trax portable record player and they said that one weighed 5.85 grams. I know these days most people say tracking forces above 3 to 3.5 grams will damage your records, but if you look up the original design specifications of LPs and 45s, such as what is listed here on page 709 of the Radio Designer’s Handbook, under the category “Dimensions of records and grooves,” Columbia specified 6 grams, and RCA Victor specified 5 grams plus or minus 1 gram. “When the stereo LP standard came out in 1957, at that point in time they were telling everybody to track at 6 grams. So records are actually supposed to be able to track with that kind of weight, and I’ve bought a lot of used records through the years and I can tell you that as long as that stylus was replaced, even on those old players if you played them it didn’t cause a great deal of damage.” And those kinds of tracking forces were always the norm for the kind of equipment that most people had in their homes. For example my 1986 Sanyo stereo system — clearly it was not top-of-the-line, but neither was it a $99 KMart special. I mean, it has a digital tuner, 5-band graphic equalizer, Dolby B noise reduction, it supports chrome and metal tapes, and the turntable has a magnetic cartridge — and it tracks at 5 grams. So if you buy a lot of used records and you play them on your fancy high-end turntable and you think they sound great, well, chances are when they were new they were played on something that tracked just as heavily as a Crosley Cruiser. Now I can check the tonearm alignment because that’s another thing people criticize these turntables about. I printed out this Baerwald arc protractor and I tried my best to line up the stylus with where it’s supposed to be at that point. And you can see the alignment is a little bit angled outward compared to how it’s supposed to be, but I’ll leave it up to the experts to decide whether or not this is acceptable for a $60 turntable. And now without moving the protractor forwards or backwards I placed the tonearm at the second alignment point, so you can judge for yourself how close that is. It looks like it’s slightly angled inwards compared to where it’s supposed to be, but again, for a $60 record player that’s not terribly bad compared to what people might expect. The belt comes pre-installed and replacing it is easy. You just take a small flat-blade screwdriver and pry off the clip that’s holding on the platter. You just have to be a little careful because that tends to go flying. Once it releases then you can pull up on the platter and the belt will come off along with it. The spindle does have a bearing — I thought it would have just been plastic on plastic — but there are no rubber bushings to absorb the motor vibrations. That’s just firmly mounted to the plastic here, which itself is firmly mounted to the housing of the record player. And to reinstall the belt you stretch it around the center part of the underside of the platter, and there are two of these little pegs. I picked this one because it’s right next to one of these rubber things, so you can see where it is from the top. So you just stretch it out around that, and then when you go to put the platter it back on you just make sure this part of where it’s stretched out is on top of the motor spindle. You can see it’s right about here, so you find that rubber thing that that peg’s next to, and line it up with that, and then you rock it back and forth a bit to get that belt popped onto the motor spindle. And now it’s installed. Then to reinstall the C-clip it helps to have a pair of pliers. There we go — it’s popped on and that’s working fine. And even if you have no interest in using the Bluetooth feature this switch for it has an extra bonus: it doubles as an on/off switch for the turntable motor, because when you turn on Bluetooth it cuts off the motor, and when you turn Bluetooth off the motor comes back on. So you can use that as a pause feature if you want to stop the record without needing to raise the tone arm. And the motor gets up to speed pretty quickly — when it gets to the beginning of this next track I’ll turn it off… OK, I just backed it up right to the beginning of that track. Now I’ll turn the motor back on… so as you saw, it got up to speed almost instantly, so the motor has surprisingly good torque. In fact, unlike my AT-LP60, it is not possible to stall the motor by stopping the platter with my finger. The motor stays running; it just slips on the belt. I think I just discovered the main reason why people report problems with unsteady speed when playing records. “It started to play like at the wrong speed; I had it on the correct speed setting, everything was good, but it just for some reason was playing a little bit slower and it sounded a bit slurred and stuff.” [Music with wavering pitch] If you look at the back edge of that record, with even the slightest warp it comes very close to hitting the lid, because the cover does not open all the way down. That’s resting as far as it can go on its hinges, and there’s not a lot of clearance between the edge of the record and the lid. So if you have a warped record, it’ll rub against the lid and that’s what causes the uneven pitch while it’s playing. And in that case using that little platter mat might actually help because it will raise it up a little bit, and that might be enough to prevent it from rubbing against the lid. So just a quick tip there: if your record plays an uneven speed, look back here and make sure it’s not rubbing against the lid, especially if you have the lid propped open against something at a higher angle, that is definitely going to rub against the record. Here’s demonstration of the kind of improvement and sound quality you can get when connecting your Crosley Cruiser turntable to a Crosley Solo radio using its aux input: [Music] That was the built-in speakers all the way up. [Music] That’s the Crosley Solo radio all the way up — notice you can actually hear the bass through that, whereas you really can’t hear it at all through the built-in speakers. It still doesn’t get very loud, but I think it sounds a heck a lot better than the built-in speakers. [Music] Another problem people report with these cheap record players is that their records tend to skip, especially modern records with bass-heavy music on them, such as this Daft Punk’s “Homework” album from 1997. Now, in 1997 pretty much the only people still buying vinyl records were club DJs who were playing these records on Technics 1200 turntables with DJ cartridges by brands like Stanton and Ortofon, so when they made this record they had no intention of anybody playing it on a record player like this. And this is the one record I have out of my entire collection that does skip on my AT-LP60 and my Pioneer PL-990, especially on the tracks “Da Funk” and “Around The World”. Now on this record player, “Da Funk” does not skip — I was really quite amazed that it was able to play it without skipping because you can hear just how much bass they put in that groove: [Music] So that track does not skip… nor this track… but “Around The World” does skip three times. It’s about seven minutes long, so in that time it skips three times. So if you’re a fan of this kind of music maybe you shouldn’t get one of these record players; you should really get something at least like an AT-LP120 or something a little bit more high-quality. I’ll try to catch one of those skips on the video: [Music] See, there you just heard it skip, and this is with the diamond stylus installed. The original sapphire stylus may be more likely to skip and that’s just another reason why you should immediately remove it as soon as you get one of these and replace it with a diamond stylus. [Music] That might sound like a broken record or a skipping CD player, but that’s actually the way it’s supposed to be! If this is the part of the video where you expect me to say that the Crosley Cruiser is perfectly fine and that anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, you’re wrong. Don’t buy a Crosley Cruiser! It is cheaply made, and yes, some people do report problems with them — and I believe them when they say they have problems with it. And even if you’re doing your last-minute Christmas shopping and you don’t have time to order online there are better choices available for not a lot more money. Barnes & Noble and Guitar Center sell the AT-LP60 which I’ve already done a video about, and at Target they sell the Crosley T100 which has the same ceramic cartridge as the Cruiser but it has a much better tonearm with a metal counterweight. It has a full-sized platter and it has a 15-watt per channel amplifier with external speakers, so it’ll give much better sound quality, comparable to what you heard when I connected the Cruiser to that Crosley radio. And there’s also the Barnes & Noble-exclusive Crosley T150 which adds an aluminium tonearm with adjustable counterweight. It has a standard half-inch-mount headshell and it comes with an Audio-Technica AT3600 magnetic cartridge, so that’s quite an upgrade over the T100. The normal price for that is $159.99 including the speakers [Now reduced to $139.95] but if you’re watching this video the same week I uploaded it to YouTube (in 2017), this weekend, November 17th through 19th, Barnes & Noble is having a Vinyl Weekend sale and that Crosley T150 turntable is going on sale for $129.99. So that’s quite an attractive price for such a well-equipped turntable including speakers. I’ll include a link in the description for more information about that sale. Of course it won’t be valid after November 19th, 2017, unless they happen to do the same thing next year. But if you already have a Crosley Cruiser or receive one as a gift don’t be afraid to use it! If it works at least as well as the one I have here, it’s not gonna ruin your records, especially if you replace the stylus with the diamond one it comes with. And especially don’t go around harassing and belittling people just because they happen to have one of these! “I’ve seen people say ‘Look at this cool
portable turntable, what do you guys think?’ and they’ll be inundated with comments like ‘Don’t let that near my records!’ or ‘Two spins and the records will be destroyed!’ and I don’t think that’s accurate. I think that’s an exaggeration.” Yes, you can recommend that they should upgrade to something better when they can afford it, but if they’re happy with their Crosley, let them be! And don’t act all high and mighty when your first record player with something just as bad as a Crosley. Remember these things… these Fisher-Price record players? Everybody had these in the ’80s, and we had fun playing records on them! Yes, they sounded like crap, but it was still fun to use, and you probably still have some of the records you played on these and they sound OK — it didn’t ruin them. So just think of the Crosley as the modern equivalent of these. It’s not something meant for serious audiophiles. It’s just a cheap little toy that kids have fun with. [Music]