I am one of those obnoxious people who loves technology, but also occasionally listens to music on large slabs of vinyl. As such, I’m probably the target audience for Victrola’s Stream Carbon turntable. The $800 record player boasts some lovely industrial design and has the expected RCA jacks for connecting to standard speakers – but it can also wirelessly link up and stream music to any Sonos speakers in your house. It’s an unconventional marriage of analog and digital, but one that had me intrigued. And after spending some quality time with the Stream Carbon, I can say it sounds great and works as advertised, though it does feel a tad extravagant – especially at this price.
Visually, I found the Stream Carbon to be pretty striking, mixing mid-century modern minimalism with more recent flourishes. It’s certainly much lighter and less of an imposing presence than my Audio Technica AT-LP120 turntable (which itself closely resembles the classic Technics SL-1200). There’s a large, tactile knob on the front, which adjusts volume for your entire Sonos system. On the top, there’s not much to see besides the platter, a minimally adjustable tonearm, and a 33/45 RPM selector switch. (78 RPM is not an option.) Around back is a power port, Ethernet jack and RCA plugs for using the turntable with non-Sonos speakers.
My only complaint about the Stream Carbon’s design is its somewhat wonky dust cover, an unremarkable piece of plastic that covers the platter and tonearm. It’s not connected to the turntable in any way, and I often found myself wondering what to do with it when I was actually playing records. Not a huge deal, but worth knowing about ahead of time.
Setup was quite simple. The tonearm counterweight has two marks on it, each of which corresponds to the cartridge the Stream Carbon includes; my review unit came with the Ortofon Red 2M. Then it’s just a matter of putting the belt into place and dropping the platter and mat over the top. If I were using standard speakers, I’d just plug them in, but the whole point of testing the Stream Carbon was to get it hooked up to my Sonos network. Fortunately, that too was easy.
After installing the Victrola Stream app on my iPhone, it was just a matter of tapping “add a turntable” and adding it to my WiFi network. You then need to tell the turntable which Sonos speaker or group to use by default; I had set up two Play:1 speakers next to the turntable for this test. At that point, I didn’t need to do anything else in the Victrola app as everything playback related went through my Sonos system.
I kicked things off with my bright pink Carly Rae Jespen EMOTION record; moving the tonearm automatically started the record spinning, and after a short delay the tunes started coming through my Sonos speakers. From there, I could use the Sonos app to bounce that music anywhere I wanted in my house. I have speakers on each floor of my home and could play all of them at once, or just a single set. It felt pretty weird and rather indulgent to put on a record on the first floor and listen to it up in my third-floor office, but it is definitely something I tried. Putting aside that somewhat odd use case, though, the Stream Carbon reliably worked with any and all Sonos products I have in my house – that includes a pair of older Play:1s, some gen-2 One speakers and the first-gen Beam soundbar.
After getting set up, I realized there was no real need to have a pair of speakers located directly next to the Stream Carbon. That should have been immediately obvious when I started setting things up, but it felt a little weird to have music automatically start playing on the Beam below my TV (the only other Sonos speaker in my living room). But there’s definitely something freeing about being able to place the Stream Carbon anywhere you want without having to worry about the physical proximity of the speakers you’re using. It didn’t make sense to put the turntable anywhere else in my living room, but I’d definitely consider a less traditional placement if I was building my setup from scratch.
As for audio quality, that depends on your speakers and the condition of your records. When playing my newer vinyl, though, the Stream Carbon sounded great. I jumped between the sparse acoustic tones of Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for The Last of Us Part II and Howard Shores majestic orchestral compositions for the Lord of the Rings films to pop tunes like the aforementioned Carly Rae Jepsen record and a greatest hits compilation from Canadian electro-rock outfit Metric.
I’m no audiophile, but I was consistently impressed with the detailed soundscapes I heard with the combo of my Sonos speakers and the Stream Carbon. Noise from the records themselves was also minimal – my older albums like an original pressing of Metallica’s Master of Puppets and a late ‘70s copy of Pink Floyd’s Animals didn’t sound nearly as pristine, but the crackles and other sounds you hear from well-kept records were barely noticeable.
One of the more unusual things about sound quality I noticed while using the Stream Carbon was that the Sonos Trueplay speaker tuning applies to record playback. If you haven’t used it before, Trueplay uses the microphone on an iPhone or iPad to listen to how a Sonos speaker sounds and adjust the audio to optimize it for the speaker’s placement in a room. Once you do this, the setting applies to anything being played through the speaker, whether it’s streaming audio through the Sonos app, audio from a connected TV or the Stream Carbon turntable.
While I almost always use Trueplay on my Sonos speakers, having it turned on while using the turntable felt like it further abstracted the concept of “listening to a record.” I was already turning the analog audio into ones and zeros by streaming it to the Sonos, and now I was applying a layer of digital enhancement to that music. At this point, I might as well have just streamed an album directly from Spotify or Apple Music to my speakers.
This gets at the heart of the questions I have about the Stream Carbon. Anyone who’s willing to spend $800 on a turntable is probably pretty serious about playing their record collection, and chances are they already have good speakers dedicated to that pursuit. That said, the Stream Carbon’s RCA outputs can easily be connected to traditional speakers, and the Sonos connectivity could just be a nice-to-have feature that you only occasionally use. But the market for people like that seems pretty small.
The Stream Carbon could also make sense for someone who already has Sonos speakers but wants to get into collecting records. But again, $800 for a turntable is a lot of money when you’re just getting started with a hobby. Then there’s someone like me, who has a bunch of Sonos speakers and a decent stack of records. My turntable and speakers are fine, but nothing to write home about; the combo of the Stream Carbon and my Sonos speakers was definitely an upgrade. But, would I spend $800 of my own money on it? Probably not. Instead, I would probably spend half that and pick up some speakers like the Audioengine A5+ or any number of other quality bookshelf speakers out there and get a comparable audio upgrade.
Even so, there’s a lot to like about Victrola’s Stream Carbon. It’s well-built, easy to set up and sounds great. And for Sonos fans, this is probably the easiest way to play records through the company’s speakers. It’s certainly a better option than shelling out $700 for the Sonos Amp, a component that you can attach to passive speakers to essentially turn them into Sonos-compatible speakers. But the Stream Carbon’s high price means that it’ll remain a niche product that could have a hard time attracting much of an audience – even among people like me, who still love playing records even in a world where listening to digital music is far easier.