I recently purchased the Ion Pro 500BT turntable and wanted to share a bit. During the course of my research on entry level consumer turntables, I have found a lot of incomplete and erroneous information about tables for this market. Plus there is little out there on this particular model. I decided to do a very basic teardown to learn a bit more.
First some info on this model. It was initially introduced as the Akai BT500 around 2016 and had a very short life before being discontinued by parent company InMusic (owner of Akai, Numark, Denon DJ, M-Audio, etc) and reintroduced as the Ion Pro 500BT, Ion being their low end consumer brand, with this table intended to be a foray into a higher level for Ion in the market. Akai no longer offers any turntables in their lineup so my guess is this process was a marketing strategy shift. I would assume poor sales being part of it.
At first glance, the 500BT appears to be nearly identical to the Teac TN-300 and for good reason. This is yet another OEM iteration of the Ya Horng turntable that is the basis for almost everything in the $200-$500 range of the market. I paid $179 for it (via InMusic’s direct storefront, which is named The Original DJ Store on Reverb and ebay) although it lists at $399. I opted to pay a small premium over the sale price of the TEAC TN-300 due to its inclusion of Bluetooth. This may seem odd to analog guys. Full disclosure: although I am old enough to have grown up in a house full of vinyl and I am not a stranger to turntables, I am more of a CD guy. This is really the first turntable I have bought and it’s not so much for my use, but for that of my son. My son is a huge jazz fan and has started to amass a collection of vintage jazz vinyl by shopping the 50 cent vinyl at the local Half Price Books Outlet store. He did not have a turntable to play it and a lot of that stuff is just not available on CD or just otherwise expensive. What the Bluetooth allows me to do is to use the analog out to connect to the system I put together for my kids while allowing me to still Bluetooth connect to my main system, as admittedly I have myself wanted a turntable for nearly two decades. I did not want to invest a lot of money in this, but at the same time I had to spend enough to not get something that will destroy vinyl and most of the Bluetooth equipped turntables are suitcase/all-in-one destroyers. USB is also a bonus so we can digitize some of the music that we just can’t find elsewhere.
While the 500BT looks nearly identical to the TEAC TN-300 on the top side, I have discovered that there are some differences underneath the pretty face. Let’s talk about Ya Horng for a bit. Ya Horng is a Taiwanese oem manufacturer that produces turntables for a large number of companies. This is hardly unique as we see with other consumer electronics, such as home theater receivers. They seem to be a newer player on the oem turntable market with their prevalence coinciding with the resurgence of turntable sales. Ya Horng is a separate company from Hanpin, which some people tend to confuse and just label all mass market Taiwan/Chinese tables as Hanpin. Hanpin has been producing OEM turntables for quite some time. The Hanpin automatic turntable product was basically the lone choice for the brand name mass consumer electronics market prior to the vinyl resurgence. That turntable has a 15+ year history and serves as the basis for the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 and AT-LP3, the Sony PS-LX300, and the Denon 29F, and those models’ predecessors among many others.
The Teac Tn-300 and higher models were really the first major turntables to bring this particular Ya Horng design to the mass market in around 2014. Since that time, there has been a major proliferation of this design to a vast many products. This includes:
Teac turntables numbered TN-200 through TN-570
All Fluance turntables
Elac Miracord 50
Thorens TD201 and TD202
Reloop Turn-2 and Turn-3
Audio-Technica AT-LPW30TK and AT-LPW40WN
Denon DP400 and DP450USB
There are undoubtedly more, but these are the ones I have been able to confirm through my research. There are differences in these turntables beyond cosmetics and choice of cartridge. Some are minor, some may be not so minor depending on perspective.
Since I own the 500BT, I will use that as the basis to talk about some differences among Ya Horng models, particularly compared to the TEAC TN-300 since the 500BT gets labeled as identical based on cosmetics. Indeed from the top, it looks the same initially. Cosmetic differences include the switches, headshell and gimbal tower. The headshell design on the 500BT mirrors that of the Monolith and Elac rather than the Teac. The gimbal tower design is the same as the Fluance turntables, but this is cosmetic with the tonearm assembly being functionally identical between the Teac, Thorens, Monolith, Elac, Audio-Technica and Ion. The Fluance and a few Teac models use the curved version of the tonearm instead, but this makes no performance difference. The 500BT uses the AT95E cartridge which is ubiquitous in this range and also used in the Teac TN-300.
It’s when you look under the platter that you begin to start seeing differences. The obvious one is that the 500BT has a built-in bubble level. This is simply a convenience feature that is unique to the Ion/Akai thus far in the Ya Horng family. It is a nice touch though and is also indicative that this is one of the versions that has adjustable feet, unlike most of the Teac tables, the lower Fluance models, and the Monolith.
The less obvious difference, but perhaps more significant due to isolation ramifications is the motor mounting. Almost all the Ya Horng tables (except Fluance RT82-85 and Teac TN-550, TN-570) use a top mounted motor assembly. The Akai/Ion does not. It instead uses a floating arrangement that is mounted under the plinth similar to the aforementioned premium Fluance and Teac models. The theory behind this is to improve isolation of the motor, an important design consideration on turntables, but it’s effectiveness in this case is beyond my ability to tell.
The spindle assembly is the same as the Teac TN-300 (as well as Monolith, Fluance RT80-81, A-T LPW30, Thorens). This is Ya Horng’s standard assembly and you see it on every model that does not have the optical speed sensor. You can tell if your Ya Horng has the optical sensor just by looking at this. The standard spindle assembly is top mounted with the mounting plate visible. The spindle assembly with the optical sensor is mounted under the plinth so there is no top mounting plate. Models with optical sensors include Fluance RT82-85, Elac 50, A-T LPW40, Teac TN-550, TN-570.
Image above is of the Teac TN-300. Note that both the motor and spindle assemblies are top mounted. Source
Here is the 500BT in comparison. Note that the motor assembly is not actually mounted to the top of the plinth.
Here is an image of the Elac Miracord 50. Note that in this case, the spindle is not top mounted. This is an easy visual indicator that this turntable uses the optical speed sensor system, which must be undermounted. Source
Here is an image of the bottom of the spindle assembly showing the optical speed sensor system. This image is of the Elac, but as mentioned is also used on the Teac TN-550, TN-570, Fluance RT82-85, and A-T LPW40. Source
The other differences (and the similarities) between the Ion and other Ya Horng models become apparent when you turn the turntable over and open it up. As previously stated the feet are adjustable but note that although they have the great feature of adjustability, they are the cheapest made feet out of any of the Ya Horngs. It’s simply a piece of silicone like rubber with a screw mounted in it. With that said, I don’t see anything to make me believe they are any less effective at reducing noise transmission than some of the other styles out there, particularly when considering where/how they mount to the plinth. Still hard not to wish for something better. Perhaps I can find alternative feet that have the same bolt size and threading.
The Teac, Thorens, and Audio-Technica models basically use a solid mdf board about 1 inch thick for a plinth. Everything is surface mounted to this plinth and then plastic panels are used to cover up the components. This is the most basic and lightest weight plinth design used on the Ya Horngs. The Monolith and Elac extend the mdf down around the sides about another inch to create a 1” deep hollow space to mount components which is then covered by a piece of pressboard.
Bottom of the Teac TN-300 with the plastic cover removed. Source
The Ion/Akai plinth design is once again unique thus far in the Ya Horng family. From the top it looks like it just uses the same 1” inch plinth of the Teac and others. However, once you flip it over, you find that is not the case. There is another full inch of solid mdf glued below the top plinth. Rather than being hollow like the Elac, it is a solid piece with a glued mdf border that has been routed out where things are mounted. This is another design attempt to improve isolation. Again, I am unable to determine how effective this is.
Now for the similarities. The main pcb is standard across the Ya Horng line. It is reconfigured based on the options used, but the size and architecture is off the same template. If you compare the Teac TN-300 board and Ion boards, they are basically the same outside of the inclusion of the output relay that goes to the separate Bluetooth pcb. You can also look at the Elac board and see a lot of the same common componentry. The Elac eliminates the USB components from the board and adds circuitry for the optical speed sensor. The pre-amp is the same on every Ya Horng turntable equipped with a pre-amp. It is a pre-amp based on the JRC 8080. Those equipped with USB use the same Texas Instruments based ADC.
Main PCB for the Ion 500BT. Preamp is situated aft of the RCA outs, just to the right of tonearm connector. To the right of the preamp is the componentry for the USB.
Here's the Teac TN-300 main PCB. Note identical componentry for the preamp and USB, only minor layout changes. Source
Here's the Elac main PCB. Once again the same componentry for the preamp. It removes the USB componentry and uses the space to accommodate circuitry for the optical speed control system. Source
The motor on the Akai/Ion will look familiar to anyone who has had experience with the usual Asian built boards. It is a small dc motor that can also be used for tape decks. All Ya Horng decks have some variation of this motor, though it may not be identical. However, with this Ion turntable, we do see a design change from what we have seen in earlier models like the Teac TN300 and Fluance RT80-81. In those earlier models the speed control of the motor was done at the motor and if you wanted to adust the speed, you adjusted it via the small slots at the top of the motor. It usually required breaking through the protective film at the top. The 500BT instead has a separate PCB for the motor speed control. It uses the ubiquitous and somewhat old school AN6552 as the control circuit. Interestingly, older versions of the 500BT were not configured in this way, as seen by the internal photos turned in to the FCC when this turntable was certified, as seen in this link:
Here's the Teac TN-300 again. Note there are four wires to the motor and they feed direct from main PCB. Source
Here's the updated version. Note only two wires from the motor to the separate control PCB utilizing the AN6552.
In my investigation of this change, it seems that a lot of the more recent Ya Horng boards have gone to this setup of the speed control being separate from the motor. Another example is the recent Teac TN-280BT which the FCC filing shows has the speed control on the main pcb. Since the TN-280BT does not have USB, there was more than enough room to just place this control on the main pcb:
I cannot see where there would be any cost saving of changing this arrangement versus what was used on the TN300 and Fluance RT80-81, or the earlier versions of the BT500. This is wild supposition: The Teac and Fluance were plagued with many complaints of inconsistent motor speed. Perhaps this is the attempted fix for that issue.
As mentioned, the reason I chose the Ion over the Teac and Monolith was the inclusion of Bluetooth, so let’s take a moment and look at the pcb for that. This again is unique thus far to the Akai/Ion. One bonus that came with this was the separate headphone amp. This could prove to be a useful feature down the road and gives another listening option. With that you can use this turntable on its own without any further equipment other than a set of headphones and still have that classic analog sound. A close look at the headphone circuitry shows the same JRC8080 preamp circuitry for the phono stage. It then uses the well-known NJM4556 for the amp stage. The NJM4556 does well for its super low cost, a classic for the diy headphone amp folks, most famous for its application in the O2.
Headphone amp section of bluetooth PCB.
At the end of day, I’ll conclude that the added features of the Akai/Ion over other Ya Horng models would not make me spend retail of $399 for it when the Monoprice is $199 and the Teac TN-300 can frequently be found for even less. Similarly, there is no reason to spend the money on the Elac and Thorens versions when there are other versions with the same or better features for less.
So which Ya Horng to buy: If you need the ultimate in versatility, the Ion is a good choice as long as you are paying under 250 for it. If you don’t need that much versatility, get the Monoprice for $200 for the superior cartridge. If USB is important to you and you want to get the cheapest possible, it is most common to find the Teac TN-300 at a low price, usually under $180 with occasional sales marked down even lower as of this writing. If you want the optical speed control system, which in theory shows improved speed consistency and reduced wow and flutter, I suggest going with the Fluance RT82-85 models or the A-T LPW40.