Victrola Stream Onyx turntable review: A spin on WiFi hi-fi
It's Record Store Day everyday and in every room when you add the Stream Onyx turntable to a Sonos wireless whole-home audio ecosystem.
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I started testing the Victrola Stream Onyx Works with Sonos turntable the same way I evaluate every turntable: choosing an album I know very well, selecting my favorite track, clearing my head, and listening. This time, however, things took a different turn and an atypical flight of stairs. Seconds after the Stream Onyx’s needle hit decades-old wax on the platter in my basement, I heard music playing from a completely different floor. “I Went to Sleep,” a brief breezy waltz the Beach Boys released in 1969 on the album 20/20, started playing on a smart speaker above me in the living room. I was surprised, not because I was unaware of this feature’s existence, but because Victrola’s spin on wireless vinyl playback worked so effortlessly and expressively … if you meet specific requirements indicated in the product’s name and delivered in its performance.
For the most part, the $599 Victrola Stream Onyx looks like any standard turntable, just with edges a bit more rounded off. Its matte black plinth looks sleek, its modern aesthetic complemented by a silicone slipmat and aluminum tonearm. It’s a solid-feeling 12.13 pounds. And the included dust cover is a custom-shaped shield that fits directly above the platter and tonearm rather than a rectangular canopy clipping to the back and hovering over the entire record player.
Victrola opted to outfit the Stream Onyx with the Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge. This is perfectly fine, though we’d have liked to see them opt for or offer the Ortofon 2M Red instead. That cartridge, which I’ve auditioned in past reviews, offers excellent sonic and tracking performance. It also provides a clear upgrade path to the higher-end Ortofon 2M Blue by letting you swap out the Elliptical diamond for a Nude Elliptical diamond stylus, expanding the high-frequency response from 20,000 Hz to 25,000 Hz with a single part rather than having to spend more to replace an entire cartridge. Still, the Audio-Technica offers a highly competent, low-distortion, entry-level Elliptical diamond stylus and you can always experiment with the six interchangeable styli in the A-T family or get an entirely different moving magnet cartridge later if you desire.
A 2-speed, belt-driven, semi-automatic turntable, the Stream Onyx will begin spinning a record when you move its tonearm—with its easily adjustable counterweight—over a record. And it will stop the record from spinning once you’ve reached the end of a side. However, this turntable does not have auto-return, meaning the tonearm will not return to its original resting place once the music is done. You’ll have to raise, lower, and move the tonearm by yourself, which is made easier by the turntable’s cue lever, which raises the needle above the album so you can lower it down on the right spot with precision. A dial on top of the turntable lets you switch between 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records, and Victrola includes an adapter so you can play vintage 7 inches with no problem.
Turn the turntable around and you’ll see standard RCA (red and white) outputs and a grounding peg. There’s also a universal “figure-eight” power port. We appreciate that Victrola opted for this approach rather than a power cord soldered in because you can swap out the cable for just over $5 if yours gets accidentally damaged.
So far, everything looks pretty standard … until you notice the Ethernet jack, the first indication that this turntable is designed to be networked, whether via cable or WiFi. That’s also related to the turntable’s other eye-catching element: the illuminated control knob on its front panel, with a white LED ring that complements the “Victrola” logo, which allows you to change the volume and output zone because the Stream Onyx is intended to integrate seamlessly with Sonos connected speakers. Yes, you could already broadcast those black circles by wedging a Sonos Port into an existing stereo system, but the Stream Onyx is a much more elegant solution.
Victrola has been in the business of making audio equipment since 1901, and it’s used the past 122 years to streamline its turntable setup process. The Stream Onyx only took about a half-hour from unboxing to setting up my first record, including connecting it to your Sonos ecosystem through the Victrola app. Victrola provides written instructions, but if you’re a visual learner like myself, you should reference the company’s unboxing and setup video at the bottom of the page for the Stream Carbon, the Onyx’s more luxe $799 sibling (which includes that covetable Ortofon 2M Red mentioned above). The Stream Onyx comes almost completely assembled out of the box, with only a handful of straightforward steps needed to complete the job.
First, I placed the turntable’s platter on top of its deck, aligning the spindle below with a cutout in the platter. Next, I attached a belt that was taped to the top of the platter onto a spindle below. Then I placed a silicone placemat on top of the platter and attached an adjustable counterweight to the tonearm. The counterweight was the perfect weight for this tonearm, so it was unnecessary to adjust it once it was securely in place.
Finally, I removed the headshell from its packaging and plugged it into the front of the tonearm. From there, it was only a matter of plugging the Stream Onyx into an outlet using the included cable and placing the 45 adapter in its place next to the speed selection knob. All of these steps are similar to the ones you’d follow when setting up any belt-driven turntable, although the fact that the belt was already on the platter saved a lot of time and frustration.
With the physical part of the Stream Onyx all figured out, I moved on to setting up its digital component. It’s worth mentioning that, at this point, the turntable was fully functional and, with its built-in preamp, could be connected to a receiver or powered speakers without any issues. If you like the idea of having a record player that could play music wirelessly to multiple speakers in different rooms, but haven’t picked up any Sonos gear, the Stream Onyx is still worth considering as a means of futureproofing your audio setup and giving you more connectivity options down the line.
Connecting the turntable to a Sonos speaker already on my network was easier than I initially thought, thanks to Victrola’s simple—albeit sterile-looking—app, which is available on both iOS and Android. (The turntable also integrates with the Sonos app.) The app instantly recognized my turntable and asked me to provide my WiFi password to connect it to my wireless network (the Victrola Stream Onyx and your Sonos speakers must be on the same network to communicate).
Once my turntable was added to the network, I could select the default Sonos speaker it should play music from. Both in the app and by pressing the volume knob in, you can choose a group of Sonos speakers to play music simultaneously in different parts of your home or in true stereo. I selected my Sonos Era 100, and the app let me know my turntable was paired to the speaker so I could immediately start to play records. The Victrola app also allows you to update the Stream Onyx’s firmware, to see its signal strength to a speaker, and it will enable you to adjust the latency (lag) between the two devices. Lower latency means less time will elapse between when you drop the needle and when you hear music. Still, if the connection between the turntable and speaker is weak, it may cut out, which is why adding a multi-second buffer could be useful.
I never experienced any technical difficulties during my testing, but my multi-router Eero network supports speeds of up to 1Gbps, thanks to my internet plan. If you typically get slower throughput, your best bet may be to set up the Stream Onyx beside your cable provider’s modem and connect those two devices with an Ethernet cable.
Judging the sound of a turntable can be difficult because so many variables can impact it. The album you’re listening to, the particular pressing, its condition, your stereo receiver, your cartridge, the condition of your needle, the surface and damping where you set your turntable, your speakers, their positioning, and even the size and shape of your room all need to be considered. All that being said, I had a great time during my testing period with the Victrola Stream Onyx. I listened to a variety album, from the aforementioned original pressing of the Beach Boys album to the recent reissue of the Fountains of Wayne compilation Out-of-State Plates.
Victrola’s counterweight provided enough force to keep the needle from skating off a groove even during the occasional pop, but never dug in so deeply as to damage the LP. Analog recordings I listened to sounded better than newer ones recorded digitally and transferred to tape after the mixing and mastering stages. I wondered whether the space Victrola dedicated to wireless components inside the Stream Onyx would impact its performance, but that didn’t seem to matter very much.
The biggest test was how the same album sounded when it streamed to the Sonos Era 100 compared to when it was directly connected to a pair of bookshelf speakers, in this case Fluance’s Ai61s. Victrola’s app allows you to flip between two modes: “Switching” will only play music through a Sonos speaker even if the turntable is hardwired to an audio system, while “Simultaneous” will route audio to both at the same time. I listened to the same music on both systems separately and simultaneously (the latter was admittedly a cacophonous experience).
The powered speaker system ended up winning out, but the fight wasn’t totally fair. The Sonos Era 100 can play music in true stereo thanks to its dual angled tweeter array, but it couldn’t beat the true separation of separate left and right speakers placed a couple of feet apart from one another. The drivers on the Ai61s are also quite a bit bigger, which allowed me to hear a little more low and high-end. While this matchup disadvantaged the Era 100, the differences in performance weren’t as great as I would have expected. There was some detail loss when listening through a Sonos speaker, but that will be true when streaming music to any Bluetooth or wireless audio equipment. Victrola doesn’t provide the Stream Onyx’s maximum bitrate, but the Era 100 can play 16-bit audio at up to a 48 kHz sample rate—a fidelity WiFi can easily accommodate.
Overall, the sound coming out of the Sonos Era 100 was incredibly pleasing. There was still some of that analog “warmth” that has more to do with the way the albums I listened to were recorded and mastered than any one thing in the signal chain. It’s interesting how the results of this test will change over time were I to try the larger multidirectional Sonos Era 300 or future Sonos upgrades (the Five is starting to look a bit long in the tooth). The differences between listening to music through a traditional audio system vs. wirelessly will only get narrower.
With the introduction of the Victrola Stream Onyx, wireless audio has taken another Borg-like step to assimilate pieces of the audiophile world—through headphones and smart speakers and now turntables. Resistance is futile indeed. The move from Bluetooth, an inherently limited wireless streaming standard, to WiFi, which offers far better fidelity and stability over a greater range, is a significant sea change.
Yes, the Stream Onyx is only compatible wirelessly with Sonos speakers, which are costlier than your average Bluetooth party speakers, but this decision ensures a baseline of audio fidelity. Rather than worrying about how the Stream Onyx might sound on thousands of speakers, Victrola only has to test it with a handful. And the Sonos commitment to sound quality underscores the validity of this approach. If you’re open to a closed system and have an LPs listening station but want the freedom to enjoy records throughout your home, it’s hard not to see the Victrola Stream Onyx Works with Sonos turntable as the best option for you right now.